– Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network. You can read about previous episodes on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag page. As a reminder, we’ve jumped ahead three years to coordinate these columns with the Best and Worst of Nitro.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night RAW for May 20, 1996.
Worst: The Frustration Of A WWF That’s Almost Right
Building icons takes time.
The most frustrating part of revisiting Raws from this era is seeing stars you recognize, but realize that they aren’t quite “right.” Shawn Michaels is here, but he’s a do-gooding, Playgirl-posing pet of Vince McMahon, stuck between his first peak (the Shawn that tossed Marty through a window) and his second (the Shawn that pantomimes blowjobs to piss people off). Triple H is here, but he’s a blueblood loser who doesn’t know how to speak into a microphone. Mankind’s here, but all he does is shriek and you don’t see any of what makes him him. The next two years of TV are a formative process that changes how everything works and is presented, but right now we’re basically stuck seeing a bunch of exciting characters laying around in chinlocks, waiting for something to happen.
The worst (best) of these is Stone Cold Steve Austin, who has gotten the nickname and the look but isn’t Stone Cold Steve Austin yet. The first round of the King of the Ring tournament that ends in a recitation of Austin 3:16 starts next week and that helps, but Austin isn’t really Full Austin until October, when the Bret Hart feud kicks in. Here he’s locked into a feud with WWF’s interpretation of Johnny B. Badd, which has always been a hilarious overcompensation. “We just signed the Little Richard impersonator who wrestles in eye shadow and lipstick. What do we do? Put him in leather everything, give him a sexy lady valet who carries sex toys and call him a WILDMAN because he’s GOOD AT SEX STUFF WITH GIRLS.” The next sentence is, “We just signed the son of a legendary ‘common man’ wrestler who wrestles in cowboy boots, what do we do? Put him in a wig, paint him gold and make him try to French the Undertaker.”
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that when you see “Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Wildman Marc Mero,” the match should be about 5 minutes long and should be Austin punching and kicking him to death and drinking beers and maybe driving a hovercraft over his dead body. Instead, you get an Austin that still needs time in the oven, so he … lies around in a chinlock for 12 minutes waiting for something to happen. The match ends when Savio Vega shows up from out of nowhere and attacks Austin, drawing a DQ. Boop!
Here’s a fun game: Try to explain Sable’s gimmick. If you can come up with something besides, “she’s a SEXY LADY,” congratulations, you’re a f*cking soothsayer.
Mero’s gimmick is that he’s a WILDMAN WINK WINK, so she’s more or less GIRL WILDMAN. She wears leather, has animal paws on her hips because GET IT and carries a cat o’ nine tails. She has no idea what it’s for, or what it does. She kinda holds it up at shoulder height and twirls it around in circles. It’s sexy if you’re 11 and don’t have enough hours left on your AOL account to download naked pictures of Jenny McCarthy.
Best: Ahmed Johnson’s Vacation Clothes
This is quite possibly the most American and WWE image of all time.
To show that the World Wrestling Federation cares about the Gulf War, Ahmed Johnson went to Kuwait wearing an Ahmed Johnson trucker hat and a USA jumpsuit that he tied off in the front to stand in the rubble and hold children. He’s also wearing a fanny pack, which I assume he uses to carry around DEMOCRACY and OUR FREEDOMS. So this motherf*cker goes to the Middle East dressed like a female American Gladiator and masculinely cries over images of inspiring citizenry while Vince McMahon narrates.
I use “amazing” a lot in these reports, but this is one of those moments that actually causes amazement. This exists. Ahmed Johnson did this in real life.
Best: Heels Being Actual Jerks
Savio Vega wrestles the 1-2-3 Kid, and it’s pretty good for two reasons:
1. The Kid was really weightless at this point. Normally when you hiptoss a guy, they go up and over and slam into the mat because they’re (spoiler alert) jumping and going through the motion. With The Kid, a hiptoss appears to actually lift him off the ground and hurl him forward in slow motion. It’s the difference between a normal bump and a lucha-floating bump, but it’s so specific to The Kid and his weightlessness that it stands out. Especially against Savio Vega, who is supposed to be an exciting high-flyer but moves and jumps like he ate a brick.
2. Here’s the sign of an effective wrestling segment: I don’t like Savio Vega at all and love Steve Austin, but after what happens I want to see Vega beat his ass. Hooray for wrestling working!
The weird, country-singer-looking version of Ted DiBiase is on color commentary for the match, looking like Brooks and Dunn became one sentient dude and rambles on and on about how he’s gonna make Savio Vega his chauffeur. DiBiase has a history of … well, slavery, for lack of a better term, so he’s looking to make this happy Puerto Rican guy his Vehicular Virgil. Vega wins the match with the Onryo Clutch, so DiBiase, The Kid and Austin all get together and beat him up. Austin wraps him up in the “Caribbean strap” and holds him so DiBiase can put a chauffeur’s hat on his head.
It’s three white guys beating a Puerto Rican dude with a strap and forcing him into servitude, but it works because the alignments are all correct. You’re booing the white guys and thinking they’re terrible people for what they’re doing … even if Vega attacked Austin in the first match, you’re left hoping Vega will break free and light them up, and there’s nothing lingering to put you on the wrong side. You aren’t laughing or clapping because the heels are good at their jobs. They’re awful people doing an awful thing, and the act of illustrating the righting of that is what makes pro wrestling worth doing.
Worst: WOYER, THE COMIC
One of the highlights of the episode is a video package announcing the debut of Warrior, or “Woyer,” the new comic book written by The Ultimate Warrior. It’s just street-clothes Warrior at comic-book shops holding babies and poking dogs in the nose with his finger while Vince screams and screams about how revolutionary it is. Yes, Vince, a comic book full of sub-Liefeldian art about how The Ultimate Warrior either tormenting or saving a cum-splattered Santa Claus is gonna revolutionize the comic-book industry. Polybags, gatefold covers and a bad artist getting blown up drawing a shirtless Warrior killing everything that moves with his bare hands and the muscles of any four Youngblood members.
More Warrior holding babies, please.
Worst: Sunny Seduces A Hillperson For No Reason
Sable is on this episode, which causes Sunny to instantly lose 50 percent of her HP. Sable’s name should be Demi.
The Godwinns were set to challenge the Bodydonnas for the World Tag Team Championships at Madison Square Garden, so Sunny attempted to seduce idiot manchild and future occultist stalker Phineas Godwinn to ensure their victory. The idea is (I guess) that Sunny would sit next to him on a couch and kinda touch his arm with her finger, so later she could blow him kisses in the middle of a match and he’d go I SHOULD STOP WRESTLING ENTIRELY AND LOOK AT THIS WOMAN, BECAUSE LATER WE’RE GONNA DO IT.
It turns out that despite being a half-man, half-donkey character who begins wildly mule-kicking when enraged, Phineas can keep it in his pants. Sunny goes for the big distraction at the end of the tag match and gets the worst of all 1980s babyface moves: the forced kiss on the female valet to “put her in her place.” When you’re 8 and have never been in a relationship with a human woman, you think it’s a cool way for a cool dude to show some mean lady who’s boss, and then you grow up and look back and it’s kinda-sorta reason No. 500 on a thousand-number list of why wrestling fans don’t always grow up with social skills.
Anyway, Sunny gets pig-tongued and falls off the apron in shock and disgust instead of, you know, helping, and the Godwinns win the tag championships. The bad news is that this is the end of pre-Crisis, fitness associate Sunny. Because it’s 1996 and we can’t have anything nice, she’s replaced by a guy in drag. The good news is that it’s the beginning of the version of Sunny that follows around the tag titles and cosplays as whomever she’s managing.
Best: Figuring Out The Undertaker
So the Undertaker’s got a casket match coming up against Goldust. Jim Ross stands in purplish darkness and interviews Paul Bearer, who reveals that SURPRISE, The Undertaker is IN THIS CASKET WE’VE WHEELED OUT and has prepared a statement which he will read FROM SAID CASKET to illustrate how INTO DEATH he is and how much caskets SUCK FOR OTHERS.
In a moment that is both brilliant and pointless, Mankind shows up and attacks Undertaker on Goldust’s behalf by simply closing Undertaker in the casket, wrapping rope around it so he can’t get out, then beating the shit out of it with a pole and pushing it over. It’s SO GOOD. Taker wants to be a spooky ghost and cut a promo from a coffin, why not just close his dumb ass in it and throw him in the ocean, you know? I always wanted someone to respond to the Undertaker like a real person. When he’s taking 20 minutes to walk to the ring, just run out, punch out a druid and attack everybody with the torch.
Of course, the attack is also kinda stupid because Mankind’s beating the outside of a casket with a pole. That doesn’t really do anything, because there’s a thick, solid surface between the weapon and the person. It’s like when John Cena put Wade Barrett under a wooden cart and dumped a bunch of chairs on him. The violent thought is nice, I guess, but maybe don’t super protect the guy before you try to hurt him? Vince spends the entire segment yelling about how we GOTTA GET HIM OUTTA THERE because it’s an AIRTIGHT CASKET, and all can think is “didn’t Paul Bearer just wheel him out in this? Wasn’t this a style choice?” You can’t say a closed casket equals instant death because somebody tied a rope around it.
Worst: TALK MORE ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT PLEASE
The main event is The British Bulldog vs. Dornish warrior Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, but it’s actually Shawn Michaels on commentary. You see, Diana Hart has filed a restraining order on Shawn for allegedly propositioning her backstage in the hopes of keeping him away from ringside, but it doesn’t work. Gorilla Monsoon shows up and uses day-one deductive reasoning to say Shawn’s more important to the show than Bulldog’s wife, so she’s gotta go to the back.
Michaels sits on for the entirety of the match, which you wouldn’t even know is happening if you watch the show. It’s just constant closeups of Michaels and Vince being the 1996 WWF equivalents of Jeff Winger and Dean Pelton while Jerry Lawler SCREAMS AND SCREAMS AND SCREAMS about how Shawn hates women. He reveals that Shawn has posed for Playgirl magazine, which I guess is a horrible thing to do to women? ATTENTION LADIES, THERE’S A PLACE YOU CAN SEE SOME UNSOLICITED DICK-PICS IF YOU’D LIKE TO PAY MONEY FOR THEM, THAT’S YOUR CHOICE, I’M DOING IT BECAUSE I HATE YOU.
Eventually Diana Hart wanders out and throws a drink in Shawn’s face for obeying the restraining order but being more important to the show than her (?), and Shawn retaliates by punching out Jim Cornette (??). Bulldog jumps him from behind and the match kinda stops, and the show just ends. OKAY BYE.
Tune in to see:
– Shawn Michaels fight The British Bulldog over an alleged case of sexual assault
– The Undertaker fight Goldust over an attempted case of sexual assault
– Sunny manipulate the Godwinns in response to her initial sexual assault not working and leading to a different sexual assault
– Ted DiBiase trying to own a slave