I’ve been planning to review this collection for a while, but due to other commitments I’ve been forced to work my way through it at a snail’s pace. Because make no mistake, WWE Unreleased: 1986-1995 is a plus 8 hour magnum opus of wrestling bouts and angles that only scrapes the surface of the WWE’s cavernous video library.
As the title would suggest, the matches included on Unreleased are ones that have yet to be delivered for public consumption in previous collections, and there’s some very interesting curios tucked in amongst the standard fare one would expect from the timeframe the set covers. So whereas the 1993 section of the DVD features an all too predictable tussle between “American Original” Lex Luger and evil Finnish foreigner Ludvig Borga it also throws a wild curveball by including a bout between The Undertaker and Bam Bam Bigelow, two men who rarely fought one another on television or pay per view.
Mixing up dancing partners in a manner not unlike pressing the “random selection” button on a Fire Pro game certainly keeps the match list fresh and leads to some genuinely interesting scuffles. I personally found a 1991 contest between Ted Dibiase and Sid Justice a lot of fun because I couldn’t recall a time when the two men had done battle in squared circle before.
Most of the bouts included on the set have been corralled from television tapings, usually being a “dark” match that originally took place just for the live crowd but just happened to be filmed as well. The production values on offer differ depending on the circumstances upon which the match in question took place. For instance, a fight between The Undertaker and the absolutely atrocious Giant Gonzalez appears solely as “hard cam” footage whereas a tag battle between Money INC and The Mega Maniacs has a full camera set up.
Also included on the set are try outs for WWE hopefuls that had never previously made air. Thus we get to see Tatanka under a previous name of “War Eagle” (And anyone who has read Scott Keith’s excellent Wrestling Observer recaps on his Blog of Doom will know that poor Chris Chavis spent an inordinate amount of time doing non-televised matches before finally seeing an on screen debut), “Earthquake” John Tenta as a lumberjack being managed by Slick (What a bizarre combo that would have been had they stuck with it by the way) and Owen Hart busting out pretty much every jaw dropping move in his arsenal in a fantastic little scuffle with the Emperor of Enhancement Talent Barry Horrowitz.
The set isn’t just limited to matches either, as a “Piper’s Pit” segment featuring the Brooklyn Brawler also makes the cut. It isn’t overly exciting but does stand as a testament to how excellent Piper was on the microphone in his day, as the amassed crowd hangs on his every word and actually listens to him when he commands them to make gorilla sounds if they believe his guest to be lying. Including both the try out matches along with an interview segment succeeds in breaking the collection up a bit and keeps things fresh. At heart, these sorts of collections are best when treated almost like a wrestling buffet with a host of varied superstars and match types to dine upon.
My personal favourite match on the set is a 1990 contest between “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan and Earthquake. As I’ve aged and matured I’ve grown to appreciate both men’s work a lot more and this match hits all the required beats that you’d expect. I’ve become a particularly big fan of Earthquake over the years, with his agility especially impressing me. I happened to be watching this match whilst my father was in the room and he, despite hardly being a wrestling fan in the slightest, got a massive kick out of Hogan’s “Hulk Up” routine and found the bout to be hugely enjoyable.
Other interesting bouts include one of the earliest casket matches in company history between Ultimate Warrior and The Undertaker, a pair of ladder matches featuring Jeff Jarrett and a rare chance to see Bret Hart take on former tag team partner Jim Neidhart. Even the previously mentioned Luger/Borga bout has something unique to it, as a fan on the front row takes off his shirt and challenges the Finnish brute to a fight! Luckily for him, Borga declines the invitation. You can view the full match list for the DVD by clicking HERE. Sadly the highly notorious battle between Bret Hart and strongman Tom Magee is not included, but as the legend surrounding it continues to grow I have to imagine we’ll eventually see it somewhere someday.
One thing that none of the matches include is commentary, which is something that takes getting used to when you first start watching. I can understand how this adds to the “unreleased” nature of the collection, but it also instils the DVD set with a very strange atmosphere throughout, with only the odd video link from Charly Caruso and the returning Sean Mooney to give some of the matches any context. The video links themselves start to grate after a while, with Charly being particularly annoying, with a lot of her “humorous” jabs at Sean often falling very flat. It was nice to see Mooney again though and hopefully WWE bring him back for more DVD’s and give him some better material to work with.
Though the lack of commentary might put some off, I eventually got used to it as the set progressed. One thing that I really didn’t enjoy about the set though was the amount of cheap non-finishes such as disqualifications and count outs contained within it. As the set moves into the 90’s less of the matches tend to have these types of finishes, but the 80’s section is positively rife with them almost to the point of distraction. After a couple of these finishes I was begging for a clean pin fall or submission.
After a throwaway tag match between the Powers of Pain and The Rockers failed to deliver a pin fall finish I was ready to pull my hair out at the roots. At least the match does have the unique visual of Hulk Hogan running down to rescue The Rockers from a post-match beat down, and it is almost surreal to see a star of Hogan’s stature rubbing shoulders with Michaels and Jannetty at this stage in their respective careers.