The History of WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment begins with Vince McMahon getting out of his car at WWE headquarters in Connecticut and greeting employees as he makes his way to his office on the top floor of what was once known as TitanTowers.
The documentary portion of this release begins at the beginning, with information about Jess McMahon and Vince McMahon Sr, and how they began what we now know as WWE. Jess McMahon was a boxing promoter, his son Vince, turned it into a traditional regional professional wrestling promotion, and his son, the current head of WWE, Vince McMahon Jr, turned it into the multimedia conglomerate that we know today.
The talking heads are extremely relevant and well picked, it is nice to see the big names from wrestling’s history on here, talking about the history of WWE as a company and the wrestling business as a whole. Bruno Sammartino, Harley Race, Ken Patera, Jay Strongbow, Ted DiBiase, Jimmy Valiant and others open the documentary, discussing, amongst other things, their relationship with Vince McMahon Sr. It is a good sign that the presentation opens with such important figures from the history of pro-wrestling.
We hear about the tenure of Bruno Sammartino at the helm of the company and his reign as champion. This segment moves on to talk about those that followed Bruno’s popular sovereignty on top, with Bob Backlund becoming the WWE Champion. There are plenty of nice clips of these moments, and more talking heads of a vast variety of workers from that time period.
We move onto Vince McMahon Jr’s buyout of his fathers promotion and his determination to expand the WWE into more than a small regional company that relied on old-time values and traditions into a worldwide powerhouse labelled no longer as “wrasslin’” but rather as “sports entertainment”.
The Hulk Hogan era is then discussed, from his debut in WWE, to his first championship win, and his hugely popular and iconic run in the 80’s as the face of the World Wrestling Federation. There are clips of his matches as well as his media appearances on shows like “Saturday Night Live”. It is fantastic to see Jake “The Snake” Roberts, in his current sober and drug-free state, as a talking head here, among other people, including Hulk himself. We even get the chance to see some behind-the-scenes footage leading up to the first WrestleMania event, with the promotional work of Hogan and Mr T.
The WrestleMania gamble was a big one, if it worked it would put WWE and American Wrestling on the map, and if it failed, there are rumours that the WWE would have failed to continue operating for much longer. The footage of the first event, and the people discussing it is an entertaining segment of the set. The success of the initial WrestleMania event lead to an avalanche of opportunities for the company, and the birth of Saturday Night’s Main Event occurred, which is covered here with staff and wrestlers talking about the moment.
As the set goes on, more recent talking heads from the 80’s and 90’s begin to appear, with the likes of Bret Hart, Sgt Slaughter, Roddy Piper and Jim Duggan.
As a fan of wrestling since the end of the 1980’s, the section of the documentary that dealt with the merchandise gave me a big smile and hit of nostalgia, showing the toys, games, magazines and television shows that became popular as WWE began to grow throughout the 80’s. There are some cheese-ball clips of WWE guys singing and dancing, including Vince McMahon himself busting a move in a pretty disturbing manner.
WrestleMania 3 is discussed next, with the main event between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan being heavily talked about. John Cena begins to spill his thoughts here, which is a little irksome at times considering there are much more relevant performers from that time period who could have appeared instead of him, but that’s just my view. We see Jake Roberts talk more, along with the likes of Harley Race, Koko B Ware, Jim Duggan, Trish Stratus and more, about the event and their experiences watching it.
The success of WrestleMania lead to the creation of other big pay per view events, such as Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. These events are examined and the stories of how they came about are discussed by various people, including long-time WWE employee, Howard Finkel. This section moves quickly and shows how it began with WrestleMania and became a 12 pay per views per year mega-shark.
The next part of this set is shocking to see them acknowledge, the steroid use in professional wrestling. We see the likes of Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper, Jim Duggan, Ted DiBiase and others discuss how they used steroids and what it did to them. We see clips of Vince McMahon talk about anabolic steroid use in old interview footage. There is lots of talk here about a steroid testing policy in the early 90’s, though it’s hard to believe that they ever tested at that point. This segment then goes on to talk about the doctors who would give the “juice” to the wrestlers, and the eventual lawsuit that occurred between the US government and Vince McMahon and WWE. Linda McMahon talks about the strain that the lawsuit put upon her family. Stephanie McMahon talks about how Vince sat her down and told her what was and wasn’t true, and how it was hard to hear certain things at the time. It’s a surprising inclusion here, and though some facts are ignored, WWE should be applauded for even including this in the set.
The steroid scandal lead to a depleted roster for WWE, and the harder times begin to be discussed, and how they needed to then rely on younger (and smaller) performers to grab the ball and run with it. The era of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, The Undertaker and other younger wrestlers begins.
We see the first WWE title win of Bret Hart, and Bret himself talks about his first run as champion and how it affected him at the time. The Undertaker, like he did on the recent Triple H DVD/BD set, talks out of character, which is very nice to see and adds a lot to the documentary, even though he isn’t on it as often as I would have liked. This section is the first time mention is made of the guys that lit the professional wrestling world on fire in the 90’s, such as Steve Austin, Mick Foley and The Rock.
The creation of Monday Night RAW is discussed, with a variety of clips and comments about its invention and success over the years. We are twenty years on from the debut of RAW, which is proof in itself of the show’s success. Inevitably, the discussion of RAW leads to the discussion of the infamous “Monday Night Wars” that occurred in the 90’s and beginning of the 00’s, as WCW Monday Nitro went up against RAW on Monday Night’s, a fight for ratings success that would lead to the most creatively unique period in wrestling history. Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Lex Luger, DDP, Kevin Nash, Dusty Rhodes and other guys who worked for WCW at the time (and WWE on other occassions) talk about that period and what it was like performing. WWE guys like Undertaker, Sgt Slaughter and Bret Hart talk about life on the other side of the fence. This leads to the infamous events in Canada in the November of 1997.
The “Montreal Screw-job” as it has become known is talked about by all the relevant individuals, except, sadly, from Vince himself. Bret, Shawn, Vince Russo and others talk about the events that occurred at Survivor Series 1997 where Bret Hart was forced to lose, against script, to Shawn Michaels. These events would sour Bret Hart on WWE for years and he is still bitter about it to this day.
From those shocking events, we see the creation of the Mr McMahon character on WWE television and how it led to the era known as “WWF: Attitude”. The “Attitude Era” has become thought of as possibly the most popular time in WWE history, with the company reaching new heights with superstars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, DX, The Rock, Mankind, Undertaker, Kane, Mr McMahon and others bringing a new “edge” to the product. We see clips of the product at the time, with the scantily clad ladies, hardcore wrestling and bad language making a connection with the older audience. It is crazy how much WWE has changed since then.
This is another fun section of the documentary, with Triple H, The Rock, Steve Austin and Undertaker, among others, discussing how magical that period was in the business.
Much-like the section about the steroid scandal, this next part is a shock to see. The accidental tragic death of Owen Hart, who died in the ring after falling from the ceiling of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, is talked about by those who were there. Jim Ross talks about how he had to announce the death of Owen on the air, a heartbreaking moment in wrestling’s past. We see a clip of the announcement too, which I believe has never been replayed by WWE prior to this. Linda McMahon, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Jim Ross, Bret Hart and other peers of Owen, talk about him, the tragedy and their memories of him. We see a few clips of the RAW Tribute show that aired the night after his passing too, I remember watching both of these shows live and being so sad and shocked at what I was watching.
We move on from the emotional section about Owen, and onto a segment that talks about the debut of WWE Smackdown, with a variety of clips from Smackdown over the years. This moves onto the Smackdown show that aired after the 9/11 tragedy which was the first sizeable public gathering of its kind following the events, this is briefly talked about by Michael Hayes.
The WWE’s move to the stock market as a public trading company is covered next, with various staff members talking about how big a deal it was and how much it effected, and does to this day, the product. WWE books are also discussed, with Mick Foley talking about his first autobiography, which was very successful when it was released back in 2000.
The WCW buyout is up next, with different guys talking about how it felt to be involved during that time. With WWE also buying ECW, the roster became bigger than ever, and the brand extension is then brought up, with RAW and Smackdown being treated as separate and unique brands with separate rosters. John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Edge and other guys who hit the big-time in the mid-00’s are the talking heads here, discussing how the brand split allowed them to become big stars and main event performers.
We are now at the more recent times of WWE. The product has changed a lot over the years, with the shift from TV14 to TVPG, and we get different people talking about how they felt it was necessary to become more family friendly. John Cena is heavily featured here, with his career being discussed by various people, including Daniel Bryan, Paul Heyman, CM Punk and others. The much-alluded to Make-A-Wish Foundation work that WWE does is talked about, with clips of various performers doing charity work. Stephanie puts over the “Be a Star” anti-bullying campaign, and this is purely an advertisement section for all the “great things” that WWE does in various places. It borders on feeling like a big promotional video at times here.
WrestleMania has been exclusively held in dome stadiums since 2001, and this is spoken about by various people, with many clips from the different WrestleMania events held in these places, being shown. John Cena is, again, heavily featured here. We get to hear from other people too, like Trish Stratus and CM Punk, who talk about how big it is to be at those events.
The next part of the documentary talks about the WWE Hall of Fame, an event that is held each year before WrestleMania, as a way to acknowledge the importance of specific performers from wrestling history. The first inductee, Andre the Giant, is talked about fondly by his friend Ted DiBiase. We see clips from the many events that have happened since, and hear from a few of the inductees. This is a nice portion of the set too.
Hulk Hogan’s move into the movies is talked about briefly as a way to segue into discussions of other WWE stars that have moved into film, with varied success of course. The Rock is obviously the most successful of them all. Kane’s work on “See No Evil” and films like The Marine, The Chaperone, Knucklehead and other academy-award calibre cinematic marvels are talked about by people, including, of course, John bloody Cena. We also have a brief section that talks about WWE becoming HD.
The HD discussion leads to talk about WWE’s successful move to social media, in places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Hulu and other places, with the planned WWE Network possibly coming in early 2014.
Triple H is shown in a clip of him putting over the importance of WWE’s developmental area, and the performance centre in Florida, as well as NXT. They show a few of the current roster of developmental performers, such as Aiden English and Paige. I would have liked this section to have been a little longer, but that’s a small niggle from a personal standpoint.
The documentary begins to wind down with talks about Vince McMahon Jr, his personality, his work and how much he has done in the industry. We see some clips of Vince talking with his peers, out of character, which is nice, though again, like the rest of this documentary, it’s a shame that Vince himself didn’t make the effort to appear here and talk about the history of his company. Celebrities like Kid Rock, P Diddy and Ozzy Osborne as well as WWE employees, past and present, like Tony Chimel, Rocky Johnson, Stephanie McMahon, Linda McMahon, Roddy Piper, The Undertaker, Trish Stratus, Jim Ross, Jimmy Snuka and others reveal their thoughts on WWE and how they feel about working for the company.
There are clips here, as the set comes to a close, where we see some truly iconic moments, like Shawn Michaels coming down from the ceiling on a zip line at WrestleMania 12, Steve Austin winning his first WWE title at WrestleMania 14, and the fireworks around the stadium at a recent WrestleMania event. These are always nice to see, and this brings the main documentary to a nice, neat end.
The documentary, in its two hours, covers a lot of ground, and does it with important people talking, sometimes candidly, sometimes not, about WWE and their experiences with the company. The clips are first-class and there are sections of the presentation that are surprising to see them mention, which is a breath of fresh air for a WWE set. There could always be more content, with the insanely vast video library at the disposal of WWE today, but what they chose to show is top notch and offers an entertaining look at the creation, rise, difficulties, success and timelessness of WWE and the performers who stand on the square, three-roped stage each night for the pleasure of paying fans around the globe.
It’s not a perfect documentary, but it would need to be at least twenty or more hours for it to even begin to cover all, what fans consider, to be the important moments in WWE history. The biggest problem here is the exclusion of Vince McMahon. He should definitely have been one of the main talking heads, or even the voice-over here, and it is sad that he didn’t make the effort to do so. Linda and Stephanie, as well as Triple H are here, it would have been nice for Shane to have made a small appearance too, but Vince not being on here is an odd decision.
There are clips that aren’t shown that I feel were important enough to have made the cut, but it would be impossible to please everyone, so that doesn’t upset me too much. Overall, this is a fantastic and well-made set that covers all the major moments in WWE through the past 50 years.
Extras on Disc 1: A variety of clips and talking heads that didn’t make the cut of the main documentary, plus: Floyd “Money” Mayweather vs. Big Show – WrestleMania XXIV; The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXV. Disc 2: Disc 2 of the BD set includes a number of chosen matches and clips from WWE over the last 50 years, those are as follows: Bruno Sammartino vs. Billy Graham; Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WrestleMania III; Royal Rumble Match from 1988; Koko B. Ware vs. Yokozuna – RAW’s First Episode, 1993; Jake Roberts vs. Steve Austin – King of the Ring 1996; Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – Survivor Series 1997; Steve Austin/Mike Tyson Segment – RAW, 1998; Triple H vs. The Rock – Debut Smackdown Show, 1999; Mr McMahon Buys WCW – RAW, 2001; The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania XVIII; Battle of the Billionaires – WrestleMania XXIII; Cena, Batista & Rey Mysterio vs. Jericho, Big Show & Orton – Tribute to the Troops; CM Punk Pipe-bomb Promo – RAW, 2011; John Cena vs. CM Punk – RAW, 2013
The History of WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment, is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from Freemantle Media on December 2nd.