best_2014

WWE – The Best Of Raw And Smackdown 2014 (Cert 15)

3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 436 minutes approx.

The second retrospective release to look back at WWE’s year in 2014 covers the major matches and angles from the two flagship TV shows RAW and Smackdown. Not an easy task taking into account that 2014 was not a critical success for the WWE, with the creative inertia reflected in falling TV ratings and PPV buyrates, and the lukewarm response to the WWE Network.

Hosting this set is Byron Saxton, conducting his links in before an empty arena being set-up for a Smackdown taping. If you look carefully during one link on the third disc, you can see behind him either a tryout match or a match being rehearsed; either way it is interesting to witness nonetheless.

As you might expect the bulk of the material presented here – I’d estimate around 90% – comes from RAW with the occasional match or promo from Smackdown. And with the undercard being largely ignored, one could be forgiven for thinking the WWE only had half a dozen people on the roster since only an elite cadre dominate the featured segments and matches. So, if you are a fan of The Authority, John Cena or The Shield then you will be in your element; if you prefer say, Dolph Ziggler prepare to be disappointed. It may be taken as read that The Authority would feature heavily since, as the heel…um…authority figures, they were critical to the main storylines but this also exposes the lack of attention to the rest of the roster and in particular the heel wrestlers.

We kick off with a Six man tag the night after the disastrous Royal Rumble PPV in which Cena, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan face off against The Shield with the winning team advancing to the Elimination Chamber title match. Like most of the material covered here, I’d long forgotten about this match, which kicked off the feud between The Wyatt family and The Shield, demonstrating that the fast moving nature of TV wrestling today doesn’t allow things to stick, while angles from twenty years ago are recalled with ease.

Bryan gets just two more appearances here, one in a cracking match against Randy Orton and the Occupy RAW segment to set up his matches for Wrestlemania 30. After this he is never mentioned again. Cena’s feud with Bray Wyatt is next up for reprisal, although considering how it did nothing to elevate Wyatt perhaps it is best forgotten. The Shield’s rise to the top as a babyface trio to their implosion courtesy of Seth Rollins’s betrayal receives much coverage, the latter act probably the freshest angle in our minds, as seismic as it was.

The Divas are sparsely represented as you might expect, limited to just Paige’s history making debut, Vickie Guerrero’s messy farewell and the Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon contract signing, a masterclass in poor acting and delivery on Brie Bella’s part. While this may have been seen as a step up in terms of visibility and importance for the ladies, it ended up being another damp squib and soon the status quo of not taking them seriously was resumed.

Elsewhere we see the ill-fated return of Batista, the cameo by The Rock at the expense of Rusev (who as one of the few genuine rising stars should have been given greater recognition here) and the debut of Bo Dallas (Remember him?). Undertaker’s annual appearance is revisited via his confrontation with Brock Lesnar, while acknowledgement of the Beast’s title run is restricted to the great Paul Heyman “Eat Sleep Suplex Repeat” promo.

The match selection is mostly constrained to the aforementioned usual suspects with the occasional overlooked or forgotten bout thrown in for good measure. I had genuinely forgotten that Big E was IC Champ until being reminded by the four way no 1 contender match from Smackdown. The Usos’ title win over the New (old?) Age Outlaws is included, which seemed such a long time ago since they held the belts for a good portion of 2014, and the 15 man tag from the 15th anniversary edition of Smackdown. 15 man tag you ask? Seven men and two midgets who apparently make a one. Stay classy WWE!

One interesting facet is the inclusion of comments and opinions from the fans, recorded after one of the shows. Most fascinating is on the subject of Cesaro about whom our interviewees gave glowing praise and support as the next break out star. This is ironic in the wake of the now infamous comments Vince McMahon made on Steve Austin’s podcast in which he staggeringly claimed Cesaro doesn’t connect with the fans!

It’s no secret that 2014 was beset with problems, beginning with CM Punk quitting and to Daniel Bryan’s injury at the start of his title run, which wasn’t supposed to happen anyway. This is somewhat inferred by the reliance on the same old faces as Vince went back to the comfort of his safety net John Cena, Randy Orton and the McFamily members. With The Authority basically bullying everyone in 2014 as they did in 2013, nothing new really happened and when it did, it was shoved under the carpet if it didn’t get over straight away.

One could argue the WWE did they best damage limitation they could under the circumstances except for the one thing they SHOULD have done which was start elevating new faces. By the end of the year the three ex-Shield members began making progress in this direction, as did Rusev, but sadly too many other talents were still being overlooked or continually buried. This narrow minded release doesn’t assuage fears that is much needed change is a pie in the sky dream.

As entertaining as this fairly comprehensive, if sadly repetitive, compilation is, it pretty much reflects the stagnant creative direction of the WWE, with content which could easily have been lifted from anywhere during the past five years. But hardcore WWE DVD collectors should feel well served by this 2014 almanac.

 

Rating – ***

Man In Black

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