After 22 years of RAW, we’ve had a chance to discuss to death what our favorite episodes are. We’ve looked at the funniest moments, and the most historically significant. You can have your RAW/Nitro simulcast, the Shawn Michaels in-ring collapse, the Pipebomb, the Radicals, or anything else. I, personally, can’t make the argument for anything else – this episode is the most critically important edition in the company’s history, because, as we’ll find out, everything we’ve been building to is about to be chopped up, shoved in a t-shirt cannon, and shot all over the place until we don’t even remember where it all started.
Right off the bat, a shocker: The WWF title is to be declared vacant tonight, and the Final Four match at the pay-per-view will determine our next champion. What ... the ... hell?
The gravelly voice of VINCE MCMAHON welcomes us to Lowell, Massachusetts, and he’s all over the Shawn Michaels story. Sid will face Steve Austin instead of Michaels, and for god knows what reason, he ISN’T added to the pay-per-view match despite the fact he’s the current #1 contender to the belt. It’s decisions like this that are the reason all of his top stars have gone completely insane, it’s just been a series of illogical decisions, one after the other, designed to toy with the superstars; which is likely exactly how Vinny likes it. JIM ROSS and JERRY LAWLER are given no time to speak, because we’re headed straight to the ring.
ROCKY MAIVIA (Overall: 4-1-0, RAW: 1-0-0) vs. HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY (Overall: 4-2-0, RAW: 1-0-0) (for the WWF Intercontinental title)
Hunter escaped Saturday Night Shotgun by the skin of his teeth, retaining on a technicality before getting tombstoned onto an escalator in a visually impressive spot. Helmsley dominates this one early, with Rocky looking completely out of his league. However, a desperation dropkick knocks Hunter all the way to the floor, and Rock gives a little smile in recognition of the fact he’s given himself a chance. Triple H charges back into the ring and puts Rocky in a headlock, but Rock manages to shove him off and dropkicks him to the outside again. This time, Rock doesn’t let up, following Hunter to the floor, where he promptly misses a running clothesline and injures his own arm. Helmsley smells blood, and hits a jumping armbreaker before dropping a knee across the elbow joint. Rock fights to his feet, and takes a second jumping armbreaker for 2, before we head to our first commercial.
During the break, Triple H remained completely in control, and because this match is lacking in a little sportz entertainment, HONKY TONK MAN wanders down to ringside because he wants to talk about his protégé, blowing off Rocky completely because he doesn’t fit the “profile”. I see his eye for scouting is on par with his wrestling ability. Hunter tries to put Rock to sleep, but the fans give Rocky a second wind, and next thing you know, he’s hulking himself up and hits a backdrop. Rock heads up which seems insane given what we know of him – but he shocks me with a good looking crossbody, which Hunter rolls through for 2. A neckbreaker gets 2, despite Vince’s assertion that “THIS ONE’S OVER!” following the move. A spike piledriver gets 2, and Helmsley’s had just about enough of Earl Hebner and his slow ass counts. Hunter puts Rocky on the top, bitch slaps him a little, and hits the superplex, getting another relatively slow 2 count. A frustrated Hunter goes for the Pedigree, but Rocky’s out and Triple H can’t lift the bag of lead. So, with nothing else to do, Helmsley does his curtsy, but Rock was playing possum and cradles Hunter for the MASSIVE upset at 14:22! Rock, still woozy from the beating, doesn’t seem to even be aware of what’s happening until the belt is thrust in his hands, at which point his eyes go wide. Rock gives props to Helmsley as “one of the greatest Intercontinental champions”, before thanking his grandfather, father, and the whole family. **1/2
THE HEADBANGERS (Overall: 1-1-1, RAW: 1997 debut) vs. ALDO MONTOYA and BOB HOLLY (no data)
SUNNY is the guest ring announcer, and forgets her notes in her cleavage, to the delight of horny young men all over the arena. Of course, the kids today have it better, where celebrities openly post pictures of their naked wives all over Twitter for the hell of it. Holly starts us off with a perfect Frankensteiner, while his partner, dressed in the world’s most confusing Halloween costume (what the hell is he supposed to be, exactly?), hits Mosh with an enzuigiri. Holly and Mosh can’t seem to get their signal straight on basic leapfrogs and whips, so we get a couple of awkward moments of confused movement before Mosh gives up and tags in Thrasher. A double front suplex connects, and the Headbangers start using cheap heel tactics to distract the referee and cheat like crazy. I don’t know why they just don’t pull their stunts in front of the referee, ain’t nobody getting disqualified for a choke hold or a pooter shot. JR calls the Headbangers impressive, which is akin to calling Roseanne a sex symbol. Holly gets a fairly cold hot tag, and Aldo gets booed when he looks to the fans for support. With absolutely no love, Aldo becomes a quick victim of the Stage Dive at 5:43. 1/2*
VINCE MCMAHON and GORILLA MONSOON take centre stage to welcome the most “flamboyant” WWF champion of all time to surrender the WWF championship. SHAWN MICHAELS comes gimping to the ring, and allegedly he had an MRI over the weekend and it just so happens he’s got a crippling knee injury that requires reconstructive surgery IMMEDIATELY, even though the last time we saw him he was bouncing around the ring like a Believer who’s just had their cane broken in half and thrown across the stage by a Jesus breathing Televangelist who’s SCREAMING “GOD HAS RECONSTRUCTED YOUR SPINE, NOW DANCE, BROTHER, DANCE!” Or maybe I watch too many late night infomercials. Shawn’s wearing his Sad Serious face tonight, which he slaps on whenever
it’s time to drop a belt he’s injured. The fans are so upset at Shawn’s plight that they start chanting for Sid. Shawn sure wishes he could have defended that belt like a man, while Vince stares lovingly in his eyes. He’s absolutely taken by Shawn, hanging on to every word like a love-sick puppy. He’s not having fun anymore, and in fact … he’s lost his smile. Lost … his … smile. Then, to finally end this charade, Vince and Shawn fall into each other’s arms, while Shawn bawls like a child. This is the most sad-sack pitiful excuse for a champion on the planet. If you’re able to walk to the ring, you’re able to eat a powerbomb and drop the belt like a man. This is the work of a shyster, a crooked low-life scumbag who can’t man up and do for others what they did for him. Tell me a lie and say that you won’t go; tell me a hundred and get the fuck out.
YOUR WWF CHAMPION!
After the break, Vince continues the kneecap sucking by carrying on about how the WWF owes Shawn Michaels everything. This is beyond a bitch move. While I’d never encourage anyone to look at Kurt Angle as the role model for health and safety; but he was faced with a seriously injured neck, and was more than happy to drop the belt to Brock before Wrestlemania in a quickie match (before swerving everyone and deciding to actually go through with the match like a modern day loon). There are a million ways to book a quick match; hell, repeat the Daniel Bryan/Sheamus debacle from Wrestlemania 28, with Jose Lothario playing the role of AJ Lee. Goddamn chickenshit.
SAVIO VEGA (Overall: 3-1-1, RAW: 1-0-0) (with PG-13, Clarence Mason, and D’Lo Brown) vs. THE UNDERTAKER (Overall: 3-2-1, RAW: 2-0-0)
We may as well toss Savio out there, I’m as riled up now as I was the first time I saw this, and I already hate him anyway so let’s get this over with. Taker starts to pound on Savio, showing the kind of toughness Shawn Micheals doesn’t possess. Savio hits a spinning heel kick, but Taker kicks out, while Vince continues to sell just how crippled Shawn is. You had a one-legged wrestler in 2003 for fuck sakes, and while he was as much a pain in the ass as Michaels was, at least he still performed (and lost matches!). Savio plants Taker with a spin kick that knocks him down, but amazingly, Taker does NOT start to cry. Undertaker finally gives us the zombie sit up, and drops a leg that Savio botches and looks like it really hurts. Still, he finishes the match, because he’s a man who knows how to do the right thing, and Taker wins with a chokeslam at 8:50. THE NATION OF DOMINATION rush the ring and beat down Undertaker like a group of Syracuse marines. AHMED JOHNSON makes the save, and together they’re able to clear the ring and continue not to understand each other. This match was probably really bad, but I’m too angry to be trusted with any kind of objective opinion right now.
GORILLA MONSOON announces the Final Four match is now for the WWF title, because he felt this would be the fairest way to settle matters. No, the fairest way would have been for Shawn to gimp his ass to the ring and lie down like he’s taking a field trip through Vince’s bedroom.
STEVE AUSTIN (Overall: 1-2-1, RAW: 0-2-0) vs. SYCHO SID (Overall: 0-2-0, RAW: 1997 debut)
Austin attacks before the bell, showing the kind of energy that was largely responsible in his rise to the top. Sid tries to fight back, and takes a swift kick to the plums for even thinking about it. The fans start chanting “AUSTIN” with some fervor, and love it when he fights off Sid and throws him face first into the ring post. Austin goes for an abdominal stretch, but due to Sid’s size, the only way he’s able to hold it in place is with the ropes for leverage. That’s one of the few times the rope move makes sense actually. Sid goes for a sleeper, but Austin drops down with a jawbreaker for 2. Sid starts chopping at Austin’s neck, but misses a legdrop and Austin goes for the Sharpshooter as his latest f-you to Bret. Sid shoves him off and plants him with a big boot, but BRET HART, likely offended from that Sharpshooter move, attacks and gets Sid disqualified at 3:43. Sid, still without a win in 1997, freaks out and starts to punch Bret in the face for that, while Austin’s able to walk away virtually unharmed. Oh, the match? Darn good offering from two guys I would have never expected to mesh well. **1/2
VADER and PAUL BEARER are back in the locker room to talk Final Four. Vader brags that within the last 6 weeks he’s beaten the Undertaker, whopped Austin twice, and took out Bret, and thus should be the favorite going into the weekend. The man makes a good point.
JERRY LAWLER plugs the sponsors by sending money to his mother via Western Union for Valentine’s Day. He’s got something for the young girls of Memphis as well, but that can’t be mailed.
Earlier tonight, Shawn Michaels lost his smile. I’d recommend he check bedside next to his balls.
FAAROOQ and CRUSH (Overall: 2-0-0, RAW: 1997 debut) (with PG-13, Clarence Mason, and D’Lo Brown) vs. OWEN HART and THE BRITISH BULLDOG (Overall: 1-2-0, RAW: 1-1-0) (with Slammy) (for the WWF world tag-team titles)
Owen and Crush start, and Owen nearly pins Crush off a top rope crossbody. Crush comes back with a gorilla press slam, so Hart tags in Bulldog to counter Crush’s power, but we need to take a commercial break.
We’re back just in time to see a super dangerous looking spike piledriver from Crush, but Bulldog avoids disaster and kicks out at 2. Faarooq whips Bulldog into the ringsteps and rolls him in, but it only gets 2. Both Nation members work over Bulldog in the corner, but Bulldog puts him down with a faceplant. Meanwhile…
BRET HART is watching the match from a monitor; and Vince chirps in to ask Bret how he feels about Shawn’s injury. Bret, rolling his eyes and trying to keep a straight serious face, says it’s a sad deal and he’s sorry to see him go because he’s such a great worker. Bret hopes Shawn comes back, and still wants to settle the score with him.
Faarooq has been in full control while we were with Bret, but Bulldog is in the process of blocking a splash with his knees, while Owen leads the fans in a “BULLDOG” chant. Faarooq cuts off the ring, and Crush heads in to put on a body scissors. Vince: “And speaking of body scissors, how would you like to be put in the body scissors by La Femme Nikita?” I’m only interested in that show if Hulk Hogan and the Giant are going to be wrestling during the commercial breaks, otherwise, piss off. Crush hits a pathetic backbreaker with all the ferocity of a husband lifting his new wife over the threshold, and amazingly, it fails to get a pin. Bulldog tosses Faarooq with a belly to belly, but Crush knocks Owen off the apron and puts on a headlock. Faarooq distracts just as Bulldog gets the tag, but the referee orders him back to his corner. Owen loses his mind, because the Nation are working over Bulldog in the corner in a total re-enactment of the Yetti debut at Halloween Havoc 95. Bulldog finally gets the real tag, and he hits both guys with spinning heel kicks. A missile dropkick on Crush gets 2, and everyone hits the ring. Bulldog and Crush are left alone, as Owen jams his knee on his way over the top rope. Faarooq pulls Bulldog to the floor, while Owen gets counted out for the second week in a row at 9:14. Bulldog is hit with the Dominator, while Owen limps around until he thinks he’s off camera, at which point he walks around just fine. Bulldog realizes what happened, and asks incredulously “AGAIN?!?” *1/2
VADER (Overall: 4-1-1, RAW: 2-0-0) (with Paul Bearer) vs. BRET HART (Overall: 2-1-0, RAW: 0-1-0)
Bret gives away his sunglasses, to who Vince declares “ONE HAPPY YOUNG MAN”, until he turns around and reveals himself to be a little girl. THE UNDERTAKER comes to the staging area before the match, tired of being overlooked and disrespected, and as a result everyone is going to Rest in Peace. Ok then! We take a quick break before getting ahead of ourselves.
While we were away, STEVE AUSTIN ran in and beat the shit out of Bret, because this is a man who carries a serious grudge. He ain’t kidding when he suggests you not piss him off. Vader takes full advantage, pounding on Bret with those cannon ball hands that would cauliflower the ears of an elephant. Bret tries to attack the legs to keep the big guy off his base, and a Russian legsweep sets up an early Sharpshooter. Vader shoves off, but Bret backdrops him and nails the second rope elbowdrop. Vader tries to hit an avalanche, but Bret dives out of the way and as Vader bounces off the buckle, Bret locks on the Sharpshooter and even though Vader’s right at the ropes, he hangs on right through a 4 count. Austin re-appears now, up in the balcony, mouthing off at Bret. The distraction is plenty for a guy like Vader, who hits a clothesline and points to Austin as he goes for the moonsault – but it misses! Austin: “YOU PIECE OF CRAP!” Hart dives on top for the pin at 4:59! **
Austin tries to jump over the balcony to get to Bret, but finds himself being restrained by a group of fans who don’t think suicide’s the answer. Vince signs us off, reminding us to order the pay-per-view.
This RAW was monumentally important to the future of the company. On a smaller scale, because Shawn flaked out, Vince felt he needed to do something shocking, and decided to throw the IC belt on Rocky Maivia. This decision would bomb, as we’re going to see, which wound up being the absolute best thing that could have happened to the young guy. I believe Rock would have found himself eventually regardless of his push, because that charisma can’t be taught, but the backlash the push-from-hell we’re about to endure gives rise to the man we come to know and love today.
And then there’s all the fallout from the belt. If Shawn does what he’s asked, in losing to Sid and eventually Bret at Mania, you have to imagine that Bret becomes a hell of a lot easier to negotiate with later in the year as he’s eased out of the company. We probably don’t wind up with the most talked about pay-per-view moment in wrestling history, and Vince McMahon doesn’t become the most reviled character on the planet. Bret still probably turns heel, but instead of focusing his attack on Austin, who we’ll talk about in a second, he heads into a summer-long feud with Shawn Michaels – possibly paired with Owen, but not likely Bulldog.
Austin, meanwhile, sees his push gets stunted, by allegedly getting paired with Bulldog at Mania instead of Bret. He doesn’t get to put on the classic match to end all classic matches (unless Bulldog miraculously starts channeling his old buddy Dynamite Kid), and he stays heel for the immediate future. He still winds up champion sooner or later because, like Rock, nothing was stopping him at this point, but the climate and the ride looks very different. Because you’re messing with the timeline, he never breaks his neck; a bonus for us because we get extra years of Steve Austin, but takes something away from the character’s vulnerability that became such a critical element to who Stone Cold Steve Austin was. He was an asskicker, but he wasn’t superman, and the neck as his kryptonite always left doubt from that point forward.
One selfish decision, and the house of cards collapses upon itself; which in retrospect was instrumental in the turnaround of a fledgling company.
I’d call that an important RAW.