Many consider it to be sacred ground, as the spiritual home of World Wrestling Entertainment, and now we're going to look at the DVD set dedicated to one of the greatest venues not just in professional wrestling, but in the world. The release in question is The Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden.
And as is the custom with these things, let's start right at the beginning with.....
February 8th, 1971
Newly-crowned WWWF Champion Ivan Koloff makes his first defence as he takes on U.S. American Champion Pedro Morales.
This is by far the oldest match I've reviewed in a while, and it certainly was a different era back then, with wrestling regulated by the state athletic authorities, the ring with four ropes each side instead of three, and MSG shows subject to an eleven o'clock curfew.
The match itself may seem somewhat sedate for some modern day fans, but as someone who's been a fan for nearly all of my 42 years I found it to be quite enjoyable. The big Russian Bear sought to use his size and strength advantage to wear his challenger down, throwing in a few underhanded tactics along the way.
Morales managed to survive these cheating ways, as well as Koloff's much feared bear hug, before making his comeback and almost getting the pin after a top rope bodyblock. Koloff tried to come back, but when he grabbed his challenger with a reverse waist lock Morales put his feet on the turnbuckles and pushed backwards. Both men landed on the mat with their shoulders down, and when the referee made his count Morales raised his shoulder at the last instance to get the title winning pin, much to the annoyance of the Russian.
June 27th, 1977
Legendary former champion Bruno Sammartino, accompanied by Arnold Skaaland, gets another shot as he challenges Grand Wizard guy "Superstar" Billy Graham for the WWWF title.
I have to admit that the old school fan in me really loved this one. These two put together a match that was so simple but completely effective from start to finish, and they had the MSG fans eating out of the palms of their hands throughout.
It began with Graham taunting Sammartino with the title belt during the introductions. Sammartino was so hacked off that he attacked Graham before the bell, giving him the woodshed treatment early on. The pace slowed down a little a few moments later as they exchanged various holds, but whenever Sammartino took the advantage Graham always escaped the holds by going to the ropes.
Graham's tactics eventually became too much for Sammartino to swallow as they began brawling around the ring. The referee tried to stop them, but he often found himself being pushed to one side whenever he tried to get in between them. It soon became obvious that both men had lost control as the referee called for the bell, disqualifying both men and declaring the match a draw, much to the annoyance of the fans.
May 19th, 1980
It's the turn of another Grand Wizard guy, Intercontinental Champion Ken Patera, as he challenges Arnold Skaaland's boy Bob Backlund for the WWF title in a Texas Death Match.
These days this kind of match would involve two guys hitting each other with chairs for fifteen minutes before one of them got put through a table. By comparison this was a somewhat more sedate affair, although that didn't make it any the less riveting.
The Texas Death Match stipulation basically meant that it was a no holds barred affair, which meant that these two were able to punch and choke each other. There was quite a bit of brawling, but there were also some nice technical exchanges mixed in as well.
The crowd went absolutely nuts for everything as these two beat the proverbial out of each other, especially when Patera slammed Backlund onto the concrete floor, and when Backlund made his comebacks they got even louder.
But just when I was thinking that no holds barred meant they were just going to punch each other Patera clobbered Backlund with his title belt, busting him open. It wasn't long before Backlund was wearing the crimson mask, and it also wasn't long before Patera joined him when he rammed his head into the ring post.
Patera then took it up another notch when he grabbed a chair. The referee tried in vain to take it from him, but after his attempt to hit the champion with it failed Backlund managed to get hold of it and clobbered his challenger. That signalled the beginning of the end. A few moments later Backlund climbed to the top rope and came down with a cross bodyblock for the title retaining win.
Afterwards Patera took to the microphone and accused Backlund of cheating, which is something I thought was impossible in a no rules match. He then tried to attack the champion, with Backlund sending him packing after a back bodydrop and a dropkick.
September 22nd, 1980
It's a match to see who is the best in the world, a title versus title encounter between NWA World Champion Harley Race and his WWF counterpart Bob Backlund.
This is a match I've been wanting to see for years, a match between arguably the two biggest stars in American wrestling at that time, and it didn't disappoint.
The slow methodical approach was very much the order of the day in this encounter. Backlund controlled much of the early going as he tried to wear Race down with headlocks and abdominal stretches until the handsome one came back, using his brawling-based style to take control.
As the match went on it was obvious that this was special. Race may have been making his MSG debut, but the fans in attendance treated him with the utmost respect, even though they wanted their boy to win.
Later, as the match went on and both men were cut open, Backlund applied a sleeper hold, but just when it looked like he was going to add the NWA strap to his collection Race grabbed the referee and pulled him into him. The official was momentarily stunned, and when he regained his senses a few seconds later he called for the bell, disqualifying Race and giving Backlund the win, but not the NWA World title.
January 23rd, 1984
Hulkamania is about to run wild as Hulk Hogan challenges Freddie Blassie guy the Iron Sheik for the WWF title.
This is the proverbial blink or you'll miss it affair. Hogan controlled the early going when he attacked Sheik before he'd had the chance to get his ring gear off, with the champion coming back a few moments later, working over Hogan's back in preparation for his vaunted camel clutch.
When that hold came it looked all over for the Hulkster, but the challenger managed to power out, getting the Sheik off his back by barging him into the turnbuckles, and after he crumpled to the mat Hogan came off the ropes for the big leg drop and the title winning pin in a shade over five minutes.
After the match Sheik refused medical help when they tried to put him on a stretcher, instead opting to try and attack the new champion, who responded in a rather symbolic way by throwing Sheik over the top rope.
June 16th, 1984
It's another outing for the Iron Sheik, and once again he's facing another all-American hero in the form of Sgt. Slaughter in a boot camp match.
The rules for this one were simple. It was basically a no holds barred contest, with the winner determined only by pinfall, which could be obtained either in the ring or around ringside.
This one was brutal. Essentially these two beat the proverbial out of each other. There were chair shots, headbutts while wearing army helmets, whipping by belt, and plenty of use of both wrestler's loaded boots.
The crowd were absolutely rabid and loved every minute of it, especially when the blood began to flow, although obviously they got even louder when it was the Sheik's blood that was flowing.
Eventually something had to give, and after the Sheik took off one of his loaded boots and tried to clobber his man with it Sarge managed to get his hands on the footwear, and after a couple of taps to load it up it he dropped Sheik like a bad habit. A three count later and it was all over.
March 31st, 1985
It's the very first Wrestlemania as WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, with Jimmy Snuka in their corner, take on Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, with Bob Orton as their back-up guy.
Now this was a celebrity-laden spectacle. You had Liberace as the time keeper, some baseball guy as the ring announcer, one of my heroes Muhammad Ali as the special ringside referee, and let's not forget Pat Patterson as the main referee.
The match itself was okay, and it won't go down as the greatest match in Wrestlemania history, but it certainly served it's purpose. The performances from the most part were spot on, and although T looked like a fish out of water at times he did okay, which wasn't that bad considering that he'd threatened to pull out of the match just hours before.
The crowd certainly got the result they wanted to see, which came during the final all hell breaking loose moment. As Patterson tried to stop T and Piper from brawling Orndorff held Hogan in a full nelson while Orton came down off the top rope. But when Hogan moved out of the way Orton clobbered Orndorff with his loaded wrist cast. The Hulkster then covered Orndorff for his first Wrestlemania main event win.
Frustrated by their loss, Piper slugged Patterson before Orton joined him in leaving Orndorff in the ring. When Mr. Wonderful finally awoke he found himself surrounded by Hogan and his buddies, with his so-called friends nowhere to be as he began his baby face turn.
August 10th, 1985
Paul Orndorff has found himself a new tag team partner as he teams with Andre the Giant against Roddy Piper and Bob Orton.
Although this was a relatively short encounter it was pretty entertaining. We had a brief brawl at the beginning, and from there Andre spent a great deal of time trying to get the vaunted cast off Orton's arm, with Orndorff tagging in and upping the tempo a little.
It wasn't long before the all hell breaking loose segment, and while Orndorff tried to take care of Piper Andre had Orton backed into a corner. The Cowboy sent the Giant crashing with a well placed knee to the kidneys, but when he came off the second rope, intent on clobbering Andre with the cast the big man raised his foot, catching Orton in the jaw. Legal man Orndorff then covered Orton for the winning pin.
August 29th, 1988
It's the very first Summerslam, and Jimmy Hart guy the Honkytonk Man defends his Intercontinental title against the Ultimate Warrior.
Originally HTM had been scheduled to defend his title against Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, but with the Barber put on the shelf by Ron Bass the champion came down to the ring not knowing who his challenger would be. At one point Honky grabbed the microphone and said he'd face anyone.
Then the music hit, and the crowd went wild. The Warrior raced down to the ring, beat the champion senseless, and sealed the deal after a big splash, all in the blink of an eye.
August 26th, 1991
It's another Summerslam battle as Bret Hart challenges Mr. Perfect, accompanied by his new manager the Coach (no, not Jonathan Coachman) for the Intercontinental title.
This is a classic, pure and simple, especially when you consider all of the variables in this one. Not only was it the match that launched the Hitman as a singles star in the WWF you have to consider just how Curt Hennig put him over. Hennig was suffering from a back injury that almost ended his career, but instead of taking the easy way out and simply giving up the title he wanted to do the right thing and lose it in the ring, and despite the injury he put in what for me is the best performance of his career.
It began with Hart dominating the early going, frustrating Perfect so much that he tried to head for the hills. Hart ripped Perfect's tights off him when he went to stop him, and from there we were treated to a tremendous back and forth encounter filled with an absolute ton of great technical action. The storytelling was, for want of a better term, perfect, and the MSG crowd ate up everything these two gave them.
The beginning of the end came when Coach jumped up onto the ring apron. The Hitman sent him packing with a big right before Perfect kicked the middle rope into his proverbials. The perfect one then connected with a leg drop to Hart's lower abdomen, but when he went for the move a second time Hart grabbed his legs and locked in the sharpshooter, with Perfect submitting as soon as Hart turned him over, giving Hart the submission win and his first singles title in the WWF.
March 20th, 1994
It's onto Wrestlemania X, and that ladder match between two men claiming to be the true Intercontinental Champion, Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels.
This match came about because Michaels was injured or had lost his smile or something and was stripped of the title. Ramon won the tournament to crown a new champion, but when Michaels returned with his big bodyguard Diesel in tow he brought back his title belt, claiming to be the true IC champ. Both of the belts were hanging above the ring, and the winner had to grab both of them to win the match.
Ladder matches have got quite brutal over the past few years, and although this one would seem quite tame compared to it's more modern counterparts it's still a masterpiece of storytelling, with the Kliq buddies putting in great performances.
It was filled with a ton of drama. Diesel was ejected from the building early on after he attacked Razor, and once the big man was out of the way these two went at it tooth and nail, holding nothing back as they beat the proverbial out of each other with their moves and more importantly with the ladder.
Both men came extremely close to grabbing the belts, but no matter what they tried the other would always come back and foil their attempts, which often meant that they'd be thrown or kicked from the top of the ladder.
It was a similar situation that saw the beginning of the end. As Michaels was about to grab the belt Razor shoulder-barged the ladder, sending it flying and crotching Michaels on the top rope, with his momentum tying up his leg in the top two strands. Now clear of any interference, Razor scaled the ladder, grabbing the belts just as Michaels freed himself to become the undisputed champion.
November 26th, 1994
It's a few days after the Survivor Series, and newly crowned WWF Champion Bob Backlund defends his title against newly-turned Diesel.
The story has it that Backlund's original opponent and the man he beat for the title, Bret Hart, was too banged up to compete after their match at the Survivor Series, which is why Diesel, who turned on his buddy Shawn Michaels on the same show, was put in this match in his place. The match also had a few stipulations, no DQ, no submissions, no a few other things, and with the win only determined by pin.
This definitely was the blink or you'll miss it affair. The entire match lasted just eight seconds. There was a brief staredown before Diesel kicked Backlund in the bread basket and took him down with the jack-knife powerbomb for the title winning pin.
I still wonder why they decided to go with Diesel as the champ, especially after all the time and effort they invested in the Backlund/Hart feud, and how things would have played out if they'd given Backlund a longer title reign.
November 17th, 1996
It's the Survivor Series and the debut of the most electrifying man in sports entertainment as Rocky Maivia teams with Marc Mero, the Stalker & Jake Roberts against Intercontinental Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush, Goldust & Jerry Lawler.
Originally the rookie Mark Henry was meant to be a part of Mero's team, but with the big man injured Mero surprised everyone by recruiting the Snake, much to the annoyance of Lawler, his rival at the time.
The match itself was your typical Survivor Series affair. The majority of the performances was okay, but if I'm to be entirely truthful here I found the performance of the future Rock a tad disappointing. There were a few flashes here and there but he didn't actually do much until later in the match after the rest of his team had been eliminated. And speaking of those eliminations.....
Lawler was the first man to go. Roberts had tagged in after Maivia had taken the punching bag treatment, and although all four members of the opposition had ganged up on him at one point he soon came back and took the King down with his DDT for the pin.
The Stalker was next. After taking the upper hand against Goldust Crush connected with a right hand to his kidneys, setting him up so Goldust could take him down with the curtain call.
Team captain Helmsley soon followed. Having dished out a ton of punishment to Mero Trips found himself distracted by Roberts, and after decking the Snake with a big right when he turned round Mero connected with his Mero-sault to take the pin.
His counterpart Mero soon joined him. The Wildman crashed and burned when a dive over the top rope was foiled, and while our esteemed commentary team were busy watching the replay Crush connected with a heart punch to eliminate the team captain.
The same move took out Roberts just seconds later after Crush ducked under Roberts' short arm clothesline attempt, and a three count later the Snake was gone.
This left the rookie Maivia alone against Crush and Goldust, and when the face-painted one held him while Crush prepared for another heart punch Maivia moved out of the way, the blow hitting Goldust instead. Maivia then came off the ropes and connected with a bodyblock for the pin before taking Goldust out with a shoulder breaker for the final pin of the match.
September 22nd, 1997
it's on to Monday Night Raw, and Mrs. Foley's baby boy morphs into Cactus Jack as he takes on Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a falls count anywhere match.
Originally Trips had been scheduled to take on Dude Love, but in a rather unique video segment the Dudester recommended Mankind for the match, who in turn recommended Cactus Jack.
So with all of that out of the way these two proceeded to beat the proverbial out of each other with anything they could get their hands on. Trips' not so lovely bodyguard Chyna got her hands dirty at periodic intervals, but was taken out of the equation when Trips pushed Cactus into her and she got sandwiched against the ring steps.
Eventually they brawled their way up to the stage, and just when Trips was about to take his man out with the pedigree through a table Cactus countered with a low blow. He then took Trips down with a piledriver through the wood for the winning pin.
January 23rd, 2000
It's the first ever tag team tables match and a battle of the brothers as Jeff & Matt Hardy face Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley at the Royal Rumble.
The stipulations for this one were simple. To win a team had to put both of their opponents through tables, although the "loser" would be able to remain in the match.
The first thing that came into my mind when this match began was that it didn't seem like this match was over fourteen years ago. It's still quite fresh in my memory, mainly because at that time I hadn't seen anything like this.
In reality it didn't actually last that long, a shade over the ten minute mark, but the action was so intense that didn't matter as these teams tried to beat the you know what out of each other. There were plenty of jaw dropping moments, especially when the bodies were flying and crashing through the tables. As for those table smashing moments.....
Bubba Ray was the first to go through the wood, with Matt coming off a ladder and Jeff coming off the top rope to put him through a table at ringside.
Matt was next. After both of the Hardys had crashed and burned in their attempts to get Devon the Dudleys set up a table on top of the metal steps inside the ring. Bubba then planted Matt through the wood with a powerbomb from the second rope.
The final elimination gave us a couple of OMG moments. The Dudleys had set up a stack of tables in the aisle, and after they'd put Matt on them Bubba dragged Jeff to the balcony above them. Jeff managed to fight back though, and after clobbering Bubba with a chair and sending him crashing from the balcony through two tables Matt recovered enough to stun Devon enough to put him on the remaining table. Jeff then came down with a swanton from the balcony, putting Devon through the table and winning the match for his team.
August 7th, 2000
It's on to Raw, and a triple threat match between Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Triple H, with the winner challenging the Rock for the WWF title at Summerslam.
This was another of those short and sweet encounters that had a lot of drama surrounding it. It was the height of the McMahon/Helmsley era, with the WWF being controlled by Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon (this is starting to sound familiar). You also the love triangle between Trips, Steph and Angle, a scenario which promised much but ultimately went nowhere.
The match itself was quite decent. In between the almost constant attempts at one-gunmanship between Trips and Angle there were some very good sequences as all three men came close to earning that title shot.
Confusion reigned at the end though. After Angle and Trips had worked together for the one and only time when they took Jericho down with a back superplex off the top rope both men draped an arm over Jericho as the referee made his count. Nobody knew who won until the referee raised both of their hands.
Then, after Stephanie tried to stop Trips and Angle from brawling the Rock left his commentary position and cleaned house, taking Trips and Angle down with rock bottoms, and after Steph slapped the taste out of his mouth the Rock took her down with a rock bottom as well.
March 14th, 2004
It's the opening match of the grand-daddy of them all, Wrestlemania XX, and John Cena challenges the Big Show for the United States title.
Cena's first ever Wrestlemania match seemed a little strange at first, and not because of the awful pre-match rap in which he made fun of his opponent. The reason it seemed strange was the fact that the entire MSG crowd were behind him, and whenever I heard a "let's go Cena" chant I never heard the requisite reply.
The match itself was the proverbial David versus Goliath encounter in which the Big Show dominated the majority of the action. Cena's had a few fleeting moments of offence, and when he managed to take the big man down with the FU (the attitude adjuster as it's known in today's PG world) he was shocked when Show kicked out of the pin.
Cena knew that he'd have to resort to drastic measures to get the job done. After the referee stopped him from using his chain he took that big ring he used to wear, put it over his knuckles, and clobbered show right in the head when the referee was otherwise distracted. A second FU later, and Cena had the title winning pin.
September 11th, 2006
It's Trish Stratus' last match on Raw as she goes up against her one-time stalker Mickie James.
The Monday night swansong of one of the most improved wrestlers in WWE history may not have lasted that long, but it was a great example of Trish's work. Together these two put together some nice little back and forth exchanges, and at one point it looked like Mickie was going to spoil Trish's party a little.
It also looked like Women's Champion Lita was going to play the spoiler for her long-time rival, and even though she provided a momentary distraction Trish kicked her off the ring apron as she took Mickie down with her Stratusfaction finisher for the win.
November 16th, 2009
It's back to Raw for the final match of the collection as Tag Team Champions Chris Jericho and the Big Show face Shawn Michaels and Triple H of D-Generation X and the team of WWE Champion John Cena and World Champion the Undertaker in a triple threat tag team match.
This star studded encounter was a preview for the two triple threat main event matches at the upcoming Survivor Series, with Cena defending his title against DX and the Undertaker defending his title against the Tag Champs. It's a shame they weren't given a bit longer, because with all that talent they could have told a hell of a story.
That being said though, this is still a very enjoyable encounter. All six men got to bring out the big guns, especially towards the end during the all hell breaking loose segment, which ended with Cena taking Trips down with the attitude adjuster for the win. He only got in a few moments of celebration though before the Undertaker turned on him, taking him down with a tombstone in an attempt to show who the dominant champion was.
Disc Three is where you'll also find a few other segments as well, such as Steve Austin's first stunner on Vince McMahon, John Cena returning at the 2008 Royal Rumble, and Triple H returning to Raw in January 2002.
In conclusion - so after several hours and several thousand words you're probably wondering what my final conclusion is, aren't you? Unless you stopped reading somewhere around my Disc Two review.
If you didn't, thanks for staying with me, because you'll find out that I think if you buy this release you're not only in for a great ride but you're also in for a great history lesson. I really enjoyed each and every aspect of this release, but the thing I liked the most were the matches from the 70's and the early 80's. It really was a different era back then, and if you watch the matches in sequence you'll get a fine understanding of how WWE and the wrestling business in general have developed over the past forty years or so.
Now normally I don't give out a match award when I review a compilation, but if I could recommend one particular match that I think you should definitely watch then that would be the Bob Backlund/Harley Race match from 1980, even if it's just for the novelty value of seeing the NWA World Champion taking on the WWF Champion.
So with all of that out of the way there's just one more thing left to do, and that's to give this release the big thumbs up.
With thanks to Fremantle Media and Fetch Publicity for supplying a copy of this release. The Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden is available to buy online at www.wwedvd.co.uk.