Part 2 of a four-part series.
On January 11, 2013, WWE Monday Night Raw will turn twenty. Yeah, Raw's been on for nearly two decades. An entire generation has lived on what has since become the premier wrestling show in the United States. Yet, while viewers have had the milestone 1,000th episode countdown ingrained into their brains for months, Monday Night Raw turning twenty will probably get nothing more than a courtesy mention (edit: as it turns out, it'll get a little more than that; it probably still won't be as big as Raw 1000, though). It's a shame really, considering that a small number of shows break the twenty-year barrier. When a show's been around that long, you're bound to have more than a few memorable moments.
With that in mind, I will attempt to do quite possibly the impossible: pick out one defining match and one defining moment from every year of Monday Night Raw's existence. And yes, I get that not everyone will agree with my list. That's sort of the idea. Some years, obviously, will be easier than others because some years I don't really remember (and for good reason, I suppose).
Now, for your pleasure, here's twenty years of Raw condensed to one defining highlight and one defining match from each year:
Side Note: For the first five years, go here. This post covers 1998-2002, the bulk of it being the legendary Attitude Era.
Year 6: 1998
Professional sports analogy: when you have a big lead, don't sit on it. If you can make a big lead bigger, do it. Too often in sports, a team with a big lead gets complacent, while the team trailing makes every effort possible to make it close, and suddenly, they're breathing down your neck with a chance to win. In 1998, the WWF was that team breathing down WCW's neck. Confident that the success of the nWo storyline would be the key to driving the WWF out of business, WCW relied on it...perhaps a little too much, and beginning with the mishandling of the world title match in the previous December's Starrcade, WCW's once insurmountable advantage shrank. On the other side, 1998 saw the rise of many stars in the WWF, not to mention the company successfully rebuilding itself on a premise as old as time: the disgruntled employee taking on the tyrant boss. Not only did the WWF close the gap, there were signs the company once on its death bed was about to pass its competition.
Defining Match: One common criticism about the Attitude Era is that match quality is often not as good as matches of today in terms of workrate. In the Attitude Era, it didn't matter that much, as the story behind the match matter as much, if not more. Don't get me wrong; there were some good matches on RAW back in '98: Austin vs. Rock the Monday before Wrestlemania XIV, Foley vs. Funk, Austin vs. Shamrock to name a few. But the defining match of 1998 never really happened, and it didn't matter to fans watching. Case in point: April 13, 1998. Stone Cold Steve Austin (with one arm tied behind his back) faced Mr. McMahon for the WWF Championship. Of course, the match was nothing more than a tease, as it ended with the unexpected heel turn of Dude Love. The match would be instrumental in ending WCW Monday Nitro‘s 84-week run as the most watched wrestling show on cable. The two did meet in a match eventually though-ten months later on Valentine's Day.
Defining Moment: 1998 had far too many memorable moments to choose from: D-Generation X invading WCW territory-twice, Vince McMahon getting bedpanned, the introduction of Socko, the dumpster off the stage, Austin covering McMahon's Corvette in cement, "I choppy choppy your pee pee!", DX mocking The Nation just to name a few. But none had quite the impact as Mike Tyson and Stone Cold Steve Austin facing off on January 19. This was Tyson four months removed from biting Evander Holyfield, and essentially being banned from boxing. He was as toxic a public figure as there was in America (outside of perhaps then-President Bill Clinton who did not...have...sexual relations...with that woman, Miss Lewinsky). Vince McMahon was moments from announcing Tyson was going to be the referee or something at the main event of Wrestlemania XIV, when Austin crashed the announcement and confronted the baddest man on the planet. Two middle fingers and one shove later, they were throwing hands. By the next morning, news of the confrontation was everywhere. Wrestling suddenly became cool again.
Year 7: 1999
By 1999, the WWF had it figured out: present RAW is War in a "crash TV" style format, where matches and segments are kept short so as to not divert the fan's attention away from the show for an extended period of time. Never mind most of the matches were varying degrees of bad; the characters and the stories drove the show, not the in-ring product. While WCW continued to rely on its long-tired New World Order, the WWF continued to create new stars, often at the expense of WCW. RAW is War in 1999 produced record television ratings for segments and shows not likely to be broken by any wrestling show in the foreseeable future. In fact, by late 1999, WWF was in such good shape, they began doing live RAWs every week again. And Smackdown. And Sunday Night Heat. In other words, the WWF was cruising.
Defining Match (and Moment): 1999 didn't exactly produce in all-time match quality, but there a few good nuggets in here like the Al Snow vs. Road Dogg hardcore title match that ended in the snow and the Unholy Alliance taking on the unlikely pairing of Rock & Sock Connection in an impromptu tag title match. But the defining match of 1999 involved the Rock and Sock Connection, just as opponents. On January 4, deep into their rivalry over the WWF Championship, The Rock defended his WWF Championship against Mankind in a no-disqualification match (a match, by the way, Mankind didn't originally have when the night began). It wasn't a five-star classic by any means, but it was solid for a free TV bout (the two would have four more televised singles matches in January and February 1999-all more brutal). Then Ken Shamrock got in. Then Billy Gunn got in. And all hell broke loose. Then glass broke. The Worcester Centrum completely lost their shit when Stone Cold Steve Austin (who wasn't supposed to be there) nailed The Rock with a chair and threw Mankind on top of an unconscious champion. Seconds later, Mick Foley, a pudgy 300-pounder from Long Island (who once wrestled for WCW as Cactus Jack), was the WWF Champion. Oh, why the comment there in the parentheses? Well, you can thank Tony Schiavone via Eric Bischoff. On Eric's orders, Tony delivered the news that Mick Foley was gonna win the WWF title. WCW had a knack for giving away RAW's results on weeks where RAW was taped, but on this night, it backfired in a way no one could have imagined. Nitro, on the verge of winning their first head-to-head battle in two months on the strength of the strength of a Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash world title rematch (that became Hulk Hogan vs. Kevin Nash), lost again, as somewhere between 200,000 and 600,000 people (the number varies depending on where you get the story) flipped the channel from Nitro to RAW to see the taped title change for themselves (and many of them flipped back just in time for the live Fingerpoke of Doom five minutes later). Nitro would never again beat RAW in the head-to-head ratings. The moral of the story: never underestimate Mick Foley. After all, he is Go(o)d.
(Another) Defining Moment: The pairing of the Rock and Sock Connection was simply put, lightning in a bottle. At the beginning of the year, The Rock and Mick Foley were damn near killing each other over the WWF Championship. Seven months after their climatic ladder match battle for the title, they were tag team champions. That's the Attitude Era for ya. On September 23, Mick was celebrating The Rock's birthday...which wasn't on September 23, but May 2. This minor detail of course didn't stop Mick from wanting to celebrate his new best friend's life by bringing back people from The Rock's past: his third grade English teacher, his high school football coach, and his first girlfriend that cut The Rock off on second base. Much hilarity ensued. And many people watched. The scheduled ten-minute segment went nearly a half-hour, but it delivered in the ratings: it was (and to this day, still is) the most watched quarter-hour in RAW history. Did it make sense? Probably not. But it was the Attitude Era; it didn't have to.
(One More, I Promise) Defining Moment: In the Attitude Era, the WWF had a knack for churning out one superstar after another. They had quite the toy chest to play with, so to speak. But when they got their hands on a fresh-from-WCW Chris Jericho, they couldn't wait to tear open the wrapping. For weeks, his debut was teased via a continuously running clock counting down to the millennium. Never mind that said millennium wasn't coming for a few months; nope, the millennium came early in the WWF: August 9, 1999. Monday Night RAW got infected with the Y2J bug: Chris Jericho had arrived. In one three-minute promo (followed by a two-minute evisceration by The Rock), Jericho became a major player, something that he couldn't do in the three years he was in WCW. And call it coincidence: the wrestling quality started to improve almost immediately after he arrived.
(One More) Defining Moment (For Real This Time): Wrestlers dying isn't exactly a common thing, but one dying while on the job is simply heart-wrenching and jarring. On May 23, Owen Hart fell some 70 feet to his death when his safety harness failed prior to a match at the Over the Edge PPV. The next night, fans around the world found out exactly how much he was loved among his peers in a tribute show in his honor. Storylines were eschewed in favor of ten matches, anecdotes, and touching tributes. It was one of the most watched RAW episodes in history.
And How Dare I Forget: Stone Cold drowns Mr. McMahon in... in beer. Stone Cold Steve Austin wanted to celebrate him and The Rock's WWF Championship match at Wrestlemania XV that weekend with a pre-match beer. But when Austin celebrates with beer, Austin celebrates with beer. So he drove a Coors Light truck to ringside and sprayed The Rock and Vince and Shane McMahon in Coors. I believe the slogan was Taste the Rockies, not Bathe in the Rockies, fellas. See, I told you 1999 had a lot of moments.
Year 8: 2000
By the turn of the century, the WWF was running on all cylinders. The company had gone public. Viewers were watching in record numbers. They arguably had the best collection of talent in the company's history. The WWF lacked two things: competent technical wresting, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The first thing took care of itself when following a dispute with WCW management, Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero all left for the WWF in January. The second thing was out of their hands. Austin's accumulation of injuries finally caught up to him, and the previous November, got neck surgery and took and extended leave of absence (he was run over during the Surivivor Series preshow in order to explain his absence). While Nitro and WCW in general struggled for survival, RAW and the WWF were a runaway train that showed no signs of slowing down.
Defining Match & Moment: The biggest story in the first half of 2000 was the rise of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to power. The McMahon-Helmsley Regime was in complete control, with D-Generation X, and eventually Shane and Vince McMahon joining the faction. It seemed the babyfaces of the WWF were helpless to put an end to it. But there was a glimmer of hope on April 17, 2000. Chris Jericho was the latest to challenge the throne, and finagled Triple H to put up the WWF Championship in a match. Triple H accepted, only to learn moments later that Jericho bought backup in the Acolytes. The match had all the trappings of an Attitude-era main event (or for that matter, just about any world title match in wrestling these days): the ref bump, three or four run-ins, shenanigans everywhere. When the dust settled, Earl Hebner, who's been in more than a controversy or three, fast counted Triple H down, and Chris Jericho was the WWF Champion...or so we thought. Since Triple H was more or less running the WWF (the perks of being a McMahon by marriage), he forced a reversed decision and stricken the match from the official record, giving the belt back to "The Game". But just because the match doesn't officially exist, doesn't mean the match doesn't exist. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, Paul. And in true Triple H fashion, he fired Earl Hebner less than two minutes later.
Another Defining Moment: The other big story of 2000 was the whodunit that gripped the WWF roster for much of the year: who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin at the previous year's Survivor Series? After spending weeks delivering his own brand of justice, Austin was suspended by then-commissioner Mick Foley until the mystery was solved. On October 8, the culprit finally came forward: Rikishi was the wheelman, claiming he did it for his cousin The Rock and his "people". The Samoan showed no remorse for the act saying he'd do it again if he could. It was a stunning payoff to the storyline, but disappointing, so a month later, it was revealed that Triple H masterminded the whole thing. Sure it kept the storyline afloat, but it also gave a failed main-event push to Rikishi.
Year 9: 2001
Not only did the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, the wrestling bubble burst. In a span of six weeks in the early spring, the WWF's two biggest competitors, WCW and ECW, both folded. Ironically, they both folded into the WWF, with WCW being bought out for pennies on the dollar, and ECW filing for bankruptcy, eventually being acquired by the Fed in 2003. The WWF found itself in quite the interesting position, the position many argue they always wanted: to be not only the dominant wrestling company in North America, but the only major wrestling company in North America. By the end of the year, however, the WWF found out that (1) it's pretty lonely at the top, and (2) being the only game in town isn't all that it's cracked up to be. The handling of the Invasion storyline rubbed many fans the wrong way and did irreparable damage to the one shiny WWF brand.
Defining Match: The spring of 2001 was a weird period for the WWF. In addition to WCW and ECW going out of business, the WWF's venture into football failed when the XFL folded after just one season. The company's #1 babyface, Stone Cold Steve Austin, turned heel in his home state of Texas. Its would-be #1 babyface, The Rock, was filming The Scorpion King and would be gone for the summer. While The Hardy Boyz, Undertaker, and Kane all assumed the primary face role at times, two unlikely candidates emerged on May 21 in one of the greatest matches (and for one man, one of his guttiest performances) in RAW history. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, one night removed from emerging as unlikely winners of a tag team turmoil match, won the WWF Tag Team Championship in their home country of Canada from the two-man power trip of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H. It had the look to be the beginning of an awesome feud that could carry into the summer, but Triple H tore his quadriceps muscle in his left knee that would keep him out of the ring until the following January.
Defining Moment: If you tuned out following the sale of WCW, I can't really blame you, but you may have missed quite a few gems: Shane McMahon mocking Kurt Angle's Olympic gold medal moment from 1996, RAW being turned over to WCW (and the crowd subsequently crapping all over it), the out-of-nowhere re-emergence of ECW, Ric Flair returning to announce he owned half the WWF, the Vince McMahon "Kiss My Ass" club, and Stone Cold and Booker T's trip to the supermarket. But let's be honest. None compared to the shock and awe (even though it was made official the Friday before) of the March 26 RAW. What was to be the go-home show for Wrestlemania X- Seven became WWF's declaration of victory in the Monday Night Wars, as they had bought WCW. In storyline, Vince was having his "Mission Accomplished" moment in Cleveland as he announced he was going to sign the papers at Wrestlemania that weekend...only to discover that his son Shane, one thousand miles away in Panama City, Florida, had signed the papers first. Shane was the principal owner of WCW, and fans everywhere lost their collective shit. Two moments of irony here: Vince comes up a loser in Cleveland, a city known for its sports teams failing spectacularly, and much like George W. Bush did two years later, WWF was perhaps a little too quick to celebrate the victory, as the Invasion storyline that followed proved to be one of the biggest missteps in the company's history.
Year 10: 2002
With no wrestling organization to compete against, the WWF was left with one opponent: themselves. Well, that and, as it turned out, the other WWF, the World Wildlife Fund. Two years earlier, a London high court ruled that the WWF-the World Wrestling Federation-had violated a 1994 agreement with the other WWF in terms of their use of the initials. The pandas won, and a year later, won the appeal too. The WWF-World Wrestling Federation-was forced to change its name and initials to WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment. Though it initially had a clever marketing campaign ("Get the F Out"), many fans were not feeling the name change. As for the competition against itself, the WWF went into a brand extension, making its two signature shows RAW and Smackdown their own brands and assigning the entire roster to one of its shows. The hope was to rekindle the rivalry of WWF vs. WCW from its heyday. If the brand extension wasn't proof enough that things weren't the same anymore, it was made clear by the summer when the company's two biggest names were no longer there. The Rock turned his attention to making movies, while Stone Cold Steve Austin shocked the world and abruptly quit. At least they had Triple H and Triple H-Hollywood Hulk Hogan-back in the fold.
Defining match: Many of the WWF-well, WWE's best matches in 2002 occurred on Smackdown, but RAW did produce a classic or three once in a while, such as the first ever confrontation between Austin and The Rock versus the New World Order, TLC 4.0, and Rob Van Dam and Eddie Guerrero for the Intercontinental title in a ladder match. But another ladder match the nod here, as just five weeks later, The Undertaker and Jeff Hardy fought in a classic for the Undisputed WWE Championship. For weeks, Jeff Hardy has gotten in the face of the American Badass and refused to go away until he was paralyzed or killed dead. And on this night, Hardy should have been paralyzed or killed dead against the Undertaker's relentless assault. But Hardy kept coming, and for a moment touched the belt. Finally Jeff was going to climb the mountain, but he came crashing down in a matter of seconds as Undertaker chokeslammed Hardy off the ladder. The Deadman had retained his title. But Hardy was not deterred, determined to fight some more. Undertaker went back, and instead of coming to blows, raised Jeff's hand and patted him on the back after an effort for the ages.
Defining moment: The WWE's acquisition of WCW meant that wrestling fans were finally going to get to see the matches many thought would never come to fruition. Just one problem: many of WCW's biggest names actually signed with their parent company, Time Warner, and most of them chose to sit on their contract rather than take a paycut and get back on TV. The trickling of the big names began the previous November when Ric Flair showed up, but shit got real, as the kids would say, when the original New World Order, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, made their return in February. Hogan was the first to show up on RAW, claiming he was the biggest star the wrestling industry had produced. One man had a problem with that in The Rock. The crowd came unglued when the crossover stars finally met face-to-face on a wrestling show. The Rock had a proposal: one more Wrestlemania main event with him. It took some convincing, but Hogan agreed. Looking back on it, one thought comes to my mind: Austin should have been in The Rock's spot that night.
Another Defining Moment: Creatively, 2002 in the WWF wasn't nearly as bad as 1995, but you had that feeling that something was missing or something was a bit off. Take for instance the July 15 episode of RAW. Vince McMahon announced that handling two rosters at once was a bit too much, so he hired general managers to do it. He also announced that the nWo was disbanding. Too bad, really, as one hour later, the man who birthed the idea (at least in the States), Eric Bischoff, was announced as the general manager of RAW. You know Eric, don't you? ATM Eric? Easy E? THE MAN THAT HAD THE WWF ON ITS DEATHBED? McMahon would to quote Jerry Lawler "wish death upon this man [every week]". It's a ready-made rivalry. And WWE butchers it in a span of five minutes. First, he shows up on camera backstage during an interview with Booker T. Way to kill the surprise. But still, they could redeem this thing, right? Nope. McMahon and Bischoff shook hands and hugged it out. Boom. Outta here. You fucking idiots. You may have heard the sound faintly in the distance, but for those that didn't, that was millions of dollars being flushed down the drain. Controversy creates cash, but that hug arguably cost WWE lots of it.
So what stood out for you during the peak years of Monday Night RAW?
Editor's Note: This FanPost has been proofed for promotion to the front page and various sections within Cageside Seats for your enjoyment, Cagesiders!