Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: D-Generation X went to New York City to make everyone who wasn’t a white guy feel like shit. Plus, Val Venis compared himself to Dennis Rodman, The Undertaker tried to ruin everybody’s matches, and Stone Cold Steve Austin got put into a casket.
If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for June 15, 1998.
Best: We’re On A Highway To Hell
This week’s episode opens with the reveal that Vince McMahon has brought back Sable — presumably for the same “they make me money” reasoning he’s used to explain why he hasn’t fired Stone Cold Steve Austin — and gets her to read a prepared statement about how he wasn’t involved in last week’s attack.
“I, Vince McMahon, the Humanitarian of the Year, resent any and all accusations that I, last week, in my finest hour, would stoop so low as to use legitimate charitable organizations to further my personal agenda against Stone Cold Steve Austin. I hereby publicly disavow any reference or knowledge of the willful and heinous attack perpetrated on the current WWF Champion one week ago. I remain steadfast in my resolve to be a caring, generous, and even jovial WWF owner and to furthermore bring the parties responsible for last week’s attack on Stone Cold to justice. Thank you for your kindness and understanding, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the show.”
Cole and JR’s exchange of, “Who wrote that for him?” “His PR machine,” is cut short by McMahon kissing Sable on the cheek, which gets a shocked and puberty-laden “whAAT?” out of Cole. Vince glaring at Sable like Dexter while he listens to make sure she reads everything on the paper and then gently kissing her on the cheek like a child is so much better than French-kissing genetic jackhammer Vince we get later.
Of course Austin shows up ready to kick Vince’s ass, and Vince makes a big gamble: claiming that The Undertaker is the one scheming behind the scenes to destroy Stone Cold, since two weeks ago on Raw he made it clear that he wants Austin’s WWF Championship. Vince’s constant modifiers like, “I KNOW THIS SOUNDS FAR-FETCHED” really make it. And what’s great is that since Undertaker hadn’t been a heel in like six years (but is also an undead wizard), the idea that he could plausibly be the Big Bad was compelling and reasonable. Undertaker interrupts the smear campaign, threatens to “remove [Vince’s] head from the rest of his body,” and calls the allegations, “a damn lie.” He doesn’t have any love for Austin, but he still respects the WWF Championship and feels like he’s been pretty forthright about his intentions.
That brings out Kane, Mankind, and the dreaded Paw Bear to make the situation worse. Bearer yes-ands Mr. McMahon by saying that Undertaker’s been working with him all along, sewing even more seeds of doubt into the Austin/Undertaker relationship. Bearer challenges them to team up later tonight against his son and his weird hippie with a leather jockstrap on his face inside the ominous Hell in a Cell that’s hanging above the ring, and claims that the entrance ramp between them is the “highway to Hell” … the very same AC/DC imagery they’ll use to sell Austin vs. Undertaker at SummerSlam.
Great fucking segment all the way around, and the kind of really great series of promos opening that gave us 20 years of bad Raw show opening promo-parades.
King Of The Ring Update
We finish up the “qualifying matches” that are technically round one of the King of the Ring tournament (per the bracket they show, seen above) with two matches involving four future WWE Hall of Famers: Vader vs. The Rock, and Triple H vs. X-Pac.
Vader vs. The Rock is hurt a little by Vader recently “losing his mask” at Over the Edge and declaring himself a, “big fat piece of shit,” but it’s still The Rock vs. Vader, so it’s at least notable for its historical oddity. Rock wins, of course, when Mark Henry shows up behind the referee’s back and somehow executes a 400-pounder-to-400-pounder splash without anyone seeing or hearing it.
The Triple H vs. X-Pac BROTHER VS. BROTHER D-Generation X qualifying battle is built up throughout the show with some really bad “D-X Droppin’ Knowledge” bits, where Road Dogg and Billy Gunn use a chalkboard to awkwardly explain why they think neither guy can win or lose. They’re such bad segments that they end with normally mute Chyna being all, “come on guys, enough, let’s just go have the wrestling match.”
HHH vs. X-Pac would be a GREAT match in another context, but here it’s just another backdrop to build the D-X vs. Nation of Domination feud. Well, “The Nation.” They’ve dropped the “of Domination” part in the on-screen graphics, possibly because they added Owen Hart and can’t really pretend to be a black militant separatist group anymore. The Rock shows up during the match and cuts a promo from the middle deck, distracting Triple H long enough for Owen to sneak in and drop Pac balls-first onto the security railing. To his credit, H doesn’t want to take a cheap count-out win against his friend, but Pac screams at him to get back in there and win so one of them can advance. That beautifully sets up Rock vs. Triple H in the next round and, in a way, the next few years of their careers.
The D-X/Nation rivalry compromises the next match as well, as Owen Hart and Mark Henry vs. shoot fight superteam Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn ends with both factions running in and everybody fighting. It’s still so disappointing that WWF is working so hard to remind us how important a Severn vs. Shamrock King of the Ring finals would be, featuring UFC footage and everything, but (1) doesn’t deliver on it, and (2) doesn’t keep them together as a tag team if they aren’t going to fight each other.
Also On This Episode
Val Venis continues to Build The Ever-Important Momentum® for his first dick-centric feud with a win over DOA Chainz. Very disappointed we didn’t get an extended monologue about how Val’s actually the one with a hog between his legs.
Al Snow’s still trying to get a meeting with Vince McMahon, so he (and Head) show up dressed as his old WWF character, AVATAR. If you aren’t familiar with that gimmick, he was the only person in the world who could bend all four elements. [checks notes] What I meant to type there was, the gimmick was that he was handicapped, but could transfer his brain into the body of the planet’s natives and … [checks notes again] sorry, his gimmick was, “guy who shows up not wearing a mask, puts on a mask to wrestle, then takes it off in front of you when he’s done.” No, really.
Snow complains about how the gimmick was dumb and how he’s going to “citizen’s arrest” Vince McMahon for attempted murder of his career for creating it, as though his current and successful gimmick is, “man who talks to mannequin head.” Jerry Lawler tries to throw Head into the crowd and gets beaten up.
The barn-burner Marc Mero vs. Jeff Jarrett feud you’ve been dying to see more of continues through two matches this week.
Up first was Jarrett vs. Darren “Still Hasn’t Actually Puked When We Asked Him To” Drozdov, which features Marc Mero and Jacqueline showing up to sit in on commentary. Tennessee Lee decides to start doing the only thing he ever did during his time as Col. Robert Parker, which is, “start a feud with my opponent’s female valet and either marry her or let her beat me up, or both.” The melee outside the ring leaves Jarrett open to catch a low blow from Mero, and Droz rolls him back in and steals a win even though the referee was standing there watching the entire time.
So of course Jarrett, Lee, and SOUTHERN JUSTICE~ return to try to distract Mero in his match with Dustin Runnels. It doesn’t work, but Mero is ultimately undone by a wild Sable appearing, and gets hit with a bulldog for a loss. Jarrett vs. Mero in round one/two of the King of the Ring tournament gets more build in one episode than most Raw feuds get in a month these days, and Dustin cuts a post match promo where he thanks his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which … I think is supposed to make him a heel? I dunno, it just seemed like he was being nice.
Best: The Main Event
The actual main event of the episode ends up one of the best ideas they’ve never remembered to do again: a tag team Royal Rumble match on weekly, non-Royal Rumble TV with the winner getting a Tag Team Championship match in the near future. Teams in the Rumble match: Kane and Mankind (despite the fact that they challenged Austin and Undertaker to a match earlier in the night), the LOD 2000, the New Midnight Express, the Headbangers, the Disciples of Apocalypse, Kurrgan and Golga of The Oddities, the newly formed Too Much (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor, who’d eventually drop their gay panic gimmick to become WILDLY popular hip-hop guys Too Cool), Faarooq and Steve Blackman (who I’m pretty sure keep teaming because Vince thought it was funny to team a black guy with a white guy named “black man”), Taka Michinoku and Bradshaw, and Terry Funk and 2 Cold Scorpio.
It’s not much of a match — teams enter in 30-second intervals, which is way too fast, and nobody really gets eliminated until the very end when they all get thrown out in a row — but that’s a hell of a lot of talent in the ring at once. Kane and Mankind enter first and last until the end, winning a future title match. They’re also conveniently already in the ring for the end of the show to lower the Hell in a Cell and follow through with their challenge.
First of all, as much of a WCW homer as I am, the real Hell in a Cell looks so much better on-screen and surrounding the ring than any of WCW’s failed attempts to recreate it. TV production and visual presentation are always in WWE’s favor, whether the shit they’re filming is worth watching or not.
Second of all, this is one of those classic 1998 Raw segments where the crowd is APE SHIT for every second of it, and with good reason. Austin shows up by himself with no Undertaker to be found, and smartly baits Kane and Mankind to leave the cage and challenge him out on the ramp. When they do, Paul Bearer locks himself in the cage for protection … seemingly forgetting that the 7-foot tall murderous wizard man he just spent a few weeks making Yo Mama jokes about has the ability to rise up through the ring and drag him to literal Christian Hell.
That leaves Undertaker to beat Paw Bear within an inch of his life, giving him one of those gnarly crimson masks you’d see on the covers of wrestling magazines in the 1980s. Kane realizes what’s happening and climbs to the top of the cage to try to tear his way in, which leaves Austin one-on-one with Mankind and lets him recover.
When Mankind’s defeated, Austin heads up to the top of the cage and starts punching the hell out of Kane while Jim Ross screams shit like “LET’S GET IT ON,” and if you can watch this and not at least be a little hype, you’re better than me. Really great stuff that puts all of the characters in the right places, gives outnumbered babyfaces smart reasons to make believable comebacks, puts over the Hell in a Cell as a life-changing kind of structure, and makes Austin and Undertaker look like the most bad-ass dudes in the world. A-plus-plus, especially for a segment that on paper is just a main-event bait-and-switch.
P.S. dear Stone Cold, please stop trying to actually kill Mick Foley with chair shots.
The build to King of the Ring 1998 continues, as we get
- a new, manipulative stipulation for the WWF Championship match
- Steve Austin still trying to look cool after tucking a baseball jersey into his jeans
- an Undertaker home invasion
- the debut of Edge, and him almost immediately paralyzing a guy
- The Rock vs. Triple H
- the much more important Jeff Jarrett vs. Marc Mero match
And more! See you then!