DVD Review: The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2015 – WWE

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Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 470 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 8 2016

This annual release looks back on most of the previous 12 months of television content. I say “most” because the month of December is either only slightly referenced or ignored altogether due to the WWE release schedule (meaning that this DVD series is in production before the year even ends). True to that theory, the last match on this DVD comes from the November 30 Raw; had we been given the extra month, we could have had Roman Reigns’ WWE Title win over Sheamus to mass approval, which was one of the top Raw moments of the year.

That aside, this is a well-structured look back at the highlights of Raw and SmackDown throughout 2015. This tends to attempt a balance between the biggest moments, the best matches and content which hasn’t already been released, as well as avoiding repetition where possible (so, for instance, we only get a couple of John Cena’s United States Title Open Challenges despite him having at least seven or eight great Raw bouts during this stage). In a nice touch, WWE has included short clips which recap each month in terms of key storyline developments, which always helps for viewers who would otherwise be wondering why specific angles had taken place. And this doesn’t have a Blu-ray release, which is a negative, but it means a longer DVD programme (around eight hours), which makes this more of a comprehensive collection.

On the downside, Byron Saxton is a pretty annoying host; his material isn’t great, but it’s his “Aren’t I funny?” expression after each supposed one-liner which is really frustrating; let us decide whether you’re funny! And you’re usually not! I don’t mind Saxton that much, but this doesn’t help as he looks to receive true approval for his work. Also, SmackDown was largely irrelevant throughout 2015, so we only get a few bouts from SD in the whole DVD. Hopefully, there will be more on the 2016 DVD which will include matches that will take place after the upcoming brand extension.

January is spotlighted by a Dean Ambrose-Bray Wyatt Ambulance match, which is pretty good, followed by Daniel Bryan’s amazingly low-key comeback match from injury against Kane (unfortunately, Bryan would only wrestle for a few more months before further injuries that would end his career). A Royal Rumble qualifier between Ryback and Rusev is uneventful (these two SmackDown matches in a row mark the only consecutive SD bouts on the DVD), but after the January highlight reel (which surprisingly includes a very brief Hulk Hogan appearance; ooh, WWE is getting cold feet about keeping Hogan out of the mix), we jump to a very good Bryan vs. Seth Rollins match to determine who would face Roman Reigns at Fast Lane with a WrestleMania title shot at stake. This is the only footage for February as we then get the second highlight video, and much of March is also skipped over as we are taken to the night when Sting saved Randy Orton from a likely Authority beat-down. To be fair, WWE television wasn’t exactly brilliant for the first few months of 2015, so we’re hardly missing must-see moments here.

An overly long but undeniably entertaining Gauntlet match involving most of the participants from the Intercontinental Title Ladder match at Mania is up next, followed by Nikki Bella vs. Paige, a good match in the days before the NXT women truly took over Raw and SmackDown, and a very good promo segment to promote The Bellas vs. Paige and AJ Lee for WM (this felt more organic than usual; could it have been unscripted? And, if so, why do talents remain unscripted when they can genuinely cut good promos when the chains are off, to quote Curtis Axel?) Speaking of Axel, he turns up as jobber fodder for Neville’s Raw debut (Byron’s commentary during this match is appalling; the alternate commentary with Neville as a DVD extra is far better, and even that is only basic), but of greater note, this match follows Brock Lesnar going mental when he was denied a scheduled WWE Title shot at new champ Seth Rollins the night after WM 31. To end disc one, we get March and April recaps with a match sandwiched in between. John Cena and Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd was a basic meeting of champions at the time, but this bout (held in London, and actually interrupted by a few guerrilla marketers, which of course isn’t included here) would end up being Bryan’s final wrestling match due to his aforementioned health issues.

Disc two is the best of the set because the action has truly picked up on Raw by this point. We’re treated to a strong Rollins-Ambrose match in Montreal, followed by a long segment from the same show that includes a great Cena-Sami Zayn match (Zayn gets an almighty pop in his hometown) as part of the U.S. Open Challenge. We then see Cena setting up another challenge, but it doesn’t happen because the respondent is the debuting Kevin Owens, who announces his arrival by leaving Cena laying. Surprisingly when you consider the large focus on Roman Reigns throughout 2015, we only get his first appearance next as he, Randy Orton and Neville take on Sheamus, Kofi Kingston and Kane in a preview for the 2015 Money In The Bank Ladder match (Neville provides a great spot afterwards). This is book-ended by May and June recaps, and is then followed by arguably the TV match of the year, a fantastic U.S. Open Challenge between Cena and Cesaro in front of a red-hot Chicago crowd.

After that, we’re shown the segment which marked the beginning of the “Divas Revolution” as Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks were officially introduced to Raw. The Revolution didn’t exactly take off right away, but the women’s action definitely improved from this show onwards, as evidenced by an enjoyable Paige-Sasha match which is next on the DVD (this and Cena-Cesaro also have alternate commentary). A July recap includes clips of the outstanding Brock Lesnar/Undertaker pull-apart angle, which really should have been here in full (by the way, the recaps start and end with a still image, and for July it’s a positively frightening visual of an Undertaker expression during this brawl; if you turned this on in a dark room at night and didn’t know what was coming, this would scare the s–t out of you). But we do see The Undertaker interrupt Lesnar’s homecoming days prior to their big SummerSlam match, and the pre-Slam build is also represented by a very enjoyable eight-man tag from SmackDown that combines three PPV matches into one big TV brawl.

The best moments of arguably WWE’s best TV show of the year kick off disc three with the completely unexpected return of The Dudley Boyz and Sting surprisingly interrupting Seth Rollins’ statue ceremony (don’t ask) in Brooklyn the night after SummerSlam. Two more monthly recaps book-end Sting’s only in-ring appearance on Raw against Big Show, which quickly merges into Sting and Cena vs. Show and Rollins. Shortly after Night Of Champions, the general content of Raw and SmackDown began to take a bit of a dip, which resulted in the ratings really taking a dip. But there’s still fun to be had, as Kevin Owens and Ryback have a fairly good bout for the Intercontinental Title, Tyler Breeze debuts to beat down Dolph Ziggler on Miz TV (this came after the worst storyline of the year, the Hollyoaks-esque love quadrangle involving Dolph, Rusev, Lana and Summer Rae, which hindered all and is memorable only for Rusev’s great acting, and his new nickname of “RuRu”), and one of the best TV matches of the year, an incredible Fatal Four Way match between Reigns, Ziggler, Owens and the just-returned Alberto Del Rio to determine who would challenge Rollins for the WWE Title at Survivor Series.

But Rollins didn’t make it to Survivor Series: after the October recap, but before the November run-through, we’re shown action from the tournament for the vacant WWE Title, which Rollins had to relinquish after being injured at the beginning of the UK tour held that month. As part of that, we see a really good Cesaro-Sheamus match which includes interference from Wayne Rooney (seriously), and a big upset as Kalisto pins Ryback in the first step of a moderate push for the masked luchador. The DVD ends with an adequate Charlotte-Paige Divas Title match (the angle where Paige mocked Charlotte’s deceased brother Reid fortunately isn’t included), and a 7-on-4 handicap match as The New Day (whose cameos here would never be enough to explain to new viewers why the trio have become so popular with fans) and The League Of Nations battling Reigns, Ambrose and The Usos. By this point, Raw was ailing due to absences, poor storylines and questionable pushes. This, as well as declining ratings, actually made late 2015 a worrying time for WWE. But the Reigns title win on December 15 was the centrepiece of a great show, and with the signing of AJ Styles and the call-ups for Sami Zayn and several other NXT stars, Raw and SmackDown have generally been a lot better in 2016 (well, since WrestleMania 32 at which point the focus on The Authority loosened and many great wrestlers were given the chance to display their talents on a weekly basis).

Although the three-hour Raws get a lot of criticism due to their length, and many of the storylines during 2015 were either boring or poorly booked, the television shows still provided a very generous amount of great matches, and a good number of memorable moments too. Most of those moments are here, along with a lot of the year’s top TV bouts. A couple more Cena matches from his Open Challenge phase would have been nice, as well as the incredible Rollins-Neville match from August and a strong Orton-Cesaro-Owens bout from the summer. And whilst Seth Rollins is represented fairly well, you wouldn’t know from this DVD that Roman Reigns was and is WWE’s great hope for the future, so some more Roman bouts might have helped. Perhaps adding a fourth disc, which the 2011 set had, would have resulted in a slightly more comprehensive round-up of the year’s top moments.

Nevertheless, this is a very entertaining set with a clear focus on the wrestling action, and there is a lot of material that is definitely worth revisiting (Ambrose-Wyatt, Bryan-Rollins, Ambrose-Rollins, Cena-Zayn, Cena-Cesaro, the Fatal Four Way from October, Cesaro-Sheamus and a couple of the angles from over the summer). The monthly recaps are a minor inclusion, but a really good touch that benefit fans who may be watching this DVD a few years from now. Yes, the year did have plenty of flaws, and NXT was unquestionably the most exciting wrestling brand to follow during those twelve months, but the bloated nature of Raw, the insignificance of SmackDown and the general apathy towards storylines and featured performers can blind one to the fact that there was a lot of really good content on both shows during 2015. This compilation acts as strong evidence.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent