Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Vince McMahon arranged for Stone Cold Steve Austin to have a “first blood” match against a guy who wears a body suit and a leather mask. Also Kane can now speak by holding a vibrator up to his throat, Paul Bearer got attacked in his home by a 7-foot tall Satanist with great hair, and Edge accidentally almost broke a guy’s neck in his debut match.
Hey, you! If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of these shows. Head back to a time long forgotten when Raw was fun to watch, and things happened!
Up first, let’s talk about a match you’ve probably never heard of!
Before We Begin
Here’s what you need to know about WWF King of the Ring 1998, the show that streams in your head in its entirety when you hear the phrase, “one-match show.”
So, here we are. Mankind vs. The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell at King of the Ring 1998. It’s the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant for wrestling fans that grew up in the ’90s. It’s almost unarguably the most famous match of its era, and is so ubiquitous in our minds and wrestling media that it’s nigh impossible to take at face value.
The most important thing I can say here is that to enjoy it, you have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who watched it in 1998. Back in the day, there was just some shit in pro wrestling that could not physically happen. People would always tease suplexes from the apron to the floor, but it’d always get reversed back into the ring. The Four Pillars were over in Japan revolutionizing the physicality of the sport for a new generation that wouldn’t really take hold internationally until the 2000s, but North American pro wrestling was limited by the reality of the established medium. Guys would bleed and hit each other with stuff. It was violent, but not “movie stunt” violent. People would give each other brain damage on concrete or with steel chairs or whatever, but you didn’t see 20-foot falls and leaps off the video screens and explosions more visually compelling than some fireworks exploding at ringside. The Inferno Match, which was just a normal match with a square trough of flaming grills around the ring, felt like the wrestlers were competing inside the CGI in Jurassic Park.
Then this match happened.
I remember breathlessly talking about this with my friends the next day, as I didn’t ever order WWF pay-per-views. I just got the WCW ones. But I loved Cactus Jack and obviously kept up with what was going on, and the description of, “UNDERTAKER THREW MANKIND OFF THE TOP OF THE HELL IN A CELL INTO THE FLOOR” felt impossible. It felt like they’d just told me a dragon had torn the roof off the arena and eaten everyone. It was a breaking of the physical reality of the sport. I remember that afternoon after school, rushing over to watch a VHS recording and rewinding over and over and over. At first, the rewinding was to relive the spectacle. Eventually, the rewinding was to relive the reaction to the spectacle.
I think everyone knows the beats of the match. Mankind starts the match on top of the cage, instead of going inside. Undertaker, who was reportedly already working with a bum ankle and limited in what he could do, climbed up after him. You expected them to fight a little, maybe slam each other on the cage roof, and then fight down. Instead, almost as soon as the match had started, Taker chucks Foley off the roof like Uncle Phil throwing out Jazzy Jeff.
Everyone involved’s life changes in the second and a half it takes him to fall. Foley goes from undervalued smark favorite who didn’t really fit any imaginable mold of stardom to beloved wrestling legend and upright-walking human God. Taker went from a guy intended to scare children to the kind of guy who could feasibly commit murder in front of you on live television. Jim Ross went from fussy southern announcer to “guy who has to be there to call all of wrestling’s most important moments.” I made sure to GIF it from that perspective so you can see everyone in the crowd slowly rise in excited confusion, like they have no idea if they just saw what they think they saw. Everybody changed.
The match stops, Jim Ross screams about how we should get some damn medical attention out here because Foley is dead and broken in half, and the Undertaker just kinda stands on top of the cage. They show a ton of replays, strap both halves of Mick to a gurney, and roll him up the aisle. You assume the match is over, because Jesus, how could it not be? Undertaker starts descending the cage … and then Foley gets up, walks back to the cage, and climbs back up to the top. In a match with two cage falls, bumps onto thumb tacks, Terry Funk literally getting chokeslammed out of his shoes, and a close-up of a man’s tooth going up the back of his throat and coming out through his nose, a man’s open defiance of pain and fate is its most memorable moment. It’s the moment. It’s the toughest a pro wrestler has ever been, at least in WWE.
Aaaaaand that’s when Foley falls off the goddamn cage again.
This is the one Foley says hurt more, as (1) he didn’t have a table to break his fall and went straight down into the ring, (2) the ring wasn’t gimmicked like it was in the followup with Triple H, and (3) that chair comes down and clocks him in the face to make sure he’s feeling the most pain possible without spontaneous combustion. I’ve read some “retro reviews” of the match that take off quarter-stars or whatever because the chokeslam at the top of the cage was just Foley falling backwards, which, I don’t know, seems like it misses the entire point of professional wrestling. But I’m the guy who complaints about arm bars not looking right or whatever, so I’ll only throw passive stones.
Somehow this is where the match truly begins. Terry Funk shows up to buy some time, and when Foley reveals that he’s still functional, somehow, they begin an actual inside-the-cage brawl. Taker dives into the cage wall, folks get in the head with steps, and Foley takes two (2) different bumps into thumb tacks. The first fall is the part that makes it into video packages, but everything after it is so, so much more painful looking.
In the end, Undertaker wins with a Tombstone Piledriver. The match had about a week of build and was completely overshadowed both on Raw and on this very pay-per-view by the Stone Cold Steve Austin story, Undertaker’s relationship to Austin, how Undertaker relates to Kane and Vince McMahon and Paul Bearer, and more. It’s not the best WWF match of the year, or even the best Mick Foley match of the season, as the Over the Edge main event blows it out of the water from every standpoint beyond spectacle. And 20 years later, none of that shit matters, and Mick Foley sailing off the side of a very tall cage like a maniac is one of the two or three lasting, defining images of a company that’s been in business for almost 70 years.
Ken Shamrock Is the 1998 King Of The Ring
AKA, “the final King of the Ring before Billy Gunn won and made it irrelevant.”
Shamrock manages to defeat two of the most dastardly heels on the show — Jeff Jarrett and The Rock — to win the tournament, but, surprise, doesn’t end up facing Dan Severn at all. They’d spent weeks hyping up how Shamrock and Severn were in separate brackets and how cool it would be for them to meet in the finals, peppered with pre-Crisis UFC footage to put it over, and then … nothing. It was super frustrating to watch at the time, but looking back, yeah, The Rock was your next big star and putting him into another important match with Shamrock was the right call.
The finish of that Severn/Rock match is important, too, because D’Lo Brown does a run-in and frog splashes Severn with his “torn pectoral muscle,” debuting his signature chest protector:
All he needs now is some wet hair and a pair of cargo pants and he’ll be able to main-event four WrestleManias in a row.
Kane: First Blood, Part Two
Unsurprisingly, Stone Cold Steve Austin wasn’t able to win a first blood match against a guy whose only exposed body part is his left hand. Kane shows up double-sleeving it here, which not only allows him extra protection against accidental bleeding, but makes it a lot easier if, say, someone he’s related to wants to disguise himself as Kane despite having tattoos all over his arms.
Sometimes the comical overbooking of main events works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Here, someone mysteriously lowers the Hell in a Cell cage during the middle of the match. You’d think that’d be the story, but then Mankind shows up to interfere, still walking somehow, followed by the Undertaker. Undertaker tries to hit Mankind with a chair shot but “accidentally” (in Viscera-sized air quotes) smashes Austin in the face. Austin does a very obvious on-camera blade job and wears the Crimson Mask, while the Undertaker rolls the referee back into the ring and douses him with gasoline (?). That allows Kane to hit UNDERTAKER with a chair, and Austin manages to stay out of the soggy referee’s view for a few moments before the ref’s like, “hey, Stone Cold’s entire face and upper body aren’t supposed to be red.” That’s the match, Kane is the new WWF Champion, and the crowd goes from nuclear to bombed in the time it takes to ring a bell.
Meanwhile up in the sky box, beautiful courtesan Satine and the Duke are like,
Oh, also …
Brian Christopher Pinned Head By Attaching A Bottle Of Head & Shoulders To Its Neck
Twenty years later and my reaction to this is still, “it’s a bottle of Head AND Shoulders, not a bottle of ‘shoulders,’ it clearly already has its own head, holding it up to Head’s neck doesn’t begin constructing a Frankensteinian body for it,” which could explain why I’m Bojack living in a world of Misters Peanutbutter.
Mr. Peanutbutter: We are calling [my new show] Peanutbutter and Jelly. Get it? Because I’m Mr. Peanutbutter!
Bojack: Okay, who’s Jelly?
Mr. Peanutbutter: No, no, no. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s wordplay.
Bojack: You may have too forgiving a definition of the word wordplay.
Mr. Peanutbutter: Well, it’s a working title.
Bojack: Well, it could be working harder. And that’s wordplay.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for June 29, 1998.
Best: Vince McMahon Dreams Of The Perfect WWE Champion
During the coronation of the new World Wrestling Federation Champion, Vince McMahon clearly explains what he wants from a top guy in his wrestling promotion.
“A new era of respect and dignity and even civility. Why, it’s as if a giant breath of fresh air has cleansed the WWF. Cleansed the WWF of the foul mouth, cleansed the WWF of the unseemly hand gesture, and cleansed the World Wrestling Federation from the beer swilling. Yes, we have a new champion. A champion who is a man among men. A champion whose lips have never so much have tasted an alcoholic beverage. A champion who has never uttered the first obscenity in his entire life, and a champion, ladies and gentlemen, whose only hand gesture is to salute the flag of the United States of the America. I give you a role model, I give you a champion for the NEW millennium! I give you the World Wrestling Federation Champion!”
Let’s see if we can figure out who he’s talking about. A new era of respect?
A role model?
Clearly didn’t have his first sip of beer until 20 years later?
Doesn’t know how to curse properly?
Signature hand gesture is him saluting the American flag?
Wow, he really was the perfect WWE Champion for the new millennium, wasn’t he?
Kane arrives to fill Vince McMahon’s platonic ideal of a WWF Champion — a very tall burn victim who can only speak with the help of medical equipment, has tried to set his brother on fire on multiple occasions, once struck a crew person with a lightning bolt while indoors, exhumed the bones of his mother and father from the graves to make a point on a wrestling show, and who is followed around by a crazy old fat southerner who hooked up with a funeral director’s wife on a kitchen floor and bragged about it on TV 30 years later — and Paul Bearer says this has always been Kane’s dream. He remembers him as a little kid, watching WWF Superstars. Who is he, me?
Belligerent redneck Stone Cold Steve Austin shows up angry about how everything went down at the King of the Ring, and everyone in the ring is shocked that the guy who is always upset about everything is upset about this and being threatening about it. Austin goads Kane into signing a rematch for right here tonight, and both McMahon and Bearer are too chickenshit and passive aggressive to talk Kane out of it. I think Austin is the one guy in WWE history who truly understood that you can get what you want by showing up in the middle of someone’s segment and saying GIVE ME WHAT I WANT over and over until you get what you want.
Okay, one of two.
At the end of the night, Austin faces Kane and just straight-up kicks his ass and pins him. It’s kind of hilarious to see Austin just whomp Kane and defeat him with a jumping sit after like a year of supernatural shenanigans and kicking out of three Tombstones. The Undertaker shows up but doesn’t interfere, so Austin gives him a Stunner after the match as well, just because.
Welcome to the new era of televised pro wrestling in 1998, where building to title wins and making money on pay-per-views stops being as important as popping a quarterly rating that’s better than your competition’s. Raw does it by hotshotting the WWF Championship for no reason this week, and Nitro responds by packing the Georgia dome and giving away their all-time greatest moment for free so a Ken Shamrock vs. King Mabel match feels bad about its viewership.
Worst Ever: LET’S MAKE IT BRAWL FOR ONE, AND ALL FOR LOVE
Oh boy, it’s time for Brawl For All, the World Wrestling Federation’s “innovative” idea to take pro wrestlers out of their comfort zones and make guys who’d built decades of reputation on their toughness look like drunk dudes out of breath after trying to headlock someone at a bar at 2 AM.
The idea behind Brawl For All is that it would be a “hybrid” of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts, as guys would wear boxing gloves and compete inside a boxing ring, but would be scored on takedowns as well as punches landed. If you knocked out your opponent, it was your Golden Snitch, as points would become pointless and you’d automatically win. They thought it’d be cool to see guys like Steve Blackman (a legit martial arts master), Marc Mero (a former Golden Gloves boxer), and rough and ready tough guys like Bradshaw let loose and Pound Ass in a new competition that capitalized on the pro wrestling and UFC booms simultaneously.
Spoiler alert: everyone involved looks like a fucking idiot.
Up first is Marc Mero vs. Steve Blackman, and the fans are so bothered by literally everything that they’re booing before the first punches are thrown. It’s not just pro wrestling boos either, it’s low, rumbling, upset complaining boos that turn into “boring” chants about 20 seconds into the first round. It’s hilarious.
Plus, Blackman just keeps shooting takedowns (for which Mero has zero defense), and boxing champion Mero lands about half of one punch in three rounds. Neither guy looks like they know what they’re supposed to be doing, because they probably had this concept explained to them on Monday afternoon. When they finished round one and went to their corners to rest and heard the crowd, Vince should’ve just sauntered out and declared, “shut it down.”
The second, somehow MUCH WORSE bout pits Bradshaw against the threateningly-named “Mark Canterbury”, aka the artist formerly known as Henry O. Godwinn. You know your career’s on the skids when you’re doing worse than, “being named after pigs.” What we learn here is that Canterbury prefers to fight in windbreaker pants, and that JBL can’t throw a punch if it isn’t worked. Jim Ross tries every, “these guys are tough, folks,” quotes in his brain, but at the end of the fight all you can think is, “why is that cowboy punching with the bottom of his hand?”
Here’s what actual fighter Ken Shamrock said about the concept:
“When I was asked to do that I was like ‘uh, okay, $50,000?’ It didn’t seem right to me that I would go into this tournament style fighting thing, I was a professional, and beat these amateur guys up. That’s why I didn’t do it. Why are you asking me to do this? I just came into pro wrestling and I’m learning this craft, and now you want me to go in there and do a complete 360 and beat these guys up for $50,000 when I’m used to making half a million to a million. None of it made any sense to me.”
Join us in the coming weeks for highlights such as Steve Blackman getting injured training for his second round fight, Road Warrior Hawk getting injured in his first round fight, and Dan Severn dropping out after the first round because he’d already cashed the bonus they gave him for agreeing to do it, and because he had “nothing to prove” by beating up people who don’t actually fight for a living.
Best, But Not For Long: Such A Man!
Sable shows up and randomly announces that the World Wrestling Federation has agreed to an exclusive contract with one of the best professional wrestlers in the world, Lord Steven Regal. They give him some rockin’ placeholder country music (?), the Sable introduction, and keep Sable out there to talk to the announce team about herself to let everyone at home know they already have no idea what to do with him.
Apparently nobody had paid much attention to the final days of his previous WCW run, as he’s struggling to stay in shape due to injuries and an addiction to painkillers. He gets one more match against Tiger Ali Singh and then gets sent way to a training camp to get in shape. There, he almost immediately breaks his leg. That just makes the drug issues worse, and eventually they do what they do and give him a terrible gimmick before forgetting him completely. He’d be back in WCW by the following summer, and wouldn’t get a fair shake in the WWF (and the love and seniority he truly deserves) until WCW went out of business.
Best: Mrs. Yamaguchi-San <3
FINALLY we get to the first appearance of “Mrs. Yamaguchi-San,” the kayfabe wife of the late Wally Yamaguchi. Val Venis shows up for a match with Kaientai member Dick Togo and keeps getting distracted by the fact that a guy who looks like Happy Days-era Pat Morita has a smoking hot young wife and has decided to sit her in the front row for this wrestling match featuring a lecherous porn star. He wins the match, but also ends up hitting everyone in the face with a steel chair for trying to keep him from flirting with her. And I mean, you can’t really blame him, because I think everyone who watched this show back in 1998 had an instant crush on Mrs. Yamaguchi-san.
In real life, Mrs. Yamaguchi-San was Japanese-born actress Shian-Li Tsang, who appears in a whopping eight episodes of Monday Night Raw and one episode of Shotgun Saturday Night. She continued working after this stint, showing up in the 2002 film Mary and Joe alongside a young Josh Gad, but eventually decided to go back to school. That led to a career in marketing, a job as the director of brand marketing for Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a high ranking position at Adidas. She rules, and certainly ended up with a better post-wrestling life than most.
She’s also the reason a pee-pee almost gets choppy choppy, but we’ll get to that.
Also On This Episode
The most notable match on the remainder of the show is a battle of former Kings of the Ring, as Triple H takes on Owen Hart and Ken Shamrock in a triple threat match. Shamrock gets the win when The Rock shows up and blasts Triple H in the nose with the Intercontinental Championship, meaning Shamrock is the “king of kings,” and that Triple H has been lying about it this entire time.
- Check out that picture of Owen Hart realizing he has no idea how to do Bret’s signature figure-four on the ring post spot, and has to just monkey-bar himself up there and hold onto Ken Shamrock’s legs. Say what you will about the value of Bret vs. Owen, but he’s certainly behind Bret in his understanding of bullshit dangling submissions that would honestly only really hurt your balls.
- Ken Shamrock cuts the world’s worst promo before this match. I guess someone backstage told him to make sure he clearly says everyone’s name, so he’s out here like, “let me get this straight, Hunter Hearsts Helmsley … you want a match featuring you, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and him, Owen Hart, and me, Ken Shamrock.” It’s so rank Triple H is openly ragging on him in real-time, like, “great job, bonehead.”
Finally, we say goodbye to Sunny without even mentioning that she’s gone, as the L.O.D. 2000 show up as a tired as hell L.O.D. 1995-ish to announce that they’re brought back their original manager, Precious Paul Ellering. D.O.A. interrupts, and Ellering is like, “SWERVE, actually my new tag team is SKULL AND 8-BALL!” The L.O.D. gets beaten down, and have been actively outsmarted by Chicago Gary Hart.
The only way this could’ve been worse is if the Disciple of Apocalypse had immediately replaced Ellering with a cruiserweight that pisses his pants and then disappeared.
- regretful decisions are made
- Kane faces Mankind and the Undertaker in a number one contender match
- Paul Ellering gets his own motorcycle! That’s why he joined!
- Val Venis learns a valuable lesson about not wiggling his pelvis at another man’s wife
- BRAWL FOR ALL CONTINUES FOR SOME REASON
See you then! [Kane’s fire goes off] AW GAH!