“Superstar” Billy Graham may not be the most recognizable name in sports entertainment history, but his demeanor in and out of the ring paved the way for dozens of wrestlers after him, including Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Scott Steiner and Triple H. Mirroring the likes of Muhammad Ali during interviews and colorful in-ring attire, Graham fits in more amongst today’s wrestling superstars than anyone he wrestled against.
In the DVD documentary “20 Years Too Soon: The Superstar Billy Graham Story” the WWE has done an excellent job of giving younger fans a crash course of what the wrestling scene was like in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, showing just how far ahead of the learning curve Graham was. It also shows how sooner, rather than later, the rest of the world took notice of his style and in the ultimate flattery, emulated it before even Graham himself knew how revolutionary he was.
This created many problems down the road for Graham, who ended up falling in love with his character so much that when he lost the then WWWF championship to Bob Backlund in 1978, he shunned it and created one that almost ended his career. During his hiatus from the sport, he nearly ruined his life as well and became addicted to several drugs, making his decades-long relationship with anabolic steroids a small one in comparison.
While the DVD does a sound job of showing just how close to death Graham was, it pales to compare the depth of the story to one similar such as Jake Roberts. That’s not to say that Roberts had it tougher than Graham. Their lives were both nearly ruined by drugs and mistakes, but Graham isn’t nearly as open to his fans as “The Snake” is and always has been. But then again, not many possess the openness and candor of Roberts, a trait this collection would have benefited from immensely. It’s not that the story is a flat one, it’s just that most of juicy tales are told in the extra’s section and aren’t fleshed out in the main documentary where it matters most.
One story for instance has a grateful Graham give the Hart family in Canada three color television sets after he was trained in their famous “Dungeon.” Soon after his departure, the police arrived and took them back, seemingly from a hotel Graham was staying at. Several times throughout the documentary as well, Graham’s wife discusses how her husband wasn’t the con-man everyone thought he was, yet there was no real indication of him being one [unless you watch the extras]. Blips like this occur throughout the disc and hurt an otherwise fun experience.
After the documentary, there are four of Graham’s most hyped matches against the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Backlund [the long-awaited rematch with Graham in his less-famous persona] and Ivan Putski. Two other matches however, against Armando Rodriguez and Angel Rivera are fodder and merely show Graham working through jobbers like any other superstar. These matches aren’t enjoyable for modern day wrestling fans, but students of the history of the sport will see first hand how influential Graham was to the future of the industry and how he paved the way for similar wrestlers who lacked the in-ring ability of guys like Sammartino and Verne Gagne, but made up for it with muscles and brains.
The promos on the disc are also solid and do a great job of proving Graham’s mental capacity, as he weaves raps that John Cena himself would have problems duplicating.
In spite of that, a few more matches against higher profile competition and a few more promos would have made this DVD a can’t miss, rather than a purchase for more eclectic fans of sports entertainment.
For a one-disc documentary, rather small when compared to some of the WWE’s other offerings, “20 Years Too Soon” stands firmly on its own two feet. However, just like Graham’s career, it doesn’t stand for nearly as long as it could have.