Almost as perfect as the late Curt Hennig!
Sat, 13 August 2005
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Man, it is such a great time to be a wrestling fan! I find the current product to be rather hit and miss; it has been worse for sure, but it has also been better. Some of the stuff the WWE is doing at the moment is not to my tastes at all, but you do still get some good matches. The DVDs the WWE has been releasing of late, however, easily make up for any of the current show's shortcomings. The Benoit, Guerrero and Flair DVDs (among several others) were all fantastic and this one, Greatest Wrestling Stars of the '80's, is up with the best of 'em. This is an essential purchase for true fans and I am just in love with the thing!
The 80's are a fun decade to look back on for me, as that was when I first got hooked on wrestling as a kid. It was also a boom period for "sports entertainment" in general (in terms of things like popularity, profit and the sheer number of working promotions and performers). Many of the matches and characters of the era still hold a special place in many fan's hearts and I'm no different.
The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the '80's is a 3 disc set and it features 15 of the top names of the day. Here's the list: Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Junkyard Dog, Sgt. Slaughter, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Arn Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Ric Flair, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Iron Sheik, Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff and Hulk Hogan.
There's a bio for each guy's career, with the wrestlers themselves (aside from Junkyard Dog, who is deceased), as well as others who know/knew them, telling stories about their lives in wrestling. You'll hear about how they broke into the business, some of the high points of their careers, what helped make them so successful and a whole lot more.
|If they release a whole Ricky Steambot DVD set, count me in! |
While these segments are obviously more limited than they'd be for a DVD dedicated to an individual performer, they still have plenty of info and offer enough insight to be thoroughly worthwhile. Naturally, there's plenty of classic footage to accompany all the talk as well. It is all very well presented, often humorous (particularly some of the stuff with Heenan) and usually extremely interesting. I could tell you about it in more detail, but that would take too long and, besides, you're best off watching it for yourself without me ruining it for you.
On top of that, the DVD set has 16 full matches, featuring each of the featured wrestlers in their prime. You also get a whole bunch of classic interviews and a variety of other footage. All together the running time is over 8 hours, so this collection, retailing at about $39.95 (Australian), provides exceptional value for money.
A few of my favourite matches on this set are:
Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper- "Starrcade" NWA United States Championship Dog Collar Match, 24/11/83:
A great, intense and brutal brawl with Piper and Valentine joined together by a huge chain which is attached to each guys neck (hence "dog collar"). The two men just pound the hell out of each other with some very stiff shots. They use the chain to whip and punch their opponent and wrap it around the others guys head in some very vicious ways. There's plenty of blood, particularly coming out of Piper's injured ear, which Valentine attacks mercilessly throughout. Both guys had agreed beforehand that they wanted to steal the show and that they weren't going to hold back. You can really tell! This match is something of a precursor to the kind of violent fights that became known as the "hardcore" style. It holds up very well, because the drama is so believable, the pacing is spot on and some of the hits are still painful just to look at!
Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik- Madison Square Garden, 21/5/84:
Madison Square Garden in the '80's was the place for WWF wrestling events. This match doesn't hold up quite as well as the last one, but it still a very entertaining affair. What makes it special is the amount of passion the fans in attendance have. Slaughter/Sheik was one of the hottest wrestling feuds ever, in terms of being "over" with live crowds. They hated the Iron Sheik so greatly and he played that up extremely well and the same could be said for their love of the Sarge.
While both guys were capable of working a more technical style (to a degree) when required, usually when facing each other they engaged in flat out slug fests. But it worked, because you really believed they despised each other and that each wanted to end the other's career.
Compared to some of the wild brawls we've since become accustomed to (thanks to the likes of Mick Foley, Sabu, Vader, Steve Austin and several others), these older matches can now seem somewhat tame by comparison. Even so, they are still plenty of fun to re-visit, because Slaughter and Sheik did smack each other around pretty darn hard. Also, they were both larger than life characters and experts at working a crowd. They kept the audience constantly on the edge of their seats, watching their every move and awaiting the outcome.
Newer fans ought to check this one out; it shows just how hot the crowds could get in the 'old days' and it also provides a pretty good blue print for the style of matches the WWE would often put on (albeit in a faster paced manner) during the last wrestling "boom" of the late 90's (and, to some extent, they still use the style now; especially guys like JBL, the Undertaker and Triple H).
Jerry Lawler vs. Kerry Von Erich- AWA "Superclash III" Championship Unification Match, 28/11/88:
I still haven't gotten used to all these matches from formerly "rival" promotions being included on WWE DVDs, but I absolutely love that they are!
Newer wrestling fans might think of Lawler just as the horny teenager trapped in an old dude's body, who cracks a bunch of lame gags and does a good job of getting on JR's nerves as a commentator on RAW. But "The King" is actually a legitimate wrestling legend. He was a particularly huge star (and still is really) in his home town of Memphis, which at one time was one of the hottest places for pro wrestling on Earth.
The late Kerry is from the legendary Von Erich family (their real surnames were actually Adkisson and their tragic story is something that proves sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction). Kerry was a big star in his day, with a great physique and solid ring skills; he probably could have been an even bigger star, if it weren't for his substance abuse problems. Those only familiar with WWF/E wrestling might know him better as Texas Tornado, which was the name he wrestled under during his time there.
What made this match a big deal was that it was a unification bout for both the AWA (American Wrestling Association) and WCCW (World Class Championship Wrestling) titles. By this stage, the significance and prestige of both belts had diminished rather vastly, but the "cross promotion" hype was still fairly exciting.
The match itself is not an all time great one, but the drama of it all holds up well and these guys did work very well together. Plenty of solid action here and it is a good example of what is known as "wrestling psychology", which is basically making every move you do seem important, hitting the bigger spots at the right times to keep the crowd on edge and using the match to "tell a story" which usually has a clear cut beginning, middle and end, much like the traditional 3 "acts" most movies have.
Speaking of ends (no, not the sexy female kind...though I never mind speaking about those either) this bout has an infamous finish. It is one that has been used in various different ways over the years, but perhaps never more frustratingly than on this occasion. A busted open Von Erich has Lawler trapped in his 'iron claw' hold, while blood pours from his head. The ref keeps checking the cut, all while it looks as though Lawler is fading and about to lose consciousness from the claw hold. Just when it seems that Jerry is completely out, the referee calls for the bell. He stops the match due to the amount of blood Kerry is losing, even though he seemed to have the bout won right at that exact time.
After the amount of hype they gave the match, this cop out ending pissed the fans off to no end and only served to tarnish both titles even further. So, when you get some lame ending to a WWE PPV title match these days, just remember that this kind of thing has been going on in the wrestling business pretty much forever!
Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair- "Chi Town Rumble" NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match, 20/2/89:
This is the first match between these two from their legendary series of three from '89, the other two can be found on the Ultimate Ric Flair Collection DVD. I would have wanted this set just for this match, because I am stoked to now have all three of those bouts on DVD!
I remember seeing this on video for the first time in '89, when non-WWF wrestling was pretty hard to come by in Australia. It really blew me away at the time, as the quality of wrestling was so much better than most of the stuff from the WWF of that era. Most people consider Flair/Steamboat 2 to be the best match of the series, but I've always had a fondness for this first one. That's likely just because it was the one I saw first (from memory, I don't think I was able to watch the other 2 until a few years later) and, like I said, it made a huge impact on me at the time.
Some of the sequences they do are beautiful to behold. When you watch some of today's top workers, like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels (especially in the 2 outstanding matches those latter two guys had against each other recently) you can see what a huge influence Flair/Steamboat still is. The basic dynamics of many of those dude's matches are very similar and they even do many spots that are variations on the exact ones the "Nature Boy" and the "Dragon" executed so superbly.
This is easily one of my all time favourite matches; it has stood the test of time extremely well and is one that every fan should watch at least once.
Iron Sheik vs. Hulk Hogan- WWF(E) Championship Match Madison Square Garden, 23/1/84:
Hulkamania is still running wild, brother! Yeah, whatever dude. I liked you when I was ten, but I'm over it by now. This match is very short for a world title bout, but it is some good 'old school', nostalgic fun while it lasts.
The Iron Sheik had upset Bob Backlund for the title about a month earlier (that match is also on the DVD). The accepted story goes that this was because Backlund flat out refused to lose his title to Hogan, because he didn't consider him a "real athlete" (whatever that means. He was more likely just jealous of Hulk's popularity). So, the Iranian villain became the one to take the belt off Bob (and, yes, that match is included on this DVD too), because Backlund felt better about dropping it to him. Apparently that's because Bob respected the Sheik since, like himself, he had some impressive amateur wrestling credentials.
|There is "Classie" Freddie Blassie and....I forget the other dude's name. |
Basically, the Iron Sheik was used as a "transition" title holder, to set up the Hulkster's championship reign and usher in the era of "Rock 'n' Wrestling". The crowd hated the Sheik with a passion and they went utterly ballistic when the all American hero with the "24 inch pythons"(that would be Hogan's arms, for those unfamiliar) busted out of the dreaded camel clutch and saved the day. The reaction to Hogan's victory is enormous. It is easy to get swept up in the crowd's reaction and overlook the otherwise fairly uneventful action the match had to offer.
One thing you can't take away from Hulk Hogan (though he owes much credit to "Superstar" Billy Graham, who he quite blatantly stole much of his gimmick from, including the whole "pythons" bit) is that he helped wrestling reach previously unprecedented heights of popularity. So the Hulkster is deserving of his status as a legend and one of the all time greats. He also helped bring about the era of cartoonish super hero/villain types; mostly muscle bound or big fat guys, who were more style than substance. I'm not especially thankful for that, since I never much cared for most of them. But that's probably just me being too cynical. Watching Hogan in his heyday can be enjoyable; mainly thanks to the incredible reactions he got from the crowd and because his act was not as stale then as it is now.
While hardly an all time great match, if you judge it purely on technical quality, Hogan vs. Sheik is truly a major piece of wrestling history. Hulk Hogan's title victory here pretty much changed the industry forever.
Okay, that'll do it. As you can see, there is plenty of awesome stuff and I have only scratched the surface! It would probably take me a week to cover everything on these discs. All three of them are bursting at the seams with pro wrestling goodness. Even the fold out packaging of The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the '80's case, with the funky retro presentation, is top notch.
There are some other guys who I would have liked to have seen included, for instance Randy "Macho Man" Savage and the British Bulldogs, but I'm hoping they'll do a second volume for some of the names who didn't make it onto this first one. Regardless of that, this is an incredible package, with hours of entertainment. If you're anything like me you will come back and watch most of this thing over and over again. I just can't recommend it highly enough for any wrestling lover, whether you became a fan during these years or not. Pure gold!
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Plenty of bang for your buck. Hours of great material for fans to savour. Basically I just couldn't ask for a better wrestling DVD than this!