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Monday Night Raw a 20 year perspective-Guest Editorial John Canton
Author: John Canton
January 9th 2013 - |
This January is historic for the wrestling business and WWE specifically because it's the 20 year anniversary of the first episode of Monday Night Raw. For over 20 years and over 1,000 episodes, Raw has been destination programming for wrestling fans around the world. During that time there have been so many up and downs yet it's still here as the top wrestling television show in the world.
If you look back at the history of Raw objectively it's fair to say that the first three years were difficult for WWE. When the show started in 1993 it came at a time when their top draw Hulk Hogan was heading out the door and they had to create new top stars like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Diesel. Although there were a lot of talented people on the roster, there were growing pains too.
By the summer of 1995, WWE's main competitor WCW launched their Monday Nitro show and that really put a lot of pressure on WWE. The best thing that happened for the fans was it made Monday nights the biggest wrestling night of the week. Raw was appointment TV for a lot of fans even before Nitro, but once Nitro hit the airwaves Mondays became known as the night for professional wrestling at its best.
Like most fans, my fondest memories of Raw came in the period from 1997 to 2002 that we have affectionately come to know as "The Attitude Era." The roster was loaded with talent like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who had bridged the gap from the Hogan era to this new generation in WWE. We saw the emergence of amazing talents in the main event scene like Steve Austin, The Rock, Undertaker, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Kane among others. We also saw the guy we knew as an announcer before - WWE Chairman Vince McMahon - become one of the best villains in the history of the business.
I think what made The Attitude Era so special wasn't the TV14 rating for the television shows, but instead it was the deep roster that WWE had at the time. In addition to the names mentioned above they also had a loaded midcard with names such as Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Christian, Jeff & Matt Hardy, Bubba Ray & Devon Dudley and Bradshaw & Farooq. There were so many former and future World Champions on the roster that you can almost forget how loaded the lineup was at times. There were gorgeous women like Sunny, Sable, Trish Stratus, Lita & Terri to name a few. Throw in the legendary commentary duo of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler and it made everything feel special.
There are so many images from Raw over the years that will stick with me forever. I'll never forget when 1-2-3 Kid beat Razor Ramon in one of the biggest upsets ever or when Vader attacked then commissioner Gorilla Monsoon. Then there was the Steve Austin/Bret Hart feud in 1996/1997 that really turned the corner for WWE in my eyes. That brawl they had on Raw that led to Austin going after Hart in the ambulance was can't miss television. I remember other things well like Angle's moonsault off a cage, Jeff Hardy nearly beating Undertaker in a ladder match in what would have been a huge upset at the time and Mae Young giving birth to a prosthetic hand. Hey, I can remember the bad moments too! Of course there are also some more recent great moments like when Bret Hart came back to WWE in 2010 or the infamous "shoot promo" of CM Punk from the summer of 2011.
If I had to pick one unquestioned star of Raw's first twenty years it would have to be "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. I think when it comes to Austin there are so many things that stick out. All of the battles with McMahon like that first Stunner on Raw at MSG or the brawl with Mike Tyson much the dismay of McMahon. Then there was the zamboni incident, the cement mixer that destroyed a Corvette, crushing The Rock's car and of course the time when Austin gave a beer batch to The Rock as well as Vince & Shane McMahon. Austin was the biggest star in the history of Raw even though his run ended earlier than we all expected. Those memories will stick with us forever.
Raw has felt difference since they "got the F out" in 2002 because the guys we got used to like Austin, Rock, Foley and Undertaker (was around, but on Smackdown exclusively) were not regularly on Raw anymore. Of course Triple H was a key part of things. Along with Triple H we saw a lot of "new" talents emerge like John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista to name a few of the key big names. Cena's still the top guy and has been for the past seven years with no end in sight. Others are emerging, though. The future is bright.
Today's version of Raw is a solid television show. It's pretty amazing when you consider that approximately 10 million people in America were watching wrestling on Monday nights every week in 1999. Will it ever reach 10 million viewers again? I doubt it. It's okay, though. They're still one of the most watched shows on cable television and the company, as well as USA Network, are making a lot of money off Monday Night Raw. Most television shows would kill for the continued rating success that Raw has had for 20 years.
Now that Raw is in its 20th year it's hard to remember a time when we didn't have Raw in our lives. While we all know that WWE loves to remind us of how successful they are ("the longest running episodic show in television history"), they shouldn't be blamed for being proud of that. They outlasted WCW. TNA is a much smaller company that isn't even close to as big as WWE was. They have no competition. Unless some billionaire shows up with deeper pockets than 1995 WCW and a cable TV deal then I don't think WWE has to worry.
I think if you look at the history of World Wrestling Entertainment the two best things they ever did was develop the WrestleMania concept in 1985 and launch the Monday Night Raw television show in 1993. WrestleMania raised the profile of the company while Raw turned WWE into a dominating force on cable television.
Monday is the most important day of the week for wrestling because of Raw. Other companies have tried to compete with it, but it's still standing. It's a television show that is an unmitigated success with no end in sight.
Congratulations WWE and happy anniversary on the 20th anniversary of Monday Night Raw.
John Canton is proud to be a part of LayfieldReport.com. You can follow John on Twitter at @johnreport
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