Previously on the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: … uh, not much! We’re continuing our slow, inevitable slog toward Thursday Raw Thursday — the episode where everything changes — and the best we’ve done so far is Savio Vega joining the Nation of Domination, three nonconsecutive Ahmed Johnson Is Angry segments and Mankind accidentally hitting Vader with a chair, but not really accidentally.
If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to tell us what you think about the maneuvers, quite frankly.
And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for Feb. 3, 1997.
Worst: Royal Rumble Raw
So, here’s what you need to know.
On last week’s episode, Vince McMahon announced that this would be “Royal Rumble Raw,” and that for the first time since the ’80s, fans would get to see an entire Royal Rumble match for free on TV. USA Network was hype about it and gave them two hours to show the whole thing. The pay-per-view market was still a big deal back then, though, so cable companies were pissed. They freaked out and threatened lawsuits, so at the last minute WWF had to back out of the Rumble promise and, whoops, were left with two hours of empty primetime.
The solution? Air footage from the Toronto house show that’d happened a few days earlier, dub over it with some commentary and show a bunch of “Royal Rumble highlights.” So what you’re left with is two hours of Vince McMahon and Dok Hendrix screaming over the fuzziest, darkest and most boring house show footage ever. Oh, and Raw is now suddenly two hours without any announcement or fanfare. Next week the show is on a Thursday, because reasons.
This is what most of the show looks like. It’s like trying to have a wrestling show during the ending of [REC].
The announcing is hilarious here, with Vince McMahon calling the roughly half-full Skydome a “capacity crowd” and going on and on about how WWF doesn’t do “bait-and-switch” tactics like Nitro. Keep in mind that this is the guy who died in an exploding limousine only to come back to life a couple weeks later speaking. Also, he’s dubbing over “we don’t do bait-and-switches” commentary on a taped show. What, are you gonna go in and CGI-in a Crush run-in for the main? Is there a Savio Vega hologram running around I don’t know about?
The opening match is Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vader, which begins with Bret Hart running in to fight Austin and ends with Austin stunning the referee for no reason. HOUSE SHOW in capital letters with lights and flashing arrows around it.
Best: Militant Jim Ross
The best visual of the entire episode is heel Savio Vega walking to the ring in a Silent Bob trench coat, flanked by the Nation of Domination, with cowboy-ass nesting doll Jim Ross serpentine weaving his way through them to get an interview. Also, the Nation of Domination really should’ve been called the “Nation of I Slam.”
Worst: Savio Vega
In Your House: Actual House Show continues with SAVIO VEGA DARK taking on Flash Funk, who is still dressing like a rubber chicken. To give you an idea of how impactful and effective this match is, it ends when Funk misses a moonsault and Vega just covers him or three. Flash Funk loses to Savio Vega via defense.
After the match, progressive thinker Ahmed Johnson discusses the mental-health epidemic:
I love that they managed to change Ahmed Johnson’s character from “enraged simpleton monster” to “possibly mentally and physically handicapped guy who is off his meds and won’t stop running at people and trying to hit them with a board.”
They should’ve changed the name of the Pearl River Plunge to the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Or like, teamed him with Vader, who is clearly the most depressed dude on the roster.
Best/Worst: Sid Over-explains A Roller Coaster
Next week, on the flagship show of the promotion that would never bait-and-switch you, Sycho Sid challenges Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship. Here, Sid shows up to cut a weirdly long promo that is supposed to put the fear of God in Michaels, but mostly just explains how roller coasters work.
I’m paraphrasing, but:
[Jimmy Hart-style rip-off Psycho music] “YOU HEARD SHAWN MICHAELS SAY THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP IS A ROLLER COASTER, PHYSICALLY MENTALLY EMOTIONALLY AND SOCIALLY. OUR RELATIONSHIP IS LITERALLY A ROLLER COASTER. PEOPLE SIT ON OUR FRIENDSHIP AND RIDE IT FOR FUN AT AMUSEMENT PARKS. AND WHEN THE ROLLER COASTER IS DONE GOING UP AND DOWN, UP AND DOWN, UP AND DOWN, AND THEN THE ROLLER COASTER STOPS, AND THE PEOPLE GET OFF THE ROLLER COASTER, THEN SHAWN MICHAELS YOU WILL SEE THAT I AM THE MASTER AND THE RULER OF THE ROLLER COASTER. I MEAN, THE WORLD.”
I want to remake My Dinner With Andre with Sid and Ahmed.
Best: Owen Hart
There’s not much better than Owen Hart at a house show.
Here, Owen teams up with the British Bulldog against Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon, who they’ve been wrestling for weeks. This one is fun and echoes the Raw matches, with Owen and Bulldog trying to cheat a bunch but ultimately just getting frustrated with one another. If Furnas or LaFon had had personalities instead of being assembled at the Dean Malenko Emotional Robot Factory they could’ve capitalized.
Anyway, the finish comes when Bulldog accidentally backdrops Owen out of the ring, and Owen goes down with a knee injury. This gets him counted out and they lose, but here’s the fun part: every time Bulldog isn’t looking, Owen is fine. He hobbles around on the outside, Bulldog gets distracted and he just jogs down the aisle. When Bulldog shows up again, Owen’s clutching his leg and doing big dramatic “time out” gestures. They shake hands and he tells Bulldog to lead the way to the back, and when Bulldog does, Owen turns and throws his arms up and hops up and down with a, “woo!”
Owen was the greatest. He’s like Bret Hart, minus 20 years of thinking wrestling is real.
The opposite of Owen Hart is Crush. I think it’s time that we cut the bullsh*t, come together as a people and agree that Crush is the worst wrestler ever. Hacksaw Jim Duggan is Kenta Kobashi compared to Crush.
Goldust tries to get a good match out of him, but all Crush can do is stand still, awkwardly stomp, stand still, awkwardly stomp, then do a weird almost Glacier-like karate pose before throwing a straight “strike” to the kidneys or whatever that lands with the impact of a butterfly landing on a f*cking leaf. This guy took Ox Baker’s finish, a move that killed dudes and started riots, and turned it into and exaggerated baby-punch to the armpit.
Goldust succumbs to one of these after Savio Vega phones in from Zion and spin kicks him in the back of the head while the ref is distracted. Basically WWF house shows were like episodes of Guy’s Grocery Games, where everyone had to wrestle with the sabotage, “ref distraction.”
But yeah, f*ck Crush. He made David Flair look like Ric.
Worst: The Blackjacks Will Ride Again!
In a short vignette that looks like one of the “has this ever happened to YOU” parts of an infomercial about arthritis medication, Blackjack Lanza sits around a campfire telling the story of the NEW Blackjacks, and how they’re gonna ride again, “hard and fast.” The story he’s trying to tell is actually closer to, “what would happen if Justin Hawk Bradshaw and The Stalker dyed their mustaches black?”
yeah, no kidding
Worst: Check His Knee And His Smile
The next segment on the show advertised as “Royal Rumble Raw” and promised to show you the entire Royal Rumble and ended up showing you a house show instead that swears to God they’d never bait-and-switch you is an interview with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. As he’s walking to the ring, Jim Ross assures us that Shawn “isn’t making promises he can’t keep,” and at Thursday Raw Thursday Shawn Michaels promises you he’s going to put the title on the line against Sid. This show’s so full of bait-and-switch it should’ve just been two hours of a dom and a sub fishing.
Shawn compares himself to Muhammad Ali here, saying that everybody hated Ali when he was champion, but now they call him The Greatest. Bret Hart shows up and goes full Cutthroat Canadian Dad From The ’90s on him:
The best part is how Bret pronounces “Muhammad Ali.” Mo-HAMMIN’-alley??
As per usual, Stone Cold Steve Austin shows up and throws hands at Bret for attacking him earlier in the night. While they’re brawling on the outside, Sycho Sid returns and stares Michaels down. We cut to a break, and when we come back, Shawn is doing that “line in the sand” thing with the WWF Championship at Bret’s feet. When Bret doesn’t budge, Shawn tries to pick up the belt and Bret puts his foot on it. So awesome. Bret tosses the belt to Shawn and flips him off to the happy clapping hands of 25,000-ish Canadians.
Isn’t it a totally weird coincidence that Shawn Michaels “lost his smile” immediately after this Raw in Canada, where Bret Hart got cheered over him and made him look like a punk? What a crazy coincidence!
Worst: Face It, Tiger, You Just Hit The Jackpot
This living Eric Wareheim character is Tiger Ali Singh, son of famous Indian wrestling legend Tiger Jeet Singh. WWF announced his signing at a press conference at the Skydome. Yes, he looks like Brother Love had sex with Billy Ray Cyrus.
If you don’t remember his WWF career, here’s the entire thing: He won the second (and final) Kuwait Cup Tournament, disappeared, came back as a racist Million Dollar Man and then managed D’Lo Brown and Headbanger Mosh in turbans until he got injured and slurred and had to retire. It was a low down, dirty shame.
Best, Comparatively: Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Marc Mero, Again
Triple H watching this year’s BOLA like:
This is match 18 in the best of 19 series between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and “Wildman” Marc Mero, with Sable and Mr. Hughes “banned from the Skydome.” Maybe that’s where the Brock Lesnar and Canada beef actually began. You think Mr. Hughes ever tries to go to Blue Jays games and gets turned away?
It’s good in the same way the tag match is good, which is, “passable mid-’90s WWF-style matches that don’t have Crush in them.” Helmsley has to figure out a way to cheat without the Big Cat at ringside, so he removes a turnbuckle pad and uses it as a red herring to pull an International Object out of his boot and pop Mero in the face with it for the win. Something something house show, something something bait-and-switch.
Worst: Bait, Meet Switch
Okay, so after an entire double-episode devoted to how they’d never bait-and-switch you, how do you think the advertised “no holds barred” main event of the Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson vs. Faarooq and Mankind plays out?
Somewhere in the middle of the match, Ahmed Johnson leaves the ring and chases Clarence Mason to the back, leaving The Undertaker alone to battle the heels 2-on-1. Mason reemerges with the rest of the Nation, so Ahmed kinda rejoins the match, spending most of it on the outside fighting off the entire faction. Eventually he leaves again, chasing Faarooq to the back with his 2×4. It’s important to note that per the Royal Rumble and this segment, Ahmed “hitting you with a 2 by 4” means he spins it around a bunch like he’s Morgan on The Walking Dead and then just kinda touches it to your lower back.
So yeah, that leaves us with the totally not baited or switched main event of The Undertaker vs. Mankind, one-on-one … well, except a run-in from VADER, technically the third man to run-in on the match. Vader splashes Undertaker and incapacitates him, then for some magical reason decides to order Mankind to pick him back up and hold him for a chairshot. Any deaf and blind people out there unable to guess what happens next? No? Undertaker moves, Vader “accidentally” hits Mankind with the chair instead, and Taker takes out both dudes to win the match. After the match, Ahmed returns and chases Undertaker to the back with a 2 by 4. I’m kidding, but barely.
We finally make it to the Fireworks Factory.
If you’ve never seen this show, you’re in for a wonderful lesson in how history can be rewritten and reshaped by the craziest things. The WWF Champion decides he doesn’t want to be the WWF Champion anymore, changing the course of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s trajectory forever. The Intercontinental Championship changes hands, and the backlash from that transforms one of the least interesting characters on the show into one of the biggest stars in the world. The old WWF starts to say goodbye, and the new one says hello.
Also the Headbangers show up, but they aren’t wearing turbans yet, so it’s fine.
See you next week for Different Day Raw Different Day!