In honor of Raw’s 25th anniversary, here are the 25 greatest episodes in the history of WWE’s flagship show.
#25 Inaugural Episode, January 11, 1993
Uncut, uncooked and uncensored: Monday Night Raw changed WWE television by forgoing the traditional squash match-interview-squash match formula and presenting competitive, star-filled bouts with storylines weaved throughout the show. Well, not so much in the first episode, as Yokozuna, Undertaker and the Steiners all dominated their opponents in quick fashion. But the atmosphere felt fresh and intimate as Rob Bartlett delivered topical humor and Bobby Heenan took the slapstick route trying to get into the building. In the current three-hour era, this 45-minute broadcast (commercials cut on the Network) is a fun stroll down memory lane.
#24 Raw 565, March 22, 2004
Two years into the (first) brand extension, Raw holds a Draft Lottery to shake up the rosters. The suspense over which names will be called makes for a more entertaining episode than the original draft, where McMahon and Flair went from calculated picks to just babbling names before the show ended. The most exciting picks were the returning Edge going to Raw, Triple H going to Smackdown (with a funny spit take) and Smackdown GM Heyman going to Raw. Of course, rather than work for Bischoff, Heyman quit. The main event features Eddie Guerrero vs. Triple H in a pretty good match.
#23 RAW 121, July 24, 1995
Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart bookend this show, so you know it’ll be good. The giant RAW letters atop the entrance way debuted here, as did Dean Douglas. But let’s get to the sizzle and steak: HBK rocked Louisville with a fun, energetic win over Jimmy Del Ray, and the Hitman ended his feud with Hakushi in one of the greatest matches in Raw history. Plus, Waylon Mercy.
#22 RAW 200, February 24, 1997
ECW invaded Raw four years before The Alliance storyline happened, as Vince McMahon welcomed Paul Heyman’s demimonde onto the USA Network to gain some mainstream exposure for their upcoming debut on pay-per-view. It was surreal seeing The Eliminators, BWO, Dudley Boyz and Sandman all show up, let alone Sabu jumping off the giant Raw letters onto a sea of officials. Elsewhere on the show, Ken Shamrock made his WWE debut, sitting in the crowd and being interviewed by Jerry Lawler, laying the groundwork for his special referee role at WrestleMania 13. Also, the Legion of Doom made their surprise return to WWE, battling the Headbangers to a double countout before saving the Undertaker from a Nation of Domination beatdown.
#21 RAW 759, December 10, 2007
Raw celebrated its 15th anniversary in grand fashion, bringing back dozens of blasts from the past for a 15-man battle royal as well as a hilarious opening segment with the McMahon family. As far as action is concerned, Jeff Hardy had a good ladder match with Carlito, Marty Jannetty faced Mr. Kennedy and Evolution’s reunion quickly turned sour, morphing into a fun 6-man tag with Umaga and Edge.
#20 Raw 199, February 17, 1997
The lesson learned on this episode was don’t piss off Stone Cold. The Texas Rattlesnake prevented the WWE Championship match twice, attacking Bret Hart both times and pissing off Psycho Sid. When the match finally happened at the end of the show, Austin interfered yet again, blasting Hart with a chairshot and allowing Sid to hit a powerbomb to win the title. Elsewhere on the show, Chyna made her Raw debut, emerging from the crowd to toss Marlena like a rag doll. Also, Paul Heyman made his Raw debut (sorta), calling into the show and accepting Jerry Lawler’s invitation for ECW to show up next week.
#19 RAW 1161, August 24, 2015
One of the best three-hour episodes of Raw came after SummerSlam 2015, as Jon Stewart paid for costing Cena his 16th world title (endorsed by Ric Flair, no less), the Dudleyz returned, Braun Strowman debuted and Sting surprised The Authority by replacing Rollins’ statue and clearing the ring.
#18 RAW 443, November 19, 2001
Twenty four hours after WWE vanquished The Alliance at Survivor Series, three major changes were made to the company. First off, Paul Heyman was fired and replaced by the returning Jerry Lawler. Secondly, William Regal kept his job by becoming the first member of the Kiss My Ass Club. Last but certainly not least, Ric Flair returned to WWE for the first time since 1993, revealing that he was now McMahon’s partner and WWE co-owner.
#17 RAW 203, March 31, 1997
The hottest storyline of 1997 kicked off on this episode as Bret Hart stopped a fantastic rematch between Owen and Bulldog, claiming the American media has turned them against each other. Bret cooled their tensions and then made up with his brother Owen, citing their family values as being unbreakable. At the end of the night, as Stone Cold attacks Bret, the revitalized Hart Foundation hits the ring to pound away on Austin. Elsewhere on the show, Paul Bearer begged Undertaker to forgive him, and when the Deadman refused, Mankind emerged from under the ring and threw a fireball in Taker’s face.
#16 RAW 1000, July 23, 2012
Raw’s 1000th episode was unfortunately the launch of weekly three-hour episodes, undoubtedly, the death of the brand. However, it started off hot as D-X had a full reunion (sans Chyna and Rick Rude), Daniel Bryan almost married AJ Lee (officiated by Rev. Slick!) and CM Punk turned heel, attacking The Rock.
#15 RAW 311, May 10, 1999
The highest-rated episode of Raw ever (8.1) saw Commissioner Shawn Michaels book a bunch of bizarre matches such as Big Show vs. Paul Bearer, Cactus Jack vs. Mideon & Viscera in a hardcore match, Bradshaw vs. Farooq in a lumberjack match and the Mean Street Posse vs. Patterson & Brisco in a Loser Leaves WWE match. The main event was star-studded, though, as Austin, Rock & Vince faced Undertaker, Triple H and Shane O’Mac. The unpredictability and absurdity of it all made for a fun night.
#14 RAW 645, October 3, 2005
Raw returned to the USA Network with a stacked three-hour supershow including Smackdown superstars and numerous legends. Mick Foley kicked off the night as a first-time guest on Piper’s Pit. Then the first match was a 30-minute Ironman between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. Then Stone Cold stunnered the entire McMahon family. Folks, we’re only halfway through!
#13 RAW 355, March 13, 2000
After weeks of being humiliated and beaten down by the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, The Rock was a desperate man, and desperate men do desperate things. The Great One put his career on the line for one last chance to main event WrestleMania with Triple H and Big Show. With Shane O’Mac as the special referee, leaving Rock without a glimmer of hope, Mr. McMahon made his triumphant return to a thunderous ovation, restoring balance to the World Wrestling Federation and aiding Rock in his quest. Also on the show, Dean Malenko won the Light Heavyweight Championship and Bubba Ray Dudley powerbombed Mae Young off the stage through a table.
#12 RAW 1089, April 7, 2017
One night after WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan defended his newly won WWE Championship against Triple H…only for The Shield to save him from an Authority mauling, officially turning face in the process. In typical post-Mania style, the New Orleans crowd was rowdy all night, cheering on Bray Wyatt, Santino, Emma and Bad News Barrett in their respective victories. They also cheered for the debuting Paige, who answered AJ Lee’s challenge and won the Diva’s Championship. And they absolutely rumbled as Cesaro, fresh off winning the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, revealed Paul Heyman as his new manager.
#11 RAW 255, April 13, 1998
The episode that snapped Nitro’s 83-week winning streak – Stone Cold vs. Mr. McMahon. For two hours, WWE built up the bout as McMahon went from nervous coward to confident challenger, letting stooges Patterson and Brisco build up his ego. Despite attempts from Shane O’Mac and J.R. to talk the boss out of risking his life, McMahon vowed to go through with it. When the time finally came, Philly was at a fever pitch to see Austin open up a can of whoop ass on the man who screwed Bret Hart. However, it was all a ruse as Dude Love appeared to bring peace to the warzone, only to turn on Austin and brutalize the champion.
#10 RAW 726, April 23, 2007
It’s a one-match show, but that match was named best of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. After squaring off at WrestleMania 23, John Cena and Shawn Michaels took their talents across the pond. In front of a traditionally raucous crowd in London, Cena and Michaels went almost 60 minutes in this non-title bout. This was the first time Cena fans had evidence that their boy could actually wrestle; of course, it helped that his dancing partner was Heartbreak Kid. They started slow, letting the crowd carry the fever pitch, and by the half hour point, Michaels turned up the heat, pulling out all the stops in his mission to prove he could beat the new lion.
#9 RAW 226, September 22, 1997
Raw came back to Madison Square Garden, kicking off with a fun tribute video about WWE’s legacy in NYC. That’s why it was a monumental sign of disrespect when Austin dropped McMahon with a stunner, the first of many for the boss. The fans loved it, though, roaring as their hero was cuffed by New York City’s finest. Also on this episode, Triple H was scheduled to face Dude Love in a street fight, but the Titantron showed all three faces of Foley commiserating as Dude Love and Mankind revealed their replacement: Cactus Jack. A heavily pro-ECW crowd exploded for the wildman’s debut in WWE, as Cactus Jack brawled with HHH all over the Garden, eventually piledriving him through a table for the victory.
#8 RAW 253, March 30, 1998
The Austin Era began one night after WrestleMania XIV as McMahon confronted the new WWE Champion, offering him the easy way or hard way of doing business. Obviously, the Rattlesnake does things the hard way, stunnering the boss to thunderous cheers. McMahon doubled down on his evil boss persona, having Austin arrested for assault. With the world’s toughest SOB out of the building, and Shawn Michaels taking a sabbatical from the company, Triple H announced the rebuilding of D-X, recruiting X-Pac from WCW and later helping the New Age Outlaws dismantle Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie in the main event.
#7 RAW 293, January 4, 1999
The night that sealed WCW’s coffin. As Mr. McMahon gloated about firing Shawn Michaels, the commissioner revealed that he was bulletproof, and that McMahon would enter the Royal Rumble at No. 2, right after Austin. McMahon’s night went from bad to worse as Mankind threatened to break Shane’s arm unless the boss granted him a WWE Title shot against The Rock. Then in the main event, as DX and the Corporation battled around the ring, ol’ Stone Cold emerged to help Mankind achieve his dream. It’s the greatest moment in the history of Raw.
#6 RAW 350, February 7, 2000
A molten hot Dallas crowd elevated this show into legendary levels, screaming all night long for Angle slamming Mae Young, Jericho brawling with Viscera and other run-of-the-mill hijinks. But the bookends of the show centered on Cactus Jack and Triple, who agreed to face one last time in a Hell in a Cell at No Way Out. Triple H revealed that the Radicalz, who Cactus welcomed into WWE just one week earlier, were now working with him, as the four WCW stars jumped Foley from behind. This led to an electrifying 10-man tag in the main event, and a surprise return afterward.
#5 RAW 424, July 9, 2001
This episode was so captivating as a kid that I remember the date to this day. WWE was under attack by Shane O’Mac’s WCW, as the boy wonder and DDP lured Undertaker in a trap at the start of the show, going so far as to Diamond Cutter his then-wife Sara. Later on, RVD and Tommy Dreamer invaded a tag match between Jericho and Kane against Lance Storm and Mike Awesome, aligning with the WCW stars. As members of the WWE roster hit the ring, it was quickly realized that they were all former ECW guys, and the tribe of Extreme has resurrected. The twists and turns didn’t stop there as the Alliance was soon formed and ECW’s new owner was revealed.
#4 RAW 409, March 26, 2001
We’ll never see an episode like this ever again, as McMahon conquered his competition and purchased WCW. Throughout the first hour of Raw, the WWE Chairman had two TVs airing at once, keeping an eye on Raw and Nitro while quipping about certain WCW stars like Jeff Jarrett, Dustin Rhodes and Lex Luger. (“The Lex Express has run out of gas.”) Then he finally made his way to the ring to gloat during a history-making simulcast between TNN and TNT. Of course, Shane O’Mac showed up at Nitro, revealing himself to be the true owner of WCW.
#3 RAW 425, July 16, 2001
One week after The Alliance formed, ol’ Stone Cold was feeling despondent and depressed, drinking his sorrows at The Friendly Tap. McMahon had urged him to forget the hugs and banjo-playing and return to his former rebellious self, even going so far as to beg for a stunner. While WWE battled WCW and ECW guys throughout the night, Austin watched the action from the bar. It took a battle cry from wheelchair-bound “Classy” Freddie Blassie to inspire the Texas Rattlesnake to help McMahon out, and the biggest can of whoop ass was opened all over The Alliance.
#2 Raw 17, May 17, 1993
The unpredictable nature of Raw was established early on as this episode had three major surprises: Marty Jannetty returning to WWE, emerging from the crowd to challenge Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Championship; Jannetty actually defeating his ex-partner for the title; and The Kid pulling off the upset of the century on Razor Ramon.
#1 RAW 206, April 21, 1997
There has been no two-hour story told ever better than on this episode. Stone Cold kicked off Raw in an interview with McMahon, demanding Bret Hart come out for their street fight within 60 seconds or Austin is heading to the back to find him. Bret waits until the 60 seconds have expired before responding, just to piss off Austin some more, and says Austin will be going straight to hell. In true Austin fashion, he says if he’s going to hell, he’s bringing Bret with him.
Later on, Austin attempts to break into the Hart Foundation’s dressing room, but Bret instructs the referees to send Austin to the ring. When it finally looks like the match will begin, Bulldog and Owen jump Austin, as it becomes a three-on-one trap. Then Shawn Michaels runs out with a chair, chasing off the Tag Team Champions. This leaves Bret with Austin, and as he attempts to shatter his ankle with a Pillmanizer, Austin rebounds and mercilessly destroys Bret’s knee.
Once the officials finally pry Austin off Bret, they load him up on a stretcher and take him to an ambulance. However, Austin has commandeered the vehicle, and leaves the driver’s seat to pummel a strapped and defenseless Hitman. At the end of the night, Austin cuts another promo in the ring, taking pride in all the destruction he’s caused. Suddenly, Owen and Bulldog attack, but Michaels makes another save.
Then, Brian Pillman makes his surprise return from having his own ankle shattered by Austin, attacking the Rattlesnake until Michaels makes his third save.
Riveting television for two hours, leaving you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Austin’s rebellious character was on full display, the Hart Foundation was seen as conniving yet vulnerable and Michaels remained an unlikely hero of Austin, simply because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Top it all off with the return of the Loose Cannon, clearly a new member of the Hart Foundation, and you’ve got the elements of entertaining and fulfilling storytelling, leaving you not only satisfied with what you’ve seen, but amped for the next chapter.