A little over 25 years ago (very little in fact) a rinky dink wrasslin show emanated from some rundown bingo hall in some podunk town on like the fifth most popular channel on basic cable. In case you forgot what those early shows were like, Monday Night Raw was not the slickly produced, family-friendly three hours you’ll find on USA every Monday (or the infinitely more watchable hour and a half of the Hulu version) when it debuted in 1993. No, those first few years were a lot rougher, a lot less developed, a lot more, well….crude. What can I say, Raw wasn’t built in a day.
Over the years the show has grown and grown. There were gang wars that birthed multimedia superstars, there were Monday Night Wars that birthed future hall of famers, and there was the regressive, often misogynistic and always perverse sense of humor of Vince McMahon which…once lead a septuagenarian to give birth to a hand. It wasn’t always easy to like Raw (shoot, every writer on this site has had a few lapsed years here and there), but when it was good, it could sometimes be great. With more than 25 years worth of episodes to sift through, we asked our staff to pick their favorite memories of Monday Night Raw, and amazingly, not one mention of Mantaur among them!
Nathaniel: Mick Foley and Vince McMahon are two of the best promos in the wrestling history and the two had one of the best exchanges in history back when the first hour of WWE’s flagship show was called Raw is War. Vince had been using Mankind to get his dirty work done while Mankind — who was oblivious to to what was going on — saw Vince as a father figure. It all came to a head when Vince named Mankind the first ever Hardcore Champion. Mankind was thrilled and responded with, “Thanks…Dad.” Vince’s double take as he leaves the room is the perfect ending to my second favorite Raw moment.
My favorite moment, though, is easily Chris Jericho’s debut. They had been teasing it for weeks and even though the internet had spoiled it, Y2J’s entrance was amazing. It was so great he can still do a similar debut to this day. The fact that he and Rock had such great chemistry only adds to a memorable moment.
Jason: While I wouldn’t call him my favorite wrestler, most of my best memories of Monday Night Raw are tied pretty directly to the beer drinkin’, hell raisin’ redneck son of a bi…It’s Stone Cold. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is responsible for almost every memorable moment of Raw in its formative years. Yeah DX and the Rock were huge stars of the era, but did any of them drive a damn Zamboni into the arena to beat the shit out of their boss?
Then there’s the time dude drove a friggin’ cement truck into the back to fill his boss’ Porsche with concrete until the windows exploded.
And who could forget the time he drove a goddamn beer truck to the ring?
Austin had plenty of non-truck related highlights too, and it’s almost entirely due to his beef with the boss. The Austin/McMahon feud was the highlight of Monday night for years, so much so that the company has been trying to recreate it to varying degrees of success for decades. As such, it’s hard to pick just one Stone Cold moment to highlight in 25 years of Monday Night Raw.
Patrick: There are countless memorable Raw moments from the Attitude Era, but dwelling on those risks not giving proper credit to some truly awesome moments that have happened in the 2010s. I was a massive wrestling fan as a kid and a teenager, and watched probably every episode of Raw from 1993 to around 2002, where I fell out of wrestling for about eight years. In 2010, a friend and I realized we were both as into wrestling as the other was as kids and decided to ironically tune into Monday Night Raw for the first time since high school.
Eight years later and I haven’t missed an episode since.
I’m a little surprised I even made it through that first year. Sheamus was WWE Champion and Jack Swagger was World Heavyweight Champion — not exactly captivating times. But there were two things that drew me in over the course of my first year back. The first of the two was the Nexus.
In June of 2010, the rookies of NXT (which was a bizarre half-scripted game show competition at the time) interrupted Raw‘s main event match between John Cena and CM Punk to absolutely decimate the ring and ringside area like never seen before. Protective mats were strewn about. Tables were dismantled. The canvas was removed from the ring, exposing the plywood beneath. Daniel Bryan choked a ring announcer with his own tie (and was legitimately fired for it). Of course, the ensuing months were not kind to the Nexus, and the group is remembered more with a “what could have been” question than a “that was awesome” affirmation. But one thing’s for sure: Their debut was a true “holy shit” moment.
2010 was also the rise of The Miz from Real World goofball to WrestleMania main eventer. I latched onto The Miz early — coming into things in 2010, I thankfully missed fedora-and-tripp-pants “chick magnet” Miz and have only known “I demand respect” Miz.
When The Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Randy Orton to score the WWE Championship, I was overjoyed — not just because I had witnessed a surprising title change, but because I was happy for Mike Mizanin, a lifelong hardcore wrestling fan who has wanted this since he was a kid.
Plus, it gave us Angry Miz Girl.
The following year, though, was when WWE finally clawed their way back to mainstream consciousness for the first time in years, on the back of an unlikely shepherd: CM Punk.
In one of the best examples of reality-meets-fiction the genre has ever produced, Punk, weeks away from his actual WWE contract expiring, aired his grievances in a manner that would make Frank Costanza blush. He brought up names like Hulk Hogan, Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, all personae non gratae at the time. He shattered the fourth wall, going into detail about backstage politics and mentioning (the horror!) other wrestling companies. It is arguably the greatest worked shoot in WWE history, and went on to propel CM Punk into the echelon of main eventers occupied by the likes of Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels.
CM Punk ushered in what came to be called the “Reality Era,” whose conceit was the further blurring of kayfabe and reality through the use of social media, worked shoots and the continued melding of performer and character into one. It produced the first five star WWE match in over a decade, and CM Punk was handled wonderfully by WWE writers from then until his mutually agreed upon retirement in 2014.
Kevin Nash texting himself? Johnny Laurinaitis main eventing PPVs over WWE Champion Punk? Staph infections and Z-Paks? Sudden quitting and ensuing lawsuits? Doesn’t ring a bell.
There is no better example of the Reality Era than the story of Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority, though. In the perfect storm of crowd reaction clashing against company plans, the WWE Universe’s love for Daniel Bryan eclipsed everything else WWE was trying to accomplish on the show, including the surprise return of a beloved legend like Batista.
Bryan had endeared himself to the fans as an everyman, an average joe who, through practice, was really good at his job — but more importantly, was just a really good dude. He’s like the anti-Stone Cold — he didn’t get to the top by bucking tradition and flipping the finger to anyone who got in his way, he got there through humility and determination. Problem was, he is 5’9″ on a good day, and kind of looks like he’s homeless. In the WWE’s eyes, that is not a main eventer, so they continued to sort of let him have his fun down the card while they set up the big boy WrestleMania main event of Batista vs. Randy Orton.
The fans were not having that.
In a segment meant to crown John Cena and Randy Orton as the two most important Superstars of the modern era, Bryan’s hometown Seattle crowd completely derailed Triple H’s speech by unrelentingly cheering for Daniel Bryan, who was in the ring almost by happenstance as a member of the roster who had previously won a World Title. It was one of the most genuine, heartwarming reactions ever recorded in WWE, and can be seen as the tipping point where WWE thought “shit, we can’t ignore this guy anymore.” This unwavering dedication to Bryan combined with a litany of other coincidences, like CM Punk abruptly quitting the company, lead to Daniel Bryan defeating all three members of Evolution in the same night, including two of them in the main event of WrestleMania, to finally topple the Authority and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, resulting in what I believe to be the first “you deserve it” chant in WWE history. It was certainly the most heartfelt.
Brian: Like most of the guys around here, I watched wrestling with my dad as a kid, listening to stories of how my grandmother used to go to the matches and scream at the bad guys. Did I mention that I grew up in Philadelphia? Mom-Mom was hardcore. I never got to go to any of those matches, though. I lost wrestling, as many do, but rediscovered it in 1997 in Athens, Georgia while attending the University of Georgia. Our hall would watch Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro simultaneously on TVs stacked on top of each other, playing dueling volume controls depending on what was going on.
While I agree with all the memories my colleagues have listed, the one that sticks in my mind as the “I can’t believe I just saw that” was on March 26, 2001: the final Nitro. Out of all the surreal things that happened during the Monday Night Wars, this night was the absolute most bewildering. If you remember, Nitro was 3 hours at the time, starting at 8:00, one hour before Raw. Vince opened the show. Vince McMahon!
The Raw part of the show was mostly Vince trying to creepily hook up with Trish Stratus and threatening the jobs of a bunch of the WCW guys, but the final bit was the simulcast where Nitro and Raw were not only on the same channel for the first time, they were broadcast side-by-side when the gloating Vince saw his competition grabbed out from underneath him by his own son, Shane, who flew down to Panama City to buy WCW before his father could. And that was the last we ever heard of the name WCW and all was right with the world shut up yes it was nothing else happened.