WWE – Best Of RAW & Smackdown Live 2016 (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 520 minutes approx.
2016 was a funny year for WWE. Business was still strong, their overall revenue was actually up from 2015, WWE Network subscriptions grew (sort of), and new shows were created. Yet, live attendance and takings continued to drop while TV ratings have slumped to similar lows of 1997 just prior to the turnaround brought with the Attitude Era.
As far as critical acclaim and product quality goes, this has also been hit and miss, but what can you expect when the man making all the decision is an irascible, stubborn man in his 70’s with his finger way off the pulse? What should have been a crowning moment of the year with Wrestlemania 32 breaking attendance records, the show itself was an overlong slog (running almost 7 hours in total) full of baffling booking and crazy decisions.
Then there is the Roman Reigns debacle. Whether rightly or wrongly, Vince McMahon is sticking to his guns in trying to make Reigns his next franchise player yet the fans just won’t give him a break. Reigns still gets booed out of the building and the protective booking whenever he has to lose or be screwed out of a victory further exacerbates the rejections.
But, as long as the number stay strong and the fans are reacting, Vince sees no reason to change his game plan and hopes that the audience will tire of resisting and follow the path he has laid out. Good luck with that – twelve years later and they’re STILL booing Cena!
None of this however is discussed in this annual retrospective of the major matches and happenings on WWE’s two flagship shows RAW and the rechristened Smackdown Live! and nor will it as this only concerns the on-screen events. Hosted by recently dumped-then-rehired Hall Of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler this 3 disc look back over the twelve tumultuous months that was 2016 in the WWE is another collection of memorable (Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte), and largely forgotten (Triple H vs. Dolph Ziggler) matches and segments that drove the TV shows.
The format is rather odd in that they run some matches and segments then show a highlight package covering a two-month period, including the matches and segments we have just seen. Personally I would have done it the other way round so we get a snapshot of the month’s events then single out the compete footage. But it is what it is.
It begins amazingly enough with a Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch match for the Divas Title on SD Live! following Charlotte’s heel turn on the previous RAW. This illustrates just how far women’s wrestling in WWE has come over the past couple of years, not in the least with this being the first of five women’s matches in this set when they usually offer just one.
2016 was the year they rebranded the Divas the “Women’s Division” and gave them equal billing with the men, had two main events on RAW, one on SD Live! and main evented a PPV, as well as stealing the show at WM 32! Aside from Bayley’s debut against Dana Botch, the matches chosen are all top notch outings representing the effort the woman put into their work now they have been afforded a greater share of the spotlight.
The first major segment is Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech from February in his home town of Seattle, Washington, which is still an emotional, eloquent and heartfelt farewell (temporary as it would seem) from the ultimate underdog in the WWE. And before you ask, they don’t show the aftermath which saw Titus O’Neil earn a 60-day suspension just for grabbing Vince’s arm.
We also relive Shane O’Mac’s return after a seven-year absence because clearly what the product needs is more of the McFamily hogging the TV time and in Shane’s case, getting to work big PPV matches. This led to the Hell In A Cell match against Undertaker at WM 32 which was not only a terrible match but was built on a nonsensical premise.
Next is the big return of John Cena after a (not long enough) period away receiving a miniscule pop compared to the one Shane got. This was also the moment they decided to turn AJ Styles heel despite being the hottest act in the company! Dolph Ziggler’s career vs. IC title challenge to the Miz is also included along with Mick Foley’s awkward introduction of the Cruiserweight division and the return of Goldberg!
Thankfully, the James Ellsworth Cinderella story is restricted to the recap packages while the hugely entertaining List Of Jericho / best friends deal with Y2J and Kevin Owens doesn’t get enough love here. Elsewhere the newer additions to the main rosters from NXT are showcased with plenty of Enzo and Cass moments shared although the hype for Apollo Crews feels unjustified for some who has practically fallen off the radar.
One guy not undervalued is AJ Styles who features in quite a number of matches in this set, which is not a complaint as he is not only the best wrestler in the WWE today but probably the world. Despite being shoved down our throats, Roman Reigns only features in just two although he is a prominent figure in the recap segments. We get two classic Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks title matches including the Falls Count Anywhere bout.
Because of the time it takes to put such a presentation together for release early the following year, the story of 2016 ends in November, not that much happens in December anyway. However, this is a trivial complaint when you consider that this release provides us with almost nine hours of WWE action.
Debate whether this really is the best of 2016 from the TV shows as is your wont but the quality of the matches, some are PPV quality, presented here is arguably the highest we’ve seen in this series of compilations.
A great companion piece to the 2016 PPV releases.
Rating – ****
Man In Black