The Best And Worst Of WWF Raw Is War 8/24/98: Highway Robbery

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Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: President Bill Clinton called into the show multiple times to comment on Ken Starr’s investigation into whether or not the Undertaker and Kane are in cahoots, or something. Plus, penis Super Soakers!

Previously on Sunday Night Heat: Jeff Jarrett is suddenly obsessed with haircuts, Mrs. Yamaguchi-san has gone evil, and Jamie’s boyfriend is a prime suspect on an all new Pacific Blue, up next.

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 Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.

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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw is War for August 17, 1998.

Best: Give Cahoots, Don’t Pollute

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This week’s A-story is absolutely off the charts, folks.

The show opens with The Brothers Of Destruction® making their official debut, having pulled back the veil on their cahoots by way of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s unparalleled enthusiasm for themed violence and a Gob Bluth-quality illusion inside a hearse. Before Undertaker can cut a long-winded promo about being the REAPER OF HOLES or whatever, Mr. McMahon interrupts and is beside himself with glee. He was right all along about the cahoots and we didn’t believe him, assuming we’re in the crowd in 1998 and clinging to the idea that the 7-foot-tall zombie wizard is a hero of the children.

Vince wants to know if Kane and the Undertaker are friends or food foes, but before he can get a straight answer, Paul Bearer shows up. Paw Bear is in full televangelist melodrama mode bemoaning the loss of his precious baby son Kane to this son of a whore The Undertaker and asks Kane to do “one last thing” for him: destroy the Undertaker. Kane simply turns his back and lets Taker take Paw to funerary school. THAT brings out Mankind, who immediately gets in the ring and turns his back on everyone, asking for a beating. Kane and Undertaker oblige him, proving once and for all that (once again) Vince McMahon was right all along, and that Mankind is a fool for trusting two supernatural monsters instead of one normal businessman monster.

Here’s Kane and Undertaker finishing Foley off with the first ever Indytaker. THE! ELITE! THE THE! ELITE!

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after this, they hit Vince McMahon with double superkicks

THAT brings out Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is prevented from making it to the ring via a SUDDEN WALL OF FIRE, reminding us, I guess, that Kane (and to a lesser degree, the Undertaker) could just immolate you, Scorpion-style, whenever he wanted. Austin declares that he knows he can’t take out both Kane and Undertaker by himself — a rare moment of reason and humility from a guy who’d eventually call himself the “sheriff of Raw” and try to run people over with an ATV — but promises to take out one of the “big bastards” before SummerSlam. Vince stands at ringside gulping his big hilarious Vince McMahon drama gulps, and the stage is set for literally everything that matters tonight.

I want to take a second and explain how this differentiates from the “promo parades” that currently infect modern WWE television. Firstly, Kane and the Undertaker open the show together without saying a word, confirming weeks of speculation that they’re on the same side. Why? Because Austin forced them to “out” themselves with that hearse bit. Before they can say anything, Vince McMahon, the guy who’s been the leader of the Undertaker Brothers truther movement, interrupts and starts lording his correctness over everyone. Again, it’s the next step in a series of episodic stories. Paul Bearer showing up to beg for Kane’s support is also backed up by several (dozen) episodes of story, because Paul’s been deeply insistent that his son would never do something this HEINOUS™. Mankind has been getting beaten to death by both guys, either on purpose or by accident, and needs their motivations confirmed. Austin just went through weeks of “can they co-exist” with The Undertaker only to find out Taker’s been playing him this whole time, and needs to eliminate Kane from the equation before he can defend the WWF Championship against Taker at SummerSlam.

Contrast that with modern show storytelling, where Seth Rollins will open the show cutting a promo on Brock Lesnar, who isn’t there, only to be interrupted by a string of interchangeable heels with motivations like, “I want to make an impact,” or, “I SHOULD BE THE CHAMPION, NOT YOU.” There’s no meat to those stories. They’re not “stories,” they’re declarative statements. Matches result from the segment not because weeks of storytelling needs its next step or closure, they happen because x amount of wrestlers are there and we need to start wrestling on the wrestling show because we’ve been talking for 45 minutes.

This is what I mean when I write about “doing the work.” Fans can be invested in these stories from 1998 because they’ve been built up over weeks of television. They aren’t polarized cogs spinning in a weird water-treading machine, and the company understands there’s a value in character and persona deeper than, “let the crowd see the wrestlers.”

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Mankind gets taken away on a stretcher after being beaten up by Kane and Undertaker, but stretchers never seem to “take” when he’s involved, so he knocks out the EMTs, rolls the stretcher back out onto the stage and surfs it down the ramp. This is a low key legendary Mick Foley moment you’ve probably seen in video packages for the past 20 years.

When he’s in the ring, Mankind explains that (again) Vince McMahon was right all along and he should’ve trusted him, and that Vince has once again shown his humanitarianism by allowing Foley a shot at revenge: he’s going to face Kane in this very ring tonight in a HELL IN A CELL MATCH. Keep in mind that this is only a few months after the infamous Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 1998, so Foley’s insanity and imminent death are all still fresh in peoples’ minds. Also, check this out: Mankind’s explaining why he’d get in the ring, turn his back on Kane and Undertaker, and take a beating like that, because it informs his decision to finally believe McMahon’s lines and officially position himself against the Brothers of Destruction. It’s also super secretly Mankind’s official face turn.

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And, to their credit, Raw actually gives us a Hell in a Cell match.

It’s structurally almost the same as the King of the Ring match, except with nothing really going right. Mankind tries to start the match on the top of the cage, but can’t get up there for various reasons. He can’t even successfully throw a steel chair onto the roof, which is probably like a thousand times more difficult than it looks. That chair throw at King of the Ring was like Walter White throwing a perfectly intact pizza onto his roof. You can only do that miracle once.

They do the thumbtacks bit again, except this time Kane only bumps into it by accident while selling a piledriver, ending up with a hundred gimmicked thumbtacks in his ass like he just shit the stars. Most notably, Mankind’s top of the Cell bump is replaced by the “fall off the side from about halfway up” fall they do in every Hell in a Cell match these days. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have done it, Kevin Owens has done it, Sasha Banks kinda sorta pretended to do it … it’s the industry standard Hell in a Cell bump now, is what I’m getting at.

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Stone Cold Steve Austin makes good on his promise from earlier by hiding under the ring the entire time, then popping out to kick Kane’s ass inside the Cell. Undertaker shows up trying to help but can’t get in because, you know, Cell, and climbs up to the roof looking for a way in. He DID get in through the Cell like that one time, so it makes sense. When the beating’s over — a Hell in a Cell match ends in a “no contest,” by the way, which is pretty lame — the cage raises and Austin’s able to escape victorious, because now Taker can’t get down. Plus, hey look, it’s bad good friend Steve Austin helping out Mick Foley again. So many plot threads all tied together.

At the end of the night, an irate Undertaker pushes a casket down to the ring and goes all FIRE AND BRIMSTONE AND REAPERS on the microphone about how Austin’s gonna get got. McMahon once again comes down to the ring to confront him about whether he’s Friend or Foe. Vince takes Undertaker’s silence to mean, “friend,” and foolishly goes in for a handshake, not remembering that a dead man’s hands are for throat-grabbing and throwing people at the damn ground. In the background, stealth mission Stone Cold Steve Austin pops out of the casket to TAKE SOULS and STOMP MUDHOLES.

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Unfortunately for Austin, he doesn’t realize that Undertaker’s casket is actually an Aztec Tomb illusion, and that Kane is ALSO HIDING INSIDE OF IT. I wish they’d given us an inside-the-casket video of Austin and Kane both crammed in there shoulder-to-shoulder somehow at the same time, pretending the other isn’t there.

Austin manages to get the hell out of there before Destruction is Brothered, and the show ends with an incredible (and incredibly corny) visual: a dividing line of FIRE down the ramp, making it look like a highway. A highway to HELL, one might say.

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Modern Raw can’t make “two normal guys with normal names both want a championship belt” make sense, but 1998 Raw can weave together like six stories involving a corrupt businessman, a belligerent redneck, a funeral parlor operator, a deformed madman, a 7-foot tall undead zombie wizard, and his also 7-foot-tall fire-bending burn victim brother read like the fucking Brothers Karamazov. The Brothers of Destruction Karamazov, I guess.

Best: Chynese Democracy

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The B-story of the episode follows Intercontinental Champion The Rock, who insists that at SummerSlam he’ll climb a ladder rung by damn rung by damn rung and retain his championship against Triple H. To illustrate this, he brings out Determined Excellence’s manager, Chyna, for a one-on-one confrontation.

Because The Rock is a jerk, that’s secretly a The Entire Nation-on-one confrontation, as it’s revealed they’ve backed a forklift up to D-X’s dressing room door to keep them barricaded inside. The World Wrestling Federation’s out here creating the tropes they’d dick-ride for the next 20 years of TV drama WEEKLY. Rock uses this opportunity to sexually harass Chyna — she’s only tough like this because she needs to “get some” — and promises her that at one or two in the morning, he might throw her The Rock’s bone. She decides to punch him about it, but gets held down and threatened with SEXUAL CHOCOLATE MARK HENRY kisses (another long-lasting plot thread introduction that would change his character forever) until an unexpected savior (cough) arrives:

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Yes, folks, here’s the glorious tease of a Shawn Michaels vs. The Rock feud that never came to be. Can you imagine how good that would’ve been? Or how good it would’ve been circa 2002 when Michaels came back, and The Rock had completely grown into himself as a character and performer? Holy shit. That never ended up happening (beyond a superkick in the first real episode of Smackdown’s main event) for a number of reasons, some of which you can listen to in this interview snippet where Michaels says he loves The Rock and has no problem with him and then lists off his problems with him.

MIchaels vs. The Rock has gotta be up there with Michaels vs. Daniel Bryan, Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan, Hogan vs. Flair in the WWF, and probably Austin vs. CM Punk as the most epic feuds that were teased but never really followed up on. Can you imagine Rock and Michaels comedically over-selling for each other? They could’ve held the match at WWF In Your Bounce House.

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When Triple H gets out of the dressing room he’s Furious 7 and taps the “bitch” card, instantly winning the feud. In the World Wrestling Federation, the winner of any interpersonal beef is the first person who can organically call his opponent a bitch. A bonus is granted if your opponent references your family in any kind of way, and you respond by telling them that bringing up somebody’s family is crossing a line you don’t wanna cross. HHH illustrates this by interrupting a Val Venis vs. TAKA Michinoku match for some reason and hitting them in the face with chairs.

One quick note about THAT match, before we move on: it’s the second and final appearance of Evil Mrs. Yamaguchi-san and, unfortunately, the final WWF appearance of Mrs. Yamaguchi-san, period.

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She doesn’t make an appearance at SummerSlam ’98 — Val gets a European Championship match against D’Lo Brown, and Kaientai faces The Oddities — and … that’s just it. She returns to her civilian life, goes on to work for Adidas and Dick’s Sporting Goods (definitely Val Venis’ favorite place to shop), and leaves behind a legacy of awkward teen boys who’ll never forget her and might grow up to write about 20 year old episodes of Raw on the Internet.

Thank you for everything, Mrs. Yamaguchi-san. You’re forever in our hearts. Here’s a battery.

Best/Worst: Don’t Piss Me On

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In other Determined Excellence news, Gangrel takes on a Fast Syxx in an Open Up And Say Aah Match, where the winner gets a championship tongue scraper. I don’t know. They do have a match, though, and it’s pretty great until Jeff Jarrett runs in and obliterates X-Pac with a guitar.

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Why, you may ask? “It’s probably about him shaving off part of Jarrett’s hair on Sunday Night Heat, right,” you may also ask. Oh, friend, it’s much worse than that. It’s much more Attitude Era than that.

Earlier in the night, X-Pac brings a camera man into the locker room to show him a “harmless rib.” He then takes a long, off-screen piss in Jarrett’s shoes. DON’T PISS ME OFF was the ONE THING Jarrett’s been telling you not to do, man.

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During a Southern Justice vs. New Age Outlaws match, Jarrett storms up to the commentary table in his socks and stands around accusatorily pointing about his piss-feet. As a quick note to those who read the Heat column, Raw does the same thing Heat does with Southern Justice where they know the wrestling’s going to be terrible, so they do as many things as possible to keep you from noticing it. Here you’ve got the “X-Pac peed in my shoes” story as well as Drunk Hawk on color commentary “shooting” on the time Jerry Lawler told him to no-sell a piledriver at the Mid-South Coliseum and dropping accidental Oregon Trail references.

To keep you from watching the finish, Jarret and Southern Justice team up 3-on-1 on the camera man and shave his head for filming Jarrett’s piss-feet, which Jarrett had repeatedly told him not to. How many instructions does one man have to give about urine, Jesus Christ.

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Because there can never be enough to keep you from watching HOG and PIG wrestle, there’s also a post-match attack on Gangrel from THE EDGE, who has a MYSTERIOUS BONE TO PICK with the vampire. He now prossess Dracula’s bone. What could it be? Also, please do not look closely at Edge’s neck.

And Now, The Thrilling Conclusion Of Brawl For All

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Who will win this boxing and toughman fight? The guy who played football, or the boxing toughman? THERE’S NO WAY TO TELL! Anyway, here’s Bradshaw getting knocked the fuck out and collapsing like a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! character.

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Bart Gunn wins $75,000 for his easy victory in a punching tournament full of wrestlers who don’t really know how to punch, and Jim Ross puts over the fact that he’s going to rise to new heights in the company. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but it DOES get Bart a WrestleMania match, and spoiler alert, it pretty much invents the wobble-headed “knockout” animation from the N64 AKI wreslting games. Unfortunately for Bart, his opponent’s not the one accidentally inventing them.

Also On This Episode

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Kofi Kingston makes his Raw debut by attacking Sable. Wait, hang on … [checks notes]

Wait, no, this is Jacqueline in what Jim Ross describes as, “somewhat of a disguise,” attacking Sable during a Kurrgan vs. Marvelous Marc Mero match. The rub is that Mero and Jacqueline are facing Sable and a Mystery Partner in a mixed tag team match at SummerSlam. You think it’s going to be one of the Oddities, but you think you know me.

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Finally, here’s Owen Hart using the “UFC-like choke” that Dan Severn taught him — a Dragon Sleeper, because Severn’s a Toryumon student apparently — to incapacitate Ken Shamrock. Steve Blackman shows up to make the save, and a “snapped” Shamrock belly-to-belly suplexes him anyway, because he’s a crazy asshole. Blackman responds by belly-to-bellying Shamrock, because he’s just trying to do karate and be a friend, give him a break.

As a fun note, this is the only Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn pro wrestling match in the World Wrestling Federation despite it employing the two biggest MMA stars of the time, and it goes less than three minutes before ending in disqualification. I guess someone important in the front office realized Shamrock’s way better at pro wrestling than Mayor Mike Haggar.

Next Week

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‘My Way’ by Limp Bizkit is the most popular WWF pay-per-view hype video ever, but real ones know: