Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Legends of Mid-South Wrestling

WWE has released several other video releases over the past decade featuring an extensive documentary and a collection of matches from various competing organizations' tape libraries it has acquired over the years. The Rise and Fall of WCW, The Triumphs and Tragedies of WCCW, The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA, and the most noteworthy of these releases is The Rise and Fall of ECW. Today I am covering WWE's latest look at a former competitor with the somewhat recently released Legends of Mid-South Wrestling (Trailer).

If you are scratching your head right now saying you never heard of Mid-South Wrestling, well that is probably because it went out of business nearly 20 years ago in 1987 when it was acquired by Crockett Promotions, which eventually transformed a short while later into what many people will remember now as WCW. The promotion staged most of their events in Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Mid-South had its roots as the NWA Tri-State territory going back to the 1950s, but this feature focuses on the time when former Tri-State Wrestling star Bill Watts purchased the company from Leroy McGuirk and rebranded it Mid-South Wrestling in 1979. The front and back artwork of the video features several WWE legends of the 80s and 90s you will probably recognize such as "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, Junkyard Dog, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, One Man Gang, Michael PS Hayes and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. This release dedicates segments throughout its feature to each of these stars of the past and several more.

A lot of the aforementioned releases have standout, feature length documentaries covering in pretty extensive detail the history of each promotion, especially the ECW documentary which clocks in just over a whopping three hours. WWE tried things a little different with Legends of Mid-South Wrestling. Usually the feature is on one disc, and a second and third bonus disc tend to be bundled containing the promotion's best matches. Here they form a hybrid, with a several minute mini-documentary piece highlighting a particular star of the promotion, and then follow it up with one of that stars' standout interview or match from the promotion. This process is repeated for several more hours.

This effect yields mixed results. On one hand, I got a new perspective on stars like Ted Dibiase and Junkyard Dog who were bonafide headliners in Mid-South who never quite reached the same heights in their WWE careers. WWE tracked down as many Mid-South vets as they could to interview for this release, and it is mighty nice to see Ted Dibiase, Jake Roberts, Michael Hayes, Bill Watts, Jim Ross and more reflect on their careers 20 years later. The history nut in me is a little disappointed that the actual rise and fall of the promotion itself is more of an afterthought, with only small portions briefly setting up how Mid-South got started, how it tried to go national by rebranding itself as the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), which ultimately was too little, too late which wound up to it being acquired by Crockett Promotions. That little summary I stated right there is not too far off to how much attention they focus on the promotion itself, which is disappointing because most of the other documentaries mentioned in the intro here do a tremendous job detailing the highs and lows of each promotion.

Wrestling fans who may only be mostly familiar with WWE history should get a thrill of seeing some of the grass roots of their favorite stars as well as interesting portions of the feature dedicated to stars who never made it big in WWE like Magnum TA, Mr. Wrestling II, The Fabulous Freebirds and "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. There is also a few matches on this release featuring main event stars of WCW and WWE while they were super green rookies in Mid-South like Shawn Michaels, Rick Steinter, Sting and The Ultimate Warrior. While it is fascinating to see what these guys were like very early in their career, the 15-20 minutes of matches dedicated to these guys could have just as well been accomplished in a quick 1-2 minute montage. Did we really need this much time dedicated to these guys when they were not even a glimpse of the stars they would eventually become?

The DVD features 20 matches, while the BluRay has a few bonuses tallying it up to 24 all together. For about 6 or 7 of these matches we are treated to a nice bonus of having Jim Ross record new commentary for these matches, but recording his commentary like he was watching it live for the first time ever, and even on these older matches with some having less than stellar video production capabilities, Ross's commentary goes a long way to making them stand the test of time.

Unfortunately about half of the matches on the collection either do not hold up to the wrestling of today, or just are simply mediocre to lousy matches that should not have been on the collection to begin with. There are four matches on here that I thought stood out above the rest. Going in the order they appear, first off is Magnum TA & Mr. Wrestling II vs. The Midnight Express, which features several awesome vignettes setting up the match on how Magnum TA sought out the tutelage of the wise veteran, Mr. Wrestling II, only to have him get jealous and turn on him mid match! Next up is Terry Taylor vs. Ric Flair for the NWA Title, which Terry Taylor sets up perfectly beforehand in an interview where he was a nervous wreck because Flair showed up to the building in no shape to compete not too long before bell time, only to deliver another Flair classic match, and you could never tell for a second that Flair went 45 minutes in the ring hungover, and wound up producing the best match on this collection!

Third is One Man Gang vs. Bib Bubba Rogers (aka The Big Boss Man) for the UWF Title, which is a great back and forth slugfest between two behemoths. Finally, in the BluRay extras we have Bill Watts & Stagger Lee (Junkyard Dog under a mask) against The Midnight express, with nearly a half hour back story of old interviews and segments featuring Bill Watts coming out of retirement to seek revenge on the Midnight Express and trying his best looking high and low for the Junkyard Dog to take out the Midnight Express. This feud is worth spending the extra few bucks to get the BluRay, as none of it is covered in the standard DVD feature.

WWE could have done a much better job of chronicling the history of Mid-South, but I guess the route they go here is one I think could have worked with a better execution. If they decide to go this route again in the future, hopefully better match selection and paying a little more attention to the history of the topic at hand will go a long ways. I still give Legends of Mid-South Wrestling a mild recommendation if you are into old school wrestling and want to see the roots of some of your favorite superstars of the 80s and early 90s.

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