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Written By: Mark Armstrong
Running Time: 519 Minutes
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 20 2017
(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)
Just like the Best PPV Matches 2016 DVD, this three-disc collection emphasises that it was a year of two halves (well, near enough) for WWE: pre-Draft and post-Draft, especially on Raw and SmackDown, which changed dramatically once the WWE roster was split into two. Actually, it was more like a year of thirds, with the pre-WrestleMania season being a fairly dull time on-screen due to a plethora of injuries and a certain amount of creative malaise.
Mind you, there were still some highlights of the year’s first few months, and most of them are featured on this set, which is presented by Jerry Lawler and is introduced with the Raw and SmackDown intro videos. Officially opening with a fun Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch bout from the first SmackDown of the year, we then jump to a match which seems like aeons ago, as Kalisto challenges Alberto Del Rio for the United States Championship on Raw, in a bout that exceeds expectations.
Following this, we get a recap of January on WWE television (there are similar, well-produced recaps throughout the compilation), before the emotional retirement ceremony of Daniel Bryan, which tugs at the heart-strings due to the fact that Bryan deeply wanted (and still wants) to wrestle again despite medical advice. If you recall, Edge also had to retire due to injury in 2011, but he had already planned to wind down his career and quickly came to terms with his situation (and he has never stated a desire to compete again since). Shawn Michaels retired on his terms in 2010, and has never looked back. Admittedly, Ric Flair didn’t really want to retire in 2008 but, since he was 59 at the time, his farewell had long been overdue. How strange is it that Flair, who is about to turn 68, would probably willingly wrestle again regularly if WWE allowed him to?
Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, we’re treated to a really good AJ Styles-Chris Jericho match from SmackDown, during which heel announcer Jerry Lawler runs down Styles repeatedly, given that AJ had just arrived in WWE. This makes it bizarre, therefore, that Lawler as the DVD host then highly praises The Phenomenal One. Moving on, we get the full segment that led to the hugely surprising return of Shane McMahon, although anyone who watched this live will notice some cuts (which also apply to the Raw episode which contained this angle on the WWE Network): Vince shockingly, and possibly accidentally, telling Shane that he looked forward to ensuring that he would take “a f–king beating”, and Shane noting that he “remembered previous beatings” by Vince (which hopefully referred solely to on-screen shenanigans), are chopped out of the version presented here.
Disc one ends with three strong matches: The New Day vs. Y2AJ is the best doubles match of the whole year on the main roster (although the NXT brand surpassed it on numerous occasions at the Takeover specials), and is followed by an angle which stunned the red-hot Chicago crowd. Triple H vs. Dolph Ziggler is pretty dramatic, and is followed by a HHH-Roman Reigns confrontation which should have gotten Reigns over huge as a superstar babyface heading into the main event of WrestleMania 32 (alas, it didn’t). And Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles is another fine bout, although it marks Styles’ third defeat so far on the DVD, and by the end of the first disc, we’ve seen him take a whopping five Codebreakers from Chris Jericho, which makes his subsequent success in WWE all the more remarkable.
As noted, fans were pretty frustrated and/or disappointed with the general quality of WWE television heading into WrestleMania, even if it was partly caused by the number of big names who hit the shelf due to injuries. Fortunately, things changed in the post-Mania season with a number of NXT call-ups and new signings, some of whom shine in the matches at follow. Apollo Crews vs. Tyler Breeze is a brief showcase of Apollo’s skills, and in a weird way may have been his best WWE moment to date, at least from a crowd reaction standpoint. AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn from April 11 is a tremendous match, and helped to establish Styles as a future WWE headliner following the earlier defeats (and a loss to Y2J at Mania), as well as establishing Zayn as one of WWE’s most exciting in-ring performers. Then, we jump into May with Cesaro and Zayn vs. Kevin Owens and The Miz from the May 12 SmackDown; this match, and the other pre-July SD bouts, make you realise just how noticebale and out-of-place the fake crowd noise is that WWE had used for many years on SmackDown prior to the show going live on a weekly basis. Indeed, some crowd “reactions” had literally been used since the show’s inception in 1999, so the word “lazy” doesn’t even begin to describe WWE still using the same audio, every week, almost 17 years later.
On a brighter note, we get John Cena’s return from injury on May 30 and his confrontation with AJ Styles and The Club, which in hindsight truly marked the beginning of AJ’s ascension in WWE. After a risque verbal spat between The New Day and the team of Enzo Amore and Big Cass, we see the two teams combine against The Club and The Vaudevillains, as well as a six-man tag featuring the participants in the 2016 Money In The Bank Ladder match. From there, the landscape changed with the re-introduction of the brand extension and the Draft, and we get the main event from Draft night, an underrated scrap for the WWE Title between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. The following week of WWE programming served up plenty of highlights, and we get the best bits here: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship is arguably the best women’s match of the entire year in WWE; Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor completed a dream first night on the main roster for Balor, and the Six-Pack Challenge from the July 26 SmackDown is a thrilling attraction which rounded off the most notable week of WWE television all year, as well as ending disc two on a high.
Onto disc three, and after the official main roster debut for Bayley (against Dana Brooke), and one of American Alpha’s initial doubles bouts on SmackDown (against Breezango), we get one of the most memorable television matches of the entire year: a fantastic Fatal Four Way for the vacated Universal Championship between Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens and Big Cass which has a truly shocking conclusion. Next up is the Raw introduction/re-introduction of the Cruiserweight division, as Gran Metallik, Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann and The Brian Kendrick battle in another four-way match. It’s a pretty good match which brings the division back to WWE in style; sadly, it’s been downhill since then for those involved in the 205-pound crew, largely because WWE hasn’t allowed the Cruisers to demonstrate even a fraction of their aerial abilities (they do receive that opportunity in this match, which explains why fans are enthusiastic for the action).
We get two talking segments after that, but both are worth watching: a dramatic square-off between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler is followed by the WWE return of Goldberg, appearing on Raw for the first time since 2004 to answer the challenge of Brock Lesnar. As it turned out, Goldberg’s claim that Lesnar would be “LAST!” wasn’t quite true, since the reaction to Goldberg returning was so enthusiastic that Da Man has stuck around, and as things currently stand, he could be about to win the Universal Championship from Kevin Owens at Fast Lane. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles serves more as a backdrop to the storyline that saw James Ellsworth go from genuine nobody to unlikely superstar, although the match is still enjoyable aside from the Ellsworth involvement. The DVD ends with Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss from Glasgow and Charlotte vs. Sasha under Falls Count Anywhere rules, held in Charlotte’s hometown of – yes! – Charlotte.
Since this is the eighth year running that we’ve had an annual round-up of Raw (and the seventh for SmackDown), the formula for these releases has become familiar, and so it’s understandable that the 2016 collection may not stand out quite as much as, say the 2011 set (which included The Rock’s return and CM Punk’s pipe-bomb promo, amongst other things). What helps this compilation to earn its place, so to speak, is the high quality of action on display: there isn’t one weak match on the entire DVD. Granted, some matches are not so memorable, but they still have a reason to be here, and the greatest matches included here are genuinely awesome, from the superb New Day vs. Y2AJ tag bout to the Charlotte vs. Sasha clashes to the Fatal Four Way for the Universal Championship. Add to that some unforgettable moments like Daniel Bryan’s retirement and the WWE returns of Shane McMahon and Goldberg, and you end up with one of the best Raw-SmackDown review DVDs to date. (As an aside, I noticed how many different entrance ways there were in 2016 by watching this DVD: you had the original sets used from January-July, the new sets that ultimately lasted one month during the summer, the current sets which have been used since SummerSlam, the UK set during the London shows, the slight variant during the Glasgow shows, and aisles which had additional props prior to such shows as Money In The Bank.)
This DVD is definitely worth owning: not only is the action of a high standard, and not only will you be treated to plenty of memorable moments, but you will be able to see why SmackDown receives such praise by giving younger talent a chance to shine, as well as realising that amongst the sea of mediocre filler during the weekly three-hour shows, Raw can still provide a lot of excitement when the situation calls for it. In summary, 2016 was an important year in WWE history, and whilst that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the best year to date in WWE, all of the best matches and moments from Raw and SmackDown can be found in this collection.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent