It’s easy to be critical of the WWE’s Television output and perhaps even easier to compare it unfavourably to companies with a “better product”.
The issue with that is that no other company in the world produces five hours of prime time television a week. If nothing else that means that there’s a lot of hours of Raw and Smackdown to choose from when it comes to this three DVD set of the Best of Raw & Smackdown 2018.
Hosted by Charly Caruso, this near ten hour set takes us through the WWE’s idea of the best of their television output and whilst the usual political parameters seem to apply to the choices, on the whole this is a more than satisfactory look at 2018.
The set is brought to us in chronological order so we start on January 1st with Roman Reigns battling Samoa Joe in a match where Reigns will lose his Intercontinental Title if he is disqualified. It’s a very good TV match and a reminded right from the start that a year is a long time in wrestling. The United States Tournament Final between Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal from Smackdown is also a reminded of that; it’s not a great match if I’m being honest but it does what it has to do.
Asuka, fresh off her historic Royal Rumble win, battles Sasha Banks and Bayley in two separate Raw matches. Both are very good TV matches without ever quite hitting the heights that all concerned have done and if there’s a tinge of sadness in retrospect that Asuka was merely being kept strong for Charlotte’s benefit these are at least two matches that are well worth revisiting. AJ Styles against John Cena is another rewarding bout, even if the stipulation that if Cena won he would be added to the Fastlane Main Even telegraphed the result at the time and was largely pointless given his input in that PPV main event was largely just to hit his finishers on everyone without winning.
In a change of pace we get the emotional segment where Daniel Bryan announces that he is cleared to return to action before we’re back to Raw for an interminable tag team match pitting Nia Jax and Ember Moon against Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. The perhaps only highlight of this is Ember’s finisher, which Alexa Bliss sells so well she was probably taken to task for ignoring the WWE’s “no sell” policy. Bliss is an easy target for the “IWC” but few on the roster have her ability to tell a story with the simplest of expressions. Charlotte Flair drops the Smackdown belt to Carmella, who cashes in her Money In The Bank briefcase, in a quick match after the Iiconics make their main roster debut by attacking Flair. That I’d forgotten that that was the catalyst for the cash-in shows just how little the WWE have done with Billie Kay and Peyton Royce since.
Disc one rounds out with three corkers on paper; Seth Rollins Vs Finn Balor, Braun Strowman Vs Kevin Owens and AJ Styles Vs Shinsuke Nakamura. All are decent, with Rollins/Balor being the pick of the bunch, but all are very much “TV” bouts.
Disc Two kicks off with a fun six-man pitting The New Day against The Bar & The Miz before a #1 Contenders Gauntlet match from Smackdown sees Big E, The Miz, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and Rusev clash for the right to face AJ Styles. Dolph Ziggler against Seth Rollins over the Intercontinental title is another decent bout, whilst Shinsuke Nakamura and Jeff Hardy’s battle over the US Title is one of those that is OK but one that you wish could have happened five years earlier.
Bobby Lashley against Roman Reigns is a cracker (though it made their earlier PPV clash virtually irrelevant) and whilst it’s not a very good match at all, Ronda Rousey’s in-ring Raw debut against Alicia Fox deserves to be on for it’s historic nature. (Like her or not, it was a “moment”). The New Day and the Bar have another entertaining bout before Roman Reigns and Finn Balor have a storming Universal Championship match from Raw. Whatever your feelings on Reigns, he delivers when the stakes are high. The disc ends with a No DQ match between The Bludgeon Brothers and The New Day, which again is fun, if hardly “must-see”.
Disc Three starts off with a very good Seth Rollins / Kevin Owens match before Daniel Bryan and Andrade Almas deliver another good match, that nevertheless once again feels like a TV match rather than anything more. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev have a decent clash over the US Title, albeit one let down by the screwy ending, whilst Ziggler and Drew McIntyre defend their Tag Team titles against The Revival in a good effort.
A heat-filled interlude with Elias and Kevin Owens is followed by another good entry from the Becky/Charlotte feud as the two clash in match where if Becky is Disqualified she loses the belt. Yes, we started off this collection with Reigns and Joe battling under the same stipulation. I can only presume that politics are behind Big Show Vs Randy Orton being included on this set but at least that is followed by a decent Ziggler & McIntyre Vs Ambrose & Rollins tag team match. A ten woman match is included presumably because it involves Trish Stratus and Lita and whilst Kurt Angle Vs Drew McIntyre from the Manchester UK Raw is a decent match, it does not live up to the match the two previously had in the same building for Impact Wrestling.
We round things off with a fair Rey Mysterio Vs Andrade match, Dean Ambrose “putting the Shield behind him” in a segment and Daniel Bryan shockingly defeating AJ Styles to lift the WWE Championship.
This set is a very easy watch. Most of what you see is good, very little is stuff that you would actively skip over and generally it shows the positive side of Raw and Smackdown. Yes, occasionally, the theory of matches on paper is a little better than what we get but you have to remember that this is the “free” product that WWE shows on TV on a weekly basis and even in these time of the Network sometimes the “great stuff” is still saved for PPV. All in all, a fun look at 2018.
Format reviewed: DVD
Photos courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of Best of Raw & Smackdown 2018 which is out on DVD now. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here