Following in the footsteps of previous releases focusing on the WWE and Intercontinental Championships, this retrospective look back on the history of the World Heavyweight Championship, a title that, arguably, runs from the belt around the waist of Chris Jericho at the moment, back to the early days of the NWA… some say even further back than that, all the way to the Frank Gotch/George Hackenschmidt at the turn of the century.
Running Time: 58mins (documentary only; 510mins including matches)
- Origins of Wrestling
- “An American Hero” Frank Gotch
- Ed “Strangler” Lewis
- National Wrestling Alliance
- Lou Thesz
- Buddy Rogers
- New Breed of Champions
- 1970s World Champions
- A Flair for the Gold
- Crockett’s World Champion
- NWA to WCW
- WCW’s withdraws from NWA
- Revolving WCW Champions
- The Undisputed Championship
- World Championship Returns
- Legacy Lives
Disc 1 – Matches from the National Wrestling Alliance
- 2 Out of 3 Falls Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Pat O’Connor v Buddy Rogers – Chicago, IL (June 1961)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Gene Kiniski v Dory Funk Jr. – Championship Wrestling From Florida (February 11, 1969)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Jack Brisco v Terry Funk – Championship Wrestling From Florida (December 10, 1975)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Harley Race v Dusty Rhodes – Championship Wrestling From Florida (August 21, 1979)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Ric Flair v Magnum T.A. – AWA SuperClash (September 28, 1985)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Ric Flair v Sting – Great American Bash (July 7, 1990)
Disc 2 – Matches from World Championship Wrestling
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Ric Flair v Scott Steiner – Clash of the Champions XIV (January 30, 1991)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Lex Luger v Barry Windham – Great American Bash (July 14, 1991)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Vader v Ron Simmons – Baltimore, MD (August 2, 1992)
- Human Cage Match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Vader v Ricky Steamboat – WCW Saturday Night (October 16, 1993)
- Career vs. Career Steel Cage Match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Hulk Hogan v Ric Flair – Halloween Havoc (October 23, 1994)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sting v Hollywood Hulk Hogan – SuperBrawl VIII (February 22, 1998)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Hulk Hogan v Goldberg – Nitro (July 6, 1998)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Jeff Jarrett v Booker T. – Bash at the Beach (July 9, 2000)
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Rock v Chris Jericho – No Mercy (October 21, 2001)
Disc 3 – Matches from World Wrestling Entertainment
- World Heavyweight Championship Match: Triple H v Rob Van Dam – Unforgiven (September 22, 2002)
- World Heavyweight Championship Match: Triple H v Shawn Michaels – Taboo Tuesday (October 19, 2004)
- World Heavyweight Championship Match: Kurt Angle v The Undertaker – No Way Out (February 19, 2006)
- World Heavyweight Championship Match: Rey Mysterio v Randy Orton – SmackDown (April 7, 2006)
- Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Batista v The Undertaker v Edge – Armageddon (December 16, 2007)
- World Heavyweight Championship Match: John Cena v Chris Jericho – Survivor Series (November 23, 2008)
- Ladder Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Jeff Hardy v Edge – Extreme Rules (June 7, 2009)
As I made mention of, this lineage is arguable, not least of all due to WWE themselves changing their minds on whether the current World Heavyweight Championship links to the belt fought for in WCW and the NWA territories. For the sake of uniformity, this review is going to work on the assumption the NWA, WCW and WWE World Heavyweight Championship are one and the same, separated only by their respective eras and promotions.
The two earlier collections mentioned above both focused on championships that were kept within the WWE for their entire duration. This set, however, features a belt that’s only been in control of the company for less than a decade, meaning the remaining years, some NINE DECADES, had little to do with WWE at all, so, going in, I was wondering how much revised history would be prominent in the main segment.
The documentary, especially the first third, is a fascinating look back on the origins of professional wrestling and how it evolved into what we know as Sports Entertainment today. From the creation of the first ever recognised world champion, through Ed “Strangler” Lewis and the formation of the National Wrestling Alliance, it’s a riveting piece of film with some fantastic stories, news footage and press clippings to bring things alive.
Mike Chapman, the Executive Director of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, is a font of knowledge when it comes to the “old days” and, thankfully, never slips into hyperbole or becomes boring to listen to. Add in comments from Mae Young (who was wrestling back in the 1950s, so saw the change from “legitimate” sport to what we see on TV in 2010), Bill Watts, Bob Geigel (NWA President from 1978-1987) and Harley Race and you have one of my favourite documentary releases WWE have ever produced.
The quality continues through the beginning of the TV era, the amazing career of Lou Thesz and the arrival of the original Nature Boy, the stunningly charismatic Buddy Rogers. Jim Cornette and Bobby Heenan, during interviews from 2005, lauds the merits of Rogers and how he (along with Gorgeous George) introduced the wrestling persona to the sport. A fantastic heel, Buddy Rogers used his trademark strut, abrasive promos (remember, this was the late 1950s/early 1960s) and handsome looks to propel himself into championship contention, winning the title in 1961. He was, by all accounts the first NWA Champion who’s charisma and personality overshadowed his in-ring abilities. A new era was dawning. As an aside, some may find it strange to hear Gene Kiniski keep kayfabe throughout his little talking-head segment, but as the footage of him was taken from 1994, it makes more sense.
The second half of the documentary runs us through the arrival of the people I personally think of when the NWA Title is mentioned; Dusty Rhodes, Dory and Terry Funk, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Jack Brisco. The latter of which, rather poignantly due to his recent passing, tells us a great little story of the time he was meant to win the title from Dory Funk, Jr, but, due to the promotion’s reluctance to book a face v face title bout (mainly due to them believing it wouldn’t draw a good gate), how that bout was scrapped, Harley Race was given the match with Funk instead and ended up winning the title in his place… only for the NWA to then give Brisco his title shot against Race instead (which he won). It’s a fascinating little insight into the politics that went on back then. Terry Funk also has a short talking-head segment and, as usual with the great man, it’s well worth a viewing, while the section that deals with the Ric Flair/Harley Race/Dusty Rhodes era is just great on every level.
We end the doc by focusing on the transition from the NWA territories to the title becoming the sole property of Jim Crockett Promotions and then, later, World Championship Wrestling when Ted Turner bought JCP out. In the first real waste of potential, the WCW era is pretty much glossed over completely, with only the period where Flair brought the physical belt to WWE in 1991 (an act that gives his reasoning for screwing Bret in Montreal an air of hypocrisy) and a look at the guys who held the belt in that company. A small section here focuses on those who held the WCW Championship, but, in WWE’s eyes, didn’t deserve it. The usual suspects are present and correct (David Arquette, Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo), but it’s the inclusion of Sid Vicious that showcase WWE’s frequent double-standards. Basically, they’re saying that Sid didn’t deserve the WCW Championship, but it was OK for WWE to make him a two-time WWE Champion, which is ridiculous. Whether you think Sid deserved any of his title runs or not, it’s a cheap shot that reinforces the idea that WWE (or Vince McMahon) is petty minded.
The documentary ends by looking at the title during its reintroduction on RAW by Eric Bischoff in 2002 after the WWE Undisputed Championship had become the exclusive property of Smackdown after Summerslam 2002 (Brock Lesnar, the current holder, decided to sign exclusively with the blue team, breaking the deal that the top champion fought on all shows). Over the remaining nine minutes, the entire history of the belt under Vince’s rule (until the end of Extreme Rules 2009) is laid before us. It’s a nice end to a (mostly) impressive documentary piece.
22 matches, most in their entirety, are included across the three discs and, for most, will be the selling point of the entire set. Splitting the bouts into the three main eras was a smart idea, as was having the matches run in chronological order. The earlier footage, surprisingly, is pretty much crystal clear and the action, while vastly removed from the style of today, is compelling to watch. The live crowds are fantastic and every single bout on the first disc is a joy to watch.
Flair v Magnum T.A. (which has astounding commentary) is a great testament to what the professional wrestling world lost when Magnum had his career ended in a brutal car crash. The guy has a phenomenal connection with his fans, a stunning mastery of ring psychology and was just an amazing wrestler. Flair v Sting is a match that’s been featured on many previous DVD releases, but it’s still worth a viewing, while Terry Funk v Jack Brisco and Race/Rhodes are reduced to five-minute highlight packages (possibly due to the lost footage) although Rhodes does give commentary on his match… and, even better, the commentary is from the time as well.
On the WCW disc, the picture quality obviously improves, as does the number of matches. The opening contest, pitting a pre-Big Poppa Pump era Scott Steiner taking on Ric Flair, is an interesting look back for fans who’s only memories of Steiner is the broken down guy who had a shocking match with Triple H in 2002 and then went to TNA. Also, the commentary from Jim Ross and Dusty Rhodes is brilliant. The match itself is let down by an obviously contrived finish, but, apart from that, it’s a great attempt by Flair to do with Scott Steiner what he did with Sting the previous year.
The other matches on the card are all good quality (and in their entirety), with the historical Ron Simmons win being nice to see on a DVD (the reaction of the crowd at the finish as unbelievable and the other wrestlers coming down add to the moment), the Vader/Steamboat match may make you have some interesting visuals when you read that it’s a Human Cage Match, but when you see it, there might be some disappointment when you realise it’s actually just a standard Lumberjack Match. Once you get past that, the match itself is really good, with Vader being the great heel that he was and Steamboat, as always, the great underdog babyface.
Hogan features in the next three matches, showing how much of a hold he had on the belt during his WCW run. The first, against Flair in the cage, is the only misstep on the second disc. The match itself is OK, but the overbooked finish sucks… even though the fans didn’t seem to mind. Bobby Heenan on commentary is, as was customary in his WCW run, the “highlight of the night”. Hulk’s match with Sting isn’t as good as the match from Starrcade the previous year, but it’s still a good match with a nice finish that, while overbooked like before, doesn’t seem as contrived and was part of the first New World Order run. Lastly, for Hogan, we have possibly the most intense night in Nitro history. 60,000+ jam-packed into the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to witness Bill Goldberg, easily the hottest thing in WCW, take on Hulk Hogan for the WCW Championship. It’s really hard to convey just how huge this match was if you weren’t there at the time, but, trust me, this was as big as it got in 1998. Hogan, who is tarred with the selfish brush, rightly or wrongly, did all he could to put Goldberg over as the next legend in pro-wrestling. The cheer from the crowd when the three-count arrives is absolutely, without exaggeration or hyperbole, something that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, giving me goosebumps every time I watch it. Seriously, the entire feeling, with great commentary by Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan adding to the whole package, is something that every fan should’ve been able to witness as it happened. Ten minutes of pure excitement that occurs so very rarely, with a finish that is just amazingly beautiful in its execution.
The WCW portion ends with Jeff Jarrett v Booker T from Bash at the Beach 2000, a match that was overshadowed by the worked-shoot between Hogan, Jarrett and Vince Russo that left everyone scratching their heads when they saw it. Taking away the Hogan stuff, Booker and Double J had a really nice outing with a well worked finish and a feel-good ending to send the fans home happy. From there, the only WCW match from the post-WWE buy-out is The Rock v Chris Jericho from No Mercy in 2001, an amazing contest that runs well over 20mins and features two men who just worked so well together. It’s a sad indictment of the state of today’s wrestling landscape that the fans don’t seem to care any more. Of course, that’s mostly down to what we’re given to view, but to see and hear how into wrestling the entire building was back then just makes me nostalgic for that era. All of that, and the brilliant chemistry of Paul Heyman and Jim Ross (for my money, a better pairing than Ross and Lawler) on commentary and an appearance from a super-hot Stephanie McMahon, add up to a stunning wrestling match.
Bringing proceedings to a close is the WWE portion, encapsulating seven years in seven matches. The first of which, Rob Van Dam v Triple H, is a really good contest, but marred by the fact the wrong guy won on the night. It’s been said that HHH holds people down and, on this evidence, it’s a hard statement to argue. Personally, I do believe he’s earned his spot at the top of the card and would have it regardless of his family connections, but he has also used it to keep himself there and this match is a perfect example of it.
The second of two Triple H matches on the set is a completely different kettle of fish. The match against HBK from Taboo Tuesday is an fifteen-minute masterclass in ring psychology. Michaels went in with a legitimate knee injury and really had no right being in the match at all, but the two guys used it to their advantage and gave us some of the most emotionally intense action of the decade.
Following on from the “most emotionally intense action of the decade” is, for me, the match of the decade. Undertaker v Kurt Angle exceeded every expectation going in, which is saying something considering the calibre of the two men in the match. There really aren’t words to do justice to the quality of this 30min encounter, it really is that special. The wrestlers, the fans, the commentary team of Taz and Cole, the finish; everything is at its peak. All I can advise you to do, if you haven’t had the good fortune to see it, is to simply sit back, get comfortable and be prepared to be entertained.
The remaining four matches cannot hope to follow ‘Taker/Angle, but that’s not to say they’re not good/great matches in their own right. Rey Mysterio, who had a really bad run as champ, has a great bout with Orton, the three-way between Batista, Undertaker and Edge is also a great match, though it’s the finish that sticks in the mind. Normally, overbooked equals piss-poor, but, in this case, it’s a bonafide work of genius. John Cena v Chris Jericho is another great bout, with the post-match being particularly worth watching (I never tire of wrestlers celebrating among the fans, especially if they have family there too) and, to close the night out, Jeff Hardy v Edge from Extreme Rules last year is an awesome Ladder Match featuring two pioneers of that match stipulation. And yes, since I know you would ask if you could, the “surprise” second match of the night is on there as well.
This is a great set, with a brilliant documentary and a stunningly good collection of matches. The main downer is that the documentary portion is too short. Of course, there’d be no way to capture around a century of history, but to have less than an hour is, to put it mildly, an insult. That being said, what is there is interesting, educational and treated with respect. The talking heads, many from years ago (mainly 2005 or 2002, with a good proportion of those being taken from other WWE releases, which comes across as lazy), aren’t wasted, the footage, especially going back to the early years is fascinating and, all in all, for a title that isn’t one of WWE’s own, this is a classy package.
All of the matches are well worth watching, with the early NWA footage being quite the history lesson for those who grew up watching from the 80s onwards. On the three discs, Magnum/Flair, Hogan/Goldberg and Angle/Undertaker garner “Match of the Era” honours (well, when it comes to those on the discs at least), but the others are all worth a viewing.
Overall, this is a great box-set and, even though the documentary is far too short (if it had been a 2hrs+ doc, this would’ve garnered a perfect score), totally deserving of a spot in your collection.