Few can match WWE in terms of sheer television output in the modern era. By that, I don’t mean just in comparison to other wrestling companies but in fact any other producer of live sport or entertainment. WWE produce five hours per week of live television, and that’s not including the immense selection of new programming available on the network. It’s an incredible operation, and sometimes it means that a lot of great content that happens on Raw and Smackdown is easily forgotten throughout the year. So it is always nice to revisit the prior year’s best television offerings with the annual Best of Raw and Smackdown DVD set.
The first of three discs on this set deal primarily with the run-up to Wrestlemania 34, and the few months following. There is, of course, some cracking action here, with the opening bout a timely reminder of how much Roman Reigns is missed on the main roster while he is off battling cancer. His match with Samoa Joe is hard-hitting and really a forgotten fun moment from the early part of 2018. Other highlights on this show from the Raw side of things include Asuka having a pair of very enjoyable bouts with Sasha Banks and Bayley, as well as Finn Balor and Seth Rollins tearing up Raw at a frenetic pace. One thing missing from the red brand side of things is the phenomenal gauntlet match featuring all of Raw’s tops stars and a breakout babyface performance by Seth Rollins, but given the duration of the match, it’s understandable why it was omitted. From Smackdown, AJ Styles shines in matches with Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura (arguably the best of the seemingly never-ending series these two had), but the biggest highlight is the return of Daniel Bryan. The emotion and pure joy of that moment is a sight to behold, and while you can argue the booking that followed was a waste of that emotion, on that night it felt like anything was possible.
Disc two covers much of the summer in the run-up to Summerslam, and again there are plenty of fun moments from both brands. From Smackdown, this might as well be a showcase for just how good The New Day are, with six-man tag against The Bar and The Miz, a further bout against The Miz, and a very memorable title match against Bludgeon Brothers, two of which I had completely forgotten, but all of which are tremendous. It may seem like the trio have run out of road, but I hope they keep going because these sorts of mid-card matches will be truly missed when they call it a day as a unit. The Raw side of things is a little less exciting, especially as I am not a fan of Dolph Ziggler and never want to see him face Seth Rollins again. That said, there is a really quite excellent main event match between Roman Reigns and Finn Balor for the Universal Championship, but also the Raw debut of Ronda Rousey. The latter may not be the best match of her run, but given it was her in-ring TV debut it is certainly worth a look.
The third and final disc covers the autumn of 2018 and a part of the year that normally kick-starts a yearly creative slump for WWE. With the benefit of being able to pick and choose the best matches and moments (so leaving out anything Crown Jewel related), you can mask that in hindsight, especially when the actual wrestling is still of such a high standard. There was also the boost of having Evolution in October which meant the creative, at least for the female roster, was a bit more organised. As a result, Becky Lynch vs Charlotte is an absolute scorcher from the height of their feud, while Trish Stratus and Lita return to Raw for a very entertaining multi-woman tag match. There’s nuclear heat in a notable segment with Kevin Owens (who has been sorely missed) and Elias, while we are also treated to two very different heel turns with Dean Ambrose betraying Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan turning on AJ Styles.
Quantity doesn’t always equal quality, but in the case of Raw and Smackdown they are more than capable of making it seem like the shows are must-see television when they put these sets together. This is a review of this DVD set and not WWE’s television model and taken in isolation this release is superb. There are loads of fantastic matches, plenty of thrilling segments and everything seems meaningful. While of course all of these moments are now available on the network, having them all collected together like a sort of year in review makes for a really satisfying watch, and one that I do actively look forward to every year, and the 2018 edition continues that tradition in fine form.