For long-time wrestling fans, the idea of a wander around the WWE's tape backup facility is something that we can only dream of. In recent years via the WWE Network and the WWE's YouTube page there have been various glimpses into where WWE stores all the old and forgotten footage, as well a few looks at where old props and archive items are kept. It's truly fascinating stuff, and with the network requiring everything to be digitised, the sheer scale of the footage WWE have archived has become apparent. The idea of putting out a DVD set with matches from the archives that have never been seen seemed like pipe dream, but lo and behold WE have only gone and done it, and there are some absolute gems here.
The first thing I should note is that the return of the one and only Sean Mooney is a very welcome sight on this collection. Mooney is so naturally likeable, and still has that easy charm and delivery that made him such a cult favourite as a backstage interviewer in the late 80s/early 90s. He was younger and offered something different to Mean Gene Okerlund, while he had more gravitas than the "wacky" style of Todd Pettengill (who I also love, but for very different reasons). Mooney was perfect for the era of matches that this release focuses on, and brings a nice counterbalance to the overly scripted, slightly irritating Charly Caruso. She's no Cathy Kelley, that's for sure. Anyway, the links between the matches certainly help to give some context and break things up which is welcome. Of course with these matches having been unreleased, recorded as "dark matches" for the live crowd, or as try-outs for certain superstars there is no commentary, which is hugely jarring at first. However, after a few matches in, you begin to watch the matches without the need of commentary, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the quality of what is on offer.
The matches themselves are always at least interesting, even if they aren't necessary of the highest quality from an in-ring perspective. The first disc is mostly matches from the early days of the "Rock 'n' Wrestling" era, with highlights including Hulk Hogan under a mask as one of The Machines team as "Hulk machine", Hogan tagging alongside a newly babyface "Rowdy" Roddy Piper against Harley Race and Paul Orndorff with Piper still maintaining his hatred of Hogan, despite their common enemy. There is a nice early Owen Hart match against Barry Horowitz, an early Ultimate Warrior squash, as well as a rare match between Andre "The Giant" and Macho Man Randy Savage. It's very much of it’s time, and the style is much slower and deliberate than the average modern WWE match, but it's very enjoyable especially with the huge characters involved. The two Savage vs Warrior matches were very good, while seeing The Powers of Pain vs Demolition with Barbarian and Warlord as the babyfaces is quite the surreal experience. The try-out matches are also a lot of fun here, with Earthquake and Brian "Crush" Adams both having their initial outings here prior to getting their full gimmicks later on.
Disc two deals more with the 1990 to 1993 period with some matches that are a bit more similar to the common matches from feuds and PPVs at the time. Lots to see on this disc, but the highlights included The Legion of Doom taking on Demolition during the masked heel run they had just prior to being repackaged, Sycho Sid working as a babyface against Ted DiBiase, an early casket match from The Ultimate Warrior and The Undertaker, as well as an unexpectedly fun encounter between Undertaker and Bam Bam Bigelow. It was interesting to see RIc Flair vs Hulk Hogan in a WWE ring, but you can see from the match, and the crowd reaction why this didn’t end up being the Wrestlemania 8 programme. Bret “Hit Man” Hart & The Ultimate Warrior vs Papa Shango & Kamala was a bizarre affair, but was surprisingly enjoyable, while the less said about "The Toxic Turtles" (a gimmick so brazenly ripped off from TMNT that it's not hard to see why it never made air) the better. Of course, we also get an early Tatanka match, possibly a try-out, under the delightful guise of War Eagle, which is just fantastic as a name. Again, it's a mixed bag in match quality, but it's all interesting.
The final disc focuses more on the early 1990s and the "New Generation" era. Starting out with the Undertaker vs Giant Gonzalez in an abysmal match, things get much better with several stellar Intercontinental title matches, including Shawn Michaels vs Mr Perfect, Jeff Jarrett vs The British Bulldog and Jarrett vs Razor Ramon (both in ladder matches, oddly). Bret “Hit Man” Hart vs Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was much more fun than expected. However, the most noteworthy match on this disc is surely the tag match featuring Shawn Michaels and Bret “Hit Man” Hart as a tag team against Hakushi and Jerry “The King” Lawler, which given the relationship between the two in the years following, is very intriguing. I will say, whoever suggested Diesel vs Yokozuna in a steel cage was a good idea, was sadly mistaken and that is one to perhaps give a miss.
WWE Unreleased 1986-1995 is probably one of the most enjoyable, and interesting sets WWE have put out in a good few years. Of course it's aimed squarely at long-time fans and plays on the nostalgia and intrigue of what is not shown on TV, but it was a really enjoyable set and one that is a must buy for hardcore WWE fans.