Monday, 9 May 2016

DVD Review: WWE The Best of Raw & Smackdown 2015

So do you remember what happened on WWE’s television shows last year? No? Then read on as we take a look at the DVD release of The Best of Raw and Smackdown 2015.

And as is the custom with these releases let’s start at the beginning with.....

Disc One
January 5th
Our collection begins on Raw with two of the craziest guys on the roster as Dean Ambrose takes on Bray Wyatt in an ambulance match.

There was some wild brawling between these two old rivals. The match was only seconds old when they started fighting their way through the crowd and toward the ambulance where Wyatt gained the advantage after he slammed Ambrose’s leg with an ambulance door.

The action went back to the ring for a few moments until their brawl took them back to the scene of the crime as it were, with Ambrose giving us the holy you know what moment when he put his man through a table with an elbow drop off the ambulance roof. But despite this Wyatt kept coming back for more, and when he used Sister Abigail to smack Ambrose’s head into the ambulance and followed up with a second Abigail onto the floor it was all over bar the shouting. A shove into the ambulance later and Wyatt was declared the winner.

January 15th
Over on Smackdown it’s a battle of former tag partners as Daniel Bryan goes up against Corporate Kane.

With the Authority watching on from ringside Bryan’s first match in nine months began when he attacked Kane as soon as the bell sounded. Ring rust was probably the furthest thing from his mind as he took it to his old running buddy, until the coffee-fetching machine managed to take control.

Kane’s powerful offence was soon countered by Bryan’s high impact strikes though, but just when he was about to put Kane into the yes lock Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble jumped into the ring and attacked, earning Kane the immediate disqualification.

Bryan managed to fight his way out though, and after sending the Big Show packing with a dropkick he barely made it out of the ring when Seth Rollins tried to clobber him with his Money in the Bank briefcase.

January 22nd
Still on Smackdown, it’s a Royal Rumble qualifying match for the big guy as Ryback faces United States Champion Rusev.

This was the Authority’s attempt to punish those who had put them out of business a couple of months before at the Survivor Series. Rusev’s place in the Rumble match was safe, but to earn his spot Ryback had to go through the undefeated Russian/Bulgarian.

So with the lovely Lana watching on from ringside these two big men proceeded to beat the hell out of each other in an entertaining encounter. I wasn’t expecting any fancy stuff from these two, just plenty of power moves, and Rusev showing why he was in such a great position a year ago before that rather unfortunate Twitter thing.

Neither man ever really came close to getting the pin, but after brawling in the aisle Ryback just made it back into the ring as the referee finished his count, giving the big guy the count out win, booking his place in the Rumble and handing Rusev his first defeat.

Lana’s boy was none too happy with his defeat, as was evident when he attacked Ryback from behind. The attack didn’t last too long though as the champion narrowly avoided being put away by Ryback’s shellshock finisher.

February 2nd
A chance to take on Roman Reigns for his Wrestlemania title shot at Fast Lane is up for grabs on Raw as Seth Rollins takes on Daniel Bryan.

These two had some pretty good matches against each other during their Ring of Honor days, and the quality of this encounter was definitely on a part with those ones. It was jam packed with action from start to finish, with two of the best workers in the company putting together some great back and forth exchanges.

It was one of those matches that could have fitted easily onto a pay-per-view. Rollins played his part perfectly. He controlled the action brilliantly with a little help from the Big Show and his security guys, while Bryan’s comebacks had those in attendance eating out of the palm of his hand.

Things came to a head when Rollins survived Bryan’s yes lock by barely making it to the ropes. Then, in all the confusion, the aforementioned Roman Reigns appeared on the scene and took out Show with a spear. Rollins was his next target, although Mercury took the bullet for his boss there.

Back in the ring the referee tried to stop Rollins from going back to ringside as Bryan foiled Noble’s attempt to use the Money in the Bank briefcase. It was then that Reigns clobbered Rollins with his Superman punch while the referee’s back was turned, and one running knee later Bryan had booked his match against Reigns at Fast Lane.

March 16th
It’s a Raw encounter for Randy Orton as he faces his Wrestlemania opponent and former Authority team-mate Seth Rollins.

Well, that’s what was billed anyway. Having been embarrassed by Orton after he “re-joined” the team the Authority wanted to gain a measure of revenge, so with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon co-ordinating things Orton soon found himself surrounded by Rollins and his buddies.

But just when they were about to attack the lights went off, and when the came back on Orton found none other than Sting standing by his side. The two of them quickly sent the Authority boys packing, with Mercury and Noble taking the final hits for the team with a scorpion death drop and an RKO.

March 19th
It’s gauntlet match action over on Smackdown, with Dean Ambrose, Stardust, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler.

This was the appetiser for the ladder match for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania, with all bar champion Bad News Barrett looking to get a few brownie points before the big day.

It was a pretty decent affair. Ambrose against Stardust and then Truth were okay, but things didn’t really get going until Harper came into the match. Ambrose put up a spirited fight until Bray Wyatt’s then-former charge took him out with a sit-down power bomb.

This brought Bryan into the proceedings for the best part of the match. Targeting the big man’s legs, Bryan put on an excellent display of wrestling. Harper didn’t look too bad either as they put together some great sequences until Harper tapped out to Bryan’s knee bar.

Then it was the turn of the final man, Ziggler, who matched up pretty well with Bryan. Their exchanges were almost as good as those between Bryan and Harper, and in the end the show-off survived the yes lock attempt and took Bryan out with the zig zag for the winning pin.

Barrett then came down to the ring after Ziggler shook Bryan’s hand, and after a few choice words and a couple of shots with the aid of a microphone he left both men laying in the ring after a couple of bull hammer elbows.

March 23rd
It’s on to championship action on Raw as Paige challenges Nikki Bella for the Divas title. Moving on.....

March 26th
The Divas are at it again on Smackdown, with Paige and A.J. Lee calling out the Bella Twins. Moving on.....

March 30th
Back on Raw the day after Wrestlemania, newly-crowned WWE World Champion Seth Rollins defends the title against the man he never beat for the belt, Brock Lesnar.

Once again things didn’t quite go to plan. With the introductions made Rollins ducked out of the ring and informed the crowd that due to jet lag he wasn’t going to defend the title against Lesnar. This didn’t sit too well with the beast, who proceeded to run amok, attacking Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury, dragging Michael Cole into the ring and taking him down with an F5 before dragging a camera man from the ring apron.

But just as he was about to take that poor guy down with an F5 Stephanie McMahon appeared on the scene, urging Lesnar to stop. Lesnar was having none of it though as he promptly put the camera guy away. This left Stephanie with no choice but to suspend Lesnar indefinitely, who by this time didn’t seem that bothered as he took the camera guy down with another F5.

Later that night, Axelmania ran wild as Curtis Axel faced the man that gravity forgot, Neville.

Short and sweet would probably be the best way to describe this one. Axel got in a few moves, but when Neville kicked it up a notch it wasn’t long before he connected with the red arrow for the winning pin. A nice way to introduce the new guy.

April 16th
It’s a battle of the champions in London on Smackdown as Intercontinental Champion Daniel Bryan and United States Champion John Cena face Tag Team Champions Tyson Kidd and Cesaro.

This particular match is a timely reminder of WWE’s current injury problems, with three of the guys here currently on the shelf and the other having recently retired because of medical issues. In fact, if memory serves this is actually one of Bryan’s last matches.

The match itself was okay, although it could have been a whole lot better, given the stature of those involved. Kidd and Cesaro did a good job on Cena until he got the hot tag to Bryan, who proceeded to clean house.

A few moments later, after Kidd accidentally knocked Natalya off the apron into Cesaro’s arms, Bryan applied the yes lock. Cesaro, realising the situation, dumped Natalya to the floor, but his efforts to save his partner were stopped by Cena’s attitude adjuster. Kidd then tapped out, giving the win to Cena and Bryan.

Disc Two
May 4th
It’s a battle between former Shield cohorts Dean Ambrose and WWE World Champion Seth Rollins on Raw, with Corporate Kane adding the stipulation that if Ambrose won he’d join Roman Reigns and Randy Orton in challenging Rollins for his title at Payback.

Have these two ever had a bad match against each other? If they have I can’t think of one off hand, but this was another great example of just how well these two work together.

With Kane’s added stipulation, as well as the security guys being banned from ringside, this gave us the chance to see once again just what these guys could do. They gave us a great back and forth encounter with plenty of twists and turns, made all the more intriguing by Ambrose fighting for a title shot.

Rollins’ best chance of the win came when he put Ambrose down with a power bomb to the ringside barricade, with the lunatic fringe barely making it back into the ring before the referee reached a ten count. The champ was none too pleased with this, and with his attempts at putting his former partner away having failed Noble and Mercury came running down to aide their boss.

Ambrose soon took care of them though, and amidst the slight confusion he then rolled Rollins up for the three count, booking his spot in the title match.

Then it was on to United States Champion John Cena’s open challenge, but before that happened mention must be made of the way Cena handled the raucous Montreal crowd. At first they almost booed him out of the building, but as he began to speak about his upcoming I Quit match with Rusev at Payback he showed what a masterful speaker he was, turning what were boos into cheers with a few choice words. It was a great example of how to work the crowd.

As for the open challenge, after Cena had finished none other than Bret Hart came down to the ring to introduce the challenger. This didn’t sit too well with Heath Slater, who complained that he’d been deprived of previous title shots until the Hitman deprived him of this one by clobbering him in the skull with his microphone. So with that done Hart went on to introduce former NXT champion and hometown hero Sami Zayn.

What followed was a great match between veteran and newcomer. Despite suffering a nasty shoulder injury early on Zayn put up a hell of a fight against his more illustrious opponent, reminding this writer of some of his great matches under the hood in Ring of Honor. It was an excellent performance, especially considering the injury.

Both protagonists came close to getting the win, but when Zayn kicked out after an attitude adjuster it was becoming more and more obvious to the champion just what sort of competitor Zayn was, and when the challenger almost got the win after the blue thunder bomb it was another sign of just how tough the newcomer was.

Eventually something had to give, and having fought through the pain Zayn finally fell to another attitude adjuster, giving Cena the title-retaining pin, and when Cena helped Zayn to his feet and held his arm aloft the crowd gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

May 18th
It’s another open challenge for United States Champion John Cena on Raw, and after the champ spoke of his win against Rusev the previous night none other than NXT Champion Kevin Owens came out for Cena’s challenge.

Although that challenge didn’t happen, because what we saw was one of the most memorable main roster debuts of 2015. The verbal sparring between Owens and Cena was spot on throughout. It was an excellent way for Owens to debut as he showed he was more than a match on the microphone for Cena, and when the champion reiterated his open challenge Owen declined before attacking Cena and taking him down with the pop-up power bomb. He then grabbed both title belts, holding his NXT strap aloft while he put his foot on Cena’s belt.

June 11th
It’s on to six man action on Smackdown, with Roman Reigns, Neville and Randy Orton taking on Corporate Kane, Tag Team Champion Kofi Kingston, and Sheamus.

Like the gauntlet match on disc one this was another appetiser match, this time for the Money in the Bank ladder match. It was quite entertaining. Neville and Kingston matched up extremely well early on before the man that gravity forgot took the punching bag treatment from the heinous heels.

Needless to say that he eventually made it back to his corner for the hot tag and the all hell breaking loose segment as bodies flew everywhere and Reigns put the exclamation mark on the proceedings when he took Kingston out with the Superman punch as he came off the top rope, only for Big E and Xavier Woods to break up the pin, giving Reigns and his boys the disqualification win.

The action continued after the bell when Biggie and Woods took Reigns out with their big ending/DDT move, but when the New Day boys brought a ladder into the ring so Kingston could climb it and grab the Money in the Bank briefcase that was hanging above the seventh man in the upcoming match, Dolph Ziggler, ran in and attacked. This led us to the holy you know what moment, with Neville diving off the top of the ladder onto the brawlers at ringside. He then got back into the ring to grab the MITB case in a symbolic gesture.

July 6th
Back on Raw it’s another open challenge for United States Champion John Cena, and this time his opponent is the Swiss Superman Cesaro.

Like Sami Zayn’s challenge earlier this was one of those matches I’d heard a great deal about, and all of it was justified. In fact I’d go as far to say that this was a pay-per-view quality encounter, and it should have been on a much bigger show.

From start to finish it was the proverbial knock down, drag out affair. Both men put on tremendous performances in a match that went on and on and on. But despite their best efforts neither man could get the job done, and the frustration was apparent for all to see as they kicked out of each other’s pins and worked their way out of each other’s submissions time and time again.

It was obvious that it would take something special to end this thing, and when Cesaro tried to take the champion down with a super neutraliser from the second rope Cena powered his way out and took down his challenger with a super attitude adjuster, a move that saw him finally taking the title-retaining three count.

Cena’s work was far from done though. As soon as the announcements were made his rival Kevin Owens stormed the ring. Cena managed to send him running for cover after another attitude adjuster.

July 13th
The following week on Raw saw the start of the Divas Revolution. Moving on.....

July 27th
The Divas Revolution is in full swing on Raw as NXT Champion Sasha Banks takes on Paige. Moving on.....

August 17th
It’s six days before Wrestlemania as Raw rolls into Minnesota for Brock Lesnar’s homecoming.

To say that Lesnar got a good reception from the hometown wouldn’t be underestimating things. He actually didn’t say a word as his advocate Paul Heyman did the hype job for the upcoming re-match with the Undertaker.

Heyman was doing a great job, until that familiar bell sounded and the lights went out. When they came back on Lesnar found the dead man himself standing before him. A low blow, a choke slam and a tombstone later and the Undertaker had made his statement, much to the annoyance of the Minnesota faithful.

August 20th
It’s on to eight man action on Smackdown, with Randy Orton, Cesaro, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose going up against Sheamus, Kevin Owens, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper.

This was basically three feuds rolled into one for a Summerslam preview match. It almost ended within seconds when Orton tried to take out his big rival Sheamus with an RKO right off the bat, but thankfully the Irishman managed to avoid that predicament.

A few moments later Cesaro took the punching bag treatment for his team as all four of the vile heels piled on the pressure, but once he managed to get the hot tag to Reigns it signalled the start of the all hell breaking loose segment, which eventually saw everyone pulling off their big finishers until Ambrose ended it all when he took Harper down with the dirty deeds DDT for the winning pin.

Disc Three
August 24th
It’s the Raw after Summerslam and a battle of tag teams as the Lucha Dragons take on Tag Team Champions the New Day in a non-title match.

Fast-paced action was the order of the day in this one, especially when Kallisto was in the ring. The masked men put in a pretty good effort, but speed eventually fell to power when Big E took Kallisto down with a Kofi Kingston-assisted big ending to win the match.

The champs didn’t have much time to celebrate their win though, thanks to the returning Dudley Boys. Devon and Bubba Ray made short work of Kingston and Biggie before they put Xavier Woods through a table with a 3D.

Later that night it was meant to be one of the finest moments in the career of Seth Rollins. Having beaten John Cena to add the United States title to his WWE World Championship the Authority promised him bronze statue, and after a few rousing speeches from Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and the man of the hour the statue was finally unveiled.

Except it wasn’t there, because standing on the podium in it’s place was none other than Sting. The franchise player of WCW proceeded to attack Rollins before holding the WWE World title above his ahead, a signal of intent if ever there was one.

September 14th
An historic moment as Sting competes in his very first match on Raw, taking on the man chosen by the Authority, the Big Show.

Not much technical stuff in this somewhat short encounter. Sting looked in decent shape as he took the attack to the big man, but just when it looked as if he was going to get the upper hand the man he was challenging at Night of Champions, Seth Rollins, ran in for the attack. The referee called for the bell immediately, giving Sting the disqualification win.

But as Rollins and Show continued their attack the man who would be challenging Rollins for the United States title on the same show, John Cena, ran in for the save, with Show and Rollins quickly heading for the hills. It was then that Triple H announced an impromptu tag match, with Cena and Sting taking on Rollins and Show.

So what would actually turn out to be Sting’s penultimate match was actually a lot better than what came before it. Triple H’s boys did a good job on Cena, but when Show went for a second big splash from the middle rope Cena rolled out of the way and got the hot tag to Sting.

The Stinger proceeded to clean house, and after taking Rollins down with the scorpion death drop he locked in the scorpion death lock. Rollins had no choice but to tap out to give Sting and Cena the win.

October 1st
It’s the first Smackdown of the month, with Ryback challenging Kevin Owens for the Intercontinental title.

This was a pretty decent back and forth affair, with Ryback showing off his power moves early on before Owens took control, badmouthing the big guy as he went along.

The big guy made a very impressive comeback, but just when he was about to put Owens away with the shellshock the champion grabbed on to the top rope, and when they went down to ringside they took each other out with clotheslines at the same time.

Ryback was the first to get back to his feet as the referee made his count, but with the count nearing the ten mark Owens decided to take advantage of certain rules by staying down on the floor, giving Ryback the win by count out but not the title.

The big guy managed to get a measure of revenge though, with a brief brawl ending with him shell shocking the champion.

October 22nd
A few weeks later on Smackdown Miz TV turned into an edition of the Jerry Springer Show as the Miz tried to get to the bottom of the Rusev/Lana/Dolph Ziggler/Summer Rae situation.

So basically what we had here was a way to introduce Summer’s new love interest, NXT star Tyler Breeze, and after Breeze and Ziggler exchanged a few words Prince Pretty attacked Ziggler, using his selfie stick to go after his man’s previously injured throat, leaving him laying in the ring so he could take one of many selfies.

October 26th
Over on Raw it’s a fatal four way between Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, United States Champion Alberto Del Rio and Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens, with the winner getting a shot at WWE World Champion Seth Rollins at the Survivor Series.

Now this was good. From start to finish it was fought at a frantic pace with every man putting in a tremendous performance. Add to that the completely electric crowd and you’ve got yourself a hell of an encounter here.

As the champion watched on from ringside these four put together some remarkable sequences, and as the match went on you could just feel the crowd getting more and more into what they were seeing. It didn’t matter who was doing what, because they just loved what everyone was doing.

The final sequence was a great example of just how good this was. With Owens and Reigns the last men standing in the ring, Owens connected with a super kick before sending Reigns into the ropes in preparation for his pop-up power bomb. But when Owen began to launch his man into the air Reigns came down with a Superman punch before taking him out with a spear for the pin.

Needless to say that Rollins was none too happy with the result of the match, or with the staredown afterwards either.

November 9th
With the WWE World title vacated due to Seth Rollins’ injury a tournament is held to crown a new champion, with an all-European first round match on British soil between Sheamus and Cesaro on Raw.

The fans in Manchester were certainly given a treat here with this hard-hitting encounter, with a little added extra spice involving King Barrett and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.

Sheamus was already in possession of the Money in the Bank briefcase, so victory in this match would have been an added bonus for the Irishman. Unfortunately for him he found a Swiss Superman in top form, until a spill over the top rope saw him hampered by an injury to his right arm.

But although Sheamus got in his fair share of good blows Cesaro came back with his strong offence, until a slight distraction from Barrett led to Sheamus attacking him from behind.

Barrett then turned his attention to Mr. Rooney at ringside, and as the King tried to intimidate the footballer Rooney slapped him to the ground, and as Sheamus watched from the ring he failed to notice Cesaro coming up on his from behind. One roll-up later and the man from Switzerland had the three count, booking a quarter-final match with Roman Reigns.

November 12th
A few days later on Smackdown the tournament continued with a speed versus power battle between Kallisto of the Lucha Dragons and Ryback.

I think the best way to describe this match would be interesting. It was okay, but it did seem to drag a little towards the end. The masked man managed to pull off some good hit and run moves early on, but once Ryback got his hands on him he put in a good stint while controlling the action.

Kallisto kept making comebacks, but these were often quite brief, but as the match went on the big guy became more and more frustrated at his inability to put the much smaller man away, and that frustration wouldn’t have helped much when Kallisto took him down with a selida del sol from the second rope for the winning pin.

November 23rd
It’s a Divas Championship match on Raw, with Paige challenging Charlotte for the title. Moving on.....

November 30th
It’s the final match of the collection, and the following week’s Raw sees a 7-on-4 handicap match, with Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and the Usos taking on the League of Nations and the New Day.

Originally this was meant to be an eight man tag match, until the New Day went to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The Authority were more than happy to grant their request to be added to this encounter.

What we had here was basically a series of long beat-downs. The baby face team had some good moments early on, but when Jimmy Uso took the punching bag treatment it signalled the start of a long period of domination for the League and the New Day. There were a couple of hot tags, but it was more or less the same story when Jey Uso and Reigns were singled out as well, and thing became a whole lot worse for them when Jimmy was taken out of the match with a knee injury.

Eventually Reigns managed to tag Ambrose in, signalling the start of the all hell breaking loose segment as the lunatic fringe began to clean house. The numbers game was just too much for him and his team though, and Ambrose soon fell to Sheamus’ brogue kick as the WWE World Champion took the winning pin for his team.

In conclusion – after several hours of viewing and after another few thousands words we’ve finally reached the end of the collection, but was it really any good?

Well, as someone who hasn’t really been a regular Raw and Smackdown viewer for a while now it was nice to see some of the moments I missed. There’s some quality matches on this encounter, and some nice segments as well.

But my one criticism about this collection is something I’ve mentioned time and time again over the years, and once again I have to ask what happened in December? Does this month no longer exist on WWE’s calendars? Or were Raw and Smackdown so bad that there wasn’t anything worthy of inclusion here?

Apart from that, and Byron Saxton’s presenting skills (watch his eye line if you get this, because the best presenters don’t make it obvious that they’re reading from an autocue), this collection isn’t too bad, which is why this writer is giving it the thumbs up.