DVD Review: The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2017 – WWE

Image Source: Amazon
              Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 530 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 26 2018

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

To me, 2017 was one of the more entertaining years of WWE television in recent times. There seemed to be a greater emphasis placed on creating memorable, unpredictable moments, which combined with a rotation of big names and a ton of great matches (WWE’s roster has arguably never been as talented as it is right now), made for a much more vibrant annum than 2010 (which, Nexus aside, felt entirely missable once WrestleMania Season was over), 2013 (the first full year of three-hour Raws, which became noticeable) and 2015 (a year which saw WWE booking hit its nadir in terms of logic and creativity, as well as being a time when SmackDown might as well have been off the air for all the importance it held within WWE offices), to give a few examples.

So, the latest annual round-up of Raw and SmackDown highlights (as per the DVD’s title) promised to be a treat, and so it proves to be. We open with two matches from SmackDown, at a time when the blue brand was comfortably WWE’s best. The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title, and a Steel Cage showdown between Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch for the SD Women’s crown (the first ever all-female main event match on SmackDown), are fun to watch, as is the Raw segment that brings Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker all together (for a matter of seconds, admittedly).

Bayley’s Raw Women’s Championship win over Charlotte Flair is one of the better WWE women’s bouts from 2017, but in hindsight, and paradoxically, it kicked off what would be a sharp decline for The Hugger. Clips of The Festival Of Friendship segment (which was very entertaining, but not the greatest angle of all-time as some would have you believe) is followed by a cracking Cruiserweight Championship clash between Neville and Rich Swann, and a forgotten gem between Randy Orton and AJ Styles.

The Usos’ SD Tag Team Title win over American Alpha is tremendous, and set the tone for what would be a career year for Jimmy and Jey. A segment to promote The Miz and Maryse vs. John Cena and Nikki Bella is far more gripping than anyone could have imagined when the feud was hinted at in late January/early February (and though it’s censored, Cena calling Miz a “pussy” is an eyebrow-raiser in the PG era). It’s then onto the post-WrestleMania portion of the year, with The Revival’s main roster debut against The New Day (injuries really harmed Dash and Dawson’s first year on Raw), Shinsuke Nakamura’s first appearance on SmackDown, and the best WWE segment of the year, as Braun Strowman destroyed Roman Reigns, then takes it to another level … then another … then another … and then another, in surreal fashion. Braun’s “I’m not finished with you!” catchphrase debuted here; Strowman’s current spot as arguably WWE’s most popular babyface had its seeds planted in this unforgettable angle.

It’s then onto May, with a great three-way between Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and The Miz to determine a new opponent for Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose (erm, actually, the result makes the use of the word “new” futile). Chris Jericho’s well-received 2016-2017 run in WWE ends at the hands of Kevin Owens in the next match, bar one surprise appearance in July and a quick cameo at the recent Raw 25. An engaging battle between Reigns and Rollins is up next, followed by the angle which marked the divorce of the Enzo Amore-Big Cass tag team. Incidentally, could you have imagined this time last year how much fortunes would change for what was, at one point, WWE’s most popular tandem?

A six-woman Gauntlet match is followed by a five-woman Money In The Bank Ladder match, and both bouts main-evented their respective shows, a sure sign of how much of an impact WWE’s women have had on the product in recent years. AJ Styles vs. Chad Gable (which formed part of a wider storyline) is followed by the aforementioned one-night comeback for Y2J, as he joins AJ and KO for a three-way with the United States Title at stake, arguably the best match of a disappointing feud between Styles and Owens. Another three-way between Reigns, Strowman and Samoa Joe closes disc two.

The first ever match between John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura kicks off the final disc; I found the complaints about WWE giving this bout away on free television to be ridiculous (not every major match can take place at WrestleMania; The Undertaker never faced Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart or Hulk Hogan at a Mania, yet The Streak was still a massive part of WWE for many years). The most memorable aspect is the frightening moment when Nakamura almost breaks Cena’s neck, which bends like an accordion. Thankfully, Cena was fine, and has shown no signs of having suffered an injury from the incident since.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are brothers in arms again as they sort of reform The Shield to a huge pop in the next segment, before we get Bobby Roode’s main roster debut against Aiden English, who at the time seemed lost in the shuffle to a heavy degree (this was before his career was revitalised by partnering Rusev as he became a cult hero due to his fascination with Rusev Day). Clips of the fascinating Cena-Reigns promos (to promote their match at No Mercy) precede a Strowman-Big Show match inside a Steel Cage, and a fun Street Fight between The Usos and The New Day during their red-hot feud for the blue brand doubles titles.

Strowman strikes again as he obliterates Curt Hawkins in a non-match before facing Ambrose in a bout which is respectable, but feels out of place on this DVD. Next, we celebrate Rusev Day before the angle which officially reforms The Shield in its full form, and some snapshots of the unexpected “Under Siege” invasion of Raw by SmackDown talent. Then, it’s onto AJ Styles dethroning Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship from Manchester, England in a major shocker. Less surprising, but almost as memorable due to the post-match scenes, were Charlotte’s capturing of the SD Women’s crown from Natalya one week later. Another title change as Miz defends the IC belt against Reigns closes the programme (yes, December is skipped entirely, which never feels right).

This DVD truly demonstrates the wealth of talent at the company’s disposal. In the past, one would struggle to remember some genuinely great television matches from a typical WWE calendar year on one hand. Here, though, the majority of matches are of a high standard, and yet there are still so many other bouts which would have been right at home here. It was also a big year for WWE on the storyline front, since a lot of crucial plotlines are not covered here. They include Randy Orton torching Bray Wyatt’s home, Jason Jordan being unveiled as Kurt Angle’s son, the Seth Rollins vs. Triple H feud heading into WrestleMania, Shane McMahon’s conflict with Kevin Owens and later Sami Zayn too (the seeds for which were planted over the summer, and has been the lead storyline on SmackDown for around six months as of this writing), Baron Corbin’s failed cash-in of the Money In The Bank briefcase and more. It’s not a good thing that these and other storylines are ignored, but it’s also a sign of just how much actually happened on WWE TV in 2017.

It’s also interesting to see how certain performers are profiled more than others. Some make sense; we get a fair amount of Roman Reigns, for instance, which is logical. But it’s fascinating that Jinder Mahal (who, like him or not, reigned as WWE Champion for almost half of 2017) appears just once, and that is in his title-losing effort to AJ Styles, who in contrast is featured throughout the main programme. Obviously, WWE also makes sure to include everyone of consequence at some point, and based on match quality, one would much rather see several Styles, erm, clashes than Jinder matches, but it’s still a bit crazy nonetheless.

At a time when WWE produces so much television (Raw and SmackDown combined is over five hours, including commercials, so multiply this by 52 and you have … a lot of hours of wrestling programming!), it’s inevitable that a lot of potentially worthy inclusions on the match front are ignored. Plus, with a roster that is so stacked (is it possible that WWE has too much talent at this point?), it’s also inevitable that some stars will only get a limited amount of air-time. We’ve already covered Jinder Mahal, but Finn Balor is also barely seen here, as is Samoa Joe. Bray Wyatt is on the cover of the DVD and held the WWE Title heading into WrestleMania, yet his involvement here is limited to interference during matches involving other performers. John Cena’s part-time schedule plays a factor, but it’s still bizarre that he has just one match on the entire feature. The Hardy Boyz are not present at all, while Cesaro and Sheamus are also hardly seen. And who would know from watching this programme that Goldberg was the Universal Champion, which was one of the year’s more remarkable stories?

It’s as good a time as ever to be a WWE fan, if you can ignore ratings numbers, spoilers and the frequent (and often over-the-top) online negativity, and this DVD programme reflects that. This is the seventh year of the Best Of Raw and SmackDown DVD series (Raw had two previous DVDs to itself, SmackDown had one), and it’s definitely the best one yet from an entertainment standpoint. As noted, there are barely any duff matches, most of the angles covered are very memorable, and yet there is still a ton of material which would have fitted in nicely here (remember when Mick Foley briefly relived his 2000 feud with Triple H prior to his firing as the Raw General Manager?), which demonstrates the quality of what we do have here. If you want to relive one of the more underrated, crazy, eventful, unpredictable and exciting years in recent WWE history, this DVD is a great way to do so. It’s far from a complete round-up, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent