Sunday, July 22, 2012

Monday Night Raw #1000

1000 reasons to watch Raw's 1000th episode (well, sort of)

Greetings, y'all!  It's your Good Buddy Condor, once again!  And unless I miss my guess, we are a scant 34 hours from the single biggest event on the USA network, like, ever.  And I mean EVER, ever.  Seriously, it just does not get any bigger than this.  If it was any bigger, it could be seen from space.  Actually, even now, it can be seen from space.  I don't know how they did it, but they did it, by gum, and I couldn't be more excited!

OK, OK, lemme stop with the BS gravy train before you guys think I'm some kind of WWE fanboy (who, I believe at this point in our history on the interwebz, are none too appreciated in society).  That being said, this is truly a landmark event, one that will definitely be memorable and, if they pull it off right, may even be one of those transcendant events that we all look back upon with warm pride and admiration (and not just because the WWE media machine tells us to).  While it is indeed true that the main event, Cena V. Punk, will probably not be as great a match as the hype machine is billing it to be, it'll still be fun to watch, even if Cena has only 4 moves.  CM Punk has enjoyed a really long stretch at the top of the Raw mountain as well, and if TV is of any indication, his drawing power might start to wane sooner than later, but then again, I haven't watched the WWE product continuously in years, so what do I know?

I'll tell you, real quick.  I first started watching the WWF (back when it was called that, right before Jamie Kellner pulled out a pistol and shot WCW Nitro right in the head (and I make no bones about using that analogy), and right before the whole mess of shenanigans with Vince, the World Wildlife Fund and the House of Lords), right around the time a young man by the name of Dwanye Johnson, then known as The Rock, was the king of the world, the WWF Champion.  Now, THAT...that was a prestigious title, every bit as much as the NWA World Title before it was buried.  I vividly remember wanting to get in the ring and eventually win the title myself, but as history unfolded before my very eyes in the months and years to come, that dream evaporated, thanks to some of the most horrific booking and business decisions ever seen in this storied industry, but the main point, I am seriously digressing from.  The first real Monday Night Raw episode I really watched front to back that I can remember was the night Stone Cold Steve Austin challenged Kurt Angle for the WWF Title, live on Raw (Kurt ended up upending the People's Champion at No Mercy 2000 prior to this encounter).  The main event that evening was a great and exciting match, and when Austin went down in a heap from an attack from an unknown assailant, only for the camera to pan back and slowly show the visage of Triple H, I, to this very day, remember shouting "I KNEW IT!" at the top of my lungs.  How dare this man deny Stone Cold what was really his? 

In reality, this was nothing new, as far as Austin's career was concerned.  They pretty much booked him to be in arm's length of the title, or even holding it before someone screwed him over, and he went back to chasing the title.  That's how Stone Cold basically got over from where I saw it: he was always hunting the championship that meant more to him than anything in the world, and people kept getting in his way, but he kept Stunning the crap out of them to get them out of his way.  It was a tried and true formula that worked for two different WrestleManias, the second of which kind of perplexes me in the present.

Wait, wait, wait, what the hell am I doing?  This is about RAW, not Stone Cold!  Although it is entirely possible that I simply believed that, since Austin was indeed RAW, it made perfect sense to chronicle his career in an article dedicated to commemorating the single longest running episodic television show in cable history.  But the fact is, I'd be doing many, MANY people a serious injustice if I just talked about Austin.  Because like it or not, the WWF/WWE had countless stars compete "in this very ring" on RAW: Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Big Van Vader, Mankind, Cactus Jack, Dude Love (all three played by Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy), Val Venis, 1-2-3 Kid/X-Pac, Triple H, The Rock, Chris Jericho, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (no, not Voldemort), Eddie Guererro, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle....the list can go on, and on, and on, but I'd be here all day typing this stuff up, and I'd probably miss DX's opening of RAW 1000 (not that this would be heartbreaking at all to me, nowadays...).

I may make jokes and barbs about how WWE's current product sucks major balls in the eyes of Attitude Era fans and certainly old school wrestling fans of the NWA, but the fact is, none of this, NONE OF THIS, would have ever been possible had it not been for the ambition and the drive of everyone's favorite evil billionaire not named Donald Trump, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.  And trust me, if he ever found the time and decided you were worth it, he would gladly power-strut his way towards you, squint his beady little eyes, and with the patented Mr. McMahon permascowl on his lips, tell you just how he is responsible for the success the company enjoys today.  And even though there are more than a fair share of people that loath and disdain Vince McMahon for gutting the territories and killing them off one by one and nailing the coffin shut on WCW and the Monday Night Wars, you would be a blind fool -- and, dare I say, a fanboy -- if you were to discount Vince McMahon's positive influence on the wrestling business.  His vision enabled professional wrestling to be seen by millions upon millions of viewers, much more than was being seen by partisan crowds in the territories, and his gift for promotion enabled guys that never got their chance in other promotions (especially that galumphing colossus WCW circa '93-'95) to become some of the biggest stars the world had ever seen.  So, yeah, while we all sit down and pine for the good old days when wrestling used to mean something, we should just take RAW 1000 as what it needs to be: a rememberance of the days of old, and even more importantly (hopefully they get this right, too), a glimpse into the future of the sport of professional wrestling, or at least the industry of Sports Entertainment.

And, before I go an inch further, I would be completely and utterly remiss if I did not make mention of another man, one whose countless calls defined the Attitude Era and Monday Night RAW, and made so many stars out of just a few correctly timed and delivered words: the single greatest commentator not named Gordon Solie, "Good Ol' JR", Jim Ross.  This man gave us brilliant calls such as "he's being beaten like a government mule", "running like a scalded dog", "goofy as a pet coon", and my personal favorite, even if I didn't personally hear it, "AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!"  When Jim Ross called a match, you believed it was real, that the issues between the wrestlers was personal, and it truly had drama that went beyond the sex and violence that usually ruled the roost during the Attitude Era.  So leave it to WWE to fire him (on camera, anyway), humiliate him, and then hire him back when they realized no one was watching the show anymore.  But once again, I digress.  Jim Ross was every bit a part of Monday Night RAW as Stone Cold was, if not more.

So, with all of that in mind, let me take some time out of my life to present unto you the top five moments in RAW history that I selected that truly meant something to me, why it meant what it meant, and how I look back on them today.  I'll warn you in advance that these moments may not necessarily be fuzzy, warm, happy moments, but they'll definitely have had some impact in my life.

5. March 26, 2001: The RAW/Nitro Simulcast 

In order to grasp the magnitude of just how monumental this show was, a bit of backstory: Vince McMahon bought out WCW in the month of March, thus capturing the eyes of mainstream media and the entire wrestling industry as he realized his dream of a by-God monopoly.  However, anyone that tuned into that historic RAW/Nitro simulcast that dreary March evening hoping to finally see WWF and WCW declare open war on each other, something most unexpected happened, and something we should have taken as a very, VERY bad omen: Shane McMahon closed out the very last Nitro in the history of existence to further a single storyline that was happening in the WWF, in that Shane, not Vince, bought WCW.

As I was watching this for the first time, I had absolutely no knowledge of the Monday Night Wars, not even aware of the fact that there were two wrestling shows on Mondays at 9 PM, let alone one.  I must have picked the superior one right off the bat when looking for something to watch, because had I chosen WCW first at the time, my views may have completely changed, and the course of my human history might have changed forever.  But I went with the WWF, and as I watched WCW's best handle things in the ring for the very last time, I also had to keep flipping to the WWF channel, though to be honest, the only things I remember from that night are: Booker T winning the WCW title from Scott Steiner, Ric Flair giving the impassioned promo which ended in calling out Sting, Sugar Shane Helms walking out as the WCW Cruiserweight Champion, watching the Cruiserweight Tag Team title participants make their way out for their match, and Vince's promo during the simulcast.

As I look back on this moment in wrestling history, I still think it is one of the watershed moments of the wrestling industry, but it's a bitter pill for me to swallow, just not as bitter as some other pills, as you'll see on down the road.  Still, after reading "The Death of WCW", and the epilogue at the end, I had a newfound hatred for what happened during the so-called "InVasion", and I believe the fact that I used to eat that stuff up all through November of 2001 is a huge reason why I'm ashamed to have been a fan during that era, knowing now that so much history was buried in those 6 short months between the start and end of the that no one wants to remember.

4. July 9, 2001: The Formation of "The Alliance"

Pardon me, but as I typed that, I threw up in my mouth.  While I get the bitter taste of half-digested pizza and ruined dreams out of my mouth, let me paint a picture for you: WCW had finally stormed the ivory towers of the WWF, though in very underwhelming fashion, as WCW's Lance Storm attacked WWF midcarder Perry Saturn, and then later, Hugh Morris attacked...some guy, I don't even remember.  That's how badly booked the InVasion was, I'll have you know.  Anyway, it's a couple of months in, and WCW has already had two matches under their "brand" on WWF TV.  Things have gotten to the point where, during a match, Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam bumrushed the ring.  Several other WWF guys that night turned on their teammates, but that was because each and every one of them were former ECW alumni.  So after an impassioned promo by Paul Heyman, their former head honcho, the match was established: The WWF and WCW, 5 men to a side, taking on a 10 man team in ECW.  The WWF was flushed out of the ring early, and when the WCW guys stepped in...the knowing smirks started to form on their faces, and they welcomed their new compatriots with open arms.

Shane and Heyman then told Vince that WCW merged with ECW, and that these two promotions were going to kick the WWF's ass.  All was right with the world.  The fans were completely ecstatic.  This was truly a war that the fans could buy into.  But, as anyone that saw this show to the end knows all too well, this wasn't about WWF, WCW, OR ECW.  This was about the McMahons.  And never was this more evident than when Shane brought out ECW's new owner...Stephanie McMahon.  As the Billion Dollar Princess walked out from behind that curtain, smiling a mile long, and leaving everyone in shock (and the fans in rage, knowing then and there that the InVasion was never to be taken seriously again), Jim Ross made perhaps the most dynamic call in wrestling history: "July 9, 2001, will be a date that will live in Sports Entertainment infamy."  At the time, he probably did not know just how right he was.

I, of course, was pissed off beyond belief, but for kayfabe reasons, not real-life reasons.  I was just an ignorant teenager at the time, completely obvlivious to the fact that this stuff was completely scripted, and that the winners of matches were known before the guys even walked out of the curtain.  Looking back on it now, though, I still get a nauseating feel in the pit of my stomach.  Vince McMahon decided that his fragile, gargantuan ego didn't allow WCW and ECW to even exist as permeable entities, and they were just labeled as "The Alliance", even though they wore WCW and ECW T-shirts.  The final bout between these two factions boiled down to Rock and Austin (AGAIN!), as if that was the only act to ever really draw money.  While it's by no means a positive memory, it surely meant something to me at the time I first watched it.  Now, I'm questioning just what the hell is wrong with me, and if I should even call myself a wrestling fan.

3. January 20, 2003: The Formation of Evolution

So, inversely, in an effort to get that taste out of our collective mouths, here's something that makes me beam with pride as a wrestling fan without hesitation.  And before you gaffe in abject shock and point out that this is the period of time where Triple H was the order of the day and damn anyone from getting over, let me point this out to you: I know.  That SOB cut off the legs of so many talented performers that I still hold quite a powerful grudge.  Still, at the time of this happening, this was gold in my eyes.  Let's set it up:  Triple H defended his World Heavyweight Championship (given to him by Eric Bischoff on September 2, 2002 after WWE undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar became an exclusive on SmackDown! (hey, remember that?  When the Draft actually meant something?)) against Rob Van Dam, and Ric Flair seemingly interfered to protect RVD from a sledgehammer shot, until The Nature Boy turned and whacked Mr. PPV, causing him to do the J.O.B. (See what I did there?)  After that, Ric started accompanying Triple H to ringside for his matches, and shortly after that, your friend and mine Batista finally ditched Reverend D-Von Dudley and hopped over to Raw, joining the triumverate.  All this while, a young man by the name of Randy Orton was periodically updating the live audience on the status of his arm via goofy vignettes during important RAW segments, which was annoying to me when I watched it, but now that I look back, they were awesome.

So leave it to Scott Steiner, of all people, to be on the receiving end of a 4 on 1 mugging before Trips gets on the mic and cuts this now infamous promo (starts at around 2:56, for those of you that don't like to wait):

(Editor's note: I just realized, after watching this thing all the way through, that this is around the time Golddust actually started the whole Tourette's Syndrome gimmick by being tossed into a breaker box by Orton and Batista.  And I actually remember seeing that on TV!  I'm actually smiling right now as I type this. Even though that gimmick was stupid after it wore out its welcome, it's nice to see the origin of it again.)

So...yeah, we had a new 4 Horsemen on our hands, and although I was a fan pretending what was happening was vile and reprehensible, I knew that this was greatness, until the whole fiasco with Randy Orton winning the World's Title from You-Know-Who (no, not Voldemort, again).  That botched face turn ruined everything for me, and in a few minutes, I'll tell you why.

2. August 16, 2004: Randy Orton gets kicked out of Evolution

This was supposed to be Orton's moment at the top of the mountain, at just 24 years old.  While most of us were still struggling through college, paying off our first car, or just making it paycheck to paycheck, Randy Orton won the World Heavyweight Championship and was probably being paid more money in a week than we mere mortals made in a single month, or even a whole YEAR.  This kid was going places, and it was only a matter of time before he would be able to place himself beside Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Triple H, and Bret Hart as one of the industry's greatest modern-day wrestlers of all time.  Randy Orton was such a hated heel that, at one point in my life, I would imagine him talking down to me and telling me I wasn't worth it while I was in the gym, and that actually motivated me to go that extra mile and bust out that extra repitition.  I constantly thought about how I would work my way up to the WWE just to confront this punk and put him in his place.  That, my friends, is the mark of a great, GREAT heel, and Triple H took one look at this and immediately decided that this town wasn't big enough for the two of them.

Of course, as I watched it unfold before my eyes live, I didn't think this way.  I just suddenly felt sorry for Orton having been betrayed by his mentors and his friends.  Looking back on it now...DEAR GOD! where do I begin?  You had one of the best heels to come along in years, and one of the best chances for the future of the business to grow wings and fly, and instead you pull your pants down and shit on him like you've had the runs for 6 straight weeks.  Quite a hideous and vulgar analogy, but folks, looking back, this did more damage to Randy Orton's character in the ring and the industry as a whole than anything WCW did while shooting itself in the foot.  Except for, possibly, my #1 entry.  Those of you with weak stomachs or thin skin, please do yourselves a favor and back out right now.  If you go one step further, you're acknowledging that you're ready for what I'm about to talk about and, though you may hate me, you also acknowledge that I chose this as #1 for me, and me only.

Last chance to walk!

All right, you asked for it!  Drumroll, please.........

And the #1 moment from RAW that made the biggest impact in my life is.....

1. June 25, 2007: The Chris Beniot Tribue Show

Yes, kids, I named him by name.  You chose to read this far, deal with it.  In no way will I be lauding what he did, because what he did was absolutely despicable and is among the lowest forms of cowardice ever stooped to by a former human being.  Now that this is generally known...

I'm not going to go into detail about the show itself, save for the fact that, a week prior, Vince McMahon had (in the storyline), gone completely insane and left the arena with an eerie serenity, getting into his limo and then having the limo explode.  The next week was supposed to be a Mr. McMahon memorial, but instead, they had to axe the story dead as one of the greatest technical wrestlers in the entire world -- and one of the last few reasons I EVER watched professional wrestling -- well, you know the rest.

The reason this show had such an impact on me is not necessarily the actual show itself, which highlighted classic Benoit matches from all over his (formerly) illustrious career.  The reasons were twofold: one, the shot of Benoit and his close friend Eddie Guererro sharing the same ring at the same time, in Madison Square Garden, at Wrestlemania XX, both holding world championships.  Two men who had invested of their souls in a most unforgiving business had finally reached the top of the mountain together, not through politics, not through backdoor deals, not through buddying up with the writers or the top talent, but by WRESTLING!  MOTHER-F***ING WRESTLING!  I apologize for the profanities, but damn it all, THAT'S WHAT IT WAS ABOUT IN THAT MOMENT.  Professional WRESTLERS doing what they loved more than anything in the world!  WRESTLING!!!

OK, gimme a chance to catch my breath.......hoo.  OK...long story short, they epitomized hard work, and the first reason the Benoit Tribute Show and the aftermath that followed had such a dynamic impact on me was because those two hard workers are now dead and gone, and only one of their legacies are allowed to live on through the ages (and thank God it still does.  We'll miss you, Eddie.).  Now there's really no one left that works hard and is dedicated to the sport on the level that Benoit and Guererro were, and that struck a huge blow in my quest to be a wrestler like them (besides the most obvious reason of not wanting to become a psychopath).

On to the second reason: It's one thing to have lost Eddie Guererro to undiagnosed heart disease.  He might have done some bad things here and there, but overall, he will be remembered warmly and fondly for his heart, his class, and (I can't reiterate this enough) his hard work.  Eddie came back from one of the grisliest car accidents in recorded history and eventually won the WWE Championship from a departing Brock Lesnar.  And most importantly, he was a role model, someone that kids could look up to, while at the same time being just enough of a technical genius to keep even the godless smarks entertained.  And up until that dreaded weekend in June of 2007, Chris Beniot was exactly the same kind of guy: technically sound, not quite as charismatic, but also a role model, someone to look up to.

When I started to moonlight as a professional wrestler for the Michigan Wrestling Organization (a local company based in Michigan near my hometown of Flint) in 2004, one of the main reasons I wanted to get into it was to be as technically sound as Benoit and Guererro and Dean Malenko, guys like that.  Those were the guys that caught my attention.  I missed the boat with Bret Hart, and that really sucks for me, but overall, those were the guys that were busting their asses in WCW while the Hogans and the Nashes and the Russos decided to just coast on paychecks and piss all over the hard work of the real workers.  Benoit was my guy, my reason for liking professional wrestling, and why I was a huge fan even during the dark days from 2001 up through 2003.

And then he had to do something so awful, so unspeakable, that, to preserve their good public image, the WWE had no choice but to completely eradicate him from history.  Had to wipe out every single one of his achievements, his accolades, and especially cherished memories with his face within them, and every bit of it deserved 100%.  To this day, I firmly believe that people stopped watching RAW and WWE programming overall because they decided to pay homage to a murderer and a coward, a scant day after he hung himself in his Atlanta home.  Not even rescinding the night's actions on WWECW that Tuesday did anything to repair the damage that their horrible PR stunt did to the company and the business.  Pro wrestling, sadly, may never be the same for it.

So when RAW kicks off their 1000th episode on July 23, 2012, at 8 PM, I'll have mixed emotions.  For one, I'll still remember the good times when RAW was entertaining, and even during these PG times, I've started watching it again.  But these moments that I've discussed today, while they were not entirely happy moments (and more than likely they'll piss you off to no end), they most definitely shaped the course of not just my life, but the lives of the people involved, and the course of the business and the sport of pro wrestling in general.  So bring your popcorn, your John Cena foam hands, your WWE program books from live events past, and most of all, your passion for wrestling.  Because, good times or bad times, there are still memories to be made, and with the future in front of us, Vince and company have the opportunity to make the future brighter for the company and the sport than it ever has.  Just don't bet the house on it.  Johnny "Ace" Laryngitis is still VP of Talent Relations, after all.  ;)

Happy 1000th Anniversary, RAW.  Here's to 1000 more.  Until next time, guys...Keep it Condor.

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