Best: Nostalgia For Wrestling I Never Experienced
I’ve done a handful of retro reports (like Best And Worst Of WWE No Way Out 2007 and Best And Worst Of WWF Royal Rumble 2000), but I’ve never recapped anything this old, or anything this important to my early teens. Because of this, the column requires two big disclaimers to explain my point of view.
1. I’ve been a wrestling fan from birth, but I was an NWA/WCW kid, and aside from The Wrestling Album and that Hulk Hogan workout set that came with a cassette tape of him screaming motivations at you, I wasn’t in love with the (then-) WWF. I liked it, because I liked wrestling, but it was mostly the stuff I hated about the sport, even as a kid — it was slower, broader, the wrestlers were cartoon characters and everything looked super fake.
2. As I get older (and am forced to write Raw columns on the reg) I get more and more into the stupider parts of wrestling. I don’t get excited for a good match now as I do for something gloriously unimportant to happen, and would legitimately rather see David Otunga sip his coffee and derisively roll his eyes about something than a 15 minute Kofi Kingston/Dolph Ziggler match. There are a lot of reasons why, and I barely understand any of them.
So yeah, as I look back at the first ever episode of Raw, I do so with the left side of my brain screaming THIS IS THE WRESTLING THAT MADE YOU SAD, THIS IS THE ONLY TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU ALMOST QUIT WATCHING and the right going LOL DAMIEN DEMENTO. I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast.
Worst: Vince McMahon, Wrestling Announcer
One thing I’m sure of is that for all his character and promotional brilliance, Vincent K. McMahon was the worst play-by-play announcer in the history of pro wrestling. Worse than TNA Mike Tenay, worse than Michael Cole. I know the guy knows a lot about wrestling (he knew Droz could puke on command before anyone else, that’s saying something), but when he’s announcing he’s just going BAHHHH BAH BAHBAHBAH BAH MON DAY NIGHT RAWWWWWW. That’s it. He’s just screaming syllables, and sometimes they make words, but most of the time they don’t.
I’ve been online long enough to have made fun of Tony Schiavone for thinking every episode of Nitro was the Greatest Night In The History Of Our Sport, but Vince thought EVERY SECOND OF EVERYTHING was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, and f**king Samu or whoever would throw a hip toss and Vince would open his f**king eggsac and start screaming AHHNN BAAAAH LIEVABLEEEEEE. Watch the Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon ladder match from WrestleMania X. That’s one of the best and most famous WWF matches ever, and Vince practically ruins it by screaming AHHNNN BAHHH LIEVABLEEEEE at everything. At EVERYTHING. Some of it can be believed, dude, they’re wrestling each other with ladders.
The other thing about him is that he’d never seen any moves before and could not identify them (LOOK AT THIS! WHATAMANEUVER) and he fell for every pinfall attempt ever made. Mr. Perfect could hip toss Ric Flair or whatever literally 20 seconds into the match and go for a cover and Flair could kick out before one, and Vince would go WAHHH TWOOO HE GOT HIM NO HE DIDN’T. Every time. Sometimes he’d go on for a week. WAHH TWOOO THREE YES HE GOT HIM MR. PERFECT WON THE MATCH IN 20 SECONDS HE BEAT RIC FLAIR HE PINNED HIM I SAW IT and then get up and gather his belongings and take off his headset and wander off, and f**king four hours later he’d be at home having dinner and his eyes would bulge out and he’d stand up and suddenly scream NO HE DIDN’T~! The worst. Just the worst.
Part of the problem with being a wrestling fan who isn’t necessarily “smart” but can pay attention is that you kinda have to hold hands with everyone else and cross the same street. The wrestling will sorta organically create the drama, and the reason matches have beginnings, middles and ends is so the beginnings and middles can make the ends exciting. I do not need to cum in my pants because The Dumpster almost pinned somebody off a bodyslam.
Worst: ROB BARTLETT, YOU GUYS
Maybe I’m a bad wrestling fan, but I’d completely forgotten about Rob Bartlett. When Bobby Heenan shows up at the beginning of the show and finds out he’s been replaced, he asks BY WHO, and Sean Mooney (who I love, because he was on my baseball blooper tapes) tells him “Rob Bartlett” frankly, Heenan and I have the same reaction. WHO?? I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ROB BARTLETT LET BOBBY HEENAN IN.
The worst kind of funny guy in our world, worse than the Twitter parody or the guy who makes memes out of everything, is the radio shock jock. A certain kind of guy gets into his mid-30s with just enough hair and just enough weight and just as many pairs of sunglasses as necessary to think that insulting people and making fart noises on their figurative graves is funny. Others, who grew up similarly but did not keep enough hair or gain enough weight or buy enough sunglasses, latch onto these comedians because easy, shitty jokes are comforting and growing up means you’re “politically correct”. So they stay these mentally obese man-children forever, and there are enough of them to work a rating’s book and that’s enough for a rich guy with a radio station to keep paying them. They say something stupid, everyone else says “hey, did you hear that stupid thing this guy says”, and somehow that reads “personal and artistic fulfillment” to Radio Shock Jocks. Also, satin jackets.
Rob Bartlett is SO BAD. I guess at some point Vince McMahon thought “Bobby Heenan has been one of the best parts of pro wrestling for 20 years, let’s replace him with that guy from Don Imus who does a Bill Clinton impression”. Don Imus is Vince McMahon’s pop culture radar, in case you ever wondered why he thought Shelton’s Mama was hilarious and didn’t understand Paul Burchill’s pirate gimmick. Oh, and with syllable screamin’ Vince and Don Imus Guy on commentary, who’d make a good third? Why, The Macho Man, of course, a guy who can’t form a cohesive sentence without sounding like he’s challenging a f**king space alien to a Kumite.
Best: Koko B. Ware Vs. Yokozuna Is The Best Possible JTG Vs. Brodus Clay
The first match on the show (WWE Raw match #1, if you’re counting) is between two Hall Of Famers — Yokozuna, a Samoan guy pretending to be Japanese, and Koko B. Ware, a black guy pretending to be Owen Hart.
It says something that this is 100% a squash match for Yoko (as it should be, because he is awesome and important and Koko B. Ware is wearing the Square Pegs theme song on his body) and it goes 3 1/2 minutes. If this happened on Raw today it’d be over in 40 seconds. Most title matches on Raw don’t go 3 1/2 minutes these days. Lex Luger’s music would’ve hit and Yokozuna would’ve been distracted, allowing Koko to roll him up for a surprise three. Yoko would beat him up for two minutes after the match and stand in the ring going BLEAHHHHH while people thumbs-downned him. “You suck” chants would happen. We’d still be expected to think Koko is nobody and Yokozuna is important, because what they say is more important than what they do.
What I’m saying is that Yokozuna looked like a dominant motherf**ker here and killed Koko, but at no point did Koko look like a nerd they found on the street and invited into the ring. He looked like a wrestler who just didn’t have it in him to take on his cool new guy.
Best: 1980s Ring Girls In 1993
Real talk: When this lady came on screen, I thought she was Sable.
After I processed it, I kept rewinding to 1) look at her early-90s bunny butt, 2) see if Beastie or one of the other GLOW girls was gonna run out and hit her in the back with a rolling pin.