Being that in 2013, the WWE is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, it is fitting for the company to release a historical retrospective on the company. Thousands of wrestlers have worked for the company, performing even more matches over those fifty years, not including the Capitol period. The WWE has many stories to relive from its history and they provide information about most of them in this DVD package. One might expect a bit of a biased perspective coming from the WWE concerning the history of its own company, especially considering previous DVD biographies.
This set is no different but that does not detract too much from the quality of this documentary. The bio fails to mention many of the failures of the WWE over the years though. That withstanding, using plenty of past wrestling footage and many interviews from wrestlers from many generations, the WWE has delivered a very enjoyable retrospective on the last fifty years of the company.
The documentary goes in chronological order for the topics, without deviating too much. It started with talk of the history of the McMahon family starting with Jess as a boxing promoter, followed by Vince, Sr. running as part of the NWA and then branching out to start the company that the WWE is today. This showed a few newspaper clippings talking about Jess and Vince, Sr. with some historical pictures thrown in. Championship Wrestling from Washington was shown and the Dumont Network television deal was referenced. Personally, the beginning of this bio was my favorite as it showed plenty of great vintage footage that you will not see on a commercially-released DVD set.
The next transition was to Bruno Sammartino and his defeat of Buddy Rogers in May 1963. Out of the whole feature, they spent more time on Bruno than any other wrestler. Many interviews from wrestlers of his era were shown, including Capt. Lou Albano, Arnold Skaaland, Ivan Koloff, and Stan Hansen, among others. Bruno was also interviewed for this set, and he told a story about how he drove a Rolls-Royce and because of that, everyone who saw him thought he and wrestling were larger than life. He spent a total of eleven years as the champ in the territory and sold-out Madison Square Garden nearly two-hundred times. That number being the usual exaggerated number they have been using this year, from the actual one-hundred and thirty or so sellouts, if my numbers are correct (going by a September 2006 Wrestling Observer Newsletter issue). This was a perfect segue to talk of Madison Square Garden and its history with the company.
MSG was touted as being the most important venue in the world. Sgt. Slaughter mentioned that as a wrestler, one could not wait to be good enough to wrestle at MSG and for the WWE. New York was mentioned as being the biggest territory and that wrestlers made the most money in the territory. This was often true, depending on the era especially from 1984 until onward, excluding when WCW was doing better business than the company. The next piece of history was Bruno’s loss of the WWWF Championship in 1977.
Bruno said that when he would go to the newsstand during his career, he would look at the wrestling magazines and see his picture on most of them. By April 1977, his career as a full-time wrestler was ending and his loss that month of the WWWF Title signified a change in the company. The bio failed to go into too much detail on the change besides showing little footage of Superstar Billy Graham. At least, a little more footage of Bob Backlund was shown and he was interviewed. They did not mention his long reign as champion. One major oversight, as well, was not referencing Graham at all. At this point, I realize that Billy Graham is not in the WWE’s good graces but he remains an important figure in the history of the WWE. He certainly laid the foundation for Hulk Hogan’s babyface character in the early 1980s and his career in general.
Next up was a short piece on Andre The Giant and then television syndication. The documentary featured very little on Andre, which was surprising. They did go on to talk about him a little more later in the feature though. Sgt. Slaughter told a story about telling Vince, Sr. he wanted use a tape of the Marine Corps Hymn for his entrance when he came to the territory. At first, Vince did not understand why he wanted him to play the tape but after Sarge told him it was for his entrance, he understood why. This transitioned into the WWE getting more star publicity and they showed the angle with Gorilla Monsoon giving the airplane spin to Muhammed Ali. After this was talk of the national expansion and Vince, Jr. buying the company in 1982. It was said to be a breath of fresh air for the wrestling business. The WWE was mentioned as having a better show than other territories and competitors, and better ratings. Of course, that was not always the case when looking at history. Hulk Hogan was the big star of the expansion period and he was everywhere in the media. It was said that Hulk would not be Hulk without the WWE and vice-versa. He, along with ventures with MTV, helped launch WrestleMania in 1985.
WrestleMania was mentioned as being a big risk and they showed some footage of Hulk and Mr. T taping a segment, working out on the beach, which was interesting. S.D. Jones was even shown talking about WrestleMania. Dick Ebersol talked about the birth of Saturday Night’s Main Event and how it did better ratings than Saturday Night Live, at times.
Throughout the feature, Ebersol was shown numerous times, along with Basil Devito. Sadly, no sign of attorney Jerry McDevitt in the bio. Slaughter was back telling a story about meeting President Nixon on an airplane and Nixon saying he watched him sing the Pledge of Allegiance twice and how he made everyone in the room sing it on the spot that day. Merchandising was expanding, showing footage of Piledriver. Basil Devito then mentioned WrestleMania III and how he initially asked Vince how to do the seating for it and how the NBA did 40,000 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome for their All-Star Game. However, Vince wanted to break the attendance record. The ongoing theme of the documentary was how great and smart Vince McMahon is. The 93,000 attendance number was brought up and this segued into a piece on pay-per-view expansion and more shows.
The next transition was the steroid trial for Vince McMahon. Essentially, the bio skipped 1988-1992. There was lots of great footage for this though but it certainly gave one the impression that steroids were only being used for injury and health recovery in the business. Roddy Piper mentioned that he had to use them to rehab his body from his wrestling schedule, in order to feed his family. It was never really alluded to the fact that a certain image needed to be maintained, through the help of steroids, in order to get the best position on the show and with the company. Still, this segment is one of the best parts of the documentary. Steroid testing had depleted Vince’s roster and he needed to make new stars, as a result.
The debut of Monday Night Raw and the subsequent heavy competition from World Championship Wrestling was referred to next. Vince had to create new stars like Bret Hart since WCW had signed away all his old talent. Plenty of great interviews were shown including Lex Luger, Eric Bischoff, and Vince Russo. Vince could not afford Bret Hart’s contract and this led to the 1997 Montreal Screwjob. It was never really talked about how bad business had gotten for the company, up to that point. This led to the creation of the Mr. McMahon character and the ushering in of the Attitude Era and how wrestling being talked about everywhere. They talked about some of the biggest stars, specifically Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H.
Another interesting piece was on the death of Owen Hart in 1999. Jim Ross had some interesting things to say about being at ringside when Owen fell and how he had to make the call on-air about his death. Linda McMahon mentioned how she called Martha Hart to tell her she would try to help her in any way possible. Footage of the Raw episode the night after his death were shown. The debut of Smackdown, the company going public in 1999, and the WCW buy-out in 2001 were talked about but not in great length. Also, the brand split between Raw and Smackdown was referred to and how everyone got more television time, as a result. This led to the PG Era for the company and a small piece on John Cena and the charitable work of the WWE, in the past.
The spotlight was on WrestleMania returning to big venues in 2001 and the Hall of Fame. They talked a little more about Andre here and how he was the first Hall of Fame inductee. The creation of the WWE Film Studio was next up and subsequently, the transition to HD for the company. Also briefly talked about were the WWE’s social media presence, the WWE Performance Center in Florida, and how Vince never stops. No one can create a star like him and he is the mastermind behind everything. The segments after Owen Hart’s death were just modern pieces on how the WWE is so great and all the endeavors they have tried in the last few years.
As mentioned previously, the amount of wrestlers interviewed is vast. They interviewed almost anyone you can imagine including wrestlers, some celebrities, and a couple fans. Other notable interviews not previously mentioned include Mad Dog Vachon, Ernie Ladd, Jake Roberts, and both Blackjacks.
The WWE was made to look invincible, most of the time, as they apparently could do no wrong. This bio featured no mentions of the WBF, XFL, business declines, or WWF New York. Also, as mentioned, this does not go into Superstar Billy Graham, besides showing some decent footage on him. Macho Man Randy Savage was never mentioned and only shown in footage a handful of times. Not much was shown on the Ultimate Warrior either but he was more of a memorable character more than an important factor in the company’s history in any way.
Overall, this piece is certainly worth checking out, if not for all the footage and interviews alone. It has some behind-the-scenes footage but I would have liked to have seen more, since what we got is interesting. Most of the matches on the second and third discs of the set have been on previous DVD sets, although the February 25, 2013, John Cena/C.M. Punk match is featured, which is new. This is a very enjoyable and thorough documentary on the WWE. It has some revisionist history and omissions, along with much Vince praise but that is to be expected, I suppose. I would recommend this set, as it is one of the best bios the WWE has done yet.