Whatcha gonna do, brother?
Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, and the ever-present YouTube, you may think your brain has all the streaming content it could ever absorb. That mix of services lack a key ingredient to life: wrestling! Professional wrestling (or sports entertainment if you prefer) is the mix of athleticism and theatricality that I personally cant get enough of. It can be as trashy as any reality show or soap opera, but I cant take my eyes off its ridiculous ballet, and at its best, I daresay its as artful as any other, more legitimate fiction. And after getting the WWE Network on my consoles, I never have to be without wrestling.
Whether youre unfamiliar with the joys of sports entertainment, or you left when Stone Cold retired, or even if you watch Raw every Monday, the WWE Network is an impressive service. I signed up for it a year ago and it has lived on my PS4 and Xbox One ever since. While my queues build and build on Hulu and Netflix, Ive been on a nonstop wrestling binge, and I dont even feel halfway done. After digging into the nigh endless collection of goodies, these are the features that make it such a frequent destination.
Its your starting point for a massive chunk of wrestling history
The WWEs total dominance of western wrestling has some unfortunate consequences, including the fact WWE boss Vince McMahon basically owns the complete history of North American wrestling. On the plus side, that also means the Network contains a colossal portion of the last 40 years of televised wrestling. Beyond WWEs own archival footage, Vinces former competition - once-major promotions like WCW, ECW, AWA, and WCCW - are all represented in one form or another.
And the once-dominant companies arent relegated to mere clip packages either. You get hundreds of hours of unedited episodes replaying just as they originally aired. The depth of the catalogue really is hard to fathom. You can see every single pay-per-view event ever from WWE, WCW, and ECW, or you could pull up a random episode of WCCW from March 18, 1983. Its enough to deepen the knowledge of any fan,
A growing collection of engrossing documentaries
I get it, all that raw footage (or Raw footage) can be daunting. If you arent sure where to start, a great way to ease into the mass of Network content is to head straight to the Beyond the Ring section. Thats the home to the promotions many badass documentaries that add up to a crash course in wrestling history.
My Beyond the Ring favorites should keep you busy for at least a month. My Name is Paul Heyman is a revealing portrait of wrestlings mad genius as told by Mr. Heyman himself. He may have left the company on bad terms, but CM Punk: Best in the World is still an utterly engaging journey with one of wrestlings most controversial people. The lengthy profiles of promotions like AWA, WCCW, and ECW tell great stories of the business highs and lows, and the same goes for the career retrospectives of retired stars like Edge, Mankind, and Dusty Rhodes. Even the weaker specials are still great diversions behind the scenes of WWE, and are worth the subscription price alone for dedicated students of the game.
You can become part of the NXT revolution
ECWs cultish style and cutting edge ways appealed to the most hardcore of wrestling fans, and I used to get sad thinking that theres nothing like it today. Then I started catching up on all the NXT matches on the Network. Ostensibly WWEs minor league training ground, NXT is quickly becoming a favorite of the most in-the-know wrestling fans. Nows the time to jump on the bandwagon as all the cool kids are joining in on the fun.
NXT features young and hungry performers out to prove themselves worthy of the big time, backed up by an appreciative audience and much better writing than on Raw. Indie darlings like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor are having some of the best performances of their lives, while fierce ladies like Charlotte and Sasha Banks are redefining what womens wrestling means. Catch up on the recent NXT Takeover events to see some of the best wrestling and storytelling the company has hosted in a very long time.
You can see a ton of weird shows that have never been widely available before
The most enjoyably random section of the Network is the Vault. Its where WWE sticks all its esoteric content that doesnt fit anywhere else. Heres where youll find the early, pre-extreme episodes of ECW, or Prime Time Wrestling, WWEs lo-fi recap show from the mid-80s. Theres also Saturday Nights Main Event, many episodes of which make great companion viewing to the PPVs they aired alongside in the 80s and 90s.
But if you want to see some of the strangest, most unpredictable content WWE has ever produced, you need to explore Tuesday Night Titans. Vince McMahon himself hosts this wrestling talk show, and theres a real charm to TNTs slapdash production values, odd attmpts at humor, and terrible pacing. Turn on a random show and you might see long scenes of Cowboy Bob Orton getting an x-ray, or Lord Alfred Hayes eating sausages that inexplicably grow out of trees. Seriously, that all happens in the same May 9, 1986 episode.
Legends of Wrestling is like listening to five friendly grandpas tell dirty stories
But for all that weirdness, my personal favorite content in the Vault is Legends of Wrestling. Like an early version of a video podcast, Legends brings together five old timers to discuss topics as wide ranging as toughest performers to best tag teams to worst characters. The eclectic groups often includes Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Sergeant Slaughter, and many, many more as they swap stories from Hall of Fame careers.
Im a sucker for hearing an experienced wrestler talk about their life on the road - I could listen to them all day, and the 33 episodes of Legends means I literally can. Youll hear accounts of debauchery, triumph, and loss all in a single tall tale by these important men. The Heatseekers episode is a good starting point, as everybody dishes dirt on some of the most hated performers behind the scenes, including the time Jerry Lawler intentionally broke Paul Heymans jaw.
You can relive the Monday Night Wars one night at a time
Wrestling was never more popular than in the late 90s, and it was all spurred on by the competition between WCW and WWE. Now, you can watch the somewhat skewed take on those days with the Network original miniseries Monday Night War. But you can also go much deeper than that. You can pull up the uncut episodes just as they aired back in the day and watch them side-by-side for the complete experience.
Admittedly, WWE Network doesnt have every single episode of Raw or Nitro online (yet), but more from that era keep getting added. Right at this very moment you can pull up the July 22, 1996 episodes of both Raw and Nitro to get a vintage taste of what it was like to be a fan back then. Watching the clips is one thing, but seeing it all unfold in real time really enriches the trip down memory lane.
The original specials are some of WWEs best stuff
Since the Networks inception, WWE has been offering a number of original specials that rival those previously mentioned documentaries. The specials can be on the goofy side, like Santino Marellas Royal Rumble countdown. Or they can get entertainingly informal, like ECW Exposed, where former ECW owner Paul Heyman candidly answers questions about the beloved promotion. Or they can give an insider look at WWE, like in Stone Colds live podcasts.
These shows can even be incredibly emotional. WWE legend The Ultimate Warrior mended a massive rift with the WWE in early 2014, only to pass away three days after entering the Hall of Fame. His career retrospective aired within days of his death, and the long biography features comments from performers who were clearly grieving the recent loss. Titled Warrior: The Ultimate Legend, its a must-watch special for anyone who ever saw the man perform.
Plus, you get every PPV live
So theres all the stuff I listed before, but crucially, every upcoming PPV event is also included, live and streaming. Yes, that even means WrestleMania. For some lapsed fans, keeping up with the current, week-to-week product isnt a high priority, but getting the stand-out PPVs on the side might well be a massive bonus. At the very least, Network subscribers can use the PPV access to check out Brock Lesnar tearing apart dudes every time he shows up.
And hey, if you arent into keeping up with every edition of Raw, the Networks brief This Week in WWE series is pleasant refresher on the most important developments. But, if the PG-era and the Cenation are too much of a turn-off, thats all good. There are thousands of hours of old stuff to watch while ignoring the modern era of sports entertainment.
And if youre not down with that, weve got two words for ya...
Watch it! Seriously, I hope some of you old-school wrestling fans have been convinced to follow me into this new, streaming age. If youre enjoying it yourself, tell me all about your favorite feature in the comments!
If you aren't ready to give up on wrestling yet, check out the top 7 awesome wrestlers that could only exist in games and 7 great uses of the WWE license (that don't involve wrestling).