With a pay per view event every three to five weeks, the WWE had plenty of highlights to sift through to create their first compilation disc on Blu-ray. From Summerslam to Wrestlemania, Survivor Series to Night of Champions, Royal Rumble and all the "smaller" shows between, the WWE has given fans a plethora of storylines to follow, heroes to cheer, and villains to hate.
Announcers Michael Cole and Matt Striker host this self described "Best Of" feature, popping their heads in with random inanities, observations and segues every few matches, but quickly shut the hell up so fans can get right back into the action, with this cobbled assortment of headlining matches from the past year. While only a small handful of bouts get recaps to put the viewers into the context of the ensuing battle, many times the action tells all the story that needs to be told. If you have a good seven hours of free time, a need to see some carnage, and a desire for some soon-to-be classic WWE matches, sit back, and let the whirlwind of change that is the WWE suck you in.
Spoilers will be kept to a bare minimum, with no match winners revealed whatsoever, even if many of these matches are already ancient history and beyond redundant.
Edge vs John Cena (Last Man Standing Match, Backlash 2009)
This particular type of match is more of a street fight with the occasional 'rasslin' move thrown in than a traditional bout for a championship belt. Each combatant attempts to become the winner by being, well, the last man standing, knocking the hell out of their opponent. You see lots of villainous posturing, as Edge will knock down Edge, and sit back, hoping for a quick count win, allowing for plenty of "recovery" time for his opponent. We get the signature Canadian wrestler Sharpshooter, a botched step impact by Cena that is shown far too early and too slowly, and a couple of nice twists on the "Attitude Adjustment." I've never much been a fan of this kind of match, due to the constant counts, and how much time is wasted, but both performers here make up for the flawed match format with great "all or nothing" performances. The ending is controversial, and kind of hokey, but the match itself is pretty damn epic (and at about 35 minutes, it's quite lengthy, as well), and is a great way to start any compilation disc.
Christian vs Jack Swagger (Backlash, 2009)
From the same event as the Edge/Cena bout we get a battle between two midcard performers who are high on talent, with the veteran Christian (the former tag partner of Edge) taking on the "All American American" Jack Swagger, the holder of the now (again) defunct ECW Championship. These two well-balanced battlers sport complimentary styles that create a very entertaining, often technical match that would be considered "one of the best" if it a larger name grappler were involved. There's nothing not to like here, with no real shortcomings, flubs, gaffes, or missed opportunities to be found. A great match!
Jeff Hardy vs Edge (Judgment Day, 2009)
Christian wasn't a serious title contender in his first go-through in the WWE, and a trip to TNA showed what the performer really could do. In the same vein, it took a trip to TNA for Jeff Hardy to realize potential (or, should I say, get main event billing). These two performers have a lengthy history, considering the fact that they were both pivotal in the proliferation of Tables, Ladders, & Chairs matches with their respective tag partners, and often traded titles back and forth in the Attitude era of the WWE. Let's also not forget the whole situation with Edge screwing (literally) the girlfriend of Jeff's brother in real life...
In a clear battle of "face" vs "heel" (better known as good guy vs bad guy), with obvious crowd allegiances, the nimble high flier battles the calculating manipulator in a see-saw battle that is loaded with high impact maneuvers and a wide variety of scenarios. There's nary a moment of repetition or boredom to be found. The use of the "Sharpshooter" feels awkward, and it can be argued that it was performed incorrectly with the way it is lifted to assist its victim reaching the ropes. Hardy is sloppy again late in the match, with a rope climbing error that may have been scripted, but may have been just a flub. This one's enjoyable for any audience, as these two do go all out. There's a reason Edge is already in two featured bouts, and it isn't his hair....well, it might be the hair.
Rey Mysterio vs Chris Jericho (The Bash, 2009)
How many times is Rey Mysterio's mask going to be a stipulation in the match, where a loss by the San Diegan luchadore would cause him to lose part of his physical identity? Seemingly every other match, considering how often we're in this spot. As an open detractor to Mysterio, it brings great pleasure to me to see any wrestler swing the master of the "619" into a barracade like a baseball bat, or any other nasty bump, so needless to say, regardless of outcome, I got a moment that I can replay over and over, any time I get tired of seeing Mysterio do his routine. There are some innovative moves, high risk, high reward attacks, and plenty of back and forth action, despite the lack of any real storytelling in the fight. This battle (and that is an understatement) brings out some big knocks, huge counters, technical wrestling, and the nastiest "Codebreaker" I've seen in some time. As much as I loathe the repetition in Mysterio bouts, the crafting in this match is superb, even if there's no real emotion behind it.
Kofi Kingston vs MVP vs The Miz vs Jack Swagger vs Carlito vs Primo (6-Pack Challenge, Night of Champions, 2009)
The whole "6-Pack" monicker is just a fancy way of saying this is a six man match with the first pinfall earning the win for the entire bout, and the United States Championship. The inclusion of Primo in this show to replace Big Show (who was slotted in to a different match, for the tag titles) is somewhat of a letdown, considering there is no disparity left between participants. The camera has a hard time keeping up with the action, as many hits go unnoticed, or seen slightly in the background, only to disappear off screen. There's a humongous knock with a double suplex/powerbomb combination that didn't even get a crowd chant for its awesomeness and creativity, as well as a few other tandem hits that are beyond impressive. Then again, there are moments where four participants just sit down and pretend to be injured so a big hit can happen, then suddenly gain vigor and incentive to fight again, quite sloppily.
John Cena vs Triple H vs Randy Orton (Triple Threat Match, Night of Champions, 2009)
With three of the biggest names in the business facing off against each other in a Wrestlemania rematch of sorts, it's easy to tell sparks are going to fly between this trio of champions (and former champions). We get great performances by all three, with their abilities to sell more than just the actions they're performing. It's hard to not like a match like this, considering the random allegiance changes, tide turnings, and random counters. There's a reason the crowd goes absolutely apeshit during this match, folks, and it isn't (solely) because the gals in the rafters due to Cena's popularity. There's also one of the coolest submissions in history, as two men do different submissions on the same man at the same time! A great main event for any pay per view, though it's too short to headline any of the larger events.
Dolph Ziggler vs Rey Mysterio (Summerslam, 2009)
An uninteresting newcomer with no real gimmick or characteristic takes on the (at the time) Intercontinental Champ. This is a well performed match that often feels like a squash match, considering how one sided it is. Then, you know, shit happens. It isn't very sensical that ten minutes of offense is turned around in less than a minute to give the constant victim the win, but that happens quite a bit with one of these performers. This one is frustrating also due to the obvious outcome after huge hit after huge hit doesn't earn a three count. Some great counters (including a flub that is recovered from nicely), heavy hits, and fast paced action are the norm here. This is really the first questionable choice in this release, but it's better than anything found in the 2010 Royal Rumble by about ten miles.
Jeff Hardy vs CM Punk (Tables, Ladders, & Chairs Match, Summerslam, 2009)
For those unaware of the gimmicks of these two wrestlers, there's a high flying, risk taking Hardy brother who has had a well documented problem with drugs, facing off against the similarly talented, overly tattooed Punk, whose longest standing gimmick is his "Straight Edge" lifestyle. The contrast between the two makes for great storytelling, especially considering the fact that clean living is the villainous choice here, considering the methods used by Punk. It's quite the juxtaposition. These two had a huge feud in 2009, before Hardy got in trouble with the law, and Punk was transformed into a cult leader character.
TLC matches haven't been all that spectacular since the days of the Dudleyz, Hardyz, and Edge and Christian, with Money in the Bank Ladder Matches taking their spotlight, but vintage extreme is a good fit for these two. Unfortunately, the screaming of an overly excited child in the audience constantly rooting on Hardy (spouting out advice) distracts one from the action of these battlers as they destroy themselves. The exaggerated slow "climb" is present far too often, but there are some great knocks off the tops of ladders, and some nice chair and table destruction, as well. Anyone who says wrestling is fake, that these men are not athletes needs to watch the impacts alone here, to see the numerous blows that are undeniably nasty. The countered "Swanton Bomb," ladder superplex, and, of course, the tip top of the ladder "Swanton" through the SAT are beyond sickening. It's a shame that the finale doesn't have a real highlight, as this one climaxes too soon, with one of the better highlight reel hits in recent memory.
John Cena vs Randy Orton (I Quit Match, Breaking Point, 2009)
A climax to yet another prolonged arc between headliners on a respective WWE "brand" for the key belt in the show, this match features the stipulation of a victory only being attainable after the loser mutters the words "I quit." Of course, from the start, this one made me want to quit watching, since Orton was still in his 30 minute walk to the ring phase. Then again, his snail like approach gave me time to watch an entire episode of 'Perfect Strangers.' Oh, that zany Balki Bartokomous!
I like this crowd, I really do. It's hard not to like fans who chant "Cena sucks!," booing his every move. It's also fun to watch John Cena get clobbered for extended periods of time. This match is pretty horrendous, as it lacks any real wrestling acumen, as it's just a street fight with a pair of handcuffs used in random positions, awkwardly. There's no real innovation, just some weapon hits, and an illogical ending. Possibly, honestly, the worst match on this release so far! On another note, perhaps the horror fan in me has created a spoiled monster, but all it would take here is a power tool to make this one truly interesting. It'd also be great for those of us who have no emotional attachment whatsoever to either of these men. I'd rather watch Scott Hall and Jake the Snake Roberts battle over the rummy championship bottle.
D-Generation X (Triple H, Shawn Michaels) vs The Legacy (Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase) (Hell in a Cell, 2009)
Hell. In. A. Cell. Basically, a steel cage match, only the cage is covered on top, and is bigger. Possibly the greatest fight (it wasn't a "match") in WWE history took place in this structure, as Mankind (Mick Foley) took on The Undertaker all the way back in 1998, producing the amazing shot of a man flying from so high down through the announcing tables below. This particular match in the famed metal cage is the nineteenth Hell in a Cell bout, proving the popularity of the event in its short time in existence.
This battle is about generations facing each other, the established champions facing the young up and comers, children of the generation before. It's also a sad, sad reminder on how old Shawn Michaels has gotten recently. His balding is beyond obvious, from a huge gap up top, to later moments where his extreme recede is on full display. We get a memorable, though at the same time, forgettable match from the four men, with some silliness involving being locked out of the match. The finale is nice, but this one is just one big exercise in patience.
Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Big Show, Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes, Jack Swagger, & Kofi Kingston vs Chris Jericho, Kane, Matt Hardy, Finlay,
R-Truth, David Hart Smith, & Tyson Kidd (Bragging Rights, 2009) Speaking of silliness, how about a massive match involving talent from both of the WWE "brands," in an attempt to prove which one is superior? Which team will take "home" the trophy?!?! The suspense!!!! The drama!!! The...oh who gives a shit about the damn trophy or point, just have a bunch of guys fight, already!
This match is awkward, with constant tags that try to involve the entire crew, regardless of momentum. It's also odd to see that Swagger is the same height as Kane. The entire event devolves into a random compilation of signature moves, sloppily. The highlight has to be Jerry "The King" Lawler talking shit about Tyson Kidd, stating how hard it must have been for him to get the night off from Red Lobster, and then being humiliated after commenting on trunk inscriptions to "stop looking at peoples trunks!". This one is just brutal, and not even the few gems from the commenatators can save it. If anything, they only show how unspectacular this whole fracas is, since apparently words can be more entertaining than a whole bunch of whoop ass.
The Miz, Jack Swagger, Sheamus, Drew McIntyre, & Dolph Ziggler vs John Morrison, Evan Bourne, Matt Hardy, Finlay, & Shelton Benjamin (Survivor Series, 2009)
While the Bragging Rights match was a massive tag match that relied on a single pin or submission, the classic Survivor Series match, a tradition over twenty years old in the WWE, is an elimination match between two teams, with each defeated wrestler being removed from the match, until only one side remains. This bout has one more participant than the standard "old school" flavor of the bout, but at least it isn't twisted and deformed to the point of being unrecognizable, like a Rob Zombie remake.
This match features tons of young talent... an old brawler and a former high flier who has been grounded in recent years, an odd couple in an otherwise uniform bout. We see some great athletic feats from Bourne, big burly brawling from Sheamus and Finlay, some attention to the Miz/Morrison rivalry, some attacks that are energetic and damn near exaggerated in their intensity by Benjamin, and plenty of great teamwork, especially as the numbers game develops. This one isn't too suspenseful, but it has good performances throughout.
Christian vs Shelton Benjamin (TLC: Tables, Ladders, & Chairs, 2009)
While the event is named after Tables, Ladders, & Chairs, this particular match is a dedicated Ladder match, for the defunct ECW championship. Amazingly, oddly, when Christian gets busted open, the match is stopped, literally, as medical aid is administered. After the stoppage, though, the match does retain its pace and purpose, thankfully. There's some great ladder maneuvering (a theme in recent years in the WWE, compared to the golden era of the ladder match), a few huge knocks, and even some dangling moments from the clasp, a rarity, to be sure. This one always hints that it's predictable, but bucks convention each time, and provides some shining moments instead. I have to wonder about the red material inside a split ladder, but even if that break is botched, this ladder match brings the goods!
Michelle McCool vs Mickie James (Royal Rumble, 2010)
Not this again! I understand the reasoning in having a Divas match in each and every pay per view event, and as such, in this compilation, but this entire storyline is painfully awful, and awfully painful. We get a recap of the events leading up to this match, with the slender, model-esque champion mocking her challenger, calling her Piggie James, mocking her weight. The thing is, we're talking about the WWE Divas here, and not even their strong-woman, Beth Phoenix, is overweight. They're all so very toned and athletic these days, in a movement that began in the days of Sunny, Sable, Trish, Marlena, and Lita. This isn't like the Fabulous Moolah in her rotund heyday.
So, after seeing a horrendously unfunny and unentertaining recap, we get to the ring, where the ratio between pre-match posturing and actual match is 4:1; four parts bullshit, one part, or should I say, one move wrestling. If anyone in the WWE felt this was the highlight of the 2009-2010 Divas, they're nuts. Avoid. This. "Match." Just press next chapter. This isn't me saying the Divas don't have talent. This is me saying that wouldn't even pass as entertaining on Jerry Springer.
Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania XXVI, 2010)
Since this match has already been reviewed on this very site in the Wrestlemania XXVI review, there isn't much need to re-recap it, so the following is an excerpt of that review.
After pimping out the new Shawn Michaels DVD (in stores now, by the way, in case you were interested), we get to the main event. A main event with no title on the line. Instead, the men have a different stipulation. If Mark Calloway...err...Undertaker wins, Shawn Michaels retires. If Michaels wins...the undefeated streak of the "Dead Man" at Wrestlemania is over! That's kind of like betting your brand new car against a Superman action figure, totally lame bet. Who cares if someone has a winning streak in a pre-determined sport? That's about as artificial as the breasts on most of the Divas.
The bout itself? Well, it's a lengthy battle, folks, between two of the most veteran performers in the company, a rematch of their match at the previous Wrestlemania. The bar is raised, and the effort and story is also upped. We get all the signatures and trademarks of each legendary fighter, in a bout that goes back and forth with nearly every minute. There are a few beautiful set ups, as well. In the end, this is a fine finale to any event, though it only gets top billing due to emotional issues. A great job in storytelling by the two athletes.
In closing, this compilation of the "best" pay per view matches in 2009 (and the early part of 2010) isn't without flaw, but they're few and far between. The majority of the choices in this release are stellar, entertaining, and riveting. That said, a few horrendous choices leave a bad taste in one's mouth. Fans of the WWE will get a kick out of this release, unless they bought every single event on DVD (or the two Blu-ray releases) already; we get plenty of the now-retired Jim Ross (JR!), and lots of exposure for the fan favorites, including some no longer with the company. The inclusion of only one Wrestlemania match makes sense, and they picked the right one to finish this release. That said, there shouldn't have been a single Royal Rumble bout, as that event was flat awful. The choice for said event was the low point, to boot. Titles change hands quite often in this release, and that can get distracting, but all in all, this is one solid release, loaded to the brim with WWE content. And just think, there are even a few more matches on this release (see the High Def Exclusives area of this review for more!).
The Disc: Vital Stats
WWE: Best Pay Per View Matches 2009-2010 arrives on Blu-ray spread across two BD50 discs that are Region A locked. As of the posting of this review, this title is a Best Buy store (and online) exclusive, but there are plans to release this compilation in late August to every other distributor of Blu-ray discs. The majority of the pre-menu trailers are found on disc one, and only some are skippable. The "do not try this at home" reminder is not skippable, nor is the spot for the National Guard, which is complete bullshit. Just as we aren't forced to enlist in any military service in this country, we also shouldn't be forced to see their propaganda. Disc two features only one pre-menu trailer, the same warning to not emulate the events shown in this release, and it is also not skippable. There is no setup tab on either disc in this release, as there are no dubs or subtitles available. A booklet is included with a listing of each match and extra in this release.
Wrestlemania XXVI was a terrible looking release from the WWE, especially compared to the Royal Rumble 2010 disc that preceded it. It was loaded with more macroblocking than even the biggest Lego or Duplo collection. Best of 2009-2010 is a step back in the right direction, coming close to the superb visual quality of the Royal Rumble disc. Any 1.33:1 footage shown in recaps is shown with blurred pillarboxes, and the effect works nicely, especially compared to a constant jump back and forth from solid black pillars. No stigma like the one found in the constant changing found in the Big Screen Edition of 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' here!
The AVC MPEG-4 transfer at 1080i in 1.78:1 boasts colors that stand solid, without any banding problems or bleeding, and there's nary a moment of ringing to be found. Black levels are nice, and appropriate, though at times they (along with skin tones) get washed out by harsh arena lighting, and I think that we can all agree that isn't a fair thing to criticize. Skin tones are often appropriate, though each time Christian appears, his (probable) spray-on-tan gives him a jaundiced appearance. The further a match wears, the redder we see backs and chests get, while bruising is also quite evident. Stray hairs pop, as do even little arm hairs and fuzz, and even sweat beads that build up over time.
There are some problems to be found, though. Artifacts are present pretty much throughout the course of the program, especially on the edges of ring ropes, a problem that stays the entire run time, all (nearly) seven hours of it. Some matches have a foggy appearance at times, partially due to lingering smoke from pyrotechnics, but also due to a few obviously "off" cameras that get constantly cut to. As such, brightness levels fluctuate quite a bit. The rocking scale logo for Judgment Day was so loaded with aliasing, that jagged lines may have been the best "heel" at the event. The steps leading to the ring on both sides are constant in their shimmering and dancing appearance, as they alias and moire endlessly. There's also a tiny bit of aliasing in hair in a few matches, but it isn't significant. Shots of Cole and Striker between matches often have a blurred aesthetic that looks pretty damn bland and flat. The worst moment visually in this release has to be any shot seen from the outside of the Hell in a Cell structure looking in, as artifacts lace the edge of each and every square, creating a disastrous look. Bright reds, like the Night of Champions carpet, look very, very fuzzy, and not just due to being carpet.
In a direct comparison between Wrestlemania XXVI and this disc, in the only applicable match (Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels) the upgrade here is beyond noticeable. The difference is pretty drastic, especially in the macroblocking department, as they are damn near completely obliterated. The artifacting around ring ropes is slightly more pronounced, though, but I'd make that trade any day. In fact, macroblocking only pops up on a couple short moments, most noticeably during Matt Hardy's entrance to the Survivor Series bout.
Like previous WWE releases, this one sounds pretty bad. Not UFC bad, but still, bad. Host dialogue is flat, soft, no matter how loud you crank it up. Commentators are constantly drowned out by theme music, or chanting crowds, or armies of mimes.
Crowd noise often blurs into a mess that leaves only one word per chant discernible. Best yet, listening to the crowd reaction the first time Cena is introduced, it feels like the whole event went stereo until the match actually starts, when rear ambience picks back up, even if softly. There's some cracking in larger impacts, particularly one found in a slam in the Christian vs Jack Swagger bout, and I'm not referring to the mat cracking or bones breaking, it's actual audio crack. Rears are dead save for random ambience, and it is so minute that a stereo mix wouldn't have made the mix feel any less immersive. Dynamic range is minimal, and the theme music is a perfect example, with no real lows or highs, including flat trumpets in Cena's opening song. There's not even any bass in the music...or, honestly, the entire event. When buying this release on Blu-ray, you had better not be thinking you're getting a true high def experience when it comes to the audio. It sucks.
This WWE compilation disc brings the goods, with plenty of amazing bouts featuring the fan favorite stars and villains we all love and/or hate. The bouts dubbed the "best" of 2009-2010 are damn near infallible, but a couple of very, very bad choices leave me scratching my head as to what the heck is going on around here! One will notice the fact that there is very little content from 'Wrestlemania XXVI' and the 'Royal Rumble 2010' on this release, and it isn't just to not be redundant. With great video, a huge upgrade from the 'Wrestlemania XXVI' disc, and the usual crap audio, this one would be a bit of a grey area, recommendation wise. But throw in four bonus matches, and this one earns an easy recommendation.