Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Stone Cold Steve Austin assaulted The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust with a sky port-a-potty called CRAPPER 3:16. Sometimes I wish I didn’t instantly understand sentences like that.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for January 5, 1998, the first Raw of ’98.
Best: Night Of 1,000 Stunners
It’s a simple story: the Royal Rumble is coming up, Stone Cold Steve Austin has spent the past two years making enemies out of everyone on the roster and is a “marked man.” His plan is a preemptive attack on everyone else in the Royal Rumble. So he’s not really “feuding” with anyone — he even gave up the Intercontinental Championship to avoid the red tape — and gets to be laser-focused on his goal. That’s the Austin character at its best … give him a task, and let him lose his mind over it. See also: bringing Bret Hart out of retirement, invading Brian Pillman’s home and almost getting shot to death, recovering from an injury and manipulating the roster so he can specifically get revenge on Owen Hart, and now winning the Royal Rumble.
So the A-story of this week’s episode is Austin interrupting almost everything and everyone with Stone Cold Stunners. Remember that one really great Smackdown — been a while since I typed that — where The Shield systematically destroyed everyone they ran into? Same deal, only it’s one guy, and he’s doing this one move, and he’s got a sassy taunt prepared for aftermath. He announces at the top of the show that everyone in the locker room has a pager, shout-out to 1998, and that he’s going to send The Three One Six to each and ev’ry damn one of ’em.
Examples #1 and #2: Shamrock And Real Rock
Up first is Ken Shamrock vs. Faarooq, a match happening because Shamrock wants The Rock’s Intercontinental Championship and The Rock’s suddenly convinced that the faction he joined are his lackeys, so he’s making Shamrock fight everyone in the Nation of Domination to get to him. He also costs his own team the match by trying to direct outside interference, instructing Kama Mustafa to hold up a chair so Faarooq can send Shamrock into it. That backfires, and Shamrock wins the match. The Rock is great, but Nation Rock is such a fucking bumbler, and it’s wonderful. He (the character) has no idea what he’s doing, he’s just faking it until he makes it.
Anyway, The Rock and Shamrock are about to have a staredown and get into some post-match posturing when Austin shows up From Outta Nowhere™ and Stunners them both. As you can see in the GIF, Rock still hasn’t decided to start backflipping to sell these, but his original arms-out Randy Orton pose is getting there. And am I the only one who thinks Austin throwing that running shuffle-kick before the Stunner on Rock is hilarious?
Later, Kenny cuts a borderline incomprehensible promo about marks that makes you go, “oh, that’s why he wasn’t WWF Champion, he’s got the promo skills of a dog when you tell it you’re going outside but haven’t actually taken it yet.”
Example #3: The National Wrestling Alliance
On last week’s show, Jim Cornette cut a very Pappy O’Daniel promo about how the World Wrestling Federation needed “good old fashioned pro wrestling” to return — study question: did they ever have it? — so this week he announces an NWA North American Championship match with the help of Howard Brody and Dennis Coralluzzo of the National Wrestling Alliance. This is the official beginning of the NWA “invasion” angle you don’t remember much about. One of my favorite things in wrestling is how any time you see the President of the NWA on a show, it’s a different guy. Every time NWA representatives show up it’s just two dudes you’d see at a con holding an old belt and you’re like, “yes, that’s the NWA.”
They announce that the winner of the next match — Jeff Jarrett vs. Barry Windham — will be crowned the new NWA North American champion. Then, because this is the WWF’s interpretation of the NWA, they cheat to make sure Jarrett wins. Full on distracting the referee plus a tennis racket shot to the back. If you’re wondering why this angle didn’t catch on, consider that the best guy in the group (Jarrett) needed three old non-wrestlers to help him beat the second best member of the New Blackjacks.
To celebrate, this happens:
Jarrett’s Hall of Fame induction video should just be that GIF. Or Austin should induct him just to jump him again.
Example #4: Mark Henry
Somewhere in the middle of the show, we jump to the back to Austin angrily leaving the locker room. It turns out he (I guess) Stone Cold Stunnered Mark Henry on that plush carpet and flipped over a table onto him. The Headbangers are very concerned, because they’re against all non-Super-Soaker-related backstage attacks.
Example #5: Marc Mero
Tom Brandi finally takes on Marc Mero one-on-one to prove he is not jabber, then just gets his ass kicked and has Mero freely trying out finishers on him by the end of the match.
Brandi is the coldest boogers on the most paper plate you’ve ever seen, but the way this bit is structured is great. We see a video package of Mero mistreating Sable, and Brandi coming to her aid, right? So Brandi finally gets this match, but he sucks, so he loses badly. Mero spends the entire match being even RUDER to Sable, and the crowd is DYING for Brandi to shut him up. It never happens, but then Steve Austin waltzes in throwing Stunners and shadowboxing and the crowd goes apeshit.
So by “this is great” I more specifically mean “for anyone who isn’t Tom Brandi.”
I’m glad this week’s got so much action and isn’t leaning into the “Attitude Era” trying to offend you with-
Oh No: Blackface Goldust
I want to give some love to Jim Ross here, who desperately tries to contextualize what The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust is doing. He explains that Goldust just wants the spotlight and all the attention on him, so he’s doing ridiculous shit like blackface or metal tits and a ball gag to purposely offend people and get them talking. It’s less about what blackface normally represents, and more about a confused jerk lashing out and trolling at the wall until something sticks. Like a guy in a comments section, or on an image board somewhere. Jerry Lawler immediately negates this by talking about how Goldust is his “homie” and “just likes that movie Jackie Brown.”
This is objectively awful, don’t get me wrong, but I like when heels do absolutely, unbelievably reprehensible stuff like this and the show it’s happening on takes time to clearly state the intent and context. It’s a little different from popular-ass D-Generation X doing blackface to make fun of the heel Nation, I think. Flash Funk kicks his ass, Luna openly cheats to keep Goldust from being quickly finished off, and then Vader shows up in the post-match to kick his ass again. Lawler thinks it’s funny, because his character’s an awful person, and Ross thinks it’s fucked up, because his isn’t.
It’s also important to note that (1) I’m an out-of-touch white guy, and that (2) you should not do blackface even as a joke or as a heel act on a wrestling show because of like a thousand real-life reasons. The end.
Also On This Episode
The Truth Commission vs. Disciples of Apocalypse Gang War rages on with a match so uninteresting the crowd doesn’t even react to the finish. There’s a hot tag, and one of the Harris Brothers hits a DDT on one of the Truth Commission and pins them. It’s so unimportant that the finish happens on the left side of the screen with the camera panned out. After the match, Kurrgan attacks again! I think DOA might be the worst faction of all time, because they got WORSE when Crush left the group. How is that scientifically possible?
Here’s Sunny showing up to guest ring announce that tag. Nothing in my life will ever confuse me as much as people who preferred Sable over Sunny. Ever. I understand the Large Hadron Collider more than I understand those people.
The New Age Outlaws are putting their careers on the line against the Legion Of Doom — no spoilers, please — but first they have to defeat the mighty Headbangers. Which [checks notes] they do.
The finish here is notably bad, as the Bangers go for their powerbomb/top rope leg drop combo, but once again have no understanding of timing or depth perception. Mosh sets up too far out, Thrasher jumps and drops a leg onto nothing — I think the idea is that Gunn “re-positioned” to avoid it, but he literally just gets picked up for a powerbomb like normal — and Gunn wins with a roll-up. After the match, the Outlaws once again run in terror from horror movie character Chainsaw Charlie, who tries to cut the ring post in half with a chainsaw (pictured).
Best/Worst: Don King Donuts
If you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you probably don’t know what a joy it is to listen to Don King cut promos. Imagine that Doc Brown from the Back To The Future series and Teddy Long were the same guy. That’s Don King.
King gets a guest spot on Raw to tell the world that he and the WWF are still dotting their one letter and crossing their other letters to get Mike Tyson at WrestleMania 14. King doesn’t really have anything to say, but that’s never stopped him from talking for several minutes. This one’s just, “WE’RE NOT THERE YET, NOTHING’S HAPPENING YET, BUT I’M EXCITED, BUT DON’T GET EXCITED, BUT I’M EXCITED, MIKE TYSON AND WRESTLEMANIA DEFINITELY HAPPENING, BUT NOT HAPPENING YET, ONLY IN AMERICA!” Amazingly he refers to WrestleMania as an “affordable pleasure at an affordable price, and a pleasure you can’t afford to miss.” So good.
Best: Depressed Paul Bearer
I think we can all relate to Paul Bearer. Who hasn’t dealt with anxiety and depression because their bastard son from a funeral home affair got badly burned in a fire and wants to defeat his undead wizard brother in a wrestling match for the honor of their parents one or both of them murdered, but the zombie wizard won’t fight him and last week they decided to be friends? Just one of those commonalities we share in life.
But yeah, Paw Bear shows up looking disheveled — read: exactly like me — and cries “COME HOME! KANE, COME HOME!” I’m guessing this promo exists because Kane sounds like “Shane” and the old people in charge thought it’d be a funny reference. Also, I love the image of Undertaker and Kane bonding over the week and like, going to the mall to hang out together and maybe set some people on fire.
Best: Speaking Of The Undertaker
Owen Hart takes on Savio Vega in the middle of the show, and D-X does everything they can to try to cost him the match. When Owen wins anyway, Los Boricuas jump him 4-on-1 and actually carrying him up the ramp TO D-X, and we see Savio getting paid off. That’s such a nice heel faction moment that doesn’t get used enough: heels outsourcing their attacks and cheating to other heels, because they feel like they’re above it.
So at the end of the night, Shawn Michaels shows up again to cut a promo about how the Undertaker is a loser. He’s interrupted by smoke and spooky blue lighting and druids, who push a casket to the ring. It’s the same one with the graffiti all over it we saw last week. Michaels apologizes to the crowd for Triple H and Chyna not being original — not the most subtle bit, but you can buy that the Shawn character even thinks Hunter and Chyna are below him — and tells them to hurry up and pop out. When H and Chyna show up all concerned on the stage, Michaels realizes he just got SUPERNATURALLY GOOFED.
This is SUCH a good bit, with everyone playing their part perfectly. This is what you get when you try to use casket attacks against the man that invented them. What’s next, trying to set Kane on fire? Don’t answer that.
My favorite part of the entire episode is after Taker grabs Shawn and drags him into the casket, we find there’s a camera INSIDE the casket. They can just like, cut to it when they want. I don’t know if Undertaker had that installed or what, but we jump to a black screen and JR’s like,
I love it. I’d rant more about why someone would put a camera inside a casket just to film darkness, but I’ve seen Halftime Heat and have seen them put a camera on the bottom of a forklift’s forks to catch reactions. Any time they go into a parking lot there are 8 cameras filming everything, including 3 inside a car to make sure they’ve got all the angles. Wrestling is so weird.
Great episode this week. We’re not very far from Raw coming back in the ratings, and you can start to see why.
Kurrgan takes on the dream team of Lance Diamond and Joey Cicero, the Nation of Domination gets a new member, and Jim Cornette manages the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express in a scenario that should’ve had WE DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE NWA WAS ABOUT flashing at the bottom of the screen.
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