AS I SEE IT - 9/22/2000
A welcome this week to Sunday Night SLAM, the website supporting the Philadelphia-based Sunday Night SLAM radio program, found at http://www.picubed.com/~rasslinradio; Smackdown Central, located at: http://smackdowncentrall.virtualave.net, and the returning Wrestling's Best.
An era ended last Monday night, as the World Wrestling Federation presented its final Monday Night RAW on USA Network. The WWF ended a 17 year history with USA Networks, which began with the showing of WWF house shows from Madison Square Garden, then the Prime Time Wrestling program, with taped matches and studio commentary.
On January 11, 1993, the WWF made a change in its Monday night programming with the one hour Monday Night RAW, initially run at the Manhattan Center with Vince McMahon, Randy Savage, and New York comic Rob Bartlett, with Sean Mooney doing interviews...and Bobby Heenan.Some of the in-ring talent that night was Yokozuna, Koko B. Ware, Steiner Brothers, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty, and Curt Hennig.
This was the very same Manhattan Center (but a different section of the building) that ECW recently ran two nights of shows in.
The second show featured a memorable match with Curt Hennig and Ric Flair in a "loser leaves town" match as Flair returned to WCW to begin the program that would lead to the classic Vader-Flair Starrcade match.
It's important to remember that even though it was only 7 1/2 years ago chronologically... it was light years ago, in terms change within the wrestling industry. This was an era where kayfabe was still considered very important, where the Internet didn't exist, and where "dirtsheets" like the Observer and Torch were seen as suspect by many within the business. So this column will consist of some of my memories and history of that era up to the present.
Monday Night RAW was an interesting change for the nationally-based company that was the pre-eminent wrestling company in the United States, after its national expansion in the 1980s. The RAW formula was very different than that of Prime Time Wrestling: instead of canned matches, with studio voice overs and canned chat, RAW was a show shot to a live audience, with angles as they happened.
Regulars at these Monday Night RAW tapings like 1wrestling.com's Mike Johnson (who did a column on his experiences there two weeks ago that fans should read) described the Manhattan Center as a upscale ECW Arena type atmosphere, in a much nicer part of town, but with characters that made the ECW Arena seem....well... I'll let you read Mike's column for those.
I will mention one of them: a young girl chomping gum and twirling her hair one night in the front row at Manhattan Center, that the camera operator seemed to fall in love with that night...who turned out to be....Francine Fournier, now ECW's Francine.
After about a year, RAW moved out of the Manhattan Center and traveled to various regular WWF venues.
Later in 1993, the broadcasting team dropped Rob Bartlett and became a team of Vince McMahon, Randy Savage, and Bobby Heenan. Then on December 6, 1993, Gorilla Monsoon "kicked Bobby Heenan out of the WWF forever" in one of the classier and funnier farewells to a performer leaving a company, as Heenan left the World Wrestling Federation saluting the building with tears in his eyes in order to go to WCW weeks later.
Late 1993 and 1994 featured Jim Cornette doing double-duty with Smoky Mountain Wrestling and the WWF, along with the Heavenly Bodies. It featured the debut of the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, along with such names as the Quebecers, Bushwhackers, Johnny Polo, Lou Albano, IRS, Tatanka, Kevin (Diesel) Nash, Bret Hart, Jeff Jarrett and Rick Martel, the Headshrinkers, the 1-2-3 Kid, and Owen and Bret Hart.
The angles and characters in RAW still had a healthy dose of the old WWF cartoon style, as in the ones where Mike (IRS) Rotundo "tore up Tatanka's headdress", in the "Undertaker" sightings; or in characters like Duke "The Dumpster" Droese or Thurman "Sparky" Plugg (aka Bob Holly).
Some assorted memorable moments in 1994 and 1995 included a brief (and periodic) return to women's wrestling with Madusa (Alundra Blayze) Miceli, Japanese legend Bull Nakano, and perennial Heidi Lee Morgan, Shonoki Anoia, Aja Kong, Chaparita Asari, and Tunako Wananabi; a glimpse of the future as the January 9, 1995 RAW brought Hakushi debuting against a very young Matt Hardy, the buildup to the Lawrence Taylor-Bam Bam Bigelow confrontation at WrestleMania, and the "memorable" (!?) debut of Steve McMichael.
The May 1, 1995 RAW brought the on-camera debut of the man who started out as a "blueblood snob"... who few would ever later become part of the legendary "WWF Clique", and who would be part of some of the most memorable matches and angles of 1999 and 2000... Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
Mid-1995 brought Bob Backlund "campaigning", Savio Vega, Kevin (Diesel) Nash, Sid "Justice", Ted Dibiase, Jerry Lawler, Owen Hart, the British Bulldog, Jean-Pierre Lafitte, the Smoking Gunns, Man Mountain Rock...and the debut of "Sunny" and "Skip", better known as Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch.
July 1995 brought the debut of Brian "Roadie" James along with Jeff Jarrett's "Double J" and the (however brief) tenure of "Dean" Douglas.
But the Monday Night Raw of July 24, 1995 brought signs that things were changing for RAW and the WWF...with the introduction of Goldust. I remember watching that promo and having my jaw drop that a character like this was going to be in the WWF.
Shawn Michaels finally started to hit his stride as a singles worker in summer 1995. Michaels was also involved in one of the WWF's first "shoot angles" in his November 20, 1995 match with Owen Hart, where Michaels "collapsed" in the middle of the match after an "kick to the head" by Hart.
As 1995 passed into 1996, the WWF was faced with serious challenge as WCW debuted Monday Nitro in direct competition with RAW on September 1, 1995. WCW also signed workers from ECW, including Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and gave RAW competition with a more athletic product.
Although no one knew it yet, January 15, 1996, would bring the WWF the answer to that challenge. It would bring the WWF the man who would become one of the greatest merchandising and TV ratings machines in the history of the business...debuting on RAW at the Bob Carpenter Center was the "Ringmaster"....who would later become known as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
That night, Vince McMahon also started taking on WCW through satirical skits, with the first of the "Billionaire Ted's Wrasslin' Warroom" series, as well as "Larry Fling Live with the 'Huckster' and 'Nacho Man'", and "Geriatric Control Center with Scheme Gene".
Two moths later, on March 4, 1996, RAW presented the debut promo for Mick "Mankind" Foley. Very few, except those of us who has seen him as Cactus Jack in his legendary series with Eddie Gilbert and his time in ECW, had any idea what Mick Foley would mean to the promotion over the following four plus years.
At the same time, in a tactic that the Parents Television Council would later come to critique, the WWF would begin selling sex bigtime with Tammy "Sunny" Sytch and Rena "Sable" Mero pushed hard as sex symbols to its increasingly adult-oriented product.
To directly combat the WCW's athletic undercard, we started seeing matches where Shawn Michaels got to show his incredible talent, including an equally incredible match with his former Midnight Rockers mate, Marty Jannetty on July 1, 1996. Brian Pillman was also signed away from WCW.
On the September 30, 1996 RAW, Steve Austin and Jake Roberts began the program that would result in the most well-known merchandising slogan in wrestling as Steve Austin responded to Roberts's real-life religious hypocrisy with his "Austin 3:16" slogan.
The November 4, 1996 RAW featured the most controversial angle in the program's history, with Steve Austin stalking Brian Pillman, attacking Pillman's friends at his house, breaking into the house, Pillman pulling a gun on Steve Austin, with unseen gunfire.
But even with the more adult direction...the corny characters weren't entirely gone. Such gimmicks as Freddie Joe Floyd (Tracy Smothers), TL Hopper (Tony 'Dirty White Boy' Anthony), Salvatore Sincere, Phineus Godwinn, and Barry "Stalker" Windham made brief comebacks on RAWs throughout late 1996.
The RAW of November 30, 1996 brought another one of those debuts whose impact wouldn't become clear until much later....the debut of Rocky Maivia. Maivia was pushed too hard at first, to a hostile crowd reaction, then turned heel as part of the "Nation of Domination" later in winter 1997, and then was turned back babyface in March 1997 as the NOD turned on him, as he'd shown himself to be ready for the push he'd received six months earlier.
January 1997 brought out a returning Bret Hart to do a "shoot interview" about his future, and whether or not he would sign with the WWF, or go to WCW.
On February 3, 1997, Monday Night RAW went to a two hour format, as the "Attitude" era began in the WWF. RAW was hosted by the current Jim Ross, and Jerry Lawler combination, along with Vince McMahon who'd been hosting since the show's debut.
Names like the returning Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Sid Vicious, British Bulldog, Owen Hart, Doug Furnas, Phil Lafon, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley, Savio Vega, the Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson were featured on that show.
In an attempt to break the momentum of what had turned into ratings domination by WCW's competing Monday Nitro, ECW was brought in as Jerry Lawler "challenged" ECW on February 17, 1997. The "challenge" answered on the following week's show with Taz, Mikey Whipwreck, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, D-Von Dudley, and Sandman; with Paul Heyman doing a call-in to RAW the week after that, and interview the week after that.
All those appearances weren't out the goodness of Paul Heyman's heart, given that all these occurred just before ECW's initial PPV, "Barely Legal".
The image of RAW changed radically to "RAW is WAR", which opened on March 10th, with an opening featuring a cranked up Marilyn Manson "Beautiful People" dropping the jaws of those of us from the Northeast who had been longtime WWF viewers.
Other attempts to break the Nitro stranglehold on that groundbreaking RAW is WAR brought luchadors from EMLL in, with the March 10th RAW airing Pentagon/Heavy Metal/Pierroth-Octagon/Hector Garza/Latin Lover, and on March 24th airing El Mosco de La Merced/Histeria/Abismo Negro - Venum/Super Nova/Discovery. Later that summer, Michinoku Pro's Great Sasuke and TAKA Michinoku worked, as did Yoshihiro Tajiri with TAKA Michinoku the following week. Early fall brought mini superstar Mascarita Sagrada (as Max Mini), Pantera, Super Loco, Aguila, and Puerto Rican stars Jose Estrada and Jesus Castillo.
The Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels program that resulted in the most well-known wrestling doublecross in history in Montreal also began that night on March 24th.
Some of the most white hot crowd reactions came in 1997 from the US-Canada feud with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman as the heel Hart Foundation (aka Team Canada) against Shawn Michaels and company.
July 21, 1997 brought a hot Bret Hart-Vince McMahon ringside altercation (that unknowingly foreshadowed events in November) with profanity normally unheard on TV.
Brian Pillman did a series of "XXX Files" segments with Terri Runnels which pushed the envelope and then some, that ended prematurely with the September 29th RAW, after the death of Pillman due to hereditary heart problems and drug use that next weekend in a Minnesota hotel room.
Throughout 1997, there were more and more controversial elements in RAW and WWF programming such as the Nation of Domination, and the Degeneration X "racial graffiti" angle designed to "implicate Bret Hart's 'Team Canada'", and the "XXX Files" series. There were also the real-life controversial moments, such as the "Why, Bret, Why"? interview where Vince McMahon attempted to justify the doublecross of Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1997, as well as the skits ridiculing Hart.
January 1998 began with Degeneration X and Stone Cold Steve Austin riding high, and the buildup for Mike Tyson's involvement in WrestleMania. Terry Funk as "Chainsaw Charlie" and Cactus Jack battled the New Age Outlaws. February 1998 featured the "Sable incident" with Luna Vachon. March and April featured the battles between Kane and the Undertaker, and the return of the Road Warriors as LOD 2000 and Too Cold Scorpio.
The May 4 RAW featured for the last time a great duo...Terry Funk and Mick Foley in a Falls Count Anywhere, No DQ match.
The war against WCW was on in full force as D-Generation X "invaded" the CNN Center, with skits shot until police got wise and chased DX and the WWF camera crew out of the building. It wasn't the last skit for DX as the "bad boys" of the WWF, with numerous hilarious skits throughout the year, not to mention the DX "parodies".
May 18, 1998 featured Sean Morley debuting as "porn star" Val Venis against Too Cold Scorpio. Very little was left to the imagination with the promos for this gimmick.
1998 featured something unique for the WWW or any wrestling promotion, the "Brawl for All". Marketed as an apparently legit Toughman type tournament, it proved the advantages of having storylines over competition, the night that Bart Gunn knocked out, the obviously designated winner of the tournament, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Needless to say, that was the last we saw of any kind of push for Bart Gunn who was soon exiled to Japan.
As "Mankind" returned in 1998, Mick Foley's comic side was brought out with Mankind turning from the disturbed, violent characters he was originally scripted as to a more comic character, with some of the hilarious adventures between Vince McMahon and Foley, including Vince's "visit in the hospital", and Mankind's "beauty treatments".
The controversial was there as well. A running storyline was done regarding Road Warrior Hawk's drug habit, implying that Darren Drozdov was Hawk's "drug pusher". The November 16, 1998 went so far as to feature Hawk "threatening suicide" by jumping off of the Titantron. Darren Drozdov then proceeds to "push Hawk off of the Titantron" after "going up to talk him down".
If that wasn't enough, there was the December 7, 1998 RAW where Undertaker "crucified" Steve Austin, did it to Big Boss Man on March 8, 1999, and to Stephanie McMahon on April 26th on something the WWF cryptically referred to as the "Undertaker's symbol"... which was, in fact, a cross. Yet another controversial angle was the Terri Runnels miscarriage angle in January 1999.
This takes us, more or less, to the present day...with largely current storylines.
It seems sad that neither the WWF or USA thought to do a retrospective on the last Monday Night RAW. USA was even petty enough after the Delaware Court appeal of the USA/Viacom/WWF case to prohibit the WWF from airing a still ad about their move to TNN. Vince McMahon got around that by having Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler mention the move to TNN constantly throughout the show.
So this AS I SEE IT was an (somewhat long) attempt to give the retrospective that Monday night lacked; from the moments I enjoyed and remembered. Readers, no doubt, have their own.
As for my most memorable moments...
The most memorable match of the RAW on USA years, for personal reasons, was watching Mick Foley finally win his World Title on January 4, 1999 in a taped RAW that was given free publicity by the WCW's Tony Schiavone as he gave away the ending, and said "Mick Foley...World Champion? That will really put asses in the seats...". The WWF took the opportunity to deliberately gave away the ending of the taped match on its website...and thousands of fans indeed let Mick Foley put THEIR ass in their seats to do a blowaway rating that night that crushed Nitro.
The most memorable storyline of the seven years of RAW on USA was easily the McMahon-Austin storyline. From March 30, 1998 to July 1999, some of the hottest, most over the top TV in wrestling came from it.
I know many of us claim we'd all rather see more wrestling. But the fact of the matter is that the weekly McMahon-Austin soap opera kept viewers and picked up viewers, as they wondered what would happen next between the two storyline protagonists. Each week, we got to see Austin and McMahon go at it in one way or the other.
From the first stunner on Vince McMahon...to Steve Austin dumping cement into Vince McMahon's Corvette... to the "Corporate" Steve Austin skit, where the crowd was played along until Austin did the inevitable and crotch shotted McMahon ...to the tease of McMahon-Austin in the ring at the April 13, 1998 RAW in Philadelphia to hearing the live crowd explode in the loudest reaction I've ever heard from a Philadelphia live crowd...
A funny part of it was wondering what new vehicular toy Austin would come out with each week. My favorites were Austin coming in on a beer truck and giving a beer bath to Vince and Shane McMahon and "The Rock". Then there was the night he came in on the Zamboni. Not to mention the night Austin drove a monster truck over Rocky Maivia's car....
Then there was the "battle for control of the company" between Austin and Team McMahon in June. They finally wound up the Austin-McMahon angle in July, but here's hoping that Steve Austin can come back to resume it in some form at a future date.
A close second was the Andrew "Test" Martin-Stephanie McMahon "Wedding angle"
The leadup sometimes bordered on corny, with "wedding proposals" and such; but it did the one thing necessary: it got the live crowd and TV audience INVOLVED.
The "Wedding" with its payoff of the tape showing the HHH-Stephanie marriage in Vegas with her "unconscious" and "helpless" thrown in at the end as the thing that stopped the wedding was priceless. You knew something would stop the wedding, but were left guessing if it would be the return of the Undertaker, a DX run-in, or even one thought of Shawn Michaels somehow getting into it to stop the wedding.
Then we had Vince McMahon "going over the edge because his daughter had been wronged", only to find she was in it all along...
But tragically, the most memorable RAW ever came earlier that year with the May 24, 1999 RAW, done the night after the death of Owen Hart in the ring in Kansas City.
I wrote this in my May 25, 1999 AS I SEE IT:
"Indeed, real men do cry.
On May 24th, many of them did.
That night, the staff and workers of the World Wrestling Federation dedicated their two hour Monday Night RAW to their fallen friend and co-worker in a moving tribute at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. The irony of the location had to be painful for the entire Titan crew, as only 18 months previously, Brian Pillman was mourned by the WWF and the fans after his death earlier that day alone in a hotel room hundreds of miles away in Minneapolis.
The ten bell count was sounded as the entire Titan staff came out under a picture of Owen Hart on the Titantron. Many of those there were openly weeping for Hart, most notably Brian (Road Dog) James, Mark Henry, and Paul (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) Levesque.
Monday Night RAW had numerous segments, with wrestlers and office personnel expressing their feelings about Owen....many of which were humorous, telling of Hart's legendary 'ribs' in the locker room and on the road. Other reminiscences were deeply felt, by friends like Paul Levesque, Jeff Jarrett, Debra McMichael, and Brian James, repeatedly breaking down while sharing their feelings with the TV and live audiences.
In between these segments were matches dedicated to Owen Hart, devoid of existing storylines, so that as many wrestlers as possible could work matches to pay tribute to their friend. Special mentions of Hart were done all night by the boys, using special forms of all the traditional tag lines of most of the wrestlers.
The RAW tribute ended with Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross saying their last goodbyes, finally being able to let go after keeping it together for a pay-per-view and international TV/cable broadcast over a 24 hour period. Ross said, sobbing, that '...he hoped he could be as good a man as Owen had been, so he could see him again (in Heaven) some day.'
But the remark that got me crying was Jerry Lawler...the same Jerry Lawler who in real life can seem so hard-boiled and old school. He said: 'I learned a valuable lesson from Owen Hart last night. As I got into the ring, and held...lifted up Owen's head in the ring...if he could have had one more thing...he would have asked for one more day to tell the people he loved what he thought of them. Never leave home without letting the people in your life know that.'
The show then ended with Steve Austin coming out to the ring, with his house show tradition of bringing out two beers, often handed to referee Earl Hebner. In a silent tribute that spoke louder than any words, as a graphic of Owen Hart was shown on the Titantron...with tears in his eyes, Steve Austin opened up his beer...toasted the picture of his friend, then quietly laid down a lone beer on the mat.
Here's hoping there are more memorable moments that are exciting for Monday Night RAW at its new home, The National Network, beginning September 25.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)