Previously on the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: With half the roster in Germany, Raw became a showcase for Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler’s one-sided and oddly helpful feud with Extreme Championship Wrestling. Half the show was ECW matches to help promote their upcoming pay-per-view ‘Barely Legal,’ and the other half was really sad, lazy WWF matches with sh*t finishes because the people who didn’t get to go to Germany didn’t want to work.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw — the last time we get to call it that — for March 3, 1997.
Best: Willkommen Nach Montag Abend Roh
Fun fact: in German, “Raw” is “ROH.” If that’s the case, NXT must translate to “TNA.”
Welcome to the final episode of Monday Night Raw, coming to you live on a considerable amount of tape from Deutschlandhalle in Berlin, Germany. WWF had a huge presence in Germany in the 1990s, as their roster featured such top German stars as … uh …
They didn’t pick you, you’re in WCW. I guess that’s why they didn’t get a wictory in the ratings.
But don’t worry, things get better a few years from now, when-
Things are a little better now, with Sanity’s Alexander Wolfe and that enormous Batista-ass German goalkeeper under contract in NXT, but between them and the 7 months Karl Gotch spent there in the early ’70s, German representation in WWE has been surprisingly sparse. It’s even worse when you realize all those dudes playing wrestling Nazis in the 60s were from Canada. Or Texas.
Anyway, we’re here to declare a CHAMPION OF EUROPE, and I bet you can’t guess who ends up champion on a roster featuring exactly one (1) legitimately European guy!
Best: Bret Hart Is Definitely Not Going To Regret This
The first match of the show is Bret Hart vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, which would be a dream match if you fast forwarded H a few years. It’d be even better if you rewound Bret to like, 1994 and did 1994 valiant babyface Bret against 2000 King Sh*t Triple H.
At this point, though, H is still the least notable of the Kliq and just starting to get heat via being saved by his monstrous bodybuilder girlfriend. The major story is Bret Hart’s increasing frustrating with EVERYTHING, which leads to him getting disqualified when he shoves down the referee. Referee Earl Hebner. Earl is like, “no, it’s fine, everything’s fine” and then bides his f*cking time.
On the other side of Bret’s story …
Stone Cold Steve Austin is live via taped satellite to cut a wonderful, pitch-perfect promo about how stupid ‘Tell Me A Lie’ was, and how Vince McMahon needs to stop making melodramatic music videos about Shawn Michaels every time he gets the flu. Austin’s like, “I blew out my knee at Final Four and wrestled 25 more minutes against the three top guys in the company.” It’s very, very easy to see why Austin went from The Ringmaster to the biggest star in the company in just a couple of years, and watching these again he still kinda feels like a revelation.
It’s great character work, too, because of how directly Hart and Austin’s characters work against one another. Bret Hart is frustrated and starting to lose his mind, but he operates under a personal code of honor and ethics or whatever that keeps him from going too far over the edge. The worst he’s gonna do is throw a tantrum and quit, or break a bunch of stuff at ringside. Meanwhile you’ve got Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is ALSO frustrated and starting to lose his mind, but he’s not a comfortable “top star” like Hart … he feels undervalued and underappreciated, and it’s not hypocritical. He doesn’t have 4 WWF Championship runs and is still like, “woe is me.” He’s hungry as f*ck, so his frustration becomes dangerously constructive, and he’s willing to go farther and last longer and hit harder than anyone else on the roster. Dude could get his neck broken in a match and his tornado of an internal spirit would still find a way to win. Not that that’s going to happen soon or anything.
While this is happening, Hunter Hearst Helmsley is like, “just gonna lay low and lift weights with my girlfriend and wait for everyone to kill each other.”
Best: Rock, Meet Sock
You know, Rocky Maivia gets a lot of sh*t (even from The Rock himself) for being terrible, but that wasn’t it at all. He’s still the same wrestler, he’s just playing a character created by a focus group. A bunch of people were like, “here’s what will work,” and then it didn’t, and he was stuck doing it. But as a performer, he was still great, and almost every week here I’m like, “Rocky had a surprisingly great match with ____.” Dude had it. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m going back and watching him exist side-by-side with his Asian Annie Prince Iaukea, who wrestles like somebody put a Hawaiian shirt on a manatee.
Here, Rocky had a surprisingly great match with Vader, who is in his WWF slum period but riding high on his gutsy, eyebally performance at Final Four. He’s bumping way too much for way too little to make Rock look like a superstar, doing big 180-degree sells for clotheslines and getting thrown on belly to belly suplexes. I see you working hard, Vader. I’m sorry they never liked you.
Like most good WWF matches from this era, it builds and builds to an unrelated finish that cancels out everything before it. Mankind runs out for no reason and plasters Rock in the face with Paul Bearer’s urn, causing a DQ. Vader just kinda stands there with his hands out like, “what the f*ck, man?” It’s a terrible ending to a match that was going way better than it needed to, and, notably, the first on-screen interaction between the future Rock n’ Sock Connection. I hope The Rock was so mean to him because he never forgave him for hitting him with a supernatural dead guy in a jar.
Worst: The Funky Sultan
The Sultan vs. Flash Funk uses the same template as Vader vs. Rocky Maivia, but dials down the talent by about a billion and cuts the length in half. So you’ve got The Sultan not really working hard at all, and everyone lying around like they’re 20 minutes into a match at the 2-minute mark. Right before he locks on the camel clutch to end the match, Sultan basically does the entirety of the Usos entrance haka to kill time. He’s just throwing his arms around and smacking his thighs and you’re like Christ dude, f*ck his ass and make him humble already.
Yeah, no kidding.
Worst: Translating For Ahmed Johnson
The funniest moment of the night goes to this Ahmed Johnson promo, which actually manages to be less comprehensible than its own German translation. I don’t speak German, but I also don’t speak Ahmed, so I’m hoping the translator guy’s promo was just, “AHMED JOHNSON, LADIES AND JENNAMEN, OH MY!”
The point here is that Faarooq has challenged Ahmed to a street fight at WrestleMania, and Ahmed promises that he’ll come, but he won’t come alone. I don’t think that’s what he was asking, Ahmed. The announce team referring to him as “this big Johnson” doesn’t help.
To put it another way,
Ahmed Johnson, ladies and jennamen. Oh my.
Best: Mankind Tries To Make Up For Ruining That Rocky/Vader Match
A couple of weeks ago, miracle worker Bret Hart got probably the best match you’ll ever see out of Sid. This week Mankind is on Sid duty, as the World Wrestling Federation shows an unusual amount of self-awareness by only putting their giant wet penis champion in the ring with guys who could pull a great match out of thin air. Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mankind … all capable of making Sid, a flank steak in a Gary Spivey wig, look like the best wrestler in the world.
This is pretty by-the-numbers, but Mankind is working his ass off. Look at the height on that powerbomb. The finish is A+ house show material, with Mankind accidentally hitting Paul Bearer — oh no! — and taking multiple finishers. Storyline wise, it makes sense to have Sid handily dispatch the Undertaker’s most dreaded rival and his old manager before facing Taker himself. In practice, it’s a solid but not exceptional match that kinda sorta looks like Sid wrestling one of his own poops.
Best: A Classic
The point of this show (and the reason you should seek it out and watch it, or at least spend 20 minutes on that Daily Motion video) is the main event, the British Bulldog vs. Owen Hart to crown the first-ever WWF European Champion.
The story up until now is that Owen and the Bulldog are the tag team champions, but they’re not getting along. Owen keeps accidentally costing them matches by hitting Bulldog and/or his opponents with his Slammy Award, or faking injuries on the outside at terrible times to get them counted out. Bulldog isn’t the most noble guy, but he’s tired of losing matches he didn’t have to lose. On Shotgun Saturday Night they fire their manager, Clarence Mason, for a “conflict of interest.” It seems like it’s the start of a breakup for the team, but Shawn Michaels’ loss of a smile shook everything up, and it ended up clearing out room for the reformation of the Hart Foundation. But that’s still a few weeks away.
Here, Owen and the Bulldog are put into direct competition for a new championship. Bulldog always goes Super Saiyan when performing in front of big European crowds, so he brings his A-game. Owen Hart is Owen Hart. What results is 17 minutes of maybe the best straight-up singles match aired on WWE TV in the 1990s, and easily one of the maybe 10 best matches ever on Raw. It’s clean, competitive, they keep up the pace throughout so it’s never boring, and the finish is a callback to the respective most famous finish for each guy. Owen tries to roll through with a victory roll like he did to beat his brother Bret at WrestleMania X, and Bulldog counters like he did to beat Bret at SummerSlam ’92. Not only is that perfect, but it subconsciously links them both back to Bret, which becomes important later.
The European Championship would have its moments — D’Lo Brown, Eurocontinental Champion Kurt Angle, anything William Regal did ever — but its legacy is mostly embarrassing. Mideon became champion after finding the deactivated belt in Shane McMahon’s luggage. Owen Hart became champion after pinning Goldust, who was dressed as the champion, so it counted? And don’t forget when the championship changed hands in the second fall of a 2-out-of-3 falls match.
Still, you couldn’t hope to start a belt’s lineage with a better match. An absolute must-see.
Next week, Raw declares war. Declares itself war. Something like that.