Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Vince McMahon gave Mankind the Hardcore Championship as a thank-you for being a better son than Shane, which is a pretty low bar. Also The Rock got “arrested,” ZZ Top listened to Insane Clown Posse for presumably the first time, and Shaquille O’Neal got yelled at for not having a backstage pass.
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 November 9, 1998.
Best: The Deadly Pre-Game
A lot of people remember Survivor Series ’98: Deadly Game as the pinnacle of Attitude Era storytelling and the single event that kept Vince Russo in the wrestling business for the next way-too-many years, and rightfully so; but a lot of folks don’t remember or realize that it only works as well as it does thanks to this go-home edition of Raw Is War, which sets it up perfectly.
Deadly Game lives or dies based on three concurrent plots.
1. Mankind Is The ‘Corporate Champion’
For most of the year, Mick Foley’s Mankind character has been transitioning from a crazy guy who pulls out his own hair to scare you into a lovable guy who pulls out his own hair as an expression of loneliness and a desperate need for love. He wants to be friends with SOMEBODY. He wants to be part of a team, respected, and appreciated. McMahon and the evil WWF management team has been manipulating this at every turn, always stepping in to dangle a carrot in front of him — or a “brass ring,” if you will — to send him staggering off in another direction. Lately they’ve been building up the idea that McMahon finally appreciates the loyalty and effort Mankind’s put into being a … well, into being a corporate crony. Last week he gave him the Hardcore Championship, and this week he’s giving him a “makeover” to prepare him to win the Deadly Game tournament and represent WWF as its corporate champion.
Through this episode, we see Mankind backstage getting a “new look,” which is basically him putting on a tuxedo, shaving, and getting his split ends snipped off. It’s great. WWF actually managed to be pretty subtle here, calling back to when Stone Cold Steve Austin won the championship and Vince wanted him to drop the jorts and dress like an adult. Austin’s version of that was, you know, adult dress clothes. Foley’s interpretation of that is, “full tuxedo.” He’s still wearing a leather catcher’s mask over his face, which is funny, and with a tuxedo that doesn’t fit and a giant colorful cummerbund, he looks like Kevin Smith at the Oscars.
McMahon books him into a Hardcore Championship defense against Ken Shamrock, which will become important way later. Foley shows up in his Sunday best (to wrestle), and Jim Ross can’t stop screaming about how suspicious it is that Mankind’s the only person in the first round of the Deadly Game tournament to have a mystery opponent. He actually says Mankind “doesn’t have an opponent,” and Lawler has to clarify that he DOES, we just don’t know how it is. It’s a great way to get us thinking about what’s actually going on, and to suspect foul play from the McMahons.
Meanwhile, Mankind’s using a steel chair to literally chase Ken Shamrock up the ramp:
When they’re up there, McMahon’s most recently effective henchman, Big Boss Man, sneaks up on Shamrock and blasts him with the night stick. More on the Boss Man later. Foley’s able to win and retain the Hardcore Championship, sending him into Survivor Series as a “proven champion” who, apparently, has the full resources of the chairman of the board’s Legion of Doom behind him.
2. The Rock Is The People’s Champion
On last week’s episode, Mr. McMahon booked The Rock against Ken Shamrock — isn’t it interesting how every time McMahon has to put someone into a match against their will, he uses Ken Shamrock? HMM HMM HMMM — where if Rock didn’t win the Intercontinental Championship, he’d be removed from the Deadly Game tournament. Rock won the match by disqualification (with no help from The Big Boss Man or any other McMahon associate, I should mention), but didn’t “win the Intercontinental Championship,” so he got tossed from Deadly Game. He flipped out about it backstage, and McMahon had him arrested and escorted off the premises. The Mankind vs. Shamrock match feels like it was in direct contrast to Rock/Shamrock.
This week, the ante is upped; The Rock has to face Mark Henry. If Rock wins, he’s back in the tournament; if he loses, he’s fired, and out of WWF completely. Rock, being the kind of passionate superstar babyface who NEVER BACKS DOWN FROM A CHALLENGE and OVERCOMES THE ODDS, agrees. He’s then immediately attacked backstage by an unknown assailant. Whoops! As a small side note, this is the debut of The Rock’s signature track suit, which you’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months.
Sure enough, The Rock battles back from medical non-clearance and overcomes those odds to defeat Henry. McMahon seemingly throws every play in the evil general manager rule book at him here, from allowing Henry’s friends to pull the referee out of the ring before a three count with no consequences to having Boss Man show up with cuffs and try to handcuff Rocky to the corner. Rock swerves him by handcuffing BOSS MAN’s wrist to the buckle, eliminating the only active Corporation threat. They aren’t called that yet, but in the interest of not typing, “specifically Mr. McMahon, the blessing of old men who follow him around, and The Big Boss Man,” every time, you get it. Anyway, Rock triumphs, everybody and their mothers catch Rock Bottoms and People’s Elbows, the crowd roars, and JR shouts HE’S NOT THE PEOPLE’S CHUMP, HE’S NOT THE PEOPLE’S ASS, HE’S THE PEOPLE’S CHAMPION! Good Dude Shane McMahon is the one who slides in to count the fall, by the way. Remember that.
After the match, Rock goes full-tilt babyface by pulling Mr. McMahon up out of his wheelchair and lobbing him into the ring for an ass-whooping. McMahon tries to play the, “my ankle is injured,” card, but when he realizes Boss Man can’t break free and help him, he doubles down on deserving a beating by slapping Rock in the face. The kung fu zoom combined with Rock’s ridiculous pre-Hollywood face make it an A+ visual.
Rock lays out McMahon to thunderous applause, and going into Survivor Series we’re sure of two things: Mankind is the champion the World Wrestling Federation has chosen to represent itself, and it’ll do anything to keep The Rock from ascending to the top of the card.
3. Shane McMahon Is Keeping Stone Cold Steve Austin Distracted And Busy
You might be wondering how Stone Cold Steve Austin could let either of those things happen without rampaging through the backstage area in a dune buggy tricked out with machine guns or whatever, and the answer is that he would be, if not for a major distraction: aforementioned Good Dude Shane McMahon.
After months (and months) of being used and abused by Mr. McMahon, Austin finally went too far and got fired. The next night on Raw he showed up with weapons to abduct and possibly murder McMahon and faced no opposition from security, local police, or even McMahon’s closest associates. They suspiciously left him all alone at the worst possible moment. A week later we find out all of this was made possible by Shane, who has re-signed Austin as a “fuck you” to his dad. In retaliation, Vince demotes Shane to referee and delegates about 95% of the Boss Man’s efforts into attacking Austin. That picture above is of Shane as the referee for a Road Dogg vs. D’Lo Brown vs. Headbanger Mosh match on this episode that I wouldn’t have anything to say about if they just stared into the camera and addressed me directly.
Later in the episode, Austin and Boss-tin have promo battle, and I don’t have to tell you how outclassed Boss Man was here. It’d be like sending your worst uncle out in front of 10,000 people and saying, “okay, insult The Rock.” The highlight (or lowlight, depending on how you look at it) is Austin revealing what really happened with Nailz six years too late:
“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Hell, son, that sounds like a threat to me, and I tell ya something right now. I know all about your little prison guards, and your little games. Maybe every so often at the prison you hear a squeal in the night. I tell you something right now, Stone Cold Steve Austin doesn’t play that crap. But I tell you what, you bring your ass to this ring, I’ll shove that nightstick so far up your ass you’ll have to move it out of the way to brush them little yellow teeth of yours.”
No wonder they couldn’t talk about that on weekend children’s TV in 1992. “The Big Boss Man, quite frankly, being accused of being somewhat SEXUAL in nature, perhaps, with one Nailz!” “Of course he was, McMahon! They called him Nailz in prison because he was always getting hammered! Ha ha!” “Is that so?” etc.
Before the main event, Shane McMahon shows up to plead with his dad to stop taking out his frustrations on the roster. Vince McMahon, being Vince McMahon, completely ignores constructive feedback that would help his company, everyone in it, and everyone watching at home, and sics the Big Boss Man on him. Sure enough, Austin shows up to make the save for his best friend he can definitely trust, Shane McMahon.
So now the McMahons have control over the entire battlefield; Mankind is impressionable and deluded enough to do whatever he’s told without asking questions, The Rock is almost cartoonish in how much of an unstoppable super hero underdog who loves everyone he is, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s busy trying to handle things he thinks are important because he always misses the forest for the trees, and Shane McMahon’s in a professional position to literally carry out any orders from above on who should or shouldn’t win matches at next weekend’s championship tournament. George R.R. Martin couldn’t have written this shit any better, although his version would’ve involved Shane hooking up with his little sister, and Stone Cold getting his head chopped off about halfway through.
X-Pac Is A Real Burnout
The moment you’ll actually probably remember from this episode happens in the opening match, as X-Pac takes on The Undertaker and gets shot in the face by Kane’s magical fireball.
Undertaker’s in here using punches and arm wringers and Kane shows up using Dungeons & Dragons attacks. He should’ve choked him out with a Length Of Rope. The only item X-Pac has in his inventory is a Bag of Holding, clearly. Anyway, they never really make it clear if Kane can shoot fire out of his hands whenever he wants of if he brought a tiny flamethrower into the ring or whatever. Here it is in slow motion, so you can see it shoot out of Kane’s hand and basically go straight into the Undertaker’s face by accident. I always assumed Kane had CONTROL over fire, which is how he could make walls of flame or make the ring posts explode, but I never thought of him as, like, an actual Fire Bender.
Now that we’ve listened to Pac’s ‘Open Fire,’ he gets bandaged up on the spot like a character in a 1950s science fiction movie and taken away. Surely that’s the only Kane Fire Goof of the week, right?
[arms up] [arms down] 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Later in the night, Kane takes on the man who would eventually trick him into murdering his own father, Edge. Edge is just the third most important vampire in a group of three here, so Kane beats the good god damn out of him AND Christian AND Gangrel. It’s such a thorough and one-sided beating that you’d think The Brood asked for their release on Monday afternoon and were being buried to make sure they weren’t worth a shit anywhere else they went.
To put a real exclamation point on the segment, Kane piles them up and douses with with gasoline in an attempt to actually murder them. Between this and Stone Cold holding a gun to Mr. McMahon’s head, Vince Russo seems really into testing how far he can go re: killing characters on-screen. The referee tries to stop him but gets chokeslammed and added to the pile, giving us this shot that looks like a renaissance painting of someone pissing their pants. Can’t you shoot fire out of your hands, man? Why do you need gasoline and a torch all of a sudden?
WWF officials break it up, prompting boos from the crowd. WWF crowds in 1998 wanted to see some actual murders real bad. Kane shows his disappointment by randomly chokeslamming a fan on his way out. That might seem bad, but don’t worry, it was a 90s white kid with rainbow braids. He should’ve been chokeslammed the second he left his house.
Last week, Terri Runnels revealed that she was pregnant with Val Venis’ baby, and tried to shack up with her panseuxal Oscar statue ex-husband when she got dumped for it. This week on Sunday Night Heat, Val revealed that she couldn’t have possibly gotten Terri pregnant, because in his “line of work” (read: Canadian porn parodies where everyone stays under the sheets or behind steamy shower doors) certain precautious have to be taken. He got a vesectomy!
So this week, Val wrestles Steve Blackman, and it doesn’t go well for either of them. Blackman’s dealing with Owen Hart and someone cosplaying as the Blue Blazer so people don’t think the Blazer’s Owen. Val has to once again throw Terri out for trying to accompany him to the ring, and she returns at the end to punch him in the dick and cost him the match. You know, an athletic supporter is way more cost effective than surgery, Val, you could’ve avoided like 80% of your storylines and match finishes if you just protected your shit.
In a related story, Goldust wrestles Jeff Jarrett and ALSO has to reject Terri, despite her bouncing down to the ring in a “Marlena” dress that is clearly just a gold pillowcase she found lying around backstage. Terri breaks a cigar in half to show that she’s not only done with Dustin emotionally and professionally, she’s done with him symbolically. Surprisingly she doesn’t show back up to punch HIM in the dick, and hands off that duty to another JEZEBEL on the roster: Debra McMichael.
Curse Of Bride Of Mongo
Debra is all in on manipulating the World Wrestling Federation’s most unstable freaks this week. Firstly, she prevents Goldust from Shattering Jeff Jarrett’s Dreams (of wrestling promotion ownership) (unfortunately) by getting between them and “offering” herself to Goldust. Goldie hasn’t hooked up with a woman that looks exactly like this in WEEKS, and decides to put the mack down. Jeff Jarrett responds by smashing him in the face with a guitar. I mean … let’s be honest, worth it.
Later, Debra makes an appearance during one of the shoot worst matches in Raw history: Al Snow vs. Tiger Ali Singh. That’s like booking a match between gonorrhea and syphilis. Singh doesn’t even wrestle the match, either, he subs in his manservant BABU to do the work. Imagine how good Al Snow vs. Babu would be, now imagine that the finish is Debra wandering down to the ring to put a mannequin head’s face in her cleavage to cause a distraction, allowing the guy who subbed out of the match in the beginning to sub back in somehow and win. I don’t know. Head wearing Mr. Socko as a headband is the creative high-point.
The entire show can’t be good, can it? You’ve gotta have some intensely dumb shit in there to remind people that they’re watching pro wrestling.
It’s finally time for Survivor Series ’98, folks. Just in time for Thanksgiving!
Thanks for reading, as always. The vintage columns only exist in this world of five live wrestling shows in prime time every night of the week because of your support, so drop a comment down below and give the piece a share on social media if you laughed at anything. Make sure you’re here next week, too, because I might have to write a full novel about the Deadly Game.
Until then, listen to this on loop to prepare: