In this edition of The Wrestling Estate roundtable, the gang (plus a new member!) reminisce on the history of Monday Night Raw.
Did expanding to three hours kill Monday Night Raw?
David Gibb: To make a long story short, yes.
Jack Goodwillie: Kill? No, the show is still doing good business for USA Network (which says a lot about the state of the network), but from a quality standpoint, moving to three hours every week did set it back. I used to look forward to three-hour Raws when they were a rarity, not so anymore. Besides, how are you supposed to miss your favorite wrestlers – the stars of the show – when they’re being overexposed on a week-to-week basis?
Evan Cross: Not immediately, but it certainly didn’t help. At least they have enough talent now to fill three hours, but I don’t think they should.
Calvin Gibbon: This is tough, because on the one hand, I see how Raw could be more tightly written if it were two hours. The flagship show has struggled to regain that former glory of the Attitude Era. On the other hand, I think the benefit of having more spots on the show for talent outweighs the negatives so far. The ratings have stayed steady in the modern era where WWE competes with everything on cable and beyond so that’s a good thing. I’d keep the three hours.
John Corrigan: Yes, it’s no longer a can’t miss show because three hours every week is such a commitment to even a hot product, let alone the current piss-poor one.
Anthony Mahalis: I don’t think the change to three hours killed Raw, but it certainly didn’t help. There is too much filler in the three-hour show, which makes for more boring segments.
Does the Attitude Era hold up today?
Gibb: Some of the Attitude Era Raws are still great watches; many aren’t. The matches are much better now, but today’s shows can’t match the energy level of 1998 through 2001.
Goodwillie: Yes and no. I’d put any of the top matches up against the top WWE-style matches of today, but a lot of the stuff we saw in the Attitude Era, mainly the stuff with Vince Russo’s fingerprints all over them, does not age well. The crux of the movement though, which was garnering interest in main event matches and programs, does hold up quite well in a time where most pay-per-views kind of feel the same.
Cross: The moments we all remember still hold up. Taken as a whole, it doesn’t. There was too much weirdness and overbooking, and time has eroded our memories so we only remember the good stuff.
Gibbon: The biggest moments, feuds, matches and promos do hold up. However, the wrestling overall isn’t as good as the current era. Also, a lot of the secondary and raunchy angles were trash and I don’t miss that. But it did have two of the largest icons in all of pro wrestling come up at the same time: The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. I think you could have a Reality Era renaissance right now if you find stars as big as those two.
Corrigan: I’ve spent the past three weeks watching Attitude Era Raw instead of the current drab because it’s so much better. The crowds were fire, everybody on the show had a definable character and the shows were actually episodic. It wasn’t just match-interview-match; each segment weaved together to climax by 11 p.m.
Mahalis: The Attitude Era absolutely stands up today. That was the greatest period in the history of professional wrestling. The talent of that roster was incredible and the level of entertainment on a weekly basis was tremendous.
What’s the greatest Raw match?
Gibb: This is a hard question because weekly TV isn’t necessarily about great matches. Flair-Perfect is pretty undeniable material, as is the Jeff Hardy-Undertaker ladder match from 2002.
Goodwillie: Jericho and Benoit vs. Two-Man Power Trip would have to be up there for me. But I’ll say Jericho vs. Triple H for the title just because of the reaction of the crowd on live television. That’s really what Raw is all about: the raw emotion (pardon the pun) of having great moments and matches live and syndicated around the world. And on that night, Jericho staked his claim for the top of the mountain…until creative reversed the decision later that night.
Cross: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena in 2007. They went for an hour. It was a legitimately good match, and even if it wasn’t, you’d still remember watching it.
Gibbon: CM Punk vs. John Cena at the end of February of 2013 gets my vote. I’m a huge fan of both superstars and the buildup was great. There were some unexpected moves like the return of the banned Piledriver and a Cena-canrana that shocked the crowd. Finally, it ended with both men leaving the match with greater respect for each other. What more could you ask for?
Corrigan: Shelton Benjamin vs. Shawn Michaels. Both men were faces with zero history together, but within a few seconds, fans were captivated by Benjamin outwrestling the veteran, who was visibly pissed off. That frustration boiled over into Michaels throwing the first strike, and from there the fight was on, culminating in the most exciting finish in Raw history.
Mahalis: I’ve got to agree with Corrigan here and go with Shawn Michaels vs Shelton Benjamin. Not a very long match, but man does it deliver.
What’s the greatest Raw moment?
Gibb: Waltman over Hall. It started Hall’s turn effectively, made Waltman in a way that stuck and got over that “Anything can happen on Monday Night Raw!”
Goodwillie: I am very partial to Batista’s face turn on Triple H to close Raw on the Road to WrestleMania 21. I thought it was a textbook angle months in the making and when the time came for the payoff, the two men in the ring, plus general managers Theodore Long and Eric Bischoff, plus Ric Flair, sold it incredibly well. As a young wrestling fan, I was immediately sold on buying my first WrestleMania.
Cross: Mick Foley’s first WWE Championship win. It’s the obvious one, but it’s the right one. It’s the greatest WWE moment in history, too.
Gibbon: HBK superkicks Bret Hart while Bret was talking trash from a wheelchair. This was insane at the time I watched it. Bret and Shawn’s fiery hatred had been building for months in 1997. This was the first big salvo in the most personal rivalry of the 90’s. The war had begun!
Corrigan: Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy finally achieving his dream and the dream of everyone else who’s been told, you can’t do it!
Mahalis: What a tough question this is. There are so many to choose from. I have to go predictable here with the Beer Truck. It was just iconic and watching Vince fake swim in the middle of the ring was priceless.
Who is Raw’s all-time MVP?
Gibb: This one’s easy: Steve Austin.
Goodwillie: I don’t think you can look any further than “The Texas Rattlesnake” or whichever moniker you prefer for Steve Austin. Everything about the Stone Cold character was raw. Austin gave us countless moments of hilarity and happiness, and in my opinion, really put the show on the map. One could argue the WWE has coasted off of the popularity of the Stone Cold character for the last 15-16 years or so, and part of that lends itself to Austin’s presence on live, uncut television. If you prefer heels, Vince McMahon is also an extremely logical option here.
Cross: Vince McMahon. None of it happens without him.
Gibbon: It has to be Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Texas Rattlesnake was the most successful act in the history of professional wrestling. He was a giant part of WWE winning the Monday Night War. His merchandise sales and his house show sales eclipsed Hulk Hogan and have yet to be surpassed if the experts are to be believed. Oh Hell Yeah!
Corrigan: I was going to pick Shawn Michaels, but everyone here sold me on that damn rattlesnake.
Mahalis: I have to go with Stone Cold. He just has so many absolute classic moments: the beer truck, the bedpan, stunning Vince for the first time, Tyson/Austin and the list goes on and on.