It’s been the lead story on all the major news sites. I know that you are hyped beyond belief. It’s time for RAW 1000!
Since January 1993, Monday Night RAW has been a fixture on cable. And this Monday, it turns 1000 episodes old.
You might think wrestling is for children, and that it sucks, and you are correct. But if you’re willing to open your mind a bit, you might find it’s a great three hour diversion on Mondays. I don’t recommend watching all three hours at first – that’s torture until you’ve developed Stockholm Syndrome – but I encourage you give it a shot. To help, it’s time for the WLA RAW 1000 Viewer Guide – designed to help you budding wrestling enthusiasts understand and appreciate the spectacle that will be unleashed at 8 PM on the USA Network.
1. What is RAW?
RAW started in January 1993, and was a revolutionary step in the pro wrestling business. Airing live, RAW began to feature name talent facing name talent with weekly storyline developments – a move away from the taped squash matches and glacial storytelling that had defined the WWF for years.
No matter what they try to say Monday, this was not a new concept to wrestling. Territories like Memphis and World Class Wrestling had been putting this type of show on for years. In fact, RAW owes much of it’s aesthetic to the Memphis style. Memphis traditionally taped in television studios, featured big name matches (for the area), weekly shenanigans, and fast-paced angles in front of a rabid small crowd.
RAW aired live from the historical stronghold of the company, New York, in a unique setting – the Mahattan Center. Immediately, the show was given an “anything-can-happen” vibe, featuring memorable moments like the return of Marty Jannetty for revenge on Shawn Michaels, and the 1-2-3 Kid (better known as X-Pac) debuting as a no-name “jobber” but upsetting the hyped Razor Ramon (Scott Hall of NWO fame).
The legacy started early with one of the best matches in RAW history – Mr. Perfect defeating Ric Flair in a classic loser-leaves-the-WWF match. Flair was being released from his WWF contract at the time (according to various sources of questionable trust, Vince McMahon had promised Flair he could leave if the WWF didn’t plan on using him in the main event, and McMahon was not planning on another main event run for the Nature Boy at this point).
2. That was really boring – what’s going on in WWE now?
You might remember hearing about CM Punk and his promo last summer – a brilliant pseudo-shoot that catapulted Punk to the upper levels of the company. He promised to win the WWE Title from John Cena and then quit the company. He succeeded. The angle fizzled, but Punk remained upper tier and again won the title at Survivor Series in November. He’s held it ever since – losing some of his “edge” but becoming a sort of Cena for adult fans – and the reign is almost the longest in over a decade for the company.
Well, John Cena has a contract to face the champ (won at the most recent PPV) and he’s taking that opportunity on Monday. Both men are ostensibly “good guys”, with appeal to vastly different groups in the audience. The atmosphere should resemble more of a UFC fight with dueling crowds than your stereotypical wrestling environment (a step in the right direction for the show, in my opinion) and should also be one of the Top 5 matches in the company this year. Cena’s turned in top-notch matches against Brock Lesnar and The Rock this year, and Punk has had good to great bouts with Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and Kane. These are two of the best all-around performers in the company, and will no doubt be ready to showcase themselves in front of one of the biggest television audiences the company has had in years.
I’ve been trying to come up with a real sport parallel to this matchup, but I’m coming up blank. You could think of this is Nadal-Federer terms, in the sense these are the two premier performers (in terms of star power, ability, and push – not necessarily just pure performance) in the world and they have a semi-regular series.
For old time fans, these two have shades of Macho Man and Hogan. Cena is an unstoppable, bulked up superhero that appeals to the kids in the crowd. Punk has been a heel and face during his tenure, sometimes has a beard, and has a bit more of an unpredictable edge. He’s also adopted the top rope flying elbow as a sign of respect towards Savage since his death.
3. Why is the crowd continually chanting YES! YES! YES!
Because Daniel Bryan is awesome.
As an independent wrestler, Bryan Danielson garnered a reputation as perhaps the best in the world. He came to WWE and was transformed for copyright reasons into Daniel Bryan. It took a while to find his stride – but Bryan caught on as a cowardly heel champion who celebrated each fluke victory he had like he had won an Olympic Medal – this celebration includes screaming YES YES YES repeatedly. It’s devastatingly simple, and it’s given the crowd a reason to be involved in him.
Technically Bryan is still a heel, but he’s getting married to crowd favorite AJ tonight in the culmination of their nearly year long, on again, off again “relationship”. Expect much YES YES YES.
Bryan and Punk’s rise to prominence has shades of the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels rise during the 90s. What we have is an aging roster, and two smaller, unlikely main eventers emerging to fill the void. Both men were darlings of the independent scene for nearly a decade, so they have a rabid following in the more hardcore fan areas of the crowd.
4. Who is this hick in the orange hair?
If you’re referring to the man that calls himself the One Man Band, it’s Heath Slater.
Slater started his career two years ago in a summer angle that involved a half dozen WWE “rookies” invading and beating John Cena senseless, in an attempt to forcefully infuse some fresh faces in the main event scene. Since the end of that angle, most of the group has faded to obscurity.
Well, a few weeks ago, the on-air hype for RAW 1000 started. As a part of that hype, WWE started bringing back veterans from previous eras for attraction matches. Slater got the call from the web-only C show level to be the dude that the returning legends squash. And he’s actually performed marvelously. Don’t be shocked if Slater sticks around on the show after this, and don’t be surprised if he gets destroyed by a 50 year old man at some point tonight.
Wrestling is an odd genre, and there’s a few different ways to secure long term success. Slater has ran with a common role – the cocky, kinda funny heel that gets beat up badly by pretty much anyone on the roster with a future. This is a common trope in wrestling, and it can be successful. The Honky Tonk man parlayed that into a Intercontinental Title reign that lasted what seemed like years. Santino Marella turned it into an underdog babyface role and his own t-shirt. We’ll see what the future holds for the One Man Band, but I think he’s got some talent and potential.
5. What happened to….
- HHH : He’s in charge of WWE now, in a sense, and he’ll be wrestling Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. This program started out hot, but Lesnar hasn’t been on TV lately. Despite some good microphone work from his legal representative Paul Heyman (Paul E. Dangerously if you were a fan of WCW in the early 90s), it’s been tough sledding to get this feud as hot as the Cena-Lesnar three week mini-feud after WrestleMania.
- Shawn Michaels : Retired, but reuniting with HHH tonight. Probably to get destroyed by Brock Lesnar.
- The Rock : Semi-retired, but involved in some way tonight. After beating John Cena at WrestleMania, he vowed to regain the WWE Title in the future. He is a possibility for wrestling at SummerSlam, and a near-lock to be at WrestleMania in a match.
- Hulk Hogan : Performing as the on-air general manager of “rival” group TNA IMPACT wrestling – Thursdays on Spike. Actually not the worst wrestling show ever anymore, if you stick to watching Roode, Storm, and Aries.
- Kevin Nash : Occasionally pops up on WWE programming – had a terrible match with HHH over the winter.
- The Undertaker : Trotted out once a year for a match at WrestleMania. Might be here tonight, but it’s unlikely he’ll do anything of substance. Rumored to be facing Brock Lesnar, The Rock, or John Cena next WrestleMania in the annual streak challenge.
- Vince McMahon : Shows up once every 8 months to get beat up.
I can’t list everyone you might remember. But here’s a tip – if they aren’t on the show tonight, and aren’t mentioned, they either pissed off Vince McMahon at some point or died (sometimes both).
6. Why do you watch this dreck?
I’ve been watching for 25 years – what’s the point in stopping now?