(Writer’s Note: As you’ll read in a moment, I had to switch column topics this week. Then, the entire wrestling world explodes with the news of Stephanie McMahon resigning from her job in WWE, Vince McMahon returning to the company, and a possible sale that would see Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund become the new owners of WWE. It all happened too late for me to actually write about it this week, though, but as you may have seen, it has already been covered in the form of a column here on the site. As of the second I type this sentence, everything is all rumor and conjecture, and is now leaning to the “untrue” side, so perhaps this is a good thing for me. It will allow some time to pass, and perhaps we’ll get some verified facts to discuss.)
When this column goes live, it will be the 30 years, to the day, of Monday Night Raw’s debut on the USA Network. 30 years of matches, moments, and promos. 1,546 episodes of memories.
Originally, I had another column planned for this week. I’m not sure why, but I thought next week was the Raw debut anniversary. I was 3,000 words deep into my original column when I realized my mistake, so I’ll just flip the columns. Raw gets the spotlight here, and my original idea for this week will hit the streets next week. Shit, even my original idea for this column had to be switched. Someone told me to look at my 30 favorite moments in Raw history, but I did a column similar to that last year, looking at my 30 favorite moments in Royal Rumble history. Thar’s not even counting my column about my 38 favorite WrestleMania moments of all-time during last year’s WrestleMania season. Hey, it’s an easy topic to write about! I’m going to use my shortened writing period to make that idea a lot more simple and just look at my favorite match, promo, and moment… all singular… in the history of the show. Lord knows there’s a ton of options to choose from, so let’s not waste any more time. We’ll get things started on the mic with my favorite promo in Monday Night Raw history.
Favorite Promo: Mark Henry’s Retirement Speech (June 17th, 2013)
What a roller coaster ride. In the span of five minutes, Mark Henry was able to achieve so much in a single promo. He delivered his “retirement” speech with a beautifully done acting job, drawing people in and having them believe every word he was saying. There were real tears in his eyes, and even real snot trying to escape his nostrils, as he talked about being there for his family, and how his daughter, who was three at the time, would cry when her daddy had to leave home, was going to see him more.
John Cena, to his credit, delivered a good performance, as well. He stood on the ring apron for the entirety of the promo, looking emotional, until it was time to get in the ring and raise the big man’s arm and let him soak in the adulation from the crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan that night. Just when it looked like the two men were going to hug, Henry picked Cena up and dropped him with a World’s Strongest Slam. We were bamboozled. I remember watching this episode of Raw with the rest of the Lords Of Podcast Roundtable crew as we prepared for our Raw post-show, and we all went through the aforementioned roller coaster ride. It was CLEARLY a swerve waiting to happen… then it was CLEARLY a legitimate retirement speech… then it was CLEARLY going to be a swerve… then it was CLEARLY a legit retirement speech… right? RIGHT?!?
Kudos to Mark Henry for the acting chops it took to pull this one off. In an era where we’re all “smarks” and are almost trained to believe that everything is a work, we were able to let our guards down for a moment, and it was a wonderful time. It’s just too bad that the promo didn’t lead to Henry beating Cena to become the new WWE Champion, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.
Honorable Mentions: Roman Reigns Declares “This Is My Yard Now” (April 3rd, 2017)… John Cena & Roman Reigns Prepare For No Mercy (August 28th, 2017)… CM Punk’s “Pipe Bomb” (June 27th, 2011)… Chris Jericho’s Debut (August 9th, 1999)… The Rock & “Stone Cold” Steve Austin Sing A Duet (November 12th, 2001)… Cody Rhodes Returns To Raw (April 4th, 2022)… Ric Flair’s Entire Retirement (lol) Ceremony (March 31st, 2008)… Elias Pisses Seattle Off (October 1st, 2018)… Bret Hart Verbally & Physically Assaults Vince McMahon (March 17th, 1997)… Shawn Michaels Trolls Montreal Twice (August 15th, 2005)
Favorite Match: John Cena vs Shawn Michaels (April 23rd, 2007)
Three weeks after WrestleMania 23, which saw Cena successfully defend the WWE Title against Michaels, we got a non-title rematch on Raw in London, England. The rematch ended up lasting nearly a full hour, and those types of matches are always amazing when they come as a surprise. It’s one thing to expect an hour-long match because it was announced as a 60-minute Ironman Match, but it’s another thing entirely when it isn’t something you’re expecting and waiting for.
This was still relatively early on in Cena’s reign at the top of the wrestling world, and he still had a ton of people who felt he was a poor in-ring performer. He had faced opponents of all shapes, sizes, and styles, but he still had his doubters. This would be another chance for him to prove people wrong. The longer the match went, and the further Michaels took him into deep water, Cena continued to hang. No easy task, considering Shawn Michaels might very well be the best in-ring performer that professional wrestling has ever seen. Michaels showed a lot of veteran savvy here, seemingly learning from the mistakes he made in their first match, and switching his style up a bit here, and it was clearly frustrating the champion.
It was a really big deal to get a victory over Cena back then. An even bigger deal to do it via pin, even for a four-time World Champion that would go on to be a two-time WWE Hall Of Fame inductee. Michaels was able to show for the billionth time that he was a world class performer. Cena was able to show that he could “go” in yet another type of match. Both men got to shine, and they both got over. Not that they needed it, of course.
The best part about the match going so long is that it wasn’t supposed to. That episode of Raw was also supposed to feature a match between Edge and Randy Orton, but a couple days before Raw, Orton was sent home from the tour because of damage to a hotel room he was staying at. With the match between Edge and Orton being scrapped at the last minute, more time was given to Cena and Michaels. I’m sure this match would’ve been a ton of fun if it went 20-30 minutes, but man, that extra time did wonders for the overall quality, and for how it will be remembered throughout history.
Honorable Mentions: Seven-Man Gauntlet Match (February 19th, 2018)… Charlotte Flair vs Sasha Banks (November 28th, 2016)… Cactus Jack, The Rock, Rikishi & Too Cool vs Triple H, X-Pac & The Radicalz (February 7th, 2000)… Bret Hart vs The 1-2-3 Kid (July 11th, 1994)… Owen Hart vs The British Bulldog (March 3rd, 1997)… Steve Austin vs Bret Hart (April 21st, 1997)… Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins vs Goldust & Cody Rhodes (October 14th, 2013)… Chris Benoit vs Kurt Angle (June 11th, 2001)… Daniel Bryan vs Antonio Cesaro (July 22nd, 2013)… Shawn Michaels vs Shelton Benjamin (May 2nd, 2005)… The Undertaker vs Jeff Hardy (July 1st, 2002)… John Cena vs CM Punk (February 25th, 2013)… Daniel Bryan vs Seth Rollins (June 10th, 2013)… CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Goldust, Cody Rhodes & The Usos vs The Shield & The Wyatt Family (November 18th, 2013)… John Cena vs Cesaro (February 17th, 2014)… Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton (February 3rd, 2014)… John Cena vs Cesaro (June 29th, 2015)… John Cena vs Cesaro (July 6th, 2015)… Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens vs Big Cass vs Seth Rollins (August 29th, 2016)… Mr. Perfect vs Ric Flair (January 25th, 1993)
Favorite Moment: Daniel Bryan “Turns” On The Wyatt Family (January 13th, 2014)
It has been nine years since this happened, and I still remember it as if it took place yesterday. Nine years from now, I will still remember it as if it took place yesterday.
The WWE Universe was showing their most fervent support for Daniel Bryan, desperately trying to get WWE to put DB in the main event of the upcoming WrestleMania 30 pay-per-view. Instead of that, they initially received a “heel turn” for the guy, as he would join Bray Wyatt’s dastardly Wyatt Family stable. Two weeks later, Bryan and Wyatt would face off against The Usos in a Steel Cage Match, but they would come out on the losing end. After the match, Wyatt would blame Bryan for the loss and would go to hit him with Sister Abigail as punishment, but Bryan would break free.
The crowd in Providence, Rhode Island went crazy.
As soon as Bryan would physically fight back, that crowd went even crazier, watching WWE right the wrong of putting Bryan with the Wyatts in the first place.
Then… Bryan began to lead the “yes” chants. That is the precise moment when an already great segment became a legendary one. In the decades I’ve been watching wrestling, I have never seen a crowd as loudly, and as passionately, in sync as that crowd was. DB was the puppet master, and he had thousands of people following his every move. Seriously, go back and watch this segment. Listen to that crowd. That is as close to a 100% unanimous crowd reaction as you’re ever going to hear. Pairing that with arms going up and down because of the “yes” chants, and you have some incredibly hypnotic television.
Honorable Mention: Debut Of The Nexus (June 7th, 2010)… Mankind Puts Some Butts In The Seats (January 4th, 1999)… The First Episode (January 11th, 1993)… Bedpan McMahon (October 5th, 1998)… Edge & Lita’s Live Sex Celebration (January 9th, 2006)… Steve Austin & Mike Tyson Go Face-To-Face (January 19th, 1998)… Batista’s “Thumbs Down” For Triple H (February 21st, 2005)… Dolph Ziggler Cashes In (April 8th, 2013)… Zamboni 3:16 (September 28th, 1998)… Chris Jericho’s Name Is On The List (February 13th, 2017)… Brock Lesnar Returns (April 2nd, 2012)… Steve Austin Stuns Vince McMahon For The First Time (September 27th, 1997)… Beer Truck 3:16 (March 22nd, 1999)… Big E Cashes In (September 13th, 2021)… Triple H Returns (January 7th, 2002)… CM Punk Is The Cult Of Personality (July 25th, 2011)… Steve Austin Saves Team WWF (July 16th, 2001)… Seth Rollins Destroys The Shield (June 2nd, 2014)… Shawn Michaels Turns Face After Being Attacked By Sid (April 3rd, 1995)… R-Truth Makes Brock Lesnar Laugh (January 13th, 2020)… The Rock Returns (February 14th, 2011)
Your turn. Tell me about your favorite promos, matches, and/or moments in the 30-year history of Monday Night Raw. Without that show, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
Raw Tag Team Turmoil: I really love it when these Gauntlet-style matches get a ton of time to work with. That basically gives you multiple full-length matches all in one, and this was no different. As an added bonus, the result is The Judgment Day getting a title shot against The Usos, which is an entirely fresh matchup to run with. Yes, it’s heel vs heel, which can be tricky to book at times, but both sides of this equation still have their fair share of fans out there, so there’s still going to be a lot of mixed reactions. That will help the “I don’t know who to cheer for here” negativity that often hurts heel vs heel matches.
Jon Moxley & Bryan Danielson vs Top Flight: Yes, it’s yet another week that Jon Moxley makes my Power Rankings. Indeed, it’s yet another week that Bryan Danielson makes my Power Rankings. At this point, I have to believe I could face either one of them and they’d be able to carry me to a decent match, and I’ve never wrestled a day in my life. Top Flight continue to have impressive performances, even in losses. That’s not new for them, though. If they can both remain healthy, 2023 could, and should, be a huge year for them.
The Usos vs The Banger Bros: Let’s forget the nod-nod-wink-wink name of Drew McIntyre and Sheamus’ tag team for a minute. We knew this was going to be a good match, even if there was never a doubt on who would leave with the Tag Team Titles, and sure enough, it was really good.
Darby Allin: I do a column where I ask if Darby’s “ceiling” in AEW is the World Title picture or simply getting to shine as the TNT Champion. Mere hours later, he wins the TNT Title for the second time. His first reign as the TNT Champion remains the longest reign in the title’s admittedly brief history. It will be interesting to see what he has in store for this reign.
“Speedball” Mike Bailey: The winner of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Battle Of Los Angeles 2023 tournament, Bailey is absolutely on fire these days. He is the 16th man to win the tournament, and almost every winner in the past has used their tournament victory to catapult themselves to much bigger and better things, including signing with major promotions, World Title victories, and main event runs. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for this Impact Wrestling star now.
Ricky Starks vs Chris Jericho: I’ve seen people say that Jericho losing here ruins anything that Action Andretti earned by beating Jericho a month ago. I see why that opinion is floating out there, but I just think this is more about giving a big win to Ricky Starks, who needed one after falling short in becoming the AEW World Champion. Now, if we go another few weeks and we haven’t seen much of anything out of Andretti on Dynamite or Rampage, then it might be time to have that conversation.
Prison Dom: I shouldn’t be, but I find myself completely surprised at how many comments along the lines of “Dominik Mysterio is such a joke” that I see whenever Dom is on television. How the fuck do you brain surgeons not understand that the ENTIRE POINT of what they’re doing with him is to make him a joke? Are you seriously watching him with a teardrop tattoo under his eye and thinking that this is WWE’s attempt at pushing him as a badass? Please don’t be that stupid. It hurts the people around you. If you simply don’t like Dom’s in-ring work, that’s a point that you’re free to make.
Darby Allin vs Mike Bennett: This was the best Mike Bennett match I’ve seen in a long, long time. To be fair, it’s not like I’ve seen them all, so some of you might be able to easily point out something better he’s done recently. This was just a lot of fun, and even though the outcome was never in doubt, there were still moments where it looked like Bennett might… maybe… possibly… could get the win. Will this lead to anything with him in the future? Not in AEW, no. There’s just too many people “in front” of him right now. As a member of the Ring Of Honor roster, though, there’s certainly a chance.
Dolph Ziggler vs Solo Sikoa: After Sheamus, Dolph is now the second former World Champion that Solo has defeated in singles competition. He is clearly being built for something big. How big remains to be seen. Consider me intrigued.
The Acclaimed vs Jeff Jarrett & Jay Lethal: Their first match was good, but the rematch was better. With that said, I’m going to go ahead and say we don’t need to see more of Jeff Jarrett in an AEW ring in 2023. There’s more than enough wrestlers on the AEW roster who can’t make appearances on television because there just isn’t enough time to push everyone on that roster. Adding the 55-year-old Director Of Business Development for the company to the mix isn’t helping anything.
Money In The Bank Heading To London: The crowds in England are always loud and rowdy. Throw in two train wreck matches like the Money In The Bank Ladder Matches are always guaranteed to be, and you have what could be a special crowd.
Tyler Bate: Well, I asked about what his future could hold, and it sounds like we got our answer on NXT this week. It seems like Bate is returning to the brand soon, and will be returning as a full-time member of the roster. That’s a fantastic addition to NXT, and there are a lot of matches and feuds he can have there that would be fresh and exciting.
AR Fox vs Swerve Strickland: It wasn’t the best match these two have had against each other, but it was still an exciting showcase for both of them. Swerve needed the win more, as he might be in position to become one of the top heels in AEW, so I’m not complaining, even though I would love to see Fox get more of a push, as well.
Teasing A Hurt Business Reunion: It’s fair to say that the group never should’ve disbanded in the first place. Teasing their reformation is very interesting. My only problem with it is that Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander are still viewed as really low on the proverbial ladder by the average WWE fan, so there is some work that needs to be done there to rebuild their image. That’s an easy fix, though, if WWE decides they want to dedicate any sort of time and effort into doing so.
Tiffany Stratton: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again… Stratton really might be the next Bianca Belair. Like Belair, Stratton entered the world of pro wrestling after a successful career in a different sport, as she was a member of the USA National Team at the 2016 Olympics as a gymnast. She also has a winning history as a bodybuilder. That places her with Belair as an absolutely elite combination of speed, strength, and athletic ability. Bianca picked pro wrestling up really quickly because of her natural athletic gifts, and we see where that has taken her. Stratton has also picked pro wrestling up really quickly because of her natural athletic gifts, and the sky is the limit for her. She only has 25 matches in her career to this point. For the sake of comparison, when Bianca had her 25th match, she was just making it to the second round of the inaugural Mae Young Classic, where she would go on to lose to Kairi Sane. She wasn’t even a regular on NXT television yet and was almost three years away from making her main roster debut. I’m not saying Stratton will be in the WrestleMania main event in a few years, but I’m not NOT saying Stratton will be in the WrestleMania main event in a few years. She has that type of potential, but we have to see if she can reach that potential.
This Week’s Playlist: “Chokehold” by Sleep Token… “The Summoning” by Sleep Token… “Torpedo” by Rae Sremmurd… “Tears On My Pillow” by Josh Tatofi… “Spray Bottle” by G Perico… “Caged” by Motive Black… “Operation Phoenix” by Crowne… “Purest Fire” by In Fear… “I Seen A Man Die” by Scarface… “Hand Of The Dead Body” by Scarface & Ice Cube… “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” by Busta Rhymes… “Dangerous” by Busta Rhymes… “The Body Rock” by Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy, Ma$e & Rampage… “Do You See” by Warren G… “This DJ” by Warren G… “Bring The Pain” by Method Man… “O.P.P.” by Naughty By Nature… “Super Lyrical” by Big Pun & Black Thought… “Still Not A Player” by Big Pun & Joe… “The Dream Shatterer” by Big Pun… “You Ain’t A Killer” by Big Pun… “Twinz” by Big Pun & Fat Joe… “My World” by Big Pun… “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” by Lost Boyz… “Renee” by Lost Boyz