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The Early Years (1993-1996)
In January 1993, Vince McMahon (Charismatic Chairman of the WWE) made the bold move to create a prime time Wrestling show to air on Monday nights, going up against Monday Night Football and popular sitcoms of the time. It was a risk, a huge risk, but then again everyone said the same about Wrestlemania and that proved to be successful. People had their doubts but after over 1000 episodes Monday Night Raw is still standing and is the number one wrestling show amongst fans the world over and this coming Monday Night, Raw will celebrate 20 years. Raw was unlike anything else that any other wrestling promotion had ever done. Rather then the traditional “superstar vs. Enhancement talent” match on a Saturday mornings, Monday Night Raw was full of matches normally reserved for pay per views! The early years proved difficult thought. The roster was full of aging stars and stale gimmicks. Hulk Hogan, the most famous wrestler of all time and the WWE’s biggest draw, was leaving the company and they had to create new stars in Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. The year before that, the WWE’s reputation was harmed with a steroid scandal which dragged to the mid-90’s. In 1995, WWE’s rivals, World Championship Wrestling, launched their own show competing head to head with Raw and pilled the pressure on the WWE, this time period is best know amongst wrestling fans as “The Monday Night Wars” and it became the biggest night of the week for wrestling.
The Attitude Era (1997-2001)
Like many fans, my fondest memories of Raw were between the years of 1997-2001, otherwise known as “The Attitude Era”. Programming was starting to become edgy and storylines were more of an adult nature rather then the campy cartoony storylines of the past. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels bridged the gap of the Hogan era but we also saw the emergence of amazing talent such as The Undertaker, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Kane and the biggest star of the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a rebellious redneck who was an instant hit amongst the fans and the face of the attitude era. We also saw Vince McMahon become one of the biggest heels in history as the evil, corrupt chairman “Mr. McMahon”. The sudden change of direction was done because WCW were dominating the ratings so the WWE had to do something! I’ve re-watched many episodes of Raw from 1997, a time where WCW were miles out in the ratings, and you can see the wrestlers putting in 110%, working together as a team to not only improve the ratings but to continue entertaining the fans during a difficult time where the WWE was facing serious financial trouble!
When I look back on the attitude era, I think about the dept of the roster. Along with the names I’ve just mentioned, the mid-card was starting to fill out with guys like Chris Jericho, Edge, Christian, The Hardy Boys, Eddie Guerrero, Rikishi, The Dudley Boys, Ken Shamrock and more. The Divas were also key during this time; Lita, Trish Stratus, Sable and Sunny, just to name a few. I want to give credit to Vince McMahon and Vince Russo (Russo left for WCW in October 1999) for coming up with all the different characters on the roster; it seemed as if every person on the roster had a gimmick unique to them. Jim Ross was the head of talent relations during this period so he was responsible for bringing together the bulk of the roster during this timeframe so he deserves a lot of credit for the WWE’s success at this time. Speaking about JR, he was one half of the legendary commentary team along with Jerry “The King” Lawler. One of the best commentary duos since the days of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
The Roster Split & Beyond (2002-2012)
By 2002, things felt different for the WWE and for Monday Night Raw. Guys that we were used to like Austin, Rock and Undertaker were not regularly on Raw anymore thanks to the roster split and other things going on at the time. Triple H was still one the key guys and was the centrepiece of Raw between 2003 & 2004. After the draft, Undertaker wrestled mostly on Smackdown, Steve Austin retired in April ’03 and The Rock began to focus more on his movie career. With all of this going on more “new” talent was coming through the ranks these talents include John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista, all of whom are former World Champions. John Cena is still one of the main guys on the roster and has been so for the past 7 years and even now, we see more new talent coming through like Dolph Ziggler, Wade Barrett and Ryback. The future is bright for the WWE. There on the right track. Through the years, we’ve seen legends return back to the WWE. Shawn Michaels returned to the WWE in 2002. He returned as a changed man with a different outlook on life and was more cooperative then ever before. The egotistic HBK of ’97 was long gone! Nowadays, two of the top guys on the roster are CM Punk & Daniel Bryan, two of the biggest names on the indy circuit now on the top of the ladder in the WWE. It’s amazing seeing the evolution of these two guys since joining the WWE, they deserve all the praise they receive and they’ve got many more years left in them.
There have been so many moments on Raw which will stick with me forever. I remember D-X invading WCW and 1-2-3 Kid defeating Razor Ramon in one of the biggest upsets in WWE history. But if I were to pick my all time favourite then it has got to be Mankind’s first world title victory. I remember it well; it was the first Raw of 1999. Mankind was going to face The Rock for the WWE title in a lumberjack match with the Corporation & D-X acting as the lumberjacks, I was (and still am) a huge fan of Mick Foley so I was looking forward to this one. After an outside brawl between the Corporation & D-X and help from Steve Austin, Mankind won his first of 3 WWE titles. Man, I’m telling you I was punching the air in delight. Watching Foley win his first title was like watching the underdog team win the big match, Foley’s over the top celebrations were hilarious. I’ve seen those celebrations many times since and I still get a kick out of it. It’s worth noting that that episode of Raw was a taped show, WCW gave away the result of that match on their show (WCW used to give away results of Raw in the early years but by the late 90’s Raw was starting to show more live shows) however, that tactic backfired on them. As soon as they mentioned Foley was going to win the WWE title, over half a million viewers switched the channel at that point to watch the title change and the funny thing was, if WCW never mentioned that they would have won the ratings war on that night! Crazy huh? I think the reason people switched the channel wasn’t just because a title change but it was because Mick Foley was going to be the new champion. Foley has a cult following amongst wrestling fans and people genuinely were happy that he reached the top. He deserves it.
I also remember other moments like Kurt Angle’s moonsault from the top of the cage, Steve Austin attacking Bret Hart in an ambulance, Jeff Hardy almost defeating Undertaker in a ladder match, Raw is Owen tribute show and the debut of Chris Jericho, the greatest debut in wrestling history. Unbelievable! Of course there were outstanding moments from recent times such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels embracing each other in the ring in 2010, Nexus destroying the entire set and CM Punk’s infamous “shoot” promo in 2011.
The star of the show
If I had to choose one person who was the outstanding star of Raw in its 20 year history it would have to be Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stone Cold was the man! No doubt about it. He revolutionised the entire landscape of professional wrestling and his antics on Raw made people tune in week in week out just to see what the hell he was up to. The Austin character was a loudmouth, straight-talking redneck who stood up to authority; people lived through Austin because of his feud with McMahon. I mean who wouldn’t want to kick their boss’s ass? I touched upon the Austin/Bret feud in the previous headline and what was just one of the things that sticks out about Austin, he was involved in so much more such as giving McMahon a Stunner for the first time at MSG, the Zamboni incident, “Bang 3:16”, attacking McMahon in the hospital and the beer bath from 1999. But to me, the best Steve Austin moment from Raw was his confutation with Mike Tyson. I remember watching this with a few friends and we were buzzing about it. We were talking about it for week and we were convinced that a Tyson v Austin match was going to take place. Yeah, we were really that dumb! Steve Austin, to me, will always be known as the man who made Monday Night Raw popular. He got everyone talking and he helped the WWE turn the tide on WCW and to help make the attitude era as popular as it was.
Raw today (2013)
So here we are, after 20 years WWE Raw is a strong television show. They’re still one of the most popular shows on cable television and the company, as well as the USA network, is making a lot of money from the show. Most shows would kill for the rating success that Raw has had over the years. Come to think of it, it’s hard to think of a time where we never had Raw in our lives, it’s hard to imagine that. Whiles the WWE loves to remind us of their success (“The longest running episodic television show in history”) they have every right to be proud of that. They outlasted WCW after overcoming 80+ weeks on the wrong side of a ratings war and overcoming looming bankruptcy. TNA is a much smaller company who pose little threat to the WWE, unless a billionaire takes over TNA and provides a cable show deal then I don’t think the WWE have anything to worry about.
The two best things that the WWE have ever done were Wrestlemania and Raw. Wrestlemania helped launch the company raise its profile and Raw turned WWE into a dominating force on cable television.
Monday is still the most important night of the week for wrestling because of Raw. It’s a still standing after outlasting the competition with no end in sight.
Congratulations WWE on the success of Monday Night Raw. Here’s to the next 20 years.
*Rif Van Der Sheriff