After all the delays, the WWE Network has finally arrived on these shores and in the end it was even early! However, British and Irish fans will pay £9.99 and €12.99 respectively, which works out as £3.44/€4.45 per month more than our Americans counterparts are paying. This means that if you already have an American Network account through some form of geo-blocking, you might want to hold on to it for now!
But is the Network worth the cash?
I would argue that it definitely is, because despite what Michael Cole would have you believe, there is a lot more to the WWE Network than simply getting the monthly pay-per-views included in the price (although this is undoubtedly a boon when you consider the Royal Rumble is £19.95 on Sky Box Office) . But not only do you get the latest Dean Ambrose PPV loss for £9.99, you also get pretty much every WWE and WCW PPV ever as well.
Personally, I’ve been going through the 1997 In Your House shows and re-watching WWE’s transition from their awful mid-nineties product into what became the Attitude Era. If you were too young at the time, or you just want to relive one of the most historic periods in WWE history, then you can do so with ease. It’s definitely fun to remember that even as Bret Hart was forming his new version of the Hart Foundation and Stone Cold Steve Austin had well truly taken off, that Honky Tonk Man and Rockabilly were still on the scene!
Away from ’97 WWE, you can decide for yourself just when exactly did WCW start going off the rails; or go back and watch their ’89 – early ’90s period when they were putting on really good shows (classic matches with Flair, Steamboat and Sting; the Dangerous Alliance; and The Great Muta appearing on various cards); as well the whole Monday Night Wars period itself. And on top of the WWE / WCW PPVs, there are also the WWE and WCW network TV specials: the Saturday Night’s Main Event shows for WWE and Clash of the Champions for NWA/WCW. Many of the classic WWE angles took place on the SNME cards, as they built up to their big shows in the pre-Monday Night Raw days. Meanwhile the Clash shows featured some classic NWA Title matches, back in the Jim Crockett Promotions days and again when WCW took off starting in summer 1996.
Rounding off the best bits of the historical video library, there’s lots of ‘80s and early ‘90s WWE content, including classic WWE arena shows under the WWE Old School banner; Tuesday Night Titans and Prime Time Wrestling. And away from WWE, there’s World Class from Texas; featuring some configuration of the Von Erichs and The Fabulous Freebirds on almost every show; although unfortunately these episodes of WCCW TV aren’t always in order. Well worth a watch though, especially for episode 54, which features the famous Cage Match between Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich for the NWA Title. There’s also the entire ECW PPV library and episodes of Hardcore TV, which are fun to go back and watch now with the benefit of hindsight, and see what things truly were groundbreaking and those that weren’t so much!
The WWE Network is much more than historical shows, there’s also some interesting first run content.
Legend’s House is a reality show WWE made a few years back, with the hope of selling it to a traditional TV distributor, but kept a hold of it for the WWE Network when there was no interest in at the time. It has to be seen to be believed, and features the likes of Roddy Piper, Gene Okerlund, Hillbilly Jim, and Jimmy Hart sharing a house and having to complete daft challenges. It made me laugh anyway, but the show as a whole is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Moving on to more serious minded content, there are two nostalgia based documentaries: WWE Rivalries and The Monday Night War. Rivalries uses archive talking-head footage pasted together with original voiceovers, looking at classic wrestling rivalries. So far; Austin vs McMahon, Flair vs Rhodes, Hogan vs Piper, Triple H vs Michaels and Edge & Christian vs The Hardy Boyz have all been featured. There are no great new revelations in any of these documentaries, but they’re a good way to fill an hour, if you are a fan of any of the featured talents (which given those names, would surely cover all wrestling fans). The Monday Night War is all about the titular ratings battle between Raw and Nitro that took place between 1996 and 2001. It features all the usual WWE revisionist history when it comes to WCW, and the series seems to have been produced so that the episodes can all be watched out of order and in standalone viewings. This means that in order to provide context to each episode’s main narrative thread, a lot of the same information is repeated in every single episode. This gets old very fast, but if – like me – you grew up during this period of wrestling history, it’s hard to not get extremely nostalgic over the content within.
There are another couple of mentionable shows for your consideration. WWE Countdown is what the name suggests—countdowns. Each episode is a “Top 10” list of things such as the best entrances, finishers, infamous gimmicks, ladder matches, factions etc. Legends of Wrestling was a roundtable discussion series, where the titular legends would discuss topics put to them by hosts, Jim Ross and Gene Okerlund (Ross is often a panelist when he isn’t chairing proceedings). These shows were produced for the old “Classics on Demand” subscription channel WWE used to have and features some fascinating stories from the likes of Mick Foley, Michael Hayes, Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and Nick Bockwinkel.
In the “Beyond the Ring” section of the interface, there’s also a host of WWE’s DVD/Blu Ray superstar profiles from over the last few years, which have been increasing in quality year-on-year. The latest Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Edge and Chris Jericho are all good watches, while the CM Punk and Paul Heyman documentaries are simply outstanding.
Last but not least, in this general overview of what’s on the Network, is quite possibly the jewel in its crown—NXT.
If you don’t have Sky Sports and haven’t saw NXT before, and are wondering about subscribing to the WWE Network, then it is definitely worth getting solely for what is arguably the best hour of weekly televised wrestling. With independent stand-outs like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Adrian Neville, Hideo Itami, and Finn Balor all now appearing under the WWE banner – along with WWE’s next wave of in-house stars, The Vaudevillians, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Tyler Breeze, Baron Cobin; and an extremely talented and well-presented women’s division – NXT is pro-wrestling done staggeringly well. Simple and easy to follow storylines that centre around personal rivalries and wrestlers fighting for championship belts, with the odd bit of comedy relief thrown in. Refreshingly different compared to the dross that is often served up in the other weekly WWE programming!
Don’t get me wrong, not everything’s a winner. I’m fairly certain that no one is signing up to get old episodes of Total Divas – apart from Jerry Lawler, that is – or the insanely bad Slam City cartoons, but I hope I’ve done enough to convince you that it’s worth that infamous 9.99!