Part 1 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:
Year 1: 1993
Well, let's be honest: WWE would like to forget the mid-1990s happened. It was after Hulkamania, before the Attitude Era, and right smack-dab in the center of scandal and controversy, when Vince McMahon was about to face the Feds on drug charges that could have brought the whole thing down. Plus, the really bad cartoonish gimmick/second-job era. Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhh. RAW was, in reality, a retool of another long-running series, Prime Time Wrestling. However, with RAW, matches and storyline advancement, for the first time in company history, were taking place before a live audience. Would this new-fangled technology work?
Defining Match: By the end of the May 17 episode, the answer would clearly be yes. About ten minutes into the show (the whole episode is somewhere on some collection), Shawn Michaels issued an open challenge for a match for the Intercontinental Championship. Staying true to the nature of "anything can happen when it's live", a casually dressed Marty Janetty (looking like he was out for a jog or something), answered the challenge. Michaels reluctantly accepted, setting up the match of the year, and one of the year's big surprises: the lesser of the two Rockers won. It would be Marty's only championship in the WWF (The Rockers' one brief run as WWF Tag Team Champions is not recognized).
Defining Moment: From the same episode, Razor Ramon was set to take on, as my friend would call it, "a local athlete," but one who has been on WWF programming quite a bit in recent months: The Lightning Kid...The Cannonball Kid...The Kid. This week it's The Kid. Less than two minutes later, The Lightning Kid... The Cannonball Kid... The Kid, who couldn't have been more than 180 pounds soaking wet, moonsault presses the 275-pound Razor Ramon and gets the three. And the crowd completely loses their shit. Nothing quite breaks the monotony of a wrestling show like an upset win NOBODY saw coming. The Lightning Kid... The Cannonball Kid... The Kid... The 1-2-3 Kid would beat Razor quite a bit over the next few months, and even became tag partners years later. But, like many things in life, nothing beats the first time.
Year 2: 1994
It didn't take long for the WWF to come to the realization that a live show every Monday night wasn't exactly fiscally friendly. By 1994, RAW would tape on, more or less, the same schedule as their other TV offerings... doing two, sometimes three shows at a time. Still, you'd get the occasional live Monday night deal. Here's a sobering little nugget: in the Top 100 moments in RAW History DVD, this is the only year that did not have a representative on the list; even 1995 got a moment on there.
Defining Match: In one night the previous year, the 1-2-3 Kid went from "local athlete" to WWF superstar. On July 11, six months after a brief tag title run with Marty Janetty, (I'm surprised they didn't name the tag team May 17 or something), he was in the deep end of the pool, as he was facing Bret "Hitman" Hart for the WWF Championship. And it was a hell of a good match, as the Kid hung with the champ, and even made the most of a second chance, when Hart refused the initial win -- when the referee missed Kid's foot on the bottom rope. In the end, it was Hart's Sharpshooter that put the worthy challenger away. The match, in its entirety, is on the WWE RAW: The Beginning and RAW 15th Anniversary collections. This hidden gem is easily overlooked, and has been largely forgotten (perhaps in part due to what occurred less than a week later: the first televised singles match between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair).
Defining Moment: As said earlier, when nothing from a year cracks a Top 100 List of Greatest Moments Ever, it wasn't a memorable year. But in November, Macho Man Randy Savage abruptly left the WWF (there are plenty of stories as to why) for WCW, and Vince McMahon seemed genuinely heartbroken about it. After all, Savage was pretty much the last major connection to the Hulkamania era. It's less than a minute, but you could see how much Savage meant to Vince and the WWF.
Year 3: 1995
The WWF had survived the federal drug trial, but the damage was done. Company perception, interest, television ratings, revenue, and attendance, were all dipping FAST. As it turned out, those were the least of their problems. Their chief competition, WCW, would get a Monday night show of their own in the fall, Nitro, and unlike RAW, it would be live every week. The battle for survival and supremacy was about to begin.
Defining Match and Moment: The WWF in 1993, had Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels both coming into their own, with Yokozuna as champion and Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage in the margins (though they were both on the way out). The WWF in 1995, had Bret Hart, his younger brother Owen, Shawn Michaels, Diesel as a disappointing champion, and Mabel as King of the Ring. And Mantaur. And Phantasio. It also had Shawn Michaels and Owen Hart in a dramatic match that had an even more dramatic finish: Michaels, one month removed from legitimately being assaulted outside a nightclub in Syracuse, NY, collapsed moments after Owen hit him with an enziguri to the head. The collapse, of course, was a work, used to take Michaels off television for a while and set up his dramatic run to the WWF title the next year. At the time, however, it was an awkward blend of fantasy and reality.
Year 4: 1996
It was the year the boyhood dream came true after a one-hour (and three minute) epic. The man they call Vader had arrived. But the year's two biggest moments were not on free TV: first, the Curtain Call incident that had the farewell for Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in Madison Square Garden. It was an eye-opener for many, but Triple H in the end took the fall. That inadvertently led to the second: Stone Cold Steve Austin, not the original choice to win that summer's King of the Ring tournament (that was Triple H), won the whole thing, and during his victory speech, he gave the proclamation heard ‘round the world: "Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!" The WWF, whether it wanted it or not, was about to get an attitude adjustment. It certainly needed it, with the nWo storyline in WCW quickly making that company the one to watch.
Defining Moment: Let's be honest: not a lot of you were watching RAW in 1996 (especially in the second half of the year, and I can't blame ya). Even I was full-on WCW around this time. Plus, many of the best matches that year took place in Japan. If you know of a good match on RAW that year, let me know and I'll include it and credit you. As for a defining moment, I might as well go with one of the most controversial moments not only of the year, but in the history of the WWF/E. On November 4, Brian Pillman, recovering from an ankle injury (suffered at the hands of his former friend/tag team partner Stone Cold Steve Austin), was made aware that Austin was heading to his house to finish the job. Eventually, after fighting some of the neighbors, Steve got in the house. At that point, Austin 3:16 met Pillman's 9mm gun. And it was awkward and chaotic for everyone. No shots were fired (thankfully), but USA Network wasn't too happy about the angle (you know, with the whole threatening to kill a guy thing), as they were forced to issue an on-air apology the next week.
Year 5: 1997
Against the backdrop of financial peril, sinking ratings, and superior competition, the World Wrestling Federation was on the verge of bankruptcy, and folding operations. Nonetheless, they pressed forward, slowly infusing more compelling storylines and characters, while tweaking others. Bret Hart, the consummate sportsman, became a staunch anti-American. Shawn Michaels, the boy toy with the flashy moveset, became a degenerate prankster. Hunter Hearst Hemsley, Greenwich blueblood, became Triple H, Shawn Michaels' favorite bro. Rocky Maivia, smiling third-generation blue-chipper, became The Rock, a jock with expensive clothes that liked to refer to himself in the third person. Stone Cold Steve Austin, blue-collar anti-authority employee, became... Stone Cold Steve Austin, blue-collar anti-authority employee with a penchant for four-letter words and middle fingers. Even RAW changed, becoming RAW is WAR and expanding to two hours (nearly a full year after Nitro did) and giving the stage a major makeover. But the biggest character makeover came almost purely by accident.
Defining Match: Plenty to pick from during 1997: the three-on-three flag match, Sid vs. Bret Hart in a cage a week before WrestleMania XIII, Austin and Shawn Michaels' surprising tag title win (and Austin and Dude Love's later that year), the first European Championship match, Austin vs. Hart II (might have been III if you count Survivor Series from the previous year). But I'll go with Mick Foley debuting his Cactus Jack persona in the WWF in Madison Square Garden against Triple H, in (you guessed it) a hardcore match. And Cactus Jack was in all his Cactus Jack "go hard as a motherfucker" glory. The New York City crowd ate it up, especially when Jack dropped an elbow off the Titantron and piledrove Triple H through a table (and not one of those flimsy ones you see nowadays). It was a flash of ECW, and a sign of things to come. A little more than two years later, the two fought in the same building in a street fight at the Royal Rumble event.
Defining Moment: Quite a bit to choose from here, but since I teased it two paragraphs earlier, I'll go with the "Bret Screwed Bret" interview from November 17. The Vince McMahon in this interview appeared far different from the Vince McMahon as lead announcer for the WWF. Many fans didn't realize until a few months earlier that the owner of the company was its over-the-top lead announcer for many years. In a sit-down interview with Jim Ross, McMahon explained his rationale for screwing Bret Hart out of the WWF title on the way out, and in essence made it clear that if you screwed with the puppetmaster or his interests, the puppetmaster would screw with you. In that one interview, one of television's greatest villains was accidentally on purpose created.
What are your favorite memories from the early days of RAW?
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