In honor of RAW’s 25th anniversary, here are the 25 greatest debuts in the history of WWE’s flagship show.
25) Raw Drafts the Blue Chipper (March 29, 2004)
Shelton Benjamin was a former SmackDown tag team champion. He was drafted to Raw, but that’s not the groundbreaking part. On his first night on Raw, Benjamin beat Triple H in the main event in what was the upset of the century. Triple H was nigh untouchable during his reign of terror as the top heel, so this victory was massive, and in 2004, it felt like there was nowhere to go but up for Benjamin.
24) Diamond Dallas Stalker? (June 18, 2001)
For weeks building up to this superstar’s reveal, someone was stalking The Undertaker’s then-wife Sara. The American Badass had decided to stay home to protect his wife and track down the stalker. But on Raw, the call was coming from inside the arena when the stalker came out in a mask, riding his own motorcycle mocking the Undertaker’s entrance. Cloaked in darkness, a spotlight revealed Diamond Dallas Page. It was a crazy angle, but the mystery and buildup made for an unforgettable moment.
23) It Was Me, Dad (October 26, 1998)
On a particularly intense night of Monday Night Raw, it was the aftermath of Austin kidnapping McMahon. Stone Cold had been hired back. Vince was looking to punish anyone he could for the crime. A shock would hit the WWE Universe when Shane McMahon would come down to the ring and admit that he hired Austin back. Shane would also dump a lot of personal grievances on his father sending Mr. McMahon for a loop. This was setting the stage for one of the biggest swerves in WWE history.
22) I’m an Olympic Gold Medalist. (November 15, 1999)
After a successful pay per view debut the night before, Kurt Angle had arrived as the first Olympic gold medalist in WWE history. On Raw, however, the Olympic hero would face off against the Godfather – WWE’s most famous pimp. Angle would get embarrassed by the negative crowd response at the start of the match, so he took a moment to grab the mic and berate his hometown audience, setting himself up as an up-and-coming villain. The man was a natural.
21) Welcome the Club (April 11, 2016)
The post-WrestleMania surprises kept coming in April of 2016. The infamous members of The Bullet Club, Karl Anderson and Luke (Doc) Gallows, debuted with an immediate impact, attacking top tier tag team the Usos, who were still in their family-friendly milk toast personas. These renegades hit the Magic Killer and left the Los Angeles crowd stunned. Dreams and fantasy booking of reunions with AJ Styles or Finn Balor would come shortly thereafter.
20) We are the Revival. (April 3, 2017)
Just last year one of the biggest debuts in Monday Night Raw history occurred when the Revival showed up to fight the New Day. Let me set the stage a bit: The New Day had become the top team in WWE (and the world, arguably) by holding the Tag Team Titles for an astonishing 483 days. They had called out any duo. The Revival – Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson – the most ruthless team to ever come out of NXT would answer the call. The newcomers would not only win, but put Kofi Kingston out on the shelf.
19) Mr. Monday Night (May 12, 1997)
ECW and WWE were cautious allies during the Monday Night War against WCW. At the time, though, no one really knew that, so occasionally there would be appearances from ECW members on Raw – sometimes invited, sometimes not. On this night, Rob Van Dam was brought in as an invited guest of Jerry Lawler. Lawler would run down ECW verbally and, surprisingly, so did Rob Van Dam! This would enrage many of the ECW fans in the crowd who loved their homespun wrestling. RVD would then put on a clinic, beating a young Jeff Hardy. The height RVD got on the Five-Star Frog Splash sent a message to the wrestling world that Mr. Monday Night had arrived.
18) Diesel Power (June 7, 1993)
Shawn Michaels was not just the greatest in-ring wrestler of all time, he was a wrestling genius. Michaels called his own shot on multiple occasions throughout his career, but his biggest gift to professional wrestling might have been Diesel aka Kevin Nash. He saw Nash struggling in WCW and knew his own career could benefit from having the big, tough Detroit monster as a bodyguard. A few months later, the giant would debut as HBK’s heavy by beating up Marty Jannetty and saving Michaels’ Intercontinental Title.
17) Who is that woman? (Feb 17, 1997)
For a few weeks, Goldust’s valet and love interest Marlena had been stalked by a bodybuilder woman. She was revealed on Raw to be Chyna. Triple H was tired of his normal valets who would only escort him to the ring, but never help in any way, so he hired Chyna to be hands on. This duo would dominate for years to come.
16) The Ringmaster (January 8, 1996)
After weeks of speculation, The Million Dollar Man was looking for a new superstar to groom to be the new Million Dollar Champion and future world champion. On the Brother Love Show, that superstar was revealed to be Steve Austin under the moniker of The Ringmaster. Even though the character idea was bad, there were signs of the brilliance and intensity inside Austin even on that first night.
15) For all Mankind (April 1, 1996)
In retrospect, what a great character debut! Mick Foley put everything into his Mankind persona – the vignettes were tremendous. As a kid, I remember being slack-jawed and amazed when he finally showed up. Mankind would beat Bob Holly in gruesome fashion, but his night wasn’t over. He would then viciously attack the Undertaker, setting up the feud of the summer.
14) The Milan Miracle (April 16, 2007)
Mr. McMahon was in rare form to start off Monday Night Raw. He would berate the crowd in Italy and foe Bobby Lashley before daring anyone in the audience to fight his heavy, Umaga, for the Intercontinental Championship. A hometown boy stood up to the challenge. McMahon built this moment up by saying that when Santino Marella gets destroyed he can’t sue WWE. With the deck stacked against him, Marella won the title on his first night with a little help from Lashley.
13) The Golden Era (October 30, 1995)
The buildup and vignettes were genius at the time. Goldust’s pending debut had already captivated the minds of his opponents as well as the WWE fans. After his glamorous, unorthodox entrance, he gave a quick Curtain Call to Savio Vega for the victory. The Bizarre One would become a lasting character in WWE.
12) KO to John Cena (May 18, 2015)
It started as a normal night with a John Cena U.S. Title Open Challenge. Who would come out to answer the call? It would be the bull in a china shop Kevin Owens, NXT Champion. What would happen next would be a war of words that many in the WWE Universe had been dying to see! Owens dropped Big Match John with a Popup Powerbomb.
11) Samoan Bulldozer (April 3, 2006)
A 16-time world champion. A packed Chicago crowd. Ric Flair explaining that his last chapter hadn’t yet been written, when a verbose, colorful manager named Armando Estrada interrupted the Nature Boy. Then Estrada introduced Umaga, the Samoan Bulldozer who would destroy the WWE Hall of Famer.
10) The Creator Unveils The Destroyer (January 30, 2017)
Seth Rollins and Triple H’s rivalry had reached a boiling point. Rollins had invaded NXT looking for revenge after Triple H cost him a spot in the Royal Rumble. Triple H would then return to Raw to lure his former protégé out to face him. But then Samoa Joe emerged! His debut had been rumored for weeks, but like an assassin, he was hired to do a hit on The Architect. The attack would injure Seth Rollins and cost him weeks of recovery time.
9) The Next Big Thing (March 18, 2002)
Sometimes actions speak louder than words. The night after WrestleMania, during a Hardcore Championship match between Maven, Al Snow and Spike Dudley, a monstrous human being would emerge from the crowd with Paul Heyman in tow. Brock Lesnar would proceed to obliterate everyone in sight. Brock would hit a spinebuster on Snow onto a trashcan, an F-5 on Maven and multiple powerbombs on Dudley. This was only the beginning of the path of destruction that Lesnar would lead on WWE.
8) Radicalz (February 13, 2000)
The Radicalz’ debut on RAW would crystallize that WWE ‘s victory in the Monday Night War. Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn and Chris Benoit were the workhorses of WCW. They put on excellent matches, but none of them were allowed to shine in the main event. When they jumped the barricade and attacked the New Age Outlaws, the WWE Universe came unglued. The Radicalz were then immediately thrown into the rivalry between Cactus Jack and Triple H.
7) The Cenation Comes to RAW (July 6, 2005)
Raw opens with Eric Bischoff raving about his first draft pick of the year. Chris Jericho is hosting The Highlight Reel where he will interview whoever it is. Suddenly, the beat began to drop as the St. Louis crowd learned that it was none other than John Cena! The WWE Championship would come to Monday Night Raw for the first time since the brands had separate rosters. On this night, Cena would ascend to his throne as the flag bearer of the flagship show.
6) Who’s Next? (March 31, 2003)
The Rock was at his highest point as the villainous Hollywood A-lister. After beating Stone Cold at WrestleMania the night before, he had no mountains left to climb, or so he thought. The drums began to play as Goldberg marched from the back to the ring. Goldberg let The Rock know that he was next and one giant spear later, WCW’s unstoppable force had finally arrived in WWE.
5) An Extraordinary Man (July 25, 2016)
Off the heels of the biggest WWE draft in history, Raw and Smackdown were once again separate entities. General Manager Mick Foley announced that it would be the start of a new era. The winners of two fatal four-way matches would face off to decide who will face Seth Rollins for the newly christened Universal Championship at SummerSlam. One of the eight men was the number-five overall draft pick: Finn Balor. He would show off his undying spirit and beat out Roman Reigns in one of the greatest Raw main events of all time.
4) Turning the Paige (April 17, 2014)
Imagine it’s your debut night on Raw…you’ve been wrestling since your teenage years to get to this moment. How about you decide to interrupt AJ Lee, the Divas Champion? Would you? Paige did. AJ Lee was so enraged by the insult that she would challenge Paige to a title match right then and there after hitting her with a cheap shot. However, Paige would counter out of the Black Widow and hit the Paige Turner to become the new champion.
3) The Millennium Man (August 9, 1999)
In the early summer of 1999, a mysterious clock began to count down to the millennium. It would appear periodically but it became crystal clear to the fans that this wasn’t counting down to the end of the year. It was counting down to Monday Night Raw on August 9, 1999. The Rock was in the middle of trash talking the Big Show and Undertaker when suddenly the millennium clock reappeared. The lights started going wild in the arena, and then fireworks went off. That iconic theme began to play, and “Jericho” came across the screen. Raw is Jericho and would be for years to come.
2) We Are Nexus (June 7, 2010)
It was a special viewers’ choice night on Raw and the WWE Universe voted CM Punk to fight John Cena in the main event. NXT Season One winner Wade Barrett swaggered down the ramp catching the attention of Cena. Then all the members of NXT emerged from the crowd and attacked the Straight Edge Society. They would surround Cena and decimate him, eight on one. They would attack announcers, timekeeper, and commentators. They would rip up the announce table and even the ring itself. Cena would take finisher after finisher and be left for dead in the wreckage of the ring. The WWE Universe was left in shock. They called themselves the Nexus.
1) Hell Freezes Over (July 15, 2002)
McMahon had decided that Raw and Smackdown would need new general managers to lead the day-to-day operations of each show in the interest of fairness. He promised ahead of time that he would reveal the new Raw General Manager on this night. In an off-the-cuff backstage interview, Booker T was talking to Jonathan Coachman when he stopped dead in his tracks. Eric Bischoff walked over to greet him.
Moments later, McMahon announced what the world now suspected: that his new Raw General Manager would be none other than Eric Bischoff. When these two men hugged, it was like hell froze over. Bischoff was McMahon’s biggest rival, hell, he almost put WWE out of business. Now he was not just employed, but he was the boss of the flagship show.