Though Raw 25 wasn’t the perfect night fans may have been hoping for, it was one hell of a nostalgia trip.
WWE is a company that loves to celebrate itself. And why not: Vince McMahon has successfully taken a niche form of regional, carny entertainment and turned it into a corporate behemoth, making his creations into household names around the globe and turning himself into a billionaire in the process. Much of that success can be pinned on the advent of cable television and the birth of Monday Night Raw. So it’s only natural that on the 25th anniversary of the show that changed pro wrestling forever, WWE would soak in the moment and, as Mr. McMahon himself said last night, "smell the roses."
The absolutely staggering guest list for the show only heightened anticipations, and the broadcast kicked off on a high note, with Vince McMahon digging down deep and pulling out a classic version of the evil, self-centered, a-----e Mr. McMahon we haven’t quite seen in over a decade. Nonplussed with the gift of a cheap plaque by his children, Vince went on a tirade about how he is the only person to thank for all of this, and no one else is responsible for the success of Raw.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin took umbrage with that statement, and showed his frustration the only way he knows how: by kicking Shane and Vince in the gut, dropping those sumbitches on those stacks-o-dimes they call necks, and drinking a couple of Steveweisers over their convulsing corpses. This was the perfect way to kick off the show — one of the most iconic scenes in wrestling history, recreated pretty perfectly, despite Vince McMahon being, in his own words, "a senior citizen now."
Austin didn’t say anything in the segment, which was a bit of a let down, but really, he didn’t have to. Clearly though, Austin can still cut a hell of a promo, as he let interviewer Mike Rome have it in a backstage promo for YouTube:
Unfortunately, it was mostly all downhill from there. As we reported a few months ago, last night’s episode took place in two different venues: the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, and the Manhattan Center, which housed most episodes of Raw in its early years (as well as plenty of ECW shows). Now, the Manhattan Center looked excellent and was quite the trip down memory lane. Everything was as it was in 1993, down to the neon WWE logo and the ICOPRO banner hanging from the rafter. Tickets to the show in this venue ballooned up to quadruple digits on the secondary market, but unfortunately, those fans mostly paid insane prices to watch Raw on a really big television screen, as most of the night ended up emanating from Brooklyn. Even Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler seemingly couldn’t maintain excitement throughout the night.
The Manhattan Center did host two important segments, though. The Undertaker made his way to the ring in the same arena he appeared in the very first episode of Raw in, to…seemingly say goodbye? It was sort of an obtuse promo, but judging from the way WWE is framing it after the fact, it seems that the Deadman may have officially hung up his tights.
The other big moment in the Manhattan Center was D-Generation X and Scott Hall passing the too sweet torch to Balor Club, who seemed excited as little kids to be in the ring with the legendary group they’ve spent many years of their careers emulating. It was a great moment, capped off with, yes, the Revival eating s--t at the hands of DX. That part wasn’t so great, but we all knew it was coming after their promo calling out DX a couple weeks ago. Hopefully it was a one time thing and not the start of an Ascension-like descent into irrelevance; hell, a Balor Club/Revival feud could be great for both teams.
The main event of the night saw Braun Strowman clean house in a markedly rushed segment. Something must have been mistimed, because this part of the show didn’t even begin until after 11. The Monster Among Men got yet another one over on the Beast Brock Lesnar (and Kane, but c’mon, it’s Kane), which should set up Brock overcoming the odds and retaining his Universal Championship at Royal Rumble, presumably setting up Vince McMahon’s dream match that he just can’t seem to nail down: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar in a one on one match at WrestleMania.
Speaking of Roman, he was involved in one of the better moments of the night as well, as he and The Miz had a solid match that saw The Miz defeat the Big Dog after interference from the Miztourage, a shove into the exposed turnbuckle and two Skull Crushing Finales to win his almost record tying eighth Intercontinental Championship. I don’t know what it says about the 25th anniversary of Raw that a pretty decent Roman/Miz match was one of the highlights of the night, but here we are.
Raw 25 was a fun show for the most part — at least for the viewers watching at home. Not so much for the fans who paid exorbitant ticket prices to sit in the Manhattan Center and watch the show on television. There were too many nostalgic moments to mention, as everybody from Eric Bischoff to the Godfather made an appearance. The same complaints can be made that can be made of almost any legends-centric show, however: WWE spends far too much time glorifying the past, and not enough time building toward the future. But maybe this one time, under these circumstances, that’s okay.