The Best And Worst Of WWF Raw Is War 12/28/98: The End Of Heartache

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: The Pretty Mean Sisters treated Mark Henry to some intense sexual situations, Mankind used his ultimate sneak attack, and Shane McMahon experimented with being a terrible general manager who gets beaten up by his wrestlers.

If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes of classic Raw 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 December 28, 1998.

“The Best Action Adventure Series On Television” — Michael Cole

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Last week, Shane McMahon was put in charge of both Raw Is War and The War Zone — are those still supposed to be different things? — got shown up by D-Generation X and Mankind, and had X-Pac’s balls jiggled up and down in his face. This week, daddy’s home, and there’s hell to pay; in the opening segment, Vince McMahon (1) orders the Corporation to storm Mankind’s boiler room en masse and beat the mess out of him, then executes that order, (2) announces his intention to fire Commissioner Shawn Michaels for holding back aid when Shane was getting Bronco Busted, and (3) books each and every member of D-Generation X into a match with the intent to manipulate or punish them.

Road Dogg shows up for the first match to defend his Hardcore Championship against Val Venis. Less than two minutes in, McMahon sends Test, Shamrock, Boss Man, and Kane down to the ring to attack Val. This causes a disqualification in a hardcore match for some reason, even after Jerry Lawler had literally said the line, “it’s a hardcore match, there’s no disqualification,” because referee Earl Hebner is extremely on the take. An Interrupting Vince (knock knock, who’s there) announces that Road Dogg isn’t going to defend his championship against Val Venis, oh no, he’s going to defend it against his GOOD FRIEND Mankind. X-Pac, who was previously punished on Sunday Night Heat with a match against Kane, has to put up the European Championship against The Big Boss Man. Triple H has had a history of leg injuries so he has to fight Ken Shamrock, MASTER OF INJURING LEGS. Finally, Bill Ass is supposed to wrestle The Godfather, but McMahon’s going to sic his goons on the pimp and replace him with a colossal fire demon at the last second.

Speaking of Kane, he gets one of the most interesting narratives of the episode. Two weeks ago, he was finally wrangled by orderlies and taken to an insane asylum. Last week, he was sprung by McMahon under the condition that he follow the Corporation around and mindlessly obey, taking out whoever Vince might want thrown at the ground by their neck. This week, Kane’s considered to be completely obedient, causing the MOST obedient Corporate followers (Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco) to constantly mock and abuse him.

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Later in the episode when X-Pac is defending the European Championship against the Big Boss Man a little too well, McMahon sends out Test to interfere. In a great moment of continuity that remembers emotional cause and effect can sometimes trump broader character alignment without requiring a character to switch hat colors, Val Venis shows up to help Pac fight them off. With Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker still absent from weekly programming due to the Buried Alive match, even the lower-tier characters are starting to pick sides, mostly out of necessity. Looking back, the whole Corporation/Corporate Ministry angle was built and played out like the nWo vs. WCW, except gradually paced and organic, and without the matching t-shirts.

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Unsurprisingly, Triple H gets his leg torn to shit by Ken Shamrock. Who knew?

A lot was made about Triple H being in the dog house after the “curtain call” at Madison Square Garden, but the entire back half of 1998 was just as bad. He spent most of it in a wheelchair, and whenever he stood up, somebody was there to kick his ass and put him back in it. He’s a much more important character here, of course, but it’s still pretty depressing to see him come back all HOUSE AFIRE just to get hobbled again. Here, he makes it to the ropes in Shamrock’s ankle lock, but Shamrock refuses to break the hold and gets disqualified. D-X jogs out, led by recent Ken Shamrock rival Billy Gunn, and they brawl with the Corporation again. Triple H gets carried to the back by his friends.

Gunn wants a piece of Ken Shamrock’s ass, because he LOVES to love them, and runs into him backstage. That leads to this hilarious exchange:

Shamrock: “You’re nothing but a punk to me, and you always have been. You’re looking at the best athlete in the WWF. You know what? You ought to shut your face before I beat your ass right now. You wanna show your ass? You can kiss mine, you punk.”
Gunn: “Oh yeah, [stammering pause] the only punk I see is you!”

Got him, Bill! He tries to add a Hardcore Holly style reference to a “punk card” — “here, let me pick up your card for ya!” — but yeah, there’s a reason Road Dogg is the one who did all the talking. And why Billy Gunn got called the “best pure athlete in the World Wrestling Federation” for like 15 years without having any memorable matches or promos. “He’s not good at being in the WWF, folks, but his 40 time is pretty good!”

Mr. Butts is supposed to wrestle The Godfather, as mentioned, but the Corporation beats him up backstage amidst the wailing of Albany’s finest hoes and McMahon replaces him with Kane. That goes about how you’d expect.

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Billy could really get up for those chokeslams. He’s such a good athlete! And pure, too! The story here is that Kane just wants to do Vince’s evil bidding and stay out of the mental hospital, but the Stooges want him to commit actual in-ring murders to prove he’s not a puss, or whatever. So Kane chokeslams Bill Ass and covers, but Patterson orders more chokeslams. Gunn gets a second chokeslam and is about to take a third when D-X finally runs out to make the save. Gunn gets carried away by the group, including Triple H, who is fine now because he’s not the one that’s supposed to be hurt in this segment.

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Road Dogg actually wins his Hardcore Championship match against Mankind, but only after help from The Rock. Mankind climbs up onto the upper level of seating, Kofi Kingston in Madison Square Garden-style, and drops a big elbow on the Dogg. While Dogg’s selling, Rock sneaks in from his spot on commentary, Rock Bottoms Mankind onto the arena floor, and bails through the crowd. Road Dogg covers Mankind and wins, retaining the championship, but is upset when he sees the replay and realizes how it happened. And/or that he only retained because he’s the less important of two guys the Corporation wants to humiliate and injure on the reg.

As a quick note, the Hardcore Championship really had something going for it before it got wacky and turned in the ancestor of the 24/7 title. There was a real place on the card for no disqualification matches that could go anywhere and involve anything without the threat of a half-assed DQ ruining everything. The match that opened this Raw notwithstanding. Road Dogg is actually low key one of the best Hardcore Champions ever, because he held the championship during this early period and got some really entertaining, fun defenses out of it. It’s a concept WWE should revisit today. Have somebody break that awful 24/7 Championship belt with a hammer, spray-paint the strap black, and have someone worth a shit get violence in defense of it.

Best/Worst: Stand By Your Man

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The only D-Generation X member to have a good night is Chyna, who is mad at Terri Runnels and Jacqueline for having kinky sex with Mark Henry for like two hours on live television last week, instead of, you know, being mad at Mark Henry for voluntarily doing so.

Mark shows up to apologize for that this week, which brings out PMS to be like, “we thought you were cool.” D’Lo Brown sticks up for Mark, calling them, “glorified ring rats.” WWE Network closed captioning isn’t down with horrible wrestling lingo and thinks he called them, “ring wrecks,” which is way more accurate. D’Lo is a “gentleman” and can’t punch a couple of women for having sex with his friend, so Chyna shows up to do that for him. Chyna officially declares that Mark is, “her man,” and warns PMS to stay away from him forever, or else. Terri hits the bricks because she’s already been shaken like a rag doll by Chyna for associating with perverts in the past, but Jacqueline’s not that smart. She shows ass to Chyna, who promptly gives her the one-handed Vader choke and tosses her to the ground.

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Henry hopping up and down like a triumphant child makes the segment. Also of note: Chyna looks like she’s wearing a grill in this segment, which I assume are braces from when she had her jaw reconstructed. Seems weird that they had her be mute forever and then start talking all the time and cutting promos when she was still healing from facial surgery.

Meanwhile, The McMahons Continue To Plot And Prepare

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The best moment of the episode is probably Shane McMahon training his father for the Royal Rumble with a hate-fueled training montage in a 1980s gym. This one isn’t as famous as the followups with Vince training in the snow and chasing chickens around, but it’s 100% worth seeking out, if only to see Vince do sit-ups and bicep curls while yelling, “I HATE AUSTIN! I HATE AUSTIN! I HATE AUSTIN! I HATE AUSTIN!” The fact that Shane is a horrible coach who is barely helping is just icing on the cake.

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As a reminder, the reason WWE’s been so obsessed with creating evil general manager characters for the past 20+ years is because they kinda stumbled into Vince McMahon being maybe the most consistently entertaining NPC of all time, and keep trying to micromanage another Vince into existence, despite the fact that there will never be another Vince. You can’t build that shit in a lab. Stephanie McMahon is the closest thing we’ve ever gotten, because that apple fell so close to the tree it rolled back under it, but she’s a little too hung up on being a beloved humanitarian businesswoman instead of looking like a dumb abusive asshole every week. And she only gets her ass kicked once every 2-5 years, instead of constantly.

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Anyway, McMahon says he’s going to fire Shawn Michaels as soon as he gets to the arena, and the announce team spends almost two full hours reminding us. Michaels gets to the arena with like 15 minutes left in the show, which is a pretty fireable offense already, and, sure enough, gets brought to the ring and unceremoniously fired. Michaels, being Michaels, kicks Vince in the face and more or less teabags him, which the camera misses most of:

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Vince McMahon lives his dreams

The Corporation runs him off, and Shawn is now free to rejoin D-X as a fan favorite. [checks notes] And then immediately disappear from television again to have back surgery. More on all of that next week.

Also On This Episode

Death’s Head

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Last week, Al Snow became the victim of a “blood bath,” which in Michael Cole terms means he was “bathed” in “some kind of red, viscous liquid.” No idea what that could be. This week, Snow shows up to Raw with all that week-old blood still on him, having not cleaned himself or changed his clothes. Also, Head is now going through some shit.

The idea here is that the blood bath has sent the chaotic good Al Snow into a complete mental tailspin, turning him at best chaotic neutral, or, at worst, chaotic evil. They play this up in his match with Edge, as he headbutts him like 30 times in a row and smashes him in the chest with (death’s) Head until The Brood and the JOB Squad run out. Edge seems weirdly fine after the beatdown, possibly because he’s trying to be more like Triple H, which really hurts the whole endeavor. They could’ve given Snow a real violent edge and gone somewhere interesting with him, but they never do, and he’s consistently, forever booked like store brand Mick Foley. Disappointing.

Knight Rider

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One of the strangest creative choices from this week is the return of Dennis Knight, identified as, “formerly of Southern Justice,” so that’s officially no longer a thing. Knight is shown in a backstage segment talking to X-Pac about how “he” told him to be here tonight. We don’t find out who “he” is yet, and we don’t even get to hear them talking about it, because Michael Cole is breathlessly explaining it while it’s happening. It’s so bad that at one point Lawler actually tells him to shut up so he can hear what they’re saying. The voice of the WWE for the past 20 years, everybody.

The next time we see Knight, he’s getting stuffed into the trunk of his own rental car by the Acolytes.

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The implication is that The Jackyl is the “he” who told Knight to be there tonight so his Acolytes could attack and kidnap him, or whatever, but it’s actually something much more insidious. Things are about to get GOTH AS SHIT, everybody, so get ready.

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In women’s “division” news, Women’s Champion Sable gets booked against the mysterious SPIDER LADY, who attacks her before the match even starts and beats her down with a belt. The Oddities show up to bail out Sable, only to find out that the mysterious Spider Lady is actually Luna Vachon, who I guess remembered she’s a bad-ass wrestler and not a sideshow freak whose act is, “not conventionally attractive.”

As you may know, the “Spider Lady” act is a reference to the character The Fabulous Moolah plays when she wants to shoot on the current Women’s Champion and take back the championship because of behind-the-scenes bullshit. Definitely the kind of terrible moment in and out of the ring you should keep reminding fans about.

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Finally, in the least goth moment I can describe without putting on a pair of khakis and a polo shirt and tweeting about how snow means there’s no global warming, an Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett tag team match is ruined by the sudden appearance of Dan “The Beast” “Severrin'” Severn in a neck brace. Presumably he’s mad that Owen announced he was gonna retire because she was so guilty about almost paralyzing Severn during a match, only to spend the next several months dressing up himself and his friends as a sparkly, vaguely bird-themed super hero. The distraction allows Owen and Jarrett’s opponents, Steve Blackman and Goldust (tag team name: Black Gold), to win with a roll-up. As you do.

Honestly, the most interesting thing about this match is that they’ve finally stopped calling Debra McMichael by her full name. She’s now just “Debra,” because you can’t expect wrestling fans in 1998 to remember a woman’s first AND last name.

Next Week:

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We head into the first show of 1999 with the short-lived formation of DX Deluxe and, somehow, my least favorite Michael Cole call of all time. See you next year (week)!