The Best Of WWE At Madison Square Garden (Cert 15)
2 Disc Blu-ray / 3 Disc DVD (Distributor: Freemantle Media) Running Time: 430 minutes approx.
Madison Square Garden. The Americans call it ”The Most Famous Arena In The World”. That may well be true, even if we Brits would be first to nominate the Royal Albert hall or Wembley Arena for that title, or the Tokyo Dome for the Japanese and Sydney Opera House for those Down Under. But the fact remains that MSG is a globally known venue be it through sports, music or other forms of entertainment. And for wrestling fans the name is synonymous with WWE, although many newer fans may not understand why this venue is so special to the company when they tour all over the world. Perhaps then, a little history lesson is required.
Way back in the “old days” before TV ratings were of maximum importance and before the advent of Pay-Per-View, wrestling lived and died by its live show attendances. As we know, prior to the WWF’s national expansion in the early 1980’s wrestling was a regional concern, with various territories across the country home to their own wrestling promotion and top stars and titles. Even up until the mid 1990’s before the Monday Night Wars kicked in, TV was a simple tool to get wrestlers over, establish feuds and sell tickets to the live events.
Today we have monthly PPVs to showcase the blow-off to feuds built up on TV; before this the promotions would hold regular live shows to build up steam in smaller local venues before having a big end of month super show in a larger venue. For the AWA it was the St Paul Civic Centre in Minnesota; for the Von Erichs, the Sportatorium in Dallas; Memphis had the Mid-South Coliseum; Jim Crockett Promotions had the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina and Georgia Championship Wrestling the Omni in Atlanta. For the WWWF and later WWF the big events took place at MSG. Sure there was the Spectrum in Philadelphia and the Boston Gardens but if history was going to be made, it would happen at The Garden.
Bruno Sammartino defeated “Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers in 1963 to start his near eight year reign as WWWF champion at MSG; Bob Backlund dropped the renamed WWF title in controversial fashion to the Iron Sheik at the Garden; Hulkamania was born a few weeks later at the Garden; Rowdy Roddy Piper kicked Cyndi Lauper at MSG; the first Wrestlemania took place here – you get the picture.
The McMahons’ history with MSG dates back to the 1930’s when Jess McMahon promoted boxing then later wrestling there, until he passed away in 1954 when his son Vince Sr took over the reigns, and in turn Vince Jr doing the same in 1983, keeping the Garden as their “home base”.
This presentation is hosted by Matt Striker (who was future endeavoured shortly after filming this) and features a number of matches that have remained in the vaults for many years alongside others we are all familiar with. Each match is prefaced by comments from either a participant in the match or a willing advocate speaking from a fan’s point of view. You will hear from such diverse names as Bruno Sammartino, Ivan Koloff, Harley Race, Bob Backlund, Ken Patera, Vince McMahon, Triple H, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Kevin Nash, Daniel Bryan, Bret Hart, Trish Stratus, The Rock and more.
Once again the WWE home video team are to be congratulated for another superb presentation and for digging deep into the vaults to bring us some true unseen gems. The first match sees Pedro Morales challenge Ivan Koloff (the man who ended Bruno’s eight year title reign) in 1971, which looks like it was shot on cine film and the picture breaks up a little, but from a historical point of view this is a priceless inclusion. Jim Ross provides an interesting and insightful new commentary track for this, as does Matt Striker later on, for an absolutely rarely seen, cracking match between NWA Champion Harley Race vs WWF Champion Bob Backlund from 1980.
Other such treats include a brutal and bloody Boot Camp match between Sgt Slaughter (who gets a Hogan-esque reaction from the fans) and Iron Sheik, a similarly crimson soaked Texas death match between Bob Backlund and Ken Patera and Bruno trying to regain the title from Superstar Billy Graham. More recent fare that will be familiar to most viewers takes in the Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon Ladder Match from WM 10, Bret Hart vs Mr Perfect from Summerslam 91, the Ultimate Warrior eviscerating Honky Tonk Man from Summerslam 88 and the Hardyz vs Dudleyz Tables Match from the 2000 Royal Rumble. It doesn’t end there as in the Blu-ray extras there is a stonking 20 minute outing between Bret Hart and Ted DiBiase from 1991 and some fond MSG memories from the wrestlers.
It will be interesting to see how younger fans react to seeing these old school matches which were worked at a slower pace and relied more on mat wrestling than big spots, and how the MSG fans would pop for a simple headlock or a dropkick whereas today a wrestler has to fall twenty feet off a ladder onto a flaming thumbtack covered stack of tables to get a reaction. Old school fans will be taken back to their childhood/early days of being a wrestling fan when viewing these matches while I am sure historians will revel in seeing some of the previously unaired classics for the first time.
For any wrestling fan worth their salt this fantastic celebration of great wrestling at a legendary venue is a highly recommended release to have in your collection. As long and fruitful as the WWE’s relationship has been with MSG, I truly believe we have yet to scratch the surface of great matches hidden away in the vaults, so if there is a second volume of MSG matches to come, sign me up!
Steel Cage Match: Bruno Sammartino & Tito Santana vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage & “Adorable” Adrian Adonis (12th July, 1986)
Intercontinental Championship Match: Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (29th December, 1991)
Alberto Del Rio
WWE Title Match – Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. CM Punk (Survivor Series – 20th November, 2011)
Trish Stratus, Ken Patera, Mr. Fuji, Road Warrior Animal, Barry Windham, Koko B. Ware, Ricky Steamboat, Sika, Rocky Johnson, Edge, Brooklyn Brawler.
Vince McMahon MSG Walk of Fame Induction
Rating – *****
Man In Black
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