Spectacular Legacy of AWA & Hulk Hogan: Ultimate Anthology
Thu, 18 January 2007
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More wrestling DVDs, sweet! I love getting sent all these beauties. As I've said before, much of the time I find the current WWE shows pretty lacklustre, but their DVDs are still good enough to keep me very happy. So, here's my opinion of a couple of the latest ones. (Pretty shitty intro isn't it? Oh well)
Since a few people bothered to ask my opinion of The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA (and I'd really been looking forward to seeing it myself anyway) I specifically requested a copy from Shock. Thankfully, they were kind enough to oblige (as usual, bless their lovely hearts). Unfortunately though, I'd have to say I found it a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't suck by any means; just isn't nearly as good as I hoped it would be.
As the WWE produced DVDs are generally so excellently put together these days, my expectations of them have grown very high. The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA doesn't quite match up to its potential, or the lofty standards set by some other WWE releases. Oddly enough though, after saying that, I'd still thoroughly recommend a purchase of this sucker. Especially to those, like me, who collect wrestling DVDs. Despite its flaws (which I'll explain in a moment), there's still some extremely interesting stuff included here for those who love the wrestling business.
Disc one is mainly devoted to a documentary style look at the history of the AWA (American Wrestling Association). This is where this DVD is at its best. Younger and/or more recent wrestling fans might not even be aware of what a big deal the AWA once was, since it doesn't get spoken of so much any more - at least, not to the same extent as other past promotions (like the NWA, for example). During its heyday, the AWA was a hugely important promotion. It was the place where many of the biggest stars in wrestling history got their start. The AWA was run by Verne Gagne - who was also a wrester and legend in his own right. In his time, Verne was one of the most popular and highly regarded wrestlers in the world. As a promoter, Verne was easily one of the most powerful of his era.
The list of wresters that Verne's training camp taught is up with Stu Hart's 'dungeon', in terms of the number of amazing talent it produced (and how brutal it was). The amount of other guys who weren't trained there, but nevertheless first became stars during their tenures with the AWA, is also quite extraordinary. (Hulk Hogan is the most famous example. Jesse Ventura is another. It'd take me too long to speak of the rest of 'em here, but the DVD covers them all).
The DVD features many of the people with strong ties to the AWA - Verne Gagne, his son Greg (also a wrestler), Hulk Hogan, Nick Bockwinkle, Bobby Heenan, Eric Bischoff, Gene Okerlund and great many others. They each provide some insightful information and entertaining comments. It is quite fascinating to hear each individual offering different versions of (amongst other things) what made the AWA such a success, as well as what lead to its demise.
The eloquent and good humoured Nick Bockwinkle (four time AWA world champion) is particularly interesting to listen to. He's just a really sharp dude and has a manner of speaking that causes me to intently focus on his every word.
|As the text in the pic accurately states, this is Nick Bockwinkle. I reckon he's all kinds of awesome. |
Something I found highly amusing (and surprising) is that Hulk Hogan comes across as far more honest on this DVD than some of the other guys. I guess there is a first time for everything! By comparison, I found some comments from a few of the other folks included here to, at times, be rather dubious. In particular, Verne Gagne and his son Greg both seem quite partial to stretching the truth in ways that make them look better.
So, anyway, the 'documentary' side of The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA is pretty darn good. It is basically a 'rise and fall' type of story and those often prove to be most compelling. I believe it could've benefited from a bit more time, which would have allowed all those involved to go into some of the topics it covers in a touch more detail. Regardless, all in all, what is here remains constantly interesting and entertaining enough to be well worth watching. In fact, one of the main reasons I wished it was longer is due to being enthralled enough by the best of the stories and comments included that I was left wanting to hear even more of them. There are some pretty humorous anecdotes included in the extras too.
For some more insight into this part of the DVD I recommend reading this article on the subject, by one of my favourite 'net wrestling columnists - Scott Bowden, of Comics 101.
What weakens this AWA DVD, as far as I'm concerned, is the actual wrestling matches included on it. Nearly all of them are clipped; meaning the first 10 minutes (or thereabouts) of the bout is missing. I truly hate that. The opening stages of a wrestling match are extremely important - that's the portion wrestlers (the good ones at least) use to set up the 'story' of the match. It really hurts most wrestling bouts when you don't get to see them from the beginning, thus missing that initial 'build up' stage. I consider it somewhat equivalent to missing the first half an hour of a movie.
Perhaps a lot of the archival AWA footage (now owned by WWE) only remains in an edited state. But I find it most doubtful that all of it is. I've watched several AWA bouts in recent times that weren't cut in any way, shape, or form; so I'm sure plenty of match footage does still exist in full.
The other problem I have with the matches included on Spectacular Legacy of the AWA is that, in my opinion, they are...not very good, basically. There are a couple of real nice ones though:
Curt Hennig vs. Nick Bockwinkle - an excellent "technical wrestling" bout from two all time greats (although the idiotic crowd they were wrestling in front of at the time clearly didn't appreciate their efforts fully & put a slight damper on things).
|"Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig (Rest In Peace) |
The Midnight Rockers vs. Buddy Rose & Doug Somers is an excellent brawl (even though this is now the third DVD I own that has this match on it).
The Nick Bockwinkle vs. Hulk Hogan bout is worth a look too. Nick worked very well with the Hulkster and really brought out the best in him. Unfortunately this match has been cut too. Plus there is a better (and complete) one between these two guys on the Hogan Anthology DVD.
The Jerry Lawler vs. Kerry Von Erich match is a fine one as well. Although, while I definitely like it, I think it tends to get a touch overrated by some. Anyhow, I already covered this one in my review of The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the '80's DVD.
The majority of the other choices make little sense to me. I'd love to know who picked these bouts and the reasons behind their decisions. Of all the AWA matches to choose from, did they honestly believe these were the picks of the bunch?
The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA's coverage of the history of the promotion is hardly perfect, but it still does the job well enough and features plenty of legitimately intriguing moments. I always find it cool to listen to the 'old timers' speaking about the history of the wrasslin' business. So as I mentioned earlier, wrestling fanatics should be happy enough to get this DVD, just for that aspect alone.
It is a shame that the part of the DVD I was personally looking forward to most - the actual AWA wrestling matches - just doesn't quite cut the mustard. Of the twelve or so matches included, I personally consider only about three of them to be particularly noteworthy - especially when you factor in the butchered state most of them are presented in here. But even the less impressive matches on this set have some sort of merit. There are quite a few I'd never even seen before and this is the first time nearly all of them have been brought to DVD (at least "officially"). As such, I'm still happy to have them; just for the curiosity value and the sake of adding some more wrestling matches to my library. Besides, others may reckon the bouts I didn't much care for are great. After all, these things are just a matter of opinion.
For more casual wrestling fans Legacy of the AWA is not what I'd call essential, particularly if you have little (or no) interest in the former promotion itself. If you're in that category, you'd be better off just renting it.
Hardcore wrestling lovers, on the other hand, should definitely add this DVD to their collection (of course, many of them probably have already). This is far from being a dud; I just believe there are plenty of better WWE DVDs out there. However, it does cover its intended topic to a decent extent and the best parts of the DVD are still good enough for me to score The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA a solid 8 out of 11.
Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology
It may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my tastes in wrestling (and all the shots I've taken at Hulk Hogan over the years) to hear that I really love this Ultimate Anthology DVD dedicated to Hulkster. To be honest with you, I was rather shocked by how much I enjoyed it myself!
This is actually the second Hogan DVD set WWE have released in recent years. But the previous DVD, called Hulk Still Rules, came out a while back now. And, if my memory serves me correctly, it was released under the WWF brand name which they can no longer legally use (WWF is trademarked by the World Wildlife Fund and the rights to it now belong exclusively to them). So, any DVDs released before Vince's company changed their name to WWE are, for copyright reasons, unlikely to be found for sale in any stores (though most of 'em are still easy enough to track down online).
Anyhow, while that previous Hogan DVD did have a good number of matches on it, the larger share of it dealt with the history of Hulk's career and that sort of thing. This new Anthology is, pretty much, entirely devoted to the Hulkster's biggest and best wrestling matches. That suits me just fine - now I don't have to, yet again, hear Hogan talking about how great he is and twist the truth as though he hopes to make a balloon animal out of it. Thankfully, all the matches on this DVD are (unlike those on the AWA one) shown in their entirety. Jimmy Hart and "Mean" Gene Okerlund serve as the hosts of the DVD and provide goofy intros to the matches it contains. Makes sense; both those guy's careers are closely connected with Hogan's and their style suits the 80's retro flavour well.
Personally, I generally prefer the more technical style wrestling; Bret Hart, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle are some of the guys who put on the sort of matches I enjoy most. Obviously you're not going to get much of that sort of thing with a Hulk Hogan DVD. The dude has only used about 3 different moves in 20 plus years. But his sheer charisma, unrivalled status as the best known, most successful 'sports entertainer' ever and the amazing responses he gets from the crowd can be enough to draw in all but the most cynical of wrestling fans and make his matches fun to watch.
To me, what makes the matches on this Hogan Anthology so engaging is how almost every single one of them comes across as being a major happening. They have a sense of real importance and majesty about them. The Hulkster is the most legendary and enduringly popularly wrester of all time. Due to that, any time he's in the ring with a real 'big name' opponent - Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Sting, Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair, The Rock etc. - it feels like a truly special event. Because of the atmosphere surrounding them and the huge crowd reactions Hogan is a master of commanding, they are just plain good fun.
Mind you, there have still been heaps of Hulk Hogan matches over the years that I consider outright stinkers and no amount of charisma could disguise how truly shithouse they were (come on, you didn't think I'd be able to resist saying a few negative things about him, did you?).
|It can be hard to decide which belt best matches your outfit |
Luckily, none of the Hulkster's worst efforts are included on this DVD. Well, except for his bout with The Giant (Paul Wight, later to become better known as Big Show) from Hog Wild in '96 - that's a total abortion. But Wight was just too green to do much with at that stage, so I'll cut Hogan some slack for that one (although Hulk is one of the main people who rushed Show to a top spot before he was ready to begin with; you reap what you sew).
For those who give a crap, some of old Sammy's favourites of this DVD's bouts are (drum roll please):
Hogan vs. Nick Bockwinkle (Champion), for the AWA heavyweight title (24th of April, 1983). Not everyone might be aware that "Hulkamania" actually began not in the World Wrestling Federation, but in the AWA. Yep, it was while he was with the AWA that Hogan's popularity began to skyrocket and he started developing the majority of the characteristics (ripping off his shirt, "hulking up", legdrop of doom etc.) he's used ever since. In this match with Bockwinkle, Hogan was so "over" with the fans in attendance that the building practically shook as they reacted to his every move. To really bring that all out, it definitely helped that Hulk had such a superb heel and ring general as Bockwinkle to work with.
From a purely wrestling perspective, I consider this one of the best matches of Hogan's career (along with some of the bouts he had in Japan) - he even does a couple of sequences here that might be described as 'chain wrestling'! As I was saying a moment ago, the crowd watching this match was white hot. The fans had grown rabid in hopes of seeing their hero - "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan (as he was billed at the time. Marvel wound up putting a stop to that) - finally take the title from the smugly villainous Bockwinkle. This was thanks to a very well built chase they'd set up: Hogan kept just missing out on winning the big one, usually because of Nick and his manager, the legendary Bobby Heenan, using every dirty trick in the book.
The finish to this match is still talked about today. Not surprising really, since it nearly caused a riot! I won't give away what happens, just in case anyone hasn't seen or heard of it yet. Also, the reasons for the ending they went with would take me too long to explain (particularly since they change a bit depending on who you ask); but you can find out more about that on this DVD and/or the AWA one. Or I guess you could look it up on the internet. I hear there's some good stuff on that internet thing.
2 bouts with Andre the Giant: The first is from 13/9/1980 & the second is the super-famous main event from Wrestlemania III (29/3/87). The first of these matches took place before Hogan was the huge megastar he was soon to become (though he was already gaining quite a bit of attention). There's nothing fancy going on really, but the site of these two behemoths in the ring together is still something to behold. Andre, though already slowing down a tad, was still far more mobile at this point as well, so the action is a little faster paced than what they produced in their more renowned Wrestlemania clash. Also, Hogan lifts The Giant of his feet and bodyslams him - despite that, when he did the same at 'Mania, they told everyone it had never been done before. In fact, he holds him up for much longer in this match than he did at WM, but of course Andre was not quite as heavy and, with his movements being less deteriorated, he was able to better help Hogan get him up there. In any case, it is still amazing to see Andre get slammed like that. This match is a short one, but that probably works in its favour really. I find it to be pretty entertaining while it lasts and, as I said, it is still a sight to behold just for the sheer mass of humanity in the ring!
The Wrestlemania III bout is, of course, the most famous wrestling match of all time. They did a superb job of building up to it and the result was an unprecedented amount of interest from not only wrestling fans, but even those who rarely paid any attention to the sport. The actual attendance figure is debated to this day - the WWF claimed an audience of over 93,000, but many believe this number to be somewhat inflated. Regardless of the true figure, there was an incredible amount of people in that crowd, so it doesn't really matter.
The match itself is, by most standards of judgement, a pretty crappy one. Poor old Andre did all he was able to, but the dude could barely move at this stage & was in constant pain. Hogan is certainly no Ric Flair, or Shawn Michaels, when it comes to carrying an opponent and making them look good, but he clearly did the best he could with Andre in this match. Despite all that, I believe this match is still very exciting to watch. The amazingly large (and totally absorbed) crowd helps bring about an electric atmosphere. It just has an aura about it, due to the iconic status of both participants, that enables it to work in spite of the actual action being substandard.
|Neither man wanted to give up the last slice of pizza |
Hogan's Wrestlemania VI match against the Ultimate Warrior, from April Fool's Day (seriously!) in 1990, still holds up as a surprisingly excellent match - considering neither guy was usually thought of too highly for their in-ring skills. According to most reports, the entire match was planned out meticulously before hand (I believe Pat Patterson was one of the main guys who helped lay it all out). It definitely worked; it tells a great story of a clash between two 'superhero' type characters and the fans are kept on the edge of their seats the whole time. Having two fan favourites squaring off in the main event was a rare thing at the time too (and still is, really) and that added even more to the excitement. The crowd truly was split, roughly down the middle - with half cheering for Hogan and the other half in favour of the Warrior. Cool stuff.
I was going to talk a bit some of the other matches, like the one with the Rock from 'Mania 18, but... there is still a heap of other shit I have to review and write about. So you'll just have to check them all out for yourselves. Mind you - should you wish to discuss any of these things with me further - you are, as always, most welcome to shoot me an email about it.
The bottom line is that this three disc set called The Ultimate Hulk Hogan Anthology does a great job of living up to its title. Very nearly all of Hogan's best and most important matches are included here (though I really wish some of his matches from Japan were on it). For 'Hulkamaniacs' this is an obvious must. But any true wrestling fan really should have some of these Hogan matches in their DVD collection; whether you like the guy or not, they are amongst the most talked about in wrestling's history and several of them, in one way or another (for better or worse!), changed the business.
Who knows? you might even end up finding, as I did, that - once you get into the right mood for some of the Hulkster's old school (often cartoonish) mayhem - this set is a way more enjoyable than you'd expect. 10 out of 11.
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