WWE – The Best Of Raw And Smackdown 2015 (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 507 minutes approx.
To kick off 2016 it is time for our annual look back on 2015 in WWE, which unfortunately continues the trend set in 2014 for the declining fortunes of the company.
It’s not that things were desperate – the company is still very much solvent – but TV ratings for Monday Night RAW are now drawing the sort of dire numbers it was doing in late 1997, which caused Vince McMahon to panic and completely overhaul his product. There is no such panic today however as there is no WCW to compete against but with fan apathy at its highest, something has to give.
This three-disc set looks back at key matches and angles from the past year although the fact I barely remember many of them is either a sign of my failing memory or an example of how quickly the year has gone by. One thing is does show however is how the effect of the stagnant creative. You could compare this set to the 2013 or 2014 sets to see just how little forward momentum there has actually been for many of the wrestlers.
Byron Saxton is our host once again and kicks things off with an ambulance match between Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt, serving as the conclusion of their never-ending feud from late 2014. But whom was Ambrose feuding with for most of the summer and autumn of 2015 alongside Roman Reigns? Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family! The more things change….
Many will be forgiven for forgetting about Daniel Bryan’s return to WWE in 2015 since it ended prematurely when Bryan received a concussion from Sheamus (nice one fella!) and sidelined him pending doctor’s clearance which remains to this day. This collection features four matches with Bryan to remind us what we are missing, the most memorable being a great bout with Seth Rollins.
The big story of 2015 was Vince McMahon’s steadfast mission to crown Roman Reigns as the heir apparent to long term golden boy John Cena as the next major franchise player. Unfortunately the fans were having none of it and Reigns was largely rejected throughout 2015 despite’s Vince’s best efforts to ram him down our throats. Surprisingly Reigns doesn’t dominate this set with just three matches featured.
2015 was supposedly the year of the Divas Revolution, an alleged conscious effort to repackage the WWE women as serious athletes in the wake of UFC fight Ronda Rousey’s huge success. Of course it was doomed from the beginning due to maladroit handling – unlike in NXT where Women’s matches have headlined major shows – but the rub off effect is that the ladies are better represented in this almanac that in previous years.
The Bellas vs. Paige & AJ Lee feud is recounted here, as is the arrival of the NXT alumni to shake up the main roster – Charlotte, the sublime Sasha Banks and my future ex-wife Becky Lynch. The storylines were still bad but the match quality improved and the ladies were given more time to impress us. Paige is the most featured Diva appearing in three matches against Nikki Bella, Sasha Banks and Charlotte.
Other new faces to the main roster from NXT whose debuts are recalled here include Kevin Owens, who quickly fell to the curse of Cena, Neville, portrayed as a comic book hero, and Tyler Breeze who lost his first TV match! The main roster gained some great workers but sadly Vince McSenile had no clue how to get them over, a fate that befalls most wrestlers not named Cena or Reigns, or not married into the family.
Speaking of Cena, his presence is reduce from previous years, but does include two of his most memorable US Title Open invitation matches – one against Cesaro and the infamous bout against Sami Zayn. Both are great matches but the latter was a miracle since Zayn injured his shoulder as he was entering the ring but still worked the match and gave it his all.
One returning feature from last year is “Reactions From The WWE Universe”, a brief selection of vox pops from kids and marks sharing their opinion on the major issues. A different presentation format has the other angles and happenings from the year put together in bite sized chunks dotted throughout the presentation to make sure everything is covered, but some quality control would have been nice as they often include recaps of something we just saw in full.
We should be grateful that many of the face-palm moments of the year – and there were certainly plenty of them – have been relegated to brief snippets in the above mentioned montages rather than played out in full but the fact they were included in the first place shows how great the distance is between what Vince thinks is entertaining and want made the fans want to deny they watch WWE.
Anyone who has watched the TV output across the year will have noticed that the crowds have been largely dead post-Summerslam, which is no coincidence since that is when the creative really began to go to hell. Therefore the matches and segments have been carefully selected from when the crowds were alive (although I am sure some may have been subject to sweetening).
Certainly 2015 had its positives and this release does a great job in isolating them to create the impression of a red hot year for the WWE. In that respect this essentially does deliver “the best” of RAW and Smackdown as per the title; it’s not like the WWE is going to put out a release which exposes the fact they had a creatively “miss” more than “hit” year which saw almost a million fans desert their product since the summer.
On its own merits this is arguably one of the stronger iterations of this annual “Best Of” almanacs with a generous selection of great matches worthy of a rewatch.
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black