Over the course of nineteen plus years and 999 episodes of incredible matches and spectacular moments, WWE has crafted a juggernaught primetime program unlike anything seen in wrestling or even television history. What I’m referring to is none other than Monday Night Raw (Raw, Raw is War, whatever you want to call it). To make a short list of some of Raw’s greatest moments is almost impossible without neglecting milestones left and right. But there are some key points in Raw history that struck a cord with me; and that’s why I’m here with my Top Five Moments in 999 Episodes of WWE Raw. This list is in chronological order.
The Kid Does It (Episode 17 – May 17, 1993)
This was simply my first jaw dropping moment as a wrestling fan. Though I had watched Hulk Hogan be bested by The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI and Randy Savage get bitten by Jake Robert’s king cobra, watching a “No Name” (my term for the perennial losers I know today as “jobbers”) pin one of the WWF’s top stars is something I never saw coming in a million years. I wish a moment like that could actually happen and work nowadays so some kid could have that same feeling I experienced that night.
Bret Hart Doesn’t Respect America (Episode 203 – March 24, 1997)
For those who don’t know, Bret Hart is my favorite wrestler of all time. No person made me appreciate the actual art of pro-wrestling like Bret did when I was growing up. While I paid attention to every little nuance in Hart’s actions in the ring, I really didn’t care too much about “The Hitman” behind the microphone. But that feeling changed one night after his famous “I Quit” match against Steve Austin.
I sat in awe of Bret as he cut the promo of a lifetime, explaining his view of America and the way the fans that once supported him now treated him like he was inferior to wrestlers like Austin and Shawn Michaels. For the first time that I can remember, I never listened to someone speak with such passion and truth in a wrestling ring. It was a shoot (real) promo to me before I even knew what a shoot promo was. I know now why the promo happened, but it still doesn’t take away the feeling I experienced that night, and my belief to this day that Hart’s promo that night was one of the true catalysts for the Attitude Era and WWF’s conquering WCW.
A Great Moment for Mankind (Episode 296 – January 4, 1999)
In a lot of ways, us wrestling fans live vicariously through our favorite grapplers. One of my favorites growing up was a crazy looking individual billed from “Truth or Consequences, New Mexico” named Cactus Jack. I followed Cactus’ career, and was thoroughly pleased to know he had a chance at making it in the WWF as Mankind in 1996. Though I always believed he had the ability to become a champion, a little part of me (even before I realized this pro-wrestling thing wasn’t as legitimate as it seemed) just never had the look of a World champion. Think about it like this – you put Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mankind in a line up and ask someone off the street, “Who do you think isn’t a former pro-wrestling champion?” Nine times out of ten that random individual would pick Mankind. But all of that changed at the end of 1998, and aired on the first episode of Raw in 1999.
On that Raw, with the help of D-Generation X and “Stone Cold”, Mankind defeated The Rock to become the new WWF champion. As Foley circled ringside with the title belt held high, a part of me as a wrestling fan felt complete. I witnessed something I always hoped would happen, but never believed it would. I saw the unconventional do the seemingly impossible.
Don’t Do It For Us, Kurt & Chris (Episode 423 – June 11, 2001)
This is the only moment on this list that I witnessed live. Two of the WWF’s greatest technical wrestlers – Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit – entered a steel cage to showcase their abilities in a totally different environment. Midway through the contest, Kurt Angle scaled the cage. At the very top, Kurt did a backwards somersault (a moonsault) in Benoit’s direction. Unfortunately for Angle, Benoit moved. Kurt’s body bounced like a fish out of water upon hitting the mat. As I looked around at my friends, we all thought the same thing without saying a word, Did we just see Kurt Angle kill himself?
We suddenly noticed Angle was still breathing. Along with my friends, we gave Kurt a standing ovation for just being alive. Only minutes later did Benoit use a diving head-butt to Angle’s chest from his perch atop the cage.
While I had seen many wrestling matches before that night and watched on pay-per-view as Jim Ross informed the viewing audience that Owen Hart had died while falling from the rafters of the arena (probably my most heartbreaking moment as a wrestling fan to this day), I gained a new level of respect for the sacrifice these wrestles make on a nightly basis for my/our entertainment thanks to the actions of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit.
Punk Turns Money Into Gold (Episode 791 – June 30, 2008)
In the same vein as Mankind’s title victory sits this moment during the summer of 2008. I watched CM Punk for years before he got the chance to wrestle for WWE. But unlike Mick Foley, my viewing of Punk was on a much smaller scale than WCW. From his time in IWA-Mid South, to Ring of Honor, to Total Nonstop Action, to Florida Impact Pro, to Ohio Valley Wrestling, if Punk was involved, I was watching. So when Punk won the Money in the Bank briefcase that would give a World or WWE title shot at any time or anywhere, I expected Punk to be the first man to cash in the contract and lose. The reason? Well, Punk is a lot like Foley. While in munch better shape, Punk just never looked like the type of guy WWE would put the “big gold” title on (and this is after they made Rey Mysterio a World champion).
So when Punk won and kept the World title that night, I had the same feeling going through me that rose during Mankind’s victory. But Punk’s win was also different than Foley’s for me even though I had the same initial reaction. CM Punk was for me and several hundred (maybe even thousand) others the underground phenomenon no one heard of until he made it big. He was our guy before anyone else knew what a “CM Punk” was. And now, he’s on the top of the world, proving himself and all of those fans that supported him right. Man, it feels great to be a wrestling fan.