DVD Review: WWE Raw 25th Anniversary

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              Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 480 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: April 2 2018

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

On January 22 2018, WWE officially held the 25th anniversary special of Monday Night Raw. It was slightly later than the real date would have been (January 11), but the occasion was still extremely prestigious and exciting. With this edition of Raw set to emanate from both the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Manhatten Center in New York City (home of Raw #1), along with a star-studded list of announced attendees, this had the potential to be one of the greatest Raw episodes ever. Rewatching it on DVD allows one to relive this historic night, but also to realise why the occasion fell a little bit flat.

Unlike most reviews, where I go match-by-match or segment-by-segment, here it’s easier to begin with the highs and then the lows. The most warmly-received moment of the evening came at the start, where (following a superb video recap of Raw’s history) Stone Cold Steve Austin planted Vince and Shane McMahon with Stunners to a raucous reaction. I find it interesting that this got the most positive feedback from fans when it was something we had seen at Raw Homecoming, Raw XV and many other times in the past; still, as a trip down memory lane, it was a lot of fun, and Austin is the sort of performer whose mere presence elevates a segment to legendary status.

Elsewhere, The Miz and Roman Reigns put on a good match for the Intercontinental Title, with Miz using underhanded means to come out on top and regain his crown (meaning that Miz has won the IC Title at Raw’s 1,000th episode, SmackDown’s 900th episode and now Raw’s 25th anniversary episode as well). A segment which saw D-Generation X and Scott Hall (Kevin Nash was unable to attend having recently had surgery) “bond” with Balor Club (via their Too Sweet hand gesture) was intriguing, even if it flew in the face of Triple H previously being a heel at Survivor Series and subsequently playing a villain again at Elimination Chamber.

Elias getting the best of John Cena in a separate segment was unexpected, and boosted The Drifter’s stock on the most-watched episode of Raw in years. And, of course, the chance to see so many faces from the past is always a treat, whether it be the usual suspects such as Ric Flair, those who may still return to WWE in the future like Chris Jericho, and memorable characters who you definitely won’t see again on the show anytime soon, including Brother Love (who got an almighty pop, due to Bruce Prichard – the man behind the red paint – having a hugely-popular wrestling podcast called Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard, which incidentally I encourage anyone reading this review to check out).

Now for the negatives: the biggest problem is that everyone assumed the matches/segments would be split evenly between both venues, or that the Manhatten Center would at least receive more air-time than it received. Instead, little more than 30 minutes of the show took place at the old-school venue, which unsurprisingly angered those in attendance (especially those who paid a high price for their seats). They did get the DX/Balor Club segment, but otherwise they only got a Bray Wyatt-Matt Hardy match which was brief and caused Woken Matt to lose momentum that he’s only recently regained via the Ultimate Deletion, and a promo by The Undertaker.

This interview was Taker’s first WWE appearance since he seemingly retired at WrestleMania 33. Those tuning in expected him to either confirm he was done, or that he wasn’t quite finished yet. Those expecting John Cena to come out and challenge him, there and then, were dreaming considering that Royal Rumble was six days later, with Cena as an announced participant (meaning that challenging Taker here would have made no sense). But the promo by Taker (who had a different coat on and no gloves, adhering to the fact that he left his previous gear in Orlando last year) suggested that nobody really knew for sure; it was cryptic enough that it could have been an in-character farewell speech (albeit a very underwhelming one), or an in-character hint that he would wrestle again in the future. It needed a little extra “oomph” to really have an impact, because after watching the interview, fans were more confused than intrigued.

(Of course, John Cena has since challenged Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania 34, and as of this writing, we have passed the final Raw before Mania, and Taker hasn’t even acknowledged the challenge. Cena will be at Mania this Sunday as a fan, and the assumption is that Undertaker will appear – possibly in his American Bad Ass guise – to either wrestle Cena, flatten him, or to agree to a match at WrestleMania 35, with a year of hype to promote this being his absolute, definitive last match. I kind of prefer the final option, as crazy as it sounds. And I’ve enjoyed the storyline, contrary to other fans’ opinions, because it is something different, and it is pushing Cena’s predicament of not having a match at Mania to the very last moment. Harking back to this DVD, though, Taker’s promo hasn’t been used once in the Cena storyline for this year’s WM, meaning that WWE would have been better off not using Taker at Raw 25 altogether and simply letting Cena be the guy to reintroduce The Phenom to the storylines.)

Moving on, a show-long poker game with The APA and various legends is dragged out far too much, and WWE would have been better having one extended segment as opposed to almost half a dozen skippable angles. This sets up a tag team match (Rhyno/Heath Slater vs. Titus Worldwide) ultimately exists to set up a Dudley Boyz attack on Slater. Supposedly, Enzo Amore was supposed to be at the subject of this assault, but his suspension that day (and firing the next day) for unpleasant reasons put paid to that. Nevertheless, this whole part of the show is completely skippable. The opening eight-woman tag match serves its purpose to promote the first Women’s Royal Rumble six days later, but is unmemorable on second viewing, as is the show-closing brawl between Brock Lesnar, Kane and Braun Strowman. Same for a Peep Show segment starring Christian, Seth Rollins, Jason Jordan, Sheamus and Cesaro, which I had totally forgotten about until seeing it again here.

The biggest criticism that fans had of the show (besides the Manhatten Center awkwardness) was that, besides the Austin cameo, nothing particularly special happened. WWE should have held this the previous week (which would also have been the actual anniversary week) to allow for a night of complete nostalgia, leaving the subsequent episode to promote Royal Rumble (the men’s Rumble was barely mentioned on this show at all). Also, while WWE announced dozens of names from past eras to appear here (and they almost all did), there were still some notable absentees, which bothered some. Nash was not there due to surgery, and the same applied to Bret Hart. No idea why Mick Foley wasn’t there, Edge had prior commitments, and it’s assumed that The Rock simply wasn’t able to appear due to movie commitments. Hulk Hogan’s return was rumoured, though it ultimately didn’t come to pass (it might do soon, though, possibly as soon as WrestleMania 34 this Sunday). Lastly, some even expected CM Punk, though those fans really were dreaming, as huge a moment as that would have been. A snipe came at the “burial” of The Revival, though I look at it that at least one team or person was going to be sacrificed to DX, and it just happened to be Dash and Dawson’s unlucky day (though they haven’t rebounded whatsoever since this night).

As a show, Raw 25 felt bigger and was better than Raw’s 20th anniversary (which had nothing of note, besides The Rock’s hilarious song to Vickie Guerrero) and Raw’s 10th anniversary (a mock award ceremony which went down like a lead balloon to fans on hand in New York that night), but it wasn’t as entertaining as Raw’s 15th anniversary, Raw 1,000 or Raw Homecoming as an overall presentation. Part of the problem is that, as the years roll on, the legends who appeared at the reunion shows in the 2000s and early 2010s have gotten older (to the point of not being able to wrestle or take bumps anymore), staler (the DX reunion at Raw 25 featured the same members as Raw 1,000, but the latter get-together stood out more because that was the first time they had been in the same place at the same time for at least a decade) or are no longer with us (Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes etc). Another issue was the timing: as noted, it was the final Raw before Royal Rumble, meaning that the show was a difficult mix of providing nostalgia while also promoting the second or third biggest PPV of the year. When Raw 30 comes around, the anniversary date needs to be early in the month so that fans get a trip down memory lane before returning to normality to promote that year’s Rumble.

What’s more, while WWE announced plenty of legends for this show, it meant that there were no surprises. Imagine if Austin had come out, without his participation being confirmed. I don’t mind if Rock, Bret etc couldn’t make it, but WWE needed to make the most of those who were on hand (and because they had so many retro faces on hand, and there wasn’t enough time for everyone to have their own segment, a fair few were just bunched into the same room to wave or throw out a catch phrase). And previous anniversary shows simply had more enticing matches or segments: Raw 1,000, for example, promised John Cena cashing in Money In The Bank to face CM Punk for the WWE Title, Brock Lesnar (who only returned to WWE three months earlier) answering Triple H’s SummerSlam challenge and a Daniel Bryan/AJ Lee wedding (that was ultimately aborted). This show promised Miz vs. Reigns, and that was it.

The DVD also includes Raw’s top 25 moments, as voted for by the fans. This is fun, as it’s always cool to relive the incidents which truly made Raw the greatest wrestling show ever seen. But by its very nature, it’s familiar, and not just because we’re reliving them here, but because they’ve appeared in some form on past Raw DVDs (Raw 15th Anniversary, Raw 100 etc), as well as many other DVDs for the likes of Steve Austin and CM Punk. Then there’s the WWE Network, where you can relive all of these angles and matches, as well as watching every Raw episode to date (well, up until a month out, anyway), and that includes … Raw 25.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a fun wrestling DVD, and there are cool moments on the show, as well as amongst the extras. For an older fan who enjoys nostalgia experiences (like me), this is definitely entertaining. But the show as a whole could have been better, and the extras have been featured on several DVDs in the past. So, Raw 25 will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face, but it’s not a must-own by any means.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 – Okay