Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: Stone Cold Steve Austin is furious about EVERYTHING and getting thrown out of studios and arrested by local cops because he’s learning how to be the biggest star in the world. Bret Hart is chilling at home, petting cats, because he literally can’t even. Meanwhile, we’re building to Survivor Series with a new Intercontinental Champion, a DOA Double J Jesse James and a broken-up Smoking Gunns. Austin’s all you need to be paying attention to.
Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network. Please scroll through for the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for Nov. 4, 1996.
Best: A Worked Shoot
Here’s the episode that’s not only a soft launch for the Attitude Era, but so controversial it almost got Raw taken off the air.
To catch you up on the angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin is a tightly-wound psychopath who wants a match with Bret “Hitman” Hart. Their mutual friend, Brian Pillman, helped put the match together. Bret had been on a Carnival cruise vacation for like six months following his loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12, so he was in no hurry to get back. Even when he agreed to the match, he only cut promos about it from his house, via satellite. This got Austin feeling insecure and neglected, and when Pillman dared to use Bret’s nickname in a hype promo, Austin snapped on him and used a chair to break his ankle. This isn’t the cool funny sheriff Steve Austin we came to love … this is an unhinged maniac who seemed like the most dangerous man in wrestling. He was like the nWo as one unstable, confrontational redneck.
Austin got tired of everyone but him getting to cut promos from their house, so he promised to go to Cincinnati and beat up Pillman in his own home. He makes good on that threat in this episode, and the entire thing revolves around an immobile Pillman chilling in his basement with his wife and Kevin Kelly while Austin drives there, beats up all of Pillman’s friends and tries to break into his house. Oh, and Pillman’s last line of defense is a f*cking gun.
The angle seems kinda silly when you jump 20 years into the future and look back on it, but this was INSANE. Who the hell thought of bringing A GUN into a wrestling angle? The most dangerous thing that could happen in a wrestling ring is a steel chair, and if you were in the NWA, maybe somebody’s try to hang you with a comically oversized bullrope or smother you with a plastic bag.
As the angle goes, Kevin Kelly (aka “Hermie”) flies to suburban Cincinnati (well, Kentucky, but it’s half an hour from Cincinnati) to hold a microphone while Vince McMahon interviews Pillman via satellite. Pillman is rightfully paranoid and freaking out, and says that Austin 3:16 won’t be able to stand up to “Pillman 9 millimeter gun.” Adding “gun” to the end of it is really funny to me for some reason. Austin creates his “arrive, raise hell, leave” gimmick by showing up and absolutely DESTROYING Pillman’s neighborhood watch security force by throwing toy wagons at them, slamming car doors on their heads and trying to drown them in freestanding kiddie pools. Near Ohio, IN NOVEMBER. Once he’s done with that, he stalks around the house like he’s Bigfoot, uses a tire iron to smash Pillman’s basement door window and barges into the house. Pillman aims the gun at him, and we lose the satellite feed.
When we come back, Pillman’s non-brutalized friends are trying to hold him down, and Kevin Kelly reveals that Austin “saw the gun and left.” Then, for no explainable reason, Austin shows up again — maybe he thought the gun would disappear and vanish like a video game powerup? — and Pillman’s posse get in the way of a clear shot in both directions. Pillman starts cursing on TV, and … that’s the episode. The entire thing.
It’s f*cking bonkers, but you’ve got to love how they revealed the gun in the first scene, then did the payoff TWICE with no actual payoff. The closest we get to a gun actually firing is Kevin Kelly saying nobody was “struck by the explosions.” Because I guess Pillman was shooting fuel tanks around his house. Austin shows up, sees the gun, leaves, comes back to engage in the exact same scenario and that’s it. I mean, I don’t expect anyone to get shot, but maybe we could’ve just done it once? Maybe we could’ve had it lead to a fight, or higher stakes than Austin being wrangled by locals?
No matter what, this was a game-changer. Pillman was a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl for the Attitude Era, from “I respect you, booker man” turning WCW into a fourth-wall breaking, self-referential madhouse to brandishing a f*cking handgun on Raw and making USA Network realize they should throw a bunch of money at WWF instead of throwing them under the bus when people got upset. And, of course, this continued to help Stone Cold Steve Austin transform from a guy smarks loved into a guy the world had to watch every time he was on screen.
Best: Some Dork Makes His Raw Debut
speaking of, guys you have to watch every time they’re on screen
This week’s opener is Goldust vs. The Stalker, which would’ve been great with any version of Barry Windham before this one. It’s like when Chris Jericho wrestled Beautiful Bobby Eaton on Nitro. That would’ve been a match of the year candidate if you could send Jericho ahead in time five years and send Bobby in the opposite direction. Like every match on the episode, Goldust and Stalker just do headlocks and atomic drops while Vince McMahon rambles on forever and ever and ever and ever and ever about what’s happening in Cincinnati, 30 miles south of Cincinnati.
Anyway, Goldust and Stalker’s Survivor Series teams wander out to ringside to make it an unofficial lumberjack match, and when the teams get too handsy, it breaks down into a melee. The highlight here is the Raw debut of Rocky Maivia, the future Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment and biggest movie star in the world, looking like someone dropped a whole pineapple into the middle of a fruit salad. He looks and moves like a completely different person, and throws a high crossbody so low he’s actually lower than the top turnbuckle after he jumps. Don’t worry, though, he figures it out.
Best: Karate Fighters Juxtaposition
My very favorite part of this episode is the jump between segments. They’re in Pillman’s home, right? And he pulls a gun out from under his slanket and says he’s gonna shoot Steve Austin with a gun for real. We then jump straight into the next match in the first round of a worked toy fighting tournament. It’s WONDERFUL. “Here’s a gun. Someone’s going to get murdered on television. Anyway, here’s Jerry Lawler in a fake cave to tell you why he thinks Sid is better at toys than Marlena.”
Worst: Seriously Though, You Do Not Care About This Wrestling
If you remove the Austin/Pillman angle, this is one of the shoot worst (cough) episodes of Raw I’ve ever seen. The second match is The Sultan squashing Alex “The Pug” Porteau. The announce team is in full MILPOOL mode. “The Sultan now going to work on Alex the Puh-nder what is happening in Cincinnati…”
The jump between the hotness of that angle and the terribleness of the taped wrestling is more jarring than gun-to-Karate-Fighters. Nobody could possibly care about this. I legit care more about whether Marlena could beat Sid at toys than The Pug’s chances against the borderline racist Power Rangers version of Rikishi.
Worst: A Debate Nobody Prepared For
Amazingly, the worst part of the show is this “debate” between Shawn Michaels and Sid to sell their Survivor Series match. WWE is obsessed with the idea of whether people who have an announced, upcoming match can wrestle preliminary matches together and “co-exist.” They f*cking LOVE IT. CAN THEY CO-EXIST?? They should do that in other sports. I want the Panthers and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and I want the NFL to spend the month before it making them combine players to see if they could team up and beat the Packers. “Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm hate each other, but will they be able to TEAM UP for some reason for SEVERAL WEEKS?” It’s bizarre.
Shawn and Sid have nothing in the tank here. You can kinda tell that they knew they’d be preempted for more gun shenanigans and have SUPER nothing to say.
Shawn: “Sid, you know as well as I know [long pause] I’m gonna beatcha.”
Sid: [laughter] “i am the ruler of the world”
Shawn: “You know as well as I know that the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels knows he’s gonna win”
Sid: “but do u rule world y/n”
Shawn: [long pause]
Shawn: “The fact of the matter is this … I’m gonna win.”
[everyone looks to Vince for the go home]
The highlight is that giant WWF logo podium, which I wish they’d bring back. Nothing adds gravitas to a championship match like the wrestlers cutting promos from the Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
Worst: Can Pillman Show Up And Shoot EVERYONE With Guns?
To hammer home the worthlessness of this wrestling, the main event is “The Wildman” Marc Mero losing to “Fake” Razor Ramon. It’s brutal. It’s almost 15 minutes long, Vince is obsessed with Cincinnati and Jim Ross is working a completely different angle on commentary. Everyone’s kinda talking over each other and nothing you see happening matters. It’s like Robert Altman had a stroke and decided to shoot a wrestling show.
That’s the show. I’d go into detail about Razor and Mero and why it didn’t work, but how can you explain a tire fire? There are tires, and they’re on fire.
Next Week: Nobody mentions the gun. At all. Seriously.