Lee Maughan: Cast your minds back to The Complete WWF Video Guide Volume 1 and a tape branded The Highlights of WrestleMania, a condensed video store commemorative cash-in from the days when VHS tape was an expensive pursuit. Certainly there’s a modicum of value to that. Not so here. With the WWF’s popularity soaring in the late 90s came a small selection of low-budget, Canadian-only releases, beginning with this pointless little number. On the surface, it might seem hard to imagine who this video could ever have appealed to, especially at a time when VHS was much more affordable, and in fact was already on the verge of being supplanted by the early days of DVD. You might wonder why bother at all with a 30-minute highlight program when you could get the full show for just a few bucks more, but some of the tapes from this micro-series were actually exclusive to Toys Я Us, making them essentially cheap pick-ups or “buy a figure, get a tape” freebies for parents who didn’t know any better, and acted as samplers to any unsuspecting kids they were foisted upon.
Still, not only is the running time ridiculously short on each release, but as if to add insult to injury, they all were dubbed in very substandard EP quality, presumably to save on tape costs. 30-minutes of footage, squashed onto 15-minutes of tape. That is beyond pathetic. Speaking of beyond pathetic, this release came out deep into the WWF’s Attitude Era, and while other tapes from the time featured Steve Austin belting out words like “motherfucker” and Triple H convincing buxom wenches in the crowd to flash their tits, the kid-friendly nature of the footage on offer here results in even the softest of language being censored, so much so that JR can’t even refer to Billy Gunn by his ‘Mr. Ass’ nickname without getting bleeped out!
Having just 30-minutes of running time to play with, you can probably guess what form this nightmare of a release takes. All of the matches are extremely heavily edited, nothing is shown in its entirety, and two of the matches (Taka Michinoku vs. Mr. Aguila, and Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock) are excised entirely. One could perhaps surmise that by the time this tape was released, Taka and the Rock had both already switched fences (Taka went heel after joining Kaientai while the Rock was turned babyface by sheer force of fan willpower), and that featuring them in roles brand new fans would find unfamiliar might have led to much confusion, though that remains merely speculation on our part.
And that’s your lot. The show that finally said goodbye to Shawn Michaels and ushered in Steve Austin as the WWFs undisputed kingpin, all rolled up into one deeply unsatisfying blink-and-you’ll-miss-it highlights package. In this form, one could be forgiven for not recognising just how pivotal this show was in the history of the so-called “Monday Night Wars.” If Mike Tyson going nose-to-nose with ‘Stone Cold’ had been the warning shot, then his ascension to the WWF Title, and with it the top of the entire promotion, was an atomic bomb on the industry with a lasting radiation effect that would carry the WWF so far past WCW in the ratings war, that WCW would actually begin to self-implode and ultimately die, with the WWF left free to pick up whatever scraps they desired from its beaten, rotting carcass.
Summary: As noted, this tape was a Toys Я Us exclusive, which just about justifies the dismally thin tape quality, slender running time and family-friendly editing, but even with those restrictions in place it remains a tacky release. Sometimes people just don’t give kids enough credit for how smart they are, and I can’t imagine anyone over the age of five not recognising what a cheap little piece this is given the lack of complete matches and all too brief running time. The whole thing basically plays out what you might expect a Saturday morning cartoon interpretation of Attitude Era programming to be, leaving almost no redeeming value to the presentation whatsoever.