The History of the WWE Championship is the latest of WWE’s DVD releases. This is an extremely detailed and well put together DVD set, split over three discs. Disc One focuses on WWF title matches from the 1970s and 1980s. Disc Two focuses on WWF title matches from the 1990s. Disc Three focuses on WWF title matches from the 2000s. The matches themselves are accessible individually via the chapter menus, or contained within a programme hosted by good ol’ JR himself, Jim Ross. Ross provides the links between the matches, adding some brief background information and context to them. It works really well, and he’s perfect in this role, as you believe he actually knows what he’s talking about, rather than a Todd Grisham-type, who you’d just know was reading an autocue. There isn’t much spin or rewriting of history, and the basis of the DVD set is just match after match. Conclusions can be drawn from watching the set, which I’ll get into later on. First of all, some thoughts on the matches featured, disc by disc.
Length: 9 hours 21 minutes Approx
Disc 1 Chapters: 12 chapters. These are entitled:
- WWWF Championship Match: Ivan Koloff vs. Pedro Morales (Madison Square Garden – 2/8/71)
- WWWF Championship Match: Bruno Sammartino vs. Killer Kowalski (Madison Square Garden – 4/29/74)
- WWWF Championship Match: Bruno Sammartino vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham (Baltimore, Md — 4/30/77)
- WWWF Championship Match: “Superstar” Billy Graham vs. Bob Backlund (Madison Square Garden – 2/20/78)
- Steel Cage Match For The WWF Championship: Bob Backlund vs. Greg Valentine (Philadelphia, PA – 1/16/82)
- WWF Championship Match: Bob Backlund vs. Sgt. Slaughter (Madison Square Garden – 5/23/83)
- WWF Championship Match: Iron Sheik vs. Hulk Hogan (Madison Square Garden -1/23/84)
- Steel Cage Match For The WWF Championship: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy (Wrestlemania 2 – 4/5/86)
- Steel Cage Match For The WWF Championship: Hulk Hogan vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (Saturday Night’s Main Event – 1/3/87)
- WWF Championship Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (Wrestlemania III -3/29/87)
- WWF Championship Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (The Main Event – 2/5/88)
- WWF Championship Match: Randy “Macho Man” Savage vs. Hulk Hogan (Wrestlemania V – 4/2/89)
Disc 1 Extra: A multimedia timeline, featuring the match finish of every WWF/E Championship title change in history, apart from the first five (1963 to 1973), which are covered with a short on-screen paragraph describing the title change. If all the title change clips are watched in one sitting, there is 20 minutes worth of footage.
Disc 2 Chapters: 5 chapters. These are entitled:
- WWF Championship Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (Wrestlemania VI – 4/1/90)
- Steel Cage Match For The WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (Summerslam – 8/29/94)
- Iron Man Match For The WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania XII – 3/31/96)
- WWF Championship Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (In Your House: Mind Games – 9/22/96)
- WWF Championship Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Wrestlemania XIV – 3/29/98)
Disc 3 Chapters: 8 chapters. These are entitled:
- Street Fight For The WWF Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (Royal Rumble – 1/23/00)
- Triple Threat Match For The WWF Championship: The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Kurt Angle (Summerslam – 8/27/00)
- WWF Championship Match: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Wrestlemania X-7 – 4/1/01)
- Undisputed WWF Championship Match: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Chris Jericho (Vengeance- 12/9/01)
- Triple Threat Match For The Undisputed WWF Championship: The Rock vs. Undertaker vs. Kurt Angle (Vengeance – 7/21/02)
- Undisputed WWF Championship Match: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar (Summerslam – 8/25/02)
- WWF Championship Match: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (Royal Rumble – 1/19/03)
- Triple Threat Match For The WWF Championship: John Cena vs. Chris Jericho vs. Christian (Vengeance – 6/26/05)
Highs & Lows
The matches on disc one, particularly the pre-Wrestlemania era ones, are strictly for the old-school fan. They’re interesting enough if you give them a chance, but the infamous five minute rest holds feature aplenty during these matches. JR provides a new voiceover for a 1971 Ivan Koloff vs Pedro Morales title match. The picture quality is shaky at times and the footage even breaks up on occasion. The sound mixing of the MSG crowd is also bad, but then again, this match is 35 years old, so a lot of these faults are to be expected. Like a lot of the matches on this disc, they tend to be historically significant, but not necessarily highly watchable or have aged well. Bruno Sammartino vs Killer Kowalski was up next. Vince McMahon called this match, and his was the original voiceover from 1974. This was a pretty boring, lumbering match, ending in a draw. The only interesting part was a pullapart brawl at the end of the match. Next up was Bruno Sammartino vs Superstar Billy Graham, in a famous title switch from 1977. McMahon calls this match, in an original voiceover. This match was slightly more entertaining, and it was cool to see the crowd going berserk when Graham won the title, with his feet on the ropes. Fourth match was from 1978, ten months later, featuring Superstar Billy Graham vs Bob Backlund. The announcers for this match were Craig De George, Bobby Heenan and Johnny Valentine, and their call of the match was taken from a 1985 WWF Coliseum Video release called ‘History of the WWF Title’, funnily enough. In a cool, ironic twist, Backlund won the title despite Graham having his feet on the ropes. The commentary track added to the fun of the match, as Heenan made fun of Backlund’s clean cut image. This was watchable enough. Next match was Bob Backlund vs Greg Valentine in a steel cage match, with this match called by the same announcers. This match was heavily edited, and Backlund won by walking out of the cage door, in a weird, unbabyface-like finish.
The final Bob Backlund match on this DVD set (thankfully) was Backlund vs Sgt Slaughter. The back story to this match was given by JR. Backlund had been repeatedly jumped and beaten up by the heel Sarge (managed by ‘The Grand Wizard’ Ernie Roth) prior to this match, and it was now payback time. Gorilla Monsoon called the match. It was watchable due to Backlund showing some intensity and emotion for once. Finish came when Backlund had Slaughter in his crossface chickenwing submission manoeuvre, and Wizard gave Slaughter his cane, which he used for a D.Q. The referee was bumped, and Backlund cleaned house using the cane, whilst the crowd went nuts. The Hulkamania era begins with Hogan’s title victory over the Iron Sheik, this time called by Monsoon and Pat Patterson. Decent match, and obviously a highly historically significant match, so it’s worth a watch if you’ve never seen it. Next up was Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy in a steel cage match from Wrestlemania 2. The announcing for this match was unintentionally awful. With Wrestlemania 2 taking place from three different sites, and with Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon in the other two locations, the announcers for this match were Lord Alfred Hayes, Jesse Ventura and Elvira (a cult Gothic actress of the time period). Suffice to say, when Ventura is the announcer keeping the call of the match from falling apart, you know you’ve got problems. Elvira was terrible, asking the most inane questions (such as Bundy pulling off the protective tape from Hogan’s taped ribs and choking Hogan with it, and Elvira yelling, “He’s pulling off his clothes… he’s attacking him with his belt!”). As for the match, it was the standard Hogan match, where the heel beat up him, nearly wins the match, but Hogan makes the Superman comeback and wins. The next match, taken from an edition of Saturday Nights’ Main Event, follows that same formula, Hulk Hogan vs Paul Orndorff in a steel cage match. At least the announcing is better, with this match called by Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura. There’s a false finish early in the match, where both Hogan and Orndorff escape the cage and touch the floor at ‘exactly the same time’, that is incredibly well done. This was a good match.
Disc One comes to a close with three more Hogan matches, all of them of significance. Hogan vs Andre The Giant from Wrestlemania 3 (called by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura) is here in its’ entirety. Far from a great match, but again, very historically significant, so worth a viewing, if only to see the huge Pontiac Silverdome crowd. Hogan vs Andre in a rematch from ‘The Main Event’ is also included, announced by Vince and Jesse. Hugely memorable match for the finish, with Andre surrendering the belt to Ted DiBiase and Hogan beating up the twin Hebner referees. The disc concludes the 1980’s with Randy Savage vs Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 5, in a match that is the epitome of 1980’s WWF, both good and bad. A watchable match for sure, one of Hogan’s better matches of the 1980’s.
The extra on Disc One is the multimedia timeline, detailing every WWE title change in history. This is well researched and detailed, and as listed above, includes clips from the match finish of every title change in history, bar the first five. Watching all the finishes in one sitting isn’t recommended though. It lasts 20 minutes, and especially when you get to the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s almost comical how every match finish consisted of outside interference, or how the match ended with the title switching in a multi-person match, and the champion not being pinned. It’s also kind of mind-numbing to watch as well.
Disc Two covers the 1990’s, and contains a fewer number of matches, but is actually longer in running time than disc one. It begins with Hulk Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior, from Wrestlemania 6, called by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. The more I watch this match, the less enjoyable it becomes, but maybe that’s just me. Again, the match is watchable for its historical significance and the spectacle of it taking place in front of the huge Skydome crowd. Next match is from 1994 (skipping four years, including two Ric Flair reigns, Bret Hart’s first reign, and the Yokozuna era) and features Bret Hart vs Owen Hart in a steel cage match from Summerslam 1994. This match, called by Vince and Jerry Lawler, is very entertaining. The Hart Family are at ringside, including a long, frizzy haired British Bulldog. For some reason, the footage cuts out just as Bret Hart wins, and doesn’t show the numerous Hart Family runs ins, including Davey Boy being levelled by a chairshot. The third match is Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels, in their 60 minute plus Iron Man match from Wrestlemania 12. This is shown in it’s entirety. Personally, I’ve always felt this match was slightly overrated, but that’s just my opinion. The fourth match, in my eyes, is much better: Shawn Michaels vs Mankind, from September 1996. This was a fantastic brawl between these two, and was one of the first WWF ppv main events to feature table breaking. Mankind side-suplexing HBK off the top rope, backwards, and through the announcer table has to be seen to be believed. JR, Vince McMahon and Mr Perfect called this match. The finish of the match was a bit cheap, a D.Q. that involved Sid, Vader and Undertaker, but it was still a great match. The final match on this disc is from Wrestlemania 14, Shawn Michaels vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, signalling the start of the Attitude era. Not a great match, but still very good, and the involvement of Mike Tyson makes it a must-see.
Disc Three features eight matches. I loved JR’s comment at the start of this disc – “The pace of change accelerated as sports entertainment exploded”. I think that’s corporate speak for “We hotshotted the title too many times in pursuit of ratings, to the point it mattered less and less”. It begins with Triple H vs Cactus Jack in a streetfight from Royal Rumble 2000. This was a terrific brawl, featuring the use of chairs, wooden pallets, a barbed wire baseball bat and thumbtacks. This was when the use of such weapons was a novelty and not an every-no-D.Q.-match occurrence. Next match was Rock vs Triple H vs Kurt Angle, from Summerslam 2000. JR gave some of the background to this match, detailing Kurt Angle fooling around with Stephanie. For me, this will always be where WWF started going downhill, as Triple H used his growing political power to nix the logical conclusion of Angle winning the title and the girl (Stephanie), and Triple H turning babyface to feud with him. Anyway, this was another splendid match, with Triple H pedigreeing Angle through the announcers table before the match even began, legitimately knocking out Angle, to the point Angle struggled to get through the rest of the match as he’d forgotten most of the planned spots. Third match on this disc is Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin from Wrestlemania 17. This is another great match, in front of an amazingly large crowd at the Houston Astrodome. The finish also saw Austin’s infamous heel turn, which ended up being a massive failure. Next match was another historically significant match, from December 2001, Chris Jericho defeating Austin to win the Undisputed WWF Title, unifying the WCW and WWF titles. This match took place immediately after Jericho had just beaten Rock for the WCW title, and featured outside interference from Kurt Angle, Rock and a short-dreadlocked Booker T. It was an entertaining match, and is something of a rarity.
Fifth match on the disc is Rock vs Undertaker vs Kurt Angle, from July 2002. This match featured Rock winning the title from Undertaker, by pinning Kurt Angle. This type of finish, when placed within the context of other title changes, shows how WWE were beginning to lose their way slightly, and how the prestige of the title was gradually being lost by cop out finishes, of champions not being pinned to lose their title. It’s a very good match, don’t get me wrong, but the wrong guy was pinned, and simply shows how selfish and self-serving certain wrestlers were becoming, and how Vince was allowing this. The next match was the end of an era, the last WWE title change that really mattered, when there was only one main champion. Brock Lesnar defeating Rock for the title has great heat, with the live crowd rebelling and cheering the heel Lesnar over the face Rock. Michael Cole and Tazz call the match.
JR prefaces the following 2002-onwards time period with the following: “Lesnar, a Smackdown wrestler, refused to defend the undisputed title against Triple H on Raw. So Triple H was given the World Heavyweight title to defend on Raw, by General Manager, Eric Bischoff.” So this is where the title history part of the DVD set starts getting cheapened, as it suddenly becomes ‘History of the Smackdown title’. Well, kind of. The penultimate match on the disc is an excellent Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit match from Royal Rumble 2003, called by Cole and Tazz, as both wrestlers were on the Smackdown roster at this point. Then the final match (a curious choice to be honest) is John Cena vs Chris Jericho vs Christian (all three Raw brand wrestlers) from June 2005, with the match called by JR, Lawler and Coach. The match itself is decent, but far from the greatest on the disc. It’s a curious inclusion due to both Jericho and Christian no longer being with the company, with Christian in particular now a leading star with TNA. They had the power to choose any Cena title defence, so it was strange they chose this one. JBL and Edge, particularly the latter, should feel very slighted that they never made this DVD set.
If you love wrestling matches, you’ll love this DVD set. A total of 25 full matches spanning 34 years, plus clips of the match finish of practically every WWF/E title change in history is an excellent deal. JR excels in his role as host and narrator. Some of the matches are absolute classics, others are worth watching just for historical significance. There are only two or three matches that I’d quibble over being included (the Cena match, because there are better matches to include; and possibly the Backlund vs Valentine and Sammartino vs Kowalski matches, both not particularly entertaining).
However, the whole project has clearly been well researched and put together, and I’d highly recommend purchasing it.
Points: 9 / 10
(It was brought to our attention that the matches for this DVD were chosen by the fans on wwe.com – which explains why some of the matches were included!)