Before I begin, a bit of internal housekeeping. I’ve been on a bit of hiatus from writing about this great sport of late (barring the always informative TJR PPV previews, which are of course must reads, cheap pop!) and I fully intend to make it up to my very loyal readers in short order. Please know that I have always enjoyed and appreciated your comments and support regarding my thoughts on this crazy thing called pro wrestling that we love, and I am beyond excited to get back into the swing of things at one of the most exciting times of the year for us fans.
Now that that’s cleared up, I can’t think of a better way to reinsert myself into the conversation than with some thoughts about Monday’s Raw show, which of course was the 25th anniversary of WWE’s seminal program. 25 years may not feel like a particularly long time, but consider this: in 1993, Unforgiven won Best Picture, Intel’s Pentium chips had barely hit the shelves, Nirvana was playing concerts, and Lorena Bobbitt became infamous. And I was trying to give you the good news from that year!
From then on, though, most of you spent your formative Mondays as I did, tuning in to wrestling’s biggest program. It’s difficult to sit back now and think that you used to get your wrestling fix watching squash matches on Saturday afternoons, but there truly was a time before Mondays were as linked to the sport of kings as they are with football. You certainly have to give Vince McMahon credit for getting us to a point where Monday Night Raw has almost become part of the national lexicon.
That said, as with any aging process, Raw has grown in size and scope to a point where it badly needs a diet and possibly some substantive medication. The average show features generally as much talking as it does action, and runs longer than most attention spans of even the most ardent fan. This particular Raw comes at a fairly critical time for WWE, with this weekend’s double Royal Rumble right around the corner and the road to WrestleMania visible beyond that. It was also a major ratings winner for them, putting up numbers unseen around Titan Tower in quite a while.
It is in the spirit of all of those things that I compiled a list of the moments of Raw 25 that inspired me, both positive and negative. Twelve good, twelve bad, and one..well, you’ll have to read on for that. Whether you enjoyed or detested the three plus hours of reminiscing you experienced at the beginning of this week, I guarantee you’ll have something from this list on your own.
#1: Vinnie Mac’s Still Got It: Raw 25 kicked off as I expected and as it should, with a ring full of McMahons. Stephanie and Shane did their usual mugging before bringing Papa out, and Brooklyn welcomed him quite nicely. There are so many things about Vince the television character that are far more enjoyable to me than Vince the WWE honcho, and they were all on display here. He gave a heartfelt speech that promptly turned into a decimation of the previously-ecstatic crowd. He took all the credit for Raw’s success and said nobody else had anything to do with it, including the spawn he had just hugged and crowed about. And he made the famous “McMahon Gulp Face” when the glass broke and Austin came out looking like it was ten years ago. Everything about this opening promo was money, from Vince trying to subdue Austin with his faux medical issues to offering his son up as cannon fodder. My favorite moment? Vince’s slightly heelish expression creeping to the surface when Stone Cold’s beer tap caused some suds to hit his duds. By the time the inevitable Stunner had landed, we’d all been transported to a time when wrestling was super exciting and wicked fun. And Vince proved that he is still the best heel on the entire roster, as he’s been for many of those 25 years.
#2: JR & The King Get Jobbed: WWE promised a very cool concept on Monday, namely a simulcast from the venues of The Barclays Center and The Manhattan Center. This was a throwback to the original Raw shows, which were broadcast from The Manhattan Center, and I give the brass credit for making the set look very retro, right down to the Icopro banner and the heinous WWE neon logo hanging near the entrance. Not bad for rooting through Vince’s mancave for stage props. Unfortunately, this plan existed just to stuff the best announce team in Raw’s history in the broom closet, having them sit for long stretches with nothing going on and providing barely-there commentary on the couple of current storylines they were treated to. Is it any wonder pictures were snapped of the two practically catnapping as they waited for their next opportunity to be featured? Both they and the fans at MC deserved better. WWE gave the indication that they had outgrown both, and it’s to their detriment.
#3: The Reign of Reigns Ends: One of the bigger advertised matches of the evening was Roman Reigns putting his Intercontinental Title on the line against The Miz, and while many had speculated that the time was right for Roman to drop the secondary strap in order to fully immerse himself in the quest for Big Brock, there is quite often a difference between speculation and happenstance. The match itself was a bit of a hodgepodge, with the Miztourage being ejected from ringside but not actually leaving and Miz being so effective at removing the turnbuckle pad that even the cameraman didn’t see it. It took that exposed steel and a double Skull Crushing Finale, but Roman did indeed lose and The Miz was back doing what he does best: Telling everyone else how good he is, and sort of backing it up. Enjoy it before your next Roman overdose.
#4: Woken Matt Hardy Takes A Nap: One of the few Manhattan Center bouts saw a current midcard feud with Matt Hardy taking on nemesis Bray Wyatt. You would think this would be an opportunity to further cement the “Woken” iteration of Hardy’s character, but after a thoroughly forgettable affair it was Hardy who was deleted from relevance after suffering Sister Abigail. It’s even more confusing than the promos when a character you’re supposed to be invested in gets sidetracked so easily. Wasn’t Matt’s gimmick before this that he was losing all the time? The best thing about this match were the one-liners uttered by The King on the way out. WWE is once again demonstrating that they aren’t on board with anything they didn’t have a hand in creating.
#5: Women’s Wrestling At The Fore: It’s going to be a big day Sunday when the women’s division gets its very own Royal Rumble, a match so important to the company that Stephanie McMahon herself is now going to help announce it. That’s one reason why a showing from that side of the roster was so important Monday, and they largely delivered in a formulaic but reasonably exciting eight-woman tag match. The match was less about the outcome (Sasha Banks pinned Alicia Fox) and more about Asuka surprising by clearing house on her own face teammates after the pinfall. Couple that with a plethora of introduced cameos from some of the best trailblazers on WWE’s alumni page (Trish Stratus, Jacqueline and Torrie Wilson among them) and WWE did very well.
#6: Except They Completely Forgot Lita: Snubs are expected when you have the amount of performers WWE has had, but there are no-brainers and then there are no-brainers. It’s not as if Lita hasn’t been working with the WWE recently, so I’m not quite sure why she wasn’t asked to appear alongside her compatriots. While you can’t ascribe a movement to one person, you’d be hard-pressed to offer another option for someone who broke down so many barriers for the WWE and made wrestling much cooler for young girls everywhere before this age. Things got worse when it was revealed that Lita was actually on the commemorative chair but not the actual show. Huh? She took it in stride, but this was a very big miss from a company that should know better.
#7: Raw Is Jericho: The rumors that Chris Jericho would be appearing on Raw turned out to be very true, and as always the show itself was the better for it. Jericho appeared in a backstage segment with Elias, in which Elias was heading to the ring for a performance and ran into Y2J. Jericho, fresh off his epic battle with Kenny Omega, continues to come and go as he pleases and leave a trail of absolute entertainment in his wake. Jericho asked to borrow Elias’s guitar for a song and, despite being rebuffed, happened to have his own handy. Makes sense since his other gig is in a band. If you thought Jericho’s song might involve Elias being a stupid idiot and getting added to the list, you are of course quite right. He also remarked upon Elias’s scarf motif. It’s not a coincidence that Raw (or any show) is just much, much better when there’s a dose of Jericho in it. Hurry back.
#8: Celebrity Name Game: The “celebrity guest host” has been a much-maligned feature of many a Raw, and while it was okay seeing some of it peppered throughout the montages all night (Bob Barker remains an inspired, and unparalleled, choice), the big news from WWE’s standpoint was that Jimmy Fallon was going to be there courtesy of losing a bet of some kind on his late night show. I can’t tell you more because all of those shows are insipid. I’m sure this is a big deal to many, though, but the end result was one or two shots of Fallon looking bemused and/or intoxicated while Elias sang a song to “show him how it’s done” before being interrupted by John Cena. Apparently there was a different plan for Fallon when the show was written, but he had better things to do and it had to be rewritten. That would at least go a ways toward explaining how painful it was. Kowtowing to celebrities has become de rigueur for WWE, but it would help to at least have a point.
#9: Mean Gene: One of my favorite cameos in an evening full of them was having WWE Champion AJ Styles cut a promo about his opponents on Sunday, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. AJ has always been a decent interview, and they chose wisely in having him be the one to bring the legendary Mean Gene Okerlund in to ask him all about the big match. While I won’t argue that Gene has seen better days, the guy is tremendous and was absolutely hilarious on Legends House. I thought it was fantastic that he got an opportunity to shine Monday. For his part, AJ broke into a Hulk Hogan impersonation that I was surprised to see was allowed. Gene’s reaction to that, of course, was classic. The only downside? It made me miss Bobby Heenan that much more.
#10: Dead Man Walking: One of the more advertised elements of Raw 25 was the return of the Undertaker, last seen possibly retiring at WrestleMania. One would think this would be the setup to this year’s WrestleMania, except it..wasn’t. Maybe. Or not? Taker came down to the ring and the crowd ate up his promo, which was pretty effective in listing some people he beat without giving any reason for him being there at all. Maybe he likes the catering? If this was to show he’s not retired, it failed. If it was to show he is retired, it also failed. It makes complete sense for Undertaker to be there, because he’s been involved in some of Raw’s biggest angles over the years, but it’s patently obvious they still haven’t figured out if he’s wrestling again this year. And I love me some Deadman, but here’s the thing: he shouldn’t. Bonus grumpy factor for having Howard Finkel announce him down the aisle without anyone making mention of The Fink. I hope that guy got some great stock options, because they’ve totally given him the Jim Johnston treatment.
#11: DX Plus One: It wouldn’t be a WWE reunion show without best buds Triple H and Shawn Michaels breaking out the neon and the glowsticks, so that’s what we got Monday. It was truly a DX reunion, though, as X-Pac and the New Age Outlaws also appeared. Is it only me that finds the forced humor bits painful, especially with Hunter? I’m sure they crack each other up backstage, but it’s pretty bad live. In any case, they did give Rick Rude and Chyna shoutouts, which was appropriate and well-received. The bigger news was the addition of Scott Hall, without a running buddy since Kevin Nash was unable to appear for medical reasons. Hall of course was a big part of the pre-DQ Kliq, and came down to the Razor Ramon music that was a much bigger deal for him in his WWE run. Incidentally, Razor was great as a character, starting with the very ’90s vignettes. NWO Hall pales in comparison to me, though you can’t argue his place in history with that gimmick. Smart way to throw back to both of those groups at once and it went over big time.
#12: Too Bland: No sooner did we get that legendary cast of characters assembled, however, then we had a potential showdown with the Balor Club. They came down to the ring with tough stares and then…did kissy-face hand gestures to each other to pass down “too sweet” to the next generation or something. This was sort of like the gangs in West Side Story. Hard to imagine you’re all that tough when you’re blubbering over Maria and hitting the high notes. It went from bad to worse when the Revival showed up, fresh off the disabled list (again) and ready to take everyone’s finisher en route to a squash loss to Gallows and Anderson. I get that these segments always go down that road, but still…the Revival used to be interesting, no?
#13: APA gets an A plus: Not much was better (or more Attitude era) in my book than the APA segments. You’ve got two legitimately tough locker room leaders who suffered through some very crappy gimmicks and decided that a better one would be playing versions of themselves in which they sit backstage behind a plywood door playing cards and drinking beer until someone hires them to fight their battle for them. This is genius writing and their agents deserve a raise. Creative apparently agrees with me for a change, as there were APA segments throughout the evening, mostly revolving around their card game with an ever-evolving cast of characters past and present. It was nice to see MVP and Jeff Hardy, among others, but the real winner? That would be Ted DiBiase, still capable of taking the pot and breaking out that trademarked evil laugh. Million Dollar Man still has it.
#14: Those Damn Dudleys: I love the Dudleys. How could I not? I’m an ECW guy. Their last run didn’t sit very well with me, but I confess I still enjoy seeing them reunite every once in a while in their quest to collect the furniture. Their mission Monday was to interrupt a “match” between Heath Slater & Rhyno and Titus Worldwide (begun after accusations of cheating during the APA card game, natch) and put Slater through a table to everyone’s delight. That delight included Slater’s own tag partner, Rhyno, who both encouraged and assisted them in demolishing Heath. None of this made any sense, and while that may be par for the course in segments like this, how are Slater and Rhyno still a thing?
#15: Seven-Year Naitch: Both Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair, champions for their respective brands, appeared in a backstage interview segment that wasn’t tremendously notable save for the appearance of Charlotte’s proud papa, the legendary Nature Boy himself, Ric Flair. Flair cut an entertaining promo in which he single-handedly flirted with Bliss, complimented his daughter, rambled through a datebook, and slapped himself on the arms. This guy is a national treasure at this point. With his medical issues hopefully largely in the rearview mirror, it was really good to see Ric be available to do what he does like none other.
#16: Lumberjacks Unite: I’m not sure what to tell you about the last segment of the night, which featured the three competitors for the Universal Title at the Rumble in a staredown that oh-so-surprisingly turned physical. GM Kurt Angle feared it might happen and therefore brought plenty of backup to the ring, because nothing prevents beastly mayhem like The Coach and Brother Love. The segment was just bizarre, with Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman being introduced separately and then fighting as if nobody else was there. Because after going through all the trouble of bringing them down, nobody was. Strowman putting Lesnar through the table at ringside was a cool visual and made it seem possible he could win this weekend, but the whole thing was rather silly. And I guess that’s why the announcer’s table was moved from ringside.
#17: Foley is God: Mick Foley was asked to be on the show, and he absolutely is one of the five people that should be on any Raw celebration. He has at least two of the biggest moments ever on the show, winning the World Title on the night Eric Bischoff revealed the results ahead of time on Nitro, and his beloved “This Is Your Life” segment with The Rock. So why wasn’t he there? Because he felt it wouldn’t make sense for his character to appear on a show so soon after being “fired” by Stephanie. He has more ownership of his character than the people who write it. Of course, Shane and Stephanie are in a huge feud over which show is better but were all smiles Monday, so who needs continuity? Foley put the interests of the business over his own fame. As usual.
#18: Foley is God, Pt. 2: In so doing, incidentally, he missed an utterly boring segment in which famed former Raw general managers were introduced so they could wave to the crowd. If you were hoping that Regal or Eric Bischoff (both excellent GMs) would be given something interesting to do, fear not. There were only two good things that happened during this, one being the hilariously awful suit rental John Laurinaitis was wearing and the other being The Miz getting in Daniel Bryan’s face on the way down to his match while everyone else just stood there wondering what the hell was going on. I don’t care if Foley spent the night scarfing down Fritos and playing Skee-ball, he made the right call.
#19: Christian..At Last, He’s On His Ownnnn!: I really just wanted an opportunity to reference the best entrance theme in wrestling history. Edge was unavailable due to prior commitments (this was mentioned on the show and they did a nice job with it), but that allowed his former partner and very best friend Christian to have a Peep Show. Christian has always been thoroughly entertaining and did yeoman’s work in an underwritten skit where he purported to interview tag champs Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan. As with most of these things, it was just a disguised way to tease friction between the two before their upcoming defense against The Bar. And allow the Brooklyn crowd another chance to boo the absolute hell out of Jordan. Christian should be on the announce team.
#20: Roster Roulette: Despite WWE’s best efforts to make you care about the battle for supremacy between Smackdown and Raw, you still don’t. Just like last time. Seemingly a plan to make the horrific amount of Network PPVs relevant (they have since scaled back), it just makes shows like Raw 25 odd. As mentioned, Styles, Bryan, Shane, and Charlotte (among others) from the blue brand showed up to celebrate Raw, while other members of the blue brand’s roster who have been involved in big Monday moments did not. One of the more notable examples was Randy Orton, whose wife went on social media to point it out. They need to just pick a direction and stick with it. Didn’t these rosters just invade each other? Now New Day is playing poker? Okay.
#21: Crowded House: One segment I will never tire of are those where incongruous characters interact with each other in a way that only wrestling can allow. Monday had one of those, where a growing group of wackos piled into Angle’s office. It started innocently enough with Coach, but soon featured Harvey Wippleman, Brooklyn Brawler (quite apropos), Teddy Long, Brother Love, and of course..The Boogeyman! Everybody nailed it here, particularly Bruce Prichard in Love mode, as he said hello to everyone except Coach because he couldn’t remember his name. Boogeyman looks exactly the same everytime he shows up. You could do worse. There’s not enough fun for fun’s sake with the current product.
#22: Go Home Already: This wasn’t exactly a traditional “go-home” show in the sense that they were celebrating Raw more than playing up current angles going into the PPV. That’s a bit unfortunate given that this one is a big one in the Rumble. There were a couple moments that did set some things up, like the aforementioned bits with Jordan and Asuka, but overall I don’t know that it was very effective in whetting your appetite for the big card Sunday until the very last segment. It may not have mattered, as you get the sense that this was more about nostalgia, but it’s a weakness all the same.
#23: Walk Hard: The Elias Story: One person that did come out of Raw 25 looking like more of a star, perhaps surprisingly, was Elias. Elias gets a very good reaction and did a great job interacting with the crowd during his song, in which he ran down numerous members of the roster. Eventually, John Cena came down to handle business, but Elias surprisingly got the last laugh and blasted Cena over the head with his guitar. Coupled with his previous interaction with Jericho, Elias is clearly being presented as a big deal and perhaps a future opponent for Cena following the Rumble in which they are essentially now guaranteed to cross paths.
#24: Sexual Vanilla: Evidence of WWE’s current PG format dogged the night, from Triple H reminding Shawn Michaels that he couldn’t tell any of his DX stories to the shockingly uncomfortable segment featuring Mark Henry and The Godfather. Admittedly, it’s not easy to bring together a guy who impregnated an octogenarian and a pimp and get a usable segment out of this era, but by the time Mark Henry was hitting on Godfather’s wife I was wishing I was watching TV-G. Sometimes the best approach is no approach at all. The best part of this was the intimation that lots of things have changed. A lot of the writing hasn’t.
#25: Star of the Night: Jerry Lawler. Lawler was tremendously underrated both as a heel and as a commentator for much of the Raw Era, and he is linked with it to this day for good reason. Lawler’s gimmick would have played much better ten years before, but his ability to draw nuclear heat propelled everything from his feud with Bret Hart to his distaste for ECW. While he overstayed his welcome and had issues away from the ring that likely affected his duties, he was an integral part of an era a lot of us enjoyed. Lawler was pushed aside in order to make room for the likes of David Otunga, but he was up to his old tricks on Monday and his commentary was far better than when he departed. Let’s leave it this way: One of his first comments of the evening during the pre-show was his remembrance of telling Stu Hart to put his false teeth in backwards and eat himself to death. Long live the King.
So there you have it: twelve positives, twelve negatives, and one star of the night for Raw 25. Feel free to leave a comment below letting me know what your moment of the night was, and we’ll do it again after Raw 50. In the meantime, this is Mike Holland saying it’s good to be back, Fly Eagles Fly, and enjoy Royal Rumble weekend.