Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Antiquated ’90s wrestling show Monday Night Raw became RAW IS WAR, with all the iconography you know from the modern show. The TitanTron is there now, the lights are darker, everybody gets pyro and we’re like 10 shows from somebody whipping their dick out in front of a cardboard sign featuring a South Park drawing of them and the phrase Somebody Fears Somebody.
If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag page. Follow along with the competition here.
Notable Re-post: If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you think about the show. This is where the Monday Night Wars really kick in, so if you aren’t reading now, what’s wrong with you?
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for March 17, 1997.
Worst: Another Goddamn Nation Of Domination Disqualification
Did the Nation of Domination ever actually win or lose a match? Seems like every week there are 1-3 matches on Raw that boil down to, “a guy from the Nation was wrestling, he was about to lose, everybody else from the Nation ran down and got him disqualified, the Nation did a Dollar Store nWo beatdown until Ahmed Johnson showed up in his pajamas to hit them with a plank of wood.”
Anyway, guys from the Nation were wrestling and were about to lose, everybody else from the Nation ran down and got them disqualified, the Nation did a Dollar Store nWo beatdown until Ahmed Johnson showed up looking like the ghost of Harlem Heat to hit them with a plank of wood.
No, seriously, ghost of Harlem Heat. Tell me I’m wrong:
This is all to continue the build to the Legion of Doom and Ahmed vs. the Nation of Domination in a Chicago Street Fight (which I’m sad Lex Luger isn’t a part of) at WrestleMania 13. Every week the build is the same, down to the “YUH, GOWAH, DUHHH” post-match promo from kneepad-ass Ahmed Johnson. You’d think Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin would be the Mania 13 story WWE’d constantly be trying to recreate, but nope, when modern WWE’s building to Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin by having Dolph Ziggler wrestle Baron Corbin for six straight weeks, they’re looking back at Mania fondly and sighing, “if only we could get back that Nation of Domination magic.”
Best: That Amazon Woman Gets A Name
Like every Hunter Hearst Helmsley match until he starts feuding with Owen Hart, this one goes nowhere and is extremely skippable. He wrestles Flash Funk for a few minutes until Flash gets distracted by THAT AMAZON WOMAN and eats a Pedigree, and a post-match beatdown ensues. Two in the first 15 minutes!
The important highlight here, though, is that That Woman gets a name: Chyna. Welcome to the Encyclopedia, Chyna. Things are about to get really good for you, then GREAT for you, then really, really bad.
Ironic Best: Many Minis
The Monday Night Wars are officially underway, and here’s what you need to know. Each top company (WCW and the WWF) is run by an increasingly rich, increasingly out-of-touch guy whose only real booking plan is, “watch what the other guy’s doing, then do the same thing and pretend we did it first.” Both sides are doing it. The only problem is that they rarely lift the shit that actually works, and you end up with, like, Disco Inferno suddenly beating people with the Stone Cold Stunner. The most obvious recent bad booking heist happened when Rocky Maivia surprisingly won the Intercontinental Championship from Hunter Hearst Helmsley on Thursday Raw Thursday. Instead of yanking what was good about that — “sometimes unexpected title changes on TV can be fun” — WCW yanked literally everything else by having their Pacific Islander new guy beat their stuffed-shirt blue blood for their secondary championship on Nitro.
Back in December, WCW had a midget wrestling tag team match featuring future Lucha Underground star Mascarita Sagrada. I don’t want to use “midget” in the pejorative, that’s just the accepted pro graps nomenclature. The match was fine, but nothing came of it. That said, tell me you can imagine Vince McMahon watching an episode of Nitro with a midget tag on it and liking ANYTHING ELSE about the show. Vince was probably like, “holy shit, sign ALL of those guys. DO IT EVERY WEEK, THIS IS MY TRUE VISION OF SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT.”
So now, three months after WCW tried it once, WWF suddenly has a minis division. Unlike WCW, who brought in actual mini stars from Mexico as themselves, WWF is giving us Mascarita Sagrada — technically Mascarita Sagrada Jr., aka Tzuki, who eventually becomes Max Mini — teaming with “Mini Goldust” against “Mini Vader” and “Mini Makind.”
I’m honestly surprised they didn’t bring in Sagrada as “Mini Shawn Michaels” and have Jerry Lawler cackle about him losing a little smile. Anyway, as you might expect, the match is fine and nothing comes of it, and WWF … has a minis division for two more years? Sure.
Hey, at least we can get through this episode without having to deal with ACTUAL Shawn Michaels, right? He retired five Raws ago and also has a career-threatening knee injury that’ll keep him out of-
Worst: The Boyhood Dream Continues
So yeah, five damn weeks ago Shawn Michaels forfeited the WWF Championship and stepped away from the World Wrestling Federation, citing a knee injury and a “lost smile” that kept him from enjoying his job. Three weeks ago, WWF produced a melodramatic music video about it, asking Shawn to “tell the a lie” and “say that he won’t go.” Hey, guess what?
Now that Bret Hart has officially been booked in a match with Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania and there’s no chance Shawn will have to wrestle or job to him, Shawn Michaels is BACK, smiling his ass off, bouncing around on one leg and chuckling about how he wants to be at WrestleMania while Vince creams his jeans.
Shawn is like, “heh, how come I wasn’t invited to WrestleMania?” Vince is like, “you were injured.” Shawn blows it off, and announces he’s going to be at WrestleMania to sit in on the WWF Championship match, which definitely won’t be able to feature Bret Hart. Then he’s like, “heh, how come I wasn’t invited to the Slammy Awards?” HOLY SHIT SHAWN, BECAUSE YOU GOT CRY-FACED ON RAW AND GAVE UP THE CHAMPIONSHIP WITHOUT LOSING IT BECAUSE CANADA MADE YOU FEEL BAD. THAT IS YOUR ANSWER TO EVERYTHING.
This is bullshit. I hope somebody else says it before this episode’s over.
Worst: The Rock Is Headed To His First WrestleMania
The barn-burner feud between “King Iaukea” Rocky Maivia and Steampunk Iron Sheik The Sultan continues, with Rocky sitting in on drab color commentary for The Sultan vs. Mike Bell. You may remember Bell from such films as Bigger, Stronger, Faster* or Prescription Thugs, both about how he did too many drugs, or from that time Perry Saturn tried to for real murder him in the ring.
Bell gets his Mike rung by The Sultan and a fight almost breaks out at ringside, stopped by the cool head and trusty hands of Tony Atlas. The Sultan will challenge Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 13, and The Rock will spend the remainder of his life doing interviews where he’s like, “oh man, WrestleMania 13 sucked, huh,” and explaining why his character shit the bed so hard it got people to literally start chanting for his death.
Worst: Death And Taxes
If you’ve ever seen the Undertaker do something corny and thought to yourself, “this sucks, he used to be so cool,” here’s a clip of him bringing a construction paper tombstone to New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman to celebrate the death of a tax bill.
She calls it “sports wrestling,” which is wonderful, and is like, “I don’t like wrestling myself, but my weiner kid liked it. He doesn’t like it anymore, but I bought all the figurines, which is how grandmas say action figures, so I’m not going to make you go all the way to Madison Square Garden to see it.” Big ass Undertaker is just standing there in his goth dracula samurai robes with prison teardrops on his face, posing for mark photos with little kids while Linda McMahon exchanges secret handshakes with the other lizard people.
Best/Worst: British Bulldog Urns A Victory
WWF’s been teasing us with the breakup of the British Bulldog and Owen Hart for weeks now, and that continues here. Bulldog takes on Regular-Sized Vader, which (of course) ends with Mankind getting on the apron and getting Vader disqualified. It’s a boring match, but it’s got some impressive power in it, and Bulldog is Lex-Lugerian in his nuclear babyfacedom. Owen tries to bail him out for a 2-on-1 attack and gets overwhelmed, so Bulldog smartly just punches out Paul Bearer, steals Bearer’s magical flashlight urn and starts braining people with it.
This all builds to the post-WrestleMania reveal that (spoiler alert) Bulldog isn’t a fan favorite and actually still hates everyone, and would rather wear leather jackets and hang around with his extended Canadian family and be the second or third guy Stunnered in multi-pronged Stone Cold Steve Austin attacks.
Best/Worst: Big Bad MMA
Ken Shamrock sits in on commentary for Billy Gunn vs. Aaron Ferguson, and has to be diplomatic as fuck while WWF guys attempt to save face by learning MMA holds on the fly. What you’re looking at in the picture is Billy Gunn trying to apply a juji gatame. He just sorta puts Ferguson’s arm between his legs (got it!) and kinda grazes Ferguson’s forearm with his palms. It’s weird. You’d think you wouldn’t have to explain the “hold the arm” part of a cross arm lock, but Gunn can’t break his pro wrestling training and is trying to like, pro wrestling arm bar him. You’re doing great, Bill.
By the way, if you’ve never seen Aaron Ferguson before, he looks exactly like “Depression” would if Depression was a character in Inside Out:
Aaron Ferguson definitely trained for this Raw appearance by playing Nights into Dreams for 10 hours and downing a case of Mountain Dew. Dude looks like a water balloon somebody dropped on the ground. He’s probably the only person in the world that’d tap from the pressure of Billy Gunn’s wrestling jeans chaffing him while no pressure is applied.
Anyway, this is all to goad Ken Shamrock into the ring for an MMA exhibition. You just saw Billy Gunn’s attempt at shootfighting, so you can imagine how it goes.
Shamrock immediately takes him down into a Fujiwara arm bar and taps him out, which (unless I’m mistaken) is the first-ever instance of “tapping out” on WWE TV. I can’t overstate the importance of Shamrock bringing that into the sport. Tapping out is such a great visual that instantly communicates something to an audience, and mercifully replaced the old method, “looking upset in a submission until the referee responds to nothing and calls for the bell.” Or the old “raise someone’s arm three times to try to rev them back into consciousness like they’re a generator.”
Unsatisfied with his impromptu Brawl for All performance — he’s certainly no BART Gunn — Billy tries it again. This time he ends up in an ankle lock, and has to tap out again. He goes crazy and grabs a chair and the referees stop him, probably because they don’t want him to end up getting choked to death with furniture.
Best: THIS IS GAHDAHM BOLLSHIT
And now, one of the most unexpectedly important promos of the era.
– This week’s main event is supposed to be Bret Hart challenging Sycho Sid for the WWF Championship in a steel cage match. Early in the show, the announce team puts over some weird “rumors” about the match maybe NOT being for the Championship, because the Undertaker is unhappy with somebody else getting a shot before him, or whatever. There’s no drama to create here, but they try it anyway, saying Gorilla Monsoon had to catch a last minute flight to get to the arena to cut a backstage promo about the match they announced still being the match they announced. I don’t know.
– Bret Hart gets a promo early in the show to confirm this, explaining in the most self-centered way ever that he deserves the shot not only for winning the Royal Rumble (which he did, but technically didn’t), winning the Final Four (which actually won him the championship, which he lost the next night on Raw), and for being a former 4-time WWF Champion. Nothing he’s saying is a lie, really, but he’s so entitled and up his own ass about it you can’t help but want to shake him by his shoulders and tell him to stop being such a pissy baby.
– Shawn Michaels returns, as we mentioned, and is just gonna totally skip the line and sit in on the WWF Championship match so he can challenge whoever wins. It’s not going to help Bret’s case that the WWF is ALL ABOUT Shawn Michaels and will give him anything he wants, even make music videos about him, even when he fakes an injury and bails on the company before their biggest show of the year because he doesn’t like who he’s been booked to fake lose to. This “I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t” vibe is REALLY going to complicate Survivor Series.
So the match ends up happening, with the match itself being least important thing about it. The story here is that Bret Hart has a WrestleMania opponent (Steve Austin) and so does Sid (The Undertaker), so Austin and Taker try to interfere to keep the championship on the guy they’re supposed to fight. Everybody wants the championship. Remember when that was a thing? But yeah, Sid’s about to escape, so Austin runs out, climbs the cage and fights him back into it. Undertaker shows up to fight off Austin and keep BRET from winning, and ultimately smashes the cage door in Bret’s face just before he escapes. That lets Sid drop to the floor first, winning the match and miraculously falling like two feet without his leg snapping in half.
After the match, Vince tries to get a word with Bret. He gets several. Bret finally, officially snaps, launching into an uncensored, brutally narcissistic promo about everybody screwing him. It’s a MASTERPIECE. Watch:
“Frustrated isn’t the goddamn word for it! This is BULLSHIT! You screwed me, everybody screwed me and nobody does a goddamn thing about it! Nobody in the building cares, nobody in the dressing room cares, so much goddamn injustice around here, I’ve had it up to here! Everybody knows it! I know it! EVERYBODY knows it, I should be the World Wrestling Federation Champion! Everybody just keeps turning a blind eye, you keep turning a blind eye to it, I’ve got that Gorilla Monsoon, he turns a blind eye to it, everybody in that goddamn dressing room knows that I’m the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be! And if you don’t like it, tough SHIT!”
Here’s another angle of the promo:
Austin shows up on the TitanTron to scream at him for being such a crybaby, and things get so hot that everybody comes back out and starts brawling again. An underrated highlight here is Sid’s “I DON’T KNOW SHIT” on the ramp. Of course he doesn’t know shit, he’s got half the brain that you do.
So as we head into WrestleMania, we’ve got The Undertaker set to face an unfocused champion in the main event, and Bret Hart having to “slum it” in an undercard match against the hottest act in the company, where if he makes one wrong moral decision he’ll turn everybody in the building against him, and transform a mid-card heel into a folk hero of the people.
If you fell into a coma in 1996 and are just waking up, tune in next week to see if that happens.