Most wrestling fans who have followed the industry for a length of time like to delve into the past once in a while, and think about what could have been. Perhaps that comes in the form of debating which wrestler was better in their peak, whether a certain promoter should have done something differently, how to use a past performer in a current angle, or even what the industry might have been like if certain performers were still alive today.
It's fun when you're able to discuss those issues with other fans. So imagine what it must be like to hear some of the industry's top names and decision-makers swapping road stories and chatting about the business?
Legends Of Wrestling (not to be confused with the assy video game series of the same name) is a series of "roundtable" discussions that first aired on WWE 24/7 Classics and are now available on DVD, garnished with a collection of rare matches. In addition to the three-disc set widely released a few weeks back, I'll also review the three other discs available exclusively at Best Buy.
The setting is quite informal, with at least two panelists lighting up stogies at various stages, pulling back the curtain a bit more than WWE fans are used to, and seemingly having a good time reminiscing about days gone by.
The six panelists for five of the six DVD's I looked at are the following:
Jim Ross: This was filmed before JR became a WWE Hall of Famer and the voice of Friday Night SmackDown, but after he'd given up his post as vice-president of talent relations. He acts as the moderator here and does an excellent job getting things back on track when one of the other panelists inevitably goes on a tangent. Of note: JR's subtle sense of humor, where he manages to make a joke without so much as smiling at the camera.
Dusty Rhodes: This also takes place before Dusty, a legendary three-time NWA World Champion, was inducted into the HOF, but during the start of his run as part of the creative team. Dusty is completely laid-back here, poking fun at himself when a situation calls for it. He's also capable of going on bizarre tangents, usually about his own career and coming up with hilarious Dusty-isms such as "Yellafinga" (his term for the yellow foam fingers Hulk Hogan fans sported back in the day).
Pat Patterson: The first-ever Intercontinental Champion and WWE Hall of Famer is surprisingly soft-spoken here, but when he does talk, the entire panel listens. After all, Pat was involved in making finishes and otherwise working with most of the top talent who'd crossed through WWE/F.
Michael P.S. Hayes: A founding member of The Fabulous Freebirds and creative team member, Hayes is perhaps my favorite panelist here, racist comments allegedly made to Mark Henry notwithstanding. Hayes has a tremendous mind for the business, what works and doesn't work in wrestling, and tells some hilarious road stories to boot.
Mike Graham: A Florida wrestling fixture for decades and the son of WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Graham. This addition is kind of a head-scratcher to me, considering all of the legitimate legends they could have added instead to the panel. Nothing against Graham personally, but every time he interjects in his squeaky, middle-aged voice, I want to shout at the television "What are you even DOING here?"
Now, onto the DVD's themselves:
Ric Flair and Sgt. Slaughter: Two WWE Hall of Famers and former World Champions are discussed at length. Both were still WWE employees when this panel was assembled, and are revered for their contributions to the business. The group swaps favorite Flair drunken party stories and discuss his brief WWF run as "The Real World's Champion", while Slaughter is remembered for his bravery -- there were apparently very real threats against his life when he did the Iraqi turncoat gimmick in the early 1990's.
An obscure collection of matches here, including Slaughter's Boot Camp match against Col. DeBeers during the AWA's only pay-per-view and Flair teaming with Stingagainst Terry Funk and Great Muta in a cage match in which the "electrified" Thunderdome actually caught on fire!
Jerry "The King" Lawler and Junkyard Dog: Lawler is described as one of wrestling's biggest regional stars in the 70's and 80's, and how he made the not-so-smooth transition to the WWF (for those of you who haven't read Lawler's biography... he was, shall we say, dumped on when he signed with Vince McMahon). JYD is remembered as one of the most popular sports figures in the Mid-South region over that same time period, with some fans willing to kill for their hero (a fact that Hayes attests to in some rather shocking stories).
Bonus matches include a bizarre AWA tag team match featuring Lawler and Jimmy Valiant against Hayes and Kerry Von Erich (and it's tough to figure who the faces are in that match) and Junkyard Dog's Wrestling Classic tournament final against Randy Savage. While the finish was ultra-disappointing, I'm glad I can say I've finally seen that match.
Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund: The panelists, predictably, discuss Hogan's passion for the business and the importance of someone being a "fan" of wrestling before getting involved with the industry. The panel has nothing but praise for The Hulkster, leading me to believe he was on Vince's good side during the filming of this discussion. Backlund is also held in very high regard, both for his physical condition and his "unique" charisma that was a departure from most WWWF Champions at the time. JR also reveals Mr. Backlund's reason for not accepting a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, which I'd never heard before and find kind of surprising.
Because most big Hogan bouts have already been put on DVD in various collections, the only worthwhile bonus match of his is a Saturday Night's Main Event match againstHarley Race. In what has to be a rarity, Backlund defends his WWWF Title against perennial jobber Playboy Buddy Rose -- in the main event of a card at Madison Square Garden! Not sure who thought THAT would sell out MSG.... nontheless, look for an uncredited cameo appearance by Sherri Martel here as one of Rose's valets.
Andre The Giant and The Iron Sheik: Talk about polar opposites. While it doesn't sound as though the panelists were that close to Andre, they've all heard or encountered stories about his larger-than-life exploits -- often involving several cases of beer. And although the panel has some insane tales of Shiekie, I imagine this was filmed before he came renowned for his YouTube rants against the likes of B. Brian Blair and Ultimate Warrior, otherwise there probably would have been more talk of The Shiek's brief encounters with sanity. As it is, he's one of the only wrestlers they really hint at saying struggled with drug issues throughout his career.
In the bonus match section, Andre teams with Rocky Johnson against The Magnificent Muraco and Big John Studd in a rare battle between future Hall of Famers, and Shiek battles Tito Santana in a WWF Title Match, only three days before he dropped the strap to Hulk Hogan in the now-legendary title switch.
Roddy Piper and Terry Funk: Arguably my favorite DVD of the series so far, as both guys are beloved by the panel, while also being referred to as crazy, and have decades of hilarious road stories between them. The fact that I'm a huge mark for both Piper and Funk certainly influences by opinion, though.
That said... the match selection here is head and shoulders over the other DVD's Among the highlights: Piper battles Paul Orndorff in a crazy grudge match following the first WrestleMania, and The Funker faces off against Ricky Steamboat, when The Dragon was fresh off his series of matches with Ric Flair.
After that one, the panel is shaken up quite a bit. Out are Patterson, Rhodes and Graham, and in are Mick Foley, Jerry Lawler and Eric Bischoff. A much more contemporary panel that seems custom-made for the next DVD...
Heatseekers: This is all about wrestlers who rub other wrestlers the wrong way backstage, including Lex Luger, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Vince Russo, Bill Goldberg and others who didn't make their fortunes in WWE.
Yes, it's more or less another "let's crap all over WCW" session, though they do throw some names like Paul Heyman in for good measure. Fortunately, the conversation is often hilarious, with discussions on The Plane Ride From Hell, Buff Bagwell's Mother calling JR to tell him her son wouldn't be able to come into work (seriously), and Lawler breaking Heyman's jaw with a punch.
The bonus matches aren't as good as on some of the other DVD's, to be sure, but if you ever had a hankering for the WWF debut of The Fabulous Freebirds (accompanied to the ring by Cyndi Lauper and Dave Wolff) or a WCW Title match between Russo and Booker T, this is the one for you.
Overall, Legends Of Wrestling is a fantastic little set with decent "replay" value. While it's by no means an essential part of anyone's DVD collection, each disk sells for less than 10 bucks and are worth a look.