It would take a pretty ardent optimist/marketing guru to look back on Monday Night Raw in 2021 and hold it in esteem with the glory years of the program. If you don't fall into those listed categories, chances are, there's an era from Raw's yesteryears that you look back on with far more fondness than what currently gets trotted out on latter day Mondays.
Nostalgia's rose-tinted that way, but it's hardly a stretch in this case.
What's pretty evident in today's era of Raw is the dearth of spontaneity, the sense that anything could happen at any time. Erstwhile shock twists have long been predictable. If any of those oft-advertised gambling apps took bets on music-related distraction finishes, or "mismatched tag team partners not being able to co-exist", diehard WWE viewers could probably clean them out monetarily, with little problem.
This, of course, wasn't always the case.
Let's gander back at a specific episode of Raw that goes down in history as being one of the most historic early broadcasts of the show.
I handpicked it because it aired 28 years ago tonight, on Monday, May 17, 1993.
The year in question saw the birth of the tagline, "Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation."
This particular show proved that.
Raw was only four months old at this point, and in fairness, it had a lot of room to grow. There were positives, sure, from the vociferous, intimately-sized crowd at the Manhattan Center in New York City (a spiritual predecessor to the blue collar/smark-heavy crowds in Philly's ECW Arena), to an intense Mr. Perfect/Ric Flair "loser leaves" match that aired in January.
But besides a few virtues of that sort, Raw was struggling to stay above the current, critically and artistically. Between comedian Rob Bartlett's fish-out-of-water commentary, an endless parade-o-squashes, Vince's insistence on discussing "current events" on commentary (to ingratiate cartoonish WWF into "the mainstream"), and a not-so-strong 1993 roster, these weren't exactly Raw's glory days. If an episode had *one* historic or memorable moment, you were lucky.
But something was in the air on May 17.
Going in, Raw wasn't advertising anything major. No marquee, pay-per-view level matches had been hyped up, no special interviews or debut appearances were expected. The advertised feature bout pitted recently-dethroned World champion Yokozuna against a clearly on-the-way-out Kamala. As far as anyone knew, this Raw was going to be business as usual.
Instead, two legendary moments occurred within the span of one hour.
The second match of the evening was a designed squash. Razor Ramon, hanging around the upper midcard as a cocky, swaggering heel, was going to make mince meat out of a rail-thin, exceedingly-young enhancement talent simply called "The Kid".
To this point, The Kid had been manhandled on Raw twice in as many weeks. Previously Doink the Clown twisted him into a pretzel, while the burly Mr. Hughes overpowered his much lighter foe. This was no surprise to anyone watching, since The Kid had been treated like any other prelim wrestler, getting the "Currently in the ring..." treatment, with no fanfare at all.
In fact, all that was really notable about either match is that Kid used a different name for each. When Doink beat him, he was The Kamikaze Kid. A week later against Hughes, he was The Cannonball Kid.
Here, he was just "The Kid". Keeping himself humble following those losses, perhaps.
To more than a few fans, the 20-year-old Kid was a familiar face. Those who had watched the Dallas-based Global Wrestling Federation on ESPN recognized him as The Lightning Kid, one of the most skilled daredevils that had ever graced an American wrestling ring. His matches against Jerry Lynn and others revealed a young talent with loads of athletic upside.
Fat lot of good that was going to do him here, as he looked like a grade schooler in the midst of the towering Ramon.
As expected, once the bell sounded, Ramon clobbered Kid, even piercing everyone's eardrums with a stinging overhand chop. Razor looked content to just pick the youngster apart, in what looked to be just another seen-it squash.
But then, when Ramon attempted a corner charge, Kid ducked away, causing Razor to smash his sternum into the buckles.
With Ramon stunned, Kid scaled the turnbuckles and vaulted off with a ceiling-scraping moonsault press.
Kid covered Ramon for the one...two...three!
Hysteria immediately abounded. Kid was jittery in his shock and jubilation. Ramon suddenly sprung up from the canvas in anger and confusion. Vince McMahon and company on headset were beside themselves at this unexpected development. The fans in the Manhattan Center all burst from their seats in amazement.
Bobby Heenan, his voice cracking in disbelief, squeaked, "He beat Razor Ramon!", while Kid jumped around ringside in equal disbelief.
Ramon threw what amounted to an aggressive tantrum as the fans laughed and cheered and egged him on.
Not thirty seconds earlier, the New York crowd was just waiting for the inevitable Razor's Edge, to hand Kid his third consecutive loss.
Instead, they were given an unexpected development, and a pleasant one at that.
A veritable jobber defeating a "name" just didn't happen in 1993, and it's still a pretty rare sight for subsequent eras. The brilliance of the angle came from the realization that you were going to make two stars out of this: the soon-to-be-renamed 123 Kid (as a gutsy underdog), and Ramon himself (instilling a sense of humility in him that would serve him well in his eventual face turn, especially when he eventually demonstrated sportsmanship to Kid).
The fans in attendance and at home had all gotten their fill from a very unexpected moment.
And WWF wasn't done making the night a historic one.
In the segment immediately preceding the Razor/Kid upset, Intercontinental champion Shawn Michaels was interviewed by announcer/future WrestleMania opponent Vince McMahon. Having recently retained his title against Hacksaw Jim Duggan (despite the efforts of Michaels' enemy Mr. Perfect), the champ was crowing about his successful ways. He arrogantly mentioned that he would defend the belt any time, against anyone, because he couldn't be beaten.
As Michaels confidently spat out that declaration, a man in a hoodie came over the guardrail, the hood and a pair of sunglasses shrouding his identity.
Michaels went with it as the man slowly entered the ring, while McMahon and the crowd expressed befuddlement. The "Heartbreak Kid" continued goading this apparent stranger, amused that some random bum would try to step to him.
Shawn's amusement ended when the man removed the shades and pulled back the hood, revealing himself to be Marty Jannetty.
Acting as though he'd seen a ghost, Michaels recoiled at the sight of Jannetty, who hadn't been seen since Michaels narrowly defeated him at the Royal Rumble four months earlier. The fans erupted with glee at the sight of this impromptu Rockers reunion.
Jannetty asked Michaels to verify his open challenge: anyone at any time? How's about a title match tonight then?
Michaels sold it as though he were stuck between the metaphorical rock and the hard place: he didn't want to face the man who knew him better than anyone, but he couldn't back down after making that cocky boast in public.
Under duress, Michaels accepted the challenge, and with that, we had a Raw first: the main event that doesn't get booked until after the show has started.
As for the match, it's Jannetty vs. Michaels - it was going to be good at the bare minimum.
Jannetty had Michaels on the brink from the early going, scoring several near falls, and bouncing the rattled champion around with ease. Believing himself outmatched, Shawn tried taking an intentional count-out loss...only for Mr. Perfect to block his path through the curtain. A wary Michaels then began backtracking toward the ring.
From there, Michaels managed to wrest away a bit of the advantage, gamely taking over on his old partner and friend. Perfect eyed the action from the aisleway as Jannetty fought back from underneath, leading to several dramatic pinfall attempts as the show crept closer to its ending time.
Late in the bout, Michaels struck Jannetty with his patented superkick (not yet his main finish). But instead of capitalizing, Michaels foolishly went to taunt Perfect. Amid the exchange, Perfect threw his prop towel into Michaels' face, sending him blindly sprawling backwards, where he was suddenly pinned by a Jannetty inside cradle.
Once more, the fans went berserk at this surprising development. Jannetty and Perfect celebrated, McMahon and Randy Savage exulted, and Heenan lamented while Michaels tried in vain to appeal to the referee.
It marked the first time that a title had ever changed hands on Monday Night Raw.
And it could not have capped off a better episode of Raw in 1993.
In that one hour of airtime, the WWF gave fans two reasons to believe in Raw: a rare title change featuring the, "He doesn't work here!" participant, and an enhancement talent victory that lent credence to the idea that an unlikely upset is always possible.
Both tropes have been repeated in an ensuing years, but on a free TV show in 1993 WWF, they were practically revelations.
Here's to a time when Monday Night Raw had the ability to be as unpredictable as tomorrow's lottery numbers.