Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: We traveled to Germany to crown the first European Champion in one of the best matches ever broadcast on WWF TV. But (dot dot dot) the show looked so bad and got such low ratings that this week isn’t even “Monday Night Raw.” Raw is now WAR, you guys.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War — an occurrence similar to getting a thorn stuck in your eye — for March 10, 1997.
Best: All Relative To The Size Of Your Steeple
This show’s name is Raw! That’s WAR spelled backwards!
WWE Network goes straight to the incomprehensible modern nu-metal classic ‘Thorn In Your Eye’ — more on that in a few weeks — but that doesn’t actually debut until the end of March. The new Raw opening theme (and future Smackdown opening theme for much longer) is Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People,’ which has lyrics like, “Capitalism has made it this way/Old-fashioned fascism will take it away,” illustrated by Ahmed Johnson walking into a burning warehouse full of World War II stock footage and punching everything he sees.
I love that there’s no ramping up to Raw as we know it. They go straight from the cheesy 90s intro and the country Roseanne stylings of ‘I Like It Raw’ to, “THERE’S NO TIME TO DISCRIMINATE, HATE EVERY MOTHERFUCKER THAT’S IN YOUR WAY.”
And just like that, Raw is the Raw you know. The RAW letters are gone and replaced with a giant screen nobody’ll ever get drunk and fall off of, the arena is darker, all the bumper music is metal (and jacked!) and they open the show by dumping out like 3 July 4ths-worth of pyro. Pyro and ballyhoo!
By the end of the year we’ve got ‘Thorn In Your Eye,’ Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are the announce team and Vince McMahon has left “ladies and jennamen” and “un-bee-LEAVE-able” behind in favor of being the most ridiculous and wonderful bad guy in the history of pro wrestling. The times, they are a-instantly-changin’.
Worst: Also, Raw Starts With A 20 Minute Promo
oh God no
Raw is Raw now, which means all the shit I complain about in the Best and Worst of Raw proper is coming into existence here. The first and probably most egregious of these tropes is Vince Russo’s love affair with 20-minute show-opening promos that set up matches the announce team sets up in one sentence before the involved parties have even made it to the ring. Do you love being able to skip the first quarter-hour of Raw because nothing ever happens, and you know they’re gonna show it to you three more times in MOMENTS AGO videos throughout the show? MERRY CHRISTMAS.
The first one of these starts with Sycho Sid coming to the ring to complain about having to team with the Undertaker against Mankind and The Man WCW Calls Vader in tonight’s main event. Undertaker interrupts him (aw here it goes) and says that he’ll fight Mankind and Vader alone, and that Sid should sit it out so he can be at 100% for their WWF Championship match at WrestleMania. They get in each other’s faces but are interrupted by Mankind, Vader and Paul Bearer, who call them cowards. A brawl occurs (gasp), and Vader hits Undertaker in the back of the head … but Undertaker turns around and thinks it’s SID! OH NO! So not only did the 20-minute show-opening promo see its birth here, we got the first of about a billion moments where two dudes who are feuding accidentally do wrestling to each other and get indignantly offended by it.
Raw is like a thorn
in your eye!
Worst: Roo-ah, Got You All In Check
One trope Raw hasn’t developed yet is having all the top stars fight each other on loop every week, so this week’s episode is still mostly jobber squashes. The first (and probably best) of these is Intercontinental Champion Rocky Maivia (aka “King Iaukea”) vs. awkward stalwart blueblood steroid jobber Tony Roy. Roy is pronounced “wah” (or “rr-wah”) like Patrick Roy, but Vince can’t quite get it and keeps calling him “Tony Roo-ah.” A lot of sites list this match as “Rocky Maivia vs. Tony Rua.”
Rocky gets a quick win with a seriously impressive high crossbody that covers like 3/4 of the ring, but nobody’s paying attention because the Sultan, The Iron Sheik and the Caucasian Iron Sheik Bob Backlund wander out onto the stage and scream through it. Backlund runs out of things to say about 30 seconds in, so by the end he’s just yelling, “WE WILL PROCURE THE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP! WE WILL PROCURE IT! PROCURE IT!”
They try to surround the ring and attack him after the match, but Rocky manages to escape up the ramp and find his dad’s former tag team partner, Tony Atlas, in some Bad For A WWE Hall Of Famer seats along the aisle. He pulls Atlas out of the crowd to be his backup with some suspiciously well-placed signs in the background:
Is Nitro the one that just got Tony Atlas involved in a feud against the Sultan? Because you’re right, that show sucks.
Editor’s Note: I’m a WCW homer, but the previous week’s Nitro sucked such an ass, that sign is absolutely correct.
Worst: Tres Miedo
Up next is talent from the 1997 Cruiserweight Classic, stuck here on Raw with no stories, characters or alignments and asked to mindlessly do moves while the crowd dies. WWE has always been so great at cruiserweight wrestling!
The biggest novelty of this one — for Lucha Underground fans, at least — is the presence of PENTAGON, kayfabe ancestor of pissed-off ninja skeleton and coolest pro wrestler in the world Pentagon Jr. If you’re wondering why he’s not a skeleton, he’s the “dark” version of Octagon, a Mexican Great Sasuke named after a Chuck Norris movie, and as you obviously know, 8-sided objects become evil when they drop to 5 or fewer sides.
He’s teaming up with Pierroth (who we’ve seen before) and Heavy Metal, who is pretty good until you get to the Captain Sternn part.
They’re up against tecnicos that make Galaxy look like Rey Mysterio:
That’s Octagon teaming up with the “Sexy Boys,” Hector Garza and Latin Lover. The one bent over and “presenting” is Latin Lover, who has tearaway pants that reveal tighty-whities with the Playboy logo on the hip. If you’re wondering why Garza, Latin Lover and Heavy Metal all look identical, it’s because young unmasked 90s Mexican wrestling dudes had exactly one (1) look. See also: unmasked Psicosis, unmasked Juventud Guerrera and Essa Rios.
There’s a decent fan theory out there that the AAA guys were brought into the WWF to shit the bed, so Raw fans flipping over to Nitro would see luchadors and be like, “oh, these guys suck” and change back. This match is a carbon copy of the Royal Rumble affair, where the crowd just absolutely does not give even one good god damn about armdrags and whiffed dropkicks, and only starts popping for dive piles on the floor. “Popping” is still a little generous.
The highlight is one of the worst moves you’re ever going to see. Latin Lover goes up top and tries a frog splash on Heavy Metal. It’s a perfectly cromulent frog splash, only, uh, Metal is already standing. So Lover just straight up frog splash dives onto nothing. Watch:
See, there’s no way they’re wrestling this badly by accident. Right? Right?
Anyway, the announce team and Jim Ross put over Hector Garza as the big, bright, shining star of the World Wrestling Federation’s influx of light-heavyweights, which makes perfect sense because he’s in WCW by the end of the year. Vince McMahon shows his acute understanding of lucha libre culture by declaring, “what a bunch of matadors!”
Best/Worst: The Constant Interruptions
This episode (1) gets a lot accomplished in not a lot of time, and (2) is completely maddening for anyone with an attention span. Every match has a minimum of one distraction, with most of them having two or more, almost always dedicated to advancing background stories. This garbage attempted lucha features cutaways to:
1. That Amazon Woman being noticed in the crowd, then physically escorted out of the arena by security, and
2. The announcement that Brian Pillman is returning to action, and that he’ll make his in-ring return on this week’s Shotgun Saturday Night. I don’t remember if he shoots the Sisters of Love to death with a handgun, but I’m going to assume he does.
Best: The New Graphics
A major improvement in presentation for the new Raw Is War are the accurate match graphics. For example, here’s Ahmed Johnson, represented by a hobo trash can fire.
Also, hey Ahmed, I know you like how baby oil makes your flat blubber muscles look, but holy shit man, you look like a newborn baby elephant. He looks like he’s neck deep in a lake.
Worst: This Is The Feud That Doesn’t End, Yes It Goes On And On My Friend
♫ Some people started booking it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue booking it forever just because … ♫
Ahmed takes on Roy Raymond (pronounced “Roo-ah Rah-mungh”) (not really), which is immediately interrupted by the Nation of Domination. They rap at Ahmed for a while to try and distract him, but Roy Raymond is a fake-ass Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker with an overall rating of zero and gets Pearl River Plunged with the quickness.
After the match, Faarooq calls Ahmed an Uncle Tom a few more times and Ahmed accepts the Nation’s challenge for a street fight at WrestleMania 13, presented by Cool Boarders. Nothing says violent race wars like Playstation snowboarding! Ahmed reveals that he won’t be coming to the fight alone … he’s bringing the Legion Of Doom, which would’ve been awesome if they hadn’t made their surprise return to the company two weeks earlier in a fucking double count-out with the Head Bangers.
Hawk and Animal show why they stopped being cool the second the 1980s became the 1990s with the goofiest, most PG playground insults ever:
Yes, a sweaty pile of sweat socks! Road Warrior Animal promises that the Nation will get their “butts kicked,” which makes it even worse. These guys make John Cena sound like Dolemite. Stone Cold Steve Austin is promising to beat your ass to death and blaspheming the Holy Bible and the Legion of Doom’s out here like, “WE’RE GONNA CAUSE BOO-BOOS ON YOUR STINKY TUSHIES, AAAAAH WHAT A RUSH!”
Worst: This Is A Screencap Of The Leif Cassidy Vs. Miguel Perez Match
Not that I’m complaining about missing crucial seconds of pre-Crisis Al Snow screwing up armdrags with a guy who looks like Savio Vega wrestling in an angora sweater, but these cutaways and distractions have already gotten so bad they’re doing SPLIT-SCREEN cutaways to TWO DIFFERENT THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. We are straight-up pretending a match isn’t happening so Paul Heyman can talk to Jerry Lawler moments before a segment about Paul Heyman talking to Jerry Lawler.
Perez wins by reversing a powerbomb into a rollup, and it’s so bad it makes everyone in charge go, “ughhh, Miguel Perez” and completely give up on him one week into his return push.
Worst: Shit-Stirrer Jim Ross
Up next is Owen Hart and the British Bulldog vs. the New Blackjacks, and Jim Ross thinks “during their entrance” is the best time to bumrush Owen and Bulldog from behind and badger Owen about whether or not he’s jealous of his tag team partner. Ross is like, “IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE A LITTLE JEALOUS, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, OWEN,” and Owen’s like, “he’s my partner, he’s great, we have a tag match,” and Ross is like, “YEAH BUT YOU LOOKED AT HIM WEIRD LAST WEEK LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT FOR SEVERAL MINUTES.” Keep getting in people’s business like this and one of them’s gonna set you on fire, JR.
Once Owen and Bulldog are actually in the ring, the Blackjacks confront them about how they’re going to be the new Tag Team Champions, and also about how they … uh, want blowjobs?
So are they supposed to be rough and tumble cowboys, or inbred hillbillies? Something in the middle? Is that what a “cowpoke” is?
The Blackjacks are so bad that they get a bad match out of Owen and Bulldog, a week after their five-star classic. The finish is Owen getting Barry Windham in the Sharpshooter, Bradshaw trying to break it up, and Bulldog clotheslining him. The ref doesn’t seem to know what the finish is supposed to be, so Bradshaw tries to break it up again, and Bulldog clotheslines him AGAIN. The ref doesn’t seem to get it AGAIN, so they do it a THIRD time, and Bulldog just throws the referee on the ground so the match will end. It’s, as the Bulldog might say, bizarre.
Before any of that can be addressed, Taz shows up to attack Jerry Lawler. He and Lawler get into a collar-and-elbow at ringside, causing Sabu to appear. Sabu instantly springboards to the floor and puts himself through a table, hitting nobody. On a table that is never, ever in that spot:
A bunch of ECW guys show up and treat this like it’s a horrible thing Jerry Lawler’s done, not taking into consideration that (1) Sabu appears to be fine and walks to the back under his own power when the segment’s over, (2) Sabu goes through tables like five times per match, and it’s almost never the finish, and (3) dude put HIMSELF through the table. And (4) the only other time we’ve seen Sabu on Raw is when he jumped off the set in the background to attack a bunch of NPCs for no reason.
Oh, and (5) this incident is not addressed in the actual Jerry Lawler vs. ECW segment, which happens like, next.
Best: It’s A Shoot, Brother!
Jerry Lawler and Paul E. Dangerously decide the best way to settle their beef is via a debate, starting with the fair and unbiased question, “should ECW exist?” This quickly devolves into a “shoot” — the first time they actually use the term “shoot” on WWE TV, if I’m not mistaken — with Lawler calling Heyman gay in the most Jerry Lawler way imaginable (“light in the loafers”) and saying ECW only exists because Heyman lives with his mom and dad and they pay for everything. Heyman asks Lawler what the see-saws look like in Louisville.
It’s one of those segments that wouldn’t work today, but was hot fire back in 1997. The rest of the show is fake but THIS part of the fake show is real!
More and more ECW guys fill up the ring, and Lawler says he’s not afraid of them, because he can get the entire WWF locker room to come down and destroy them on command. They tell him to make it happen, and nobody shows up. Tommy Dreamer tells Lawler that if he wants a war they’ll start a war, an angle that doesn’t start paying off until June … in ECW.
Still, pretty adventurous and compelling stuff for Raw, especially since the opposing Nitro’s selling point was the Taskmaster throwing Hardbody Harrison into a swimming pool.
Worst: Billy Gunn Is Back
The opposite of adventurous and compelling is the return of Billy Gunn, whose “career-threatening neck injury” from December is written off in passing as “thankfully just a stinger.” This week, Gunn steps on the Portuguese Man O’War, which seems like he’s just asking for another stinger.
Honky Tonk Man is on commentary here (woo) and says his list of possible New Honky Tonk Men is down to “about three.” It takes Honky longer to find a Second Honky than Second Honky actually exists. Spoiler alert: Billy Gunn is the new Honky, because when you think of the word “honky,” you think Billy Gunn.
Best: That Woman Is Pretty Awesome
Man, early Chyna ruled. She should’ve never talked, never gotten into romance angles and never stopped looking like a jacked-up Ramsay Bolton with a ponytail.
Goldust wrestles the dreaded Tim McNeany, who is so important he gets his “look at this jobber” closeup in the dark during Goldust’s entrance. Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna show up like two seconds in and stand on the stage to cause a distraction, of course, and jump Goldust after the match. Marlena jumps on Chyna’s … sorry, That Woman’s back to try to stop her, which leads to That Woman going NUCLEAR and military pressing referees into each other. It’s great, and seeing Chyna hoist Harvey Wippleman like he’s full of helium is super impressive.
It’s interesting that they didn’t do Hunter and Chyna vs. Goldust and Marlena in a mixed tag at WrestleMania 13 but I guess Chyna wasn’t ready, Sable needed that spot at 14, and Terri Runnels WrestleMania matches are a horrible, horrible idea.
Best: LOL Bret Hart
This honestly might be the best moment of the show.
Jim Ross interviews Ken Shamrock (who is dressed like an extra from The Wire) and announces that he’s officially joined the World Wrestling Federation, and will be officiating the Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin submission match at WrestleMania. Who knows more about submissions than the Ultimate Fighting guy, right?
Well, Stone Cold Steve Austins shows up on the TitanTron to talk some shit, but gets almost immediately interrupted by Bret Hart’s music. Bret comes to the ring, ignores the existence of both Stone Cold AND Ken Shamrock, and launches into a like 10-minute promo about how he knows more about submission wrestling than anybody. TO KEN SHAMROCK’S FACE. He expounds endlessly about how people say he’s been crying and complaining, but how that crying and complaining has gotten him opportunities, and is totally justified because he’s the smartest and best and most beloved and humblest superstar in the company and deserves the title. I love how the WrestleMania 13 match has been forever thought of as a “double-turn,” as if Bret Hart wasn’t heel as shit already.
Austin finally comes out to give them both the finger, and we’re only a week away from the match that would officially send Bret over the edge and get him ready to make Stone Cold the biggest star in the world at WrestleMania. This really is the best and best executed feud in WWF history. No hyperbole. It’s still aces, every single week.
Worst: Enjoy These Russo Main Events For The Rest Of Your Life
Finally we get to the main event, which pays off the 20-minute show-opening promo and accidental opponent-hitting in the most retroactively Raw way possible.
Undertaker told Sid he wanted to wrestle Mankind and Vader by himself, right? So Sid shows up to wrestle them and Undertaker is “late,” causing Sid to have to wrestle them alone. WHOOPS! Eventually Taker shows up, but as soon as Sid’s able to get his ducks in a row, he powerbombs his own partner in the middle of the ring and bails. That allows Mankind and Vader to pick up a cheap win, and now Sid and Undertaker are suddenly BLOOD RIVALS, which is lucky because their WrestleMania main event is in two weeks.
Long promos setting up partner miscommunication in tag team main events with dirty finishes, insider lingo, gay jokes, segments that bleed into one another, constant distraction finishes, constant interference, constant post-match attacks, a casual obsession with other promotions (WCW, ECW and UFC) and Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin being the best part of the show. Welcome to Raw, ladies and jennamen.