Note from Mike Johnson -- The following article was originally written on January 13, 2003 and looks back at the birth of WWE's Monday Night Raw from my first person perspective as someone who was in attendance at the very beginnings of the concept.
LOOKING BACK AT THE START OF MONDAY NIGHT RAW
While the WWE will be presenting it's Raw anniversary thus Tuesday at the World in New York City on the corner of 43rd and Broadway, the first-ever Raw event took place just a few blocks away at the Manhattan Center.
For the most part, the wrestling industry is in the toilet in 1993. WCW was pathetic and basically running TV tapings only, ECW was running bars and the WWF was on top, although their business had dropped considerably. The group was still reeling from the McMahon steroid case against the Government (as if you didn't know, Vince won). They had also adjusted their product away from the larger, lumbering performers to the smaller, athletic wrestlers of the promotion with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels leading the way.
Looking for something to spice up it's rating on the USA Network, the WWF decided to cancel Prime Time Wrestling and run a weekly one hour live show from downtown NYC in...you guessed it, The Manhattan Center.
The ballroom the show was held in was a nice cozy little place. The seats were all interconnected and cushioned. There was a balcony that had an awesome view. Bleachers on one side of the building, across from the stationary WWF cameras sitting on a makeshift wooden platform behind the fans. For a promotion that ran Pay-Per-Views in huge Arenas, this was quite the stepback..
Waiting to get into the building was always a pain. All the seats were general admission, leading to fans actually lining up the night before for choice seats. There was even a rumor once that a fan arrived on a Saturday afternoon in order to claim he was first on line. Years later, I would hear of fans lining up for the new Star Wars film a month in advance, so perhaps in hindsight, that guy wasn't too mentally defected. As you can imagine, 1,500 New Yorkers pushing and shoving was quite the sight to behold. I often wondered how the building's security, which usually covered taped concerts and corporate meetings , felt about this mass of insanity.
Then there was the next problem. Once you got into the building, there was only one problem: getting to the Ballroom the shows were taking place in. It was on the eighth floor. You had two choices:
A) Wait on line for one of the two elevators
B) Run up EIGHT(!) flights of stairs.
Try to imagine 1500 wrestling fans trampling each other up eight flights of stairs for a chance to lean against the guard rail and touch a sweaty Mr. Perfect. Now imagine repeating the process every week or so. Such was just the tip of the iceberg for this deranged group of fans.
Now, mind you, I say deranged in the nicest sense of the word. The audience at these shows were almost the precursor to the more famous ECW Arena crowd, without the vulgar language that would become associated with that band of hardcore fanatics. The same characters were there and in a sense, were as much a part of the show as any WWF Superstar weekly.
There was the notorious Vladimir, a well known muscle bound fans never seen without his white tank top, with an almost orange-colored tan. He was always arguing with someone, be it fan, wrestler, security or WWF employee. It never failed.
There was Stewart, an African-American fan in his bright yellow "BOB BACKLUND WWF CHAMPION" T-shirt that he wore every show to the point the audience would chant "Wash that shirt." Stewart received his fair share of abuse but got to proudly give it all back when Backlund turned heel and actually regained the belt nearly 15 years after he lost it to the Iron Sheik.
There was Johnny, an Italian kid from Brooklyn who showed up dressed like Doink the Clown week after week. Some of the fans many of you would recognize from the ECW Arena are there too...take a look at an old tape. Actually, you might even catch a few future ECW performers as well. I dare you to find them. There were countless others, trust me. But it was all in fun in a sick demented way. You had to love a crowd that would give Barry Horowitz a standing ovation.
THAT FIRST NIGHT
Here's the complete results from that first Raw taping, from a blistering cold January January 11, 1993:
*Bob Backlund pinned Damian Demento
*Cheetah (Rocco Rock Ted Petty) pinned Johnny Rotten (Johnny Grunge)
*Yokozuna pinned Koko B. Ware
*The Steiners beat the Executioners
*WWF Intercontinental champion Shawn Michaels pinned Max Moon (Paul Diamond)
*Ttito Santana pinned Mike Sharpe
*The Undertaker pinned Damian Demento
*Yokozuna pinned Jimmy Powers
*Crush defeated Bam Bam Bigelow, DQ when Doink the Clown interfered.
What a difference a decade makes, eh?
If you happen to have a tape of the first show, watch closely for the Max Moon entrance. The fireballs that would shoot out of his glove mis-timed for some reason, and shot off after it was supposed to, hitting a photographer at ringside in the face by accident. During the bout, the photog returned to his duty, getting a huge pop from the building. It was never acknowledged by the announcers, but it's there. See for yourself.
That first taping set the stage for what eventually would become the top rated show on cable, as well as becoming the launching pad for quite a few careers. When I wasn't marveling at the audience, the building gave me a chance to see some of the stars of tomorrow.
As I mentioned, the second match to take place in the building before the fans was a masked performer named Cheetah who wrestled a young chubby Cajun named Johnny Rotten. The two would go on to great heights at the top of Extreme Championship Wrestling as those infamous hoodies, Johnny Grunge and Flyboy Rocco Rock, before leaving the nest and spiraling downward to this day. To be honest, that singles match wasn't very good, but looking back, it's kind of cool to have seen a "dream match" of sorts. Just this past week on Tough Enough, they showed an upset Bill DeMott speaking about the passing of Ted Petty. It sure would be nice if the promotion had acknowledged who he was, especially given his small but significant place in Raw history.
I'll never forget the night a young enhancement performer named PJ Walker was backdropped by one of the Headshrinkers, landing on his head and being knocked cold in the center of the ring. He later rebounded with an upset win over Mike Rotunda's Irwin R. Shyster character. Of course, Walker today is none other than former ECW World Heavyweight champion (aka the forgotten Raw performer) Justin Credible.
Another taping, Tatanka was wrestling a jobber from Massachusetts. Being that a lot of the matches on the shows were squashes, one could easily lose interest. I distinctly remember getting up to go for a walk, and turning just as Tatanka hiptossed the performer from the ring over the ropes to the floor. For 1993, this was pretty damn impressive, considering he didn't even catch the apron. Every time Scott Taylor came out after that, I marveled at the great bumps he was taking. He dropped out of sight shortly afterwards before being reborn as Scotty Too Hotty of Too Cool fame several years later.
There was Duane Gill, who later went on to become cute comedic character Gillberg. A young and chubby Tony DeVito was taking his licks too, years before he dropped the excess weight, shaved his head and became one of ECW's Baldies. He currently works Ring of Honor. Jason Knight did jobs to Mr. Hughes, which amuses me looking back since his initial ECW protÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©gÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© was....Mr. Hughes.
Another thing that helped build Raw, although you hardly see it these days, were some of the great matches of that era. While the bulk of Raw was squashes, interviews and angles, we got to see quite a few during the WWF's run there. Marty Janetty jumped out of the crowd to challenge Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental championship and won the belt. Michaels would be a mainstay of the building, having great matches with everyone from Hacksaw Duggan (I'm not kidding) to Janetty to Max Moon (Paul Diamond doing a futuristic robot gimmick). A rematch between Shawn and Janetty in July 1993 was off the charts awesome, with Michaels retaining the belt only after the help of a WWF newcomer by the name of Diesel.
On the third episode of Raw, there was an excellent Ric Flair vs Mr. Perfect Loser-Leaves-Town match. One problem- the audience didn't know they had watched a match with that stipulation until after they left the building and watched the episode that aired live. It was Flair's swansong on WWF TV and he didn't disappoint, having a great match before falling to the Perfectplex. The building absolutely worshiped Flair, so the promotion smartly sent him out to be an interview before they went on the air. Thus, when he arrived later on for the live broadcast, the building was nowhere near as loud for the "Nature Boy." The crowd has already blown its load.
Bret Hart, then WWF champion also had some great matches in the building as well, highlighted by title defenses against Fatu (now Rikishi Phatu) and Bam Bam Bigelow.
1993 was during the Steiner Brothers' run as a team with the WWF, and they brutally killed opponent after opponent in the Manhattan Center. The Steiner's suplexes looked brutal enough on television, but in the cozy confines of the Manhattan Center, they were downright evil. I can recall one brutal match between the Steiner and the Beverly Brothers (Mike Enos and Wayne Bloom) where they just basically pulverised the former AWA champions.
One of my favorite memories of the building involved a dark match between Jerry Lawler and Curt Hennig. Having seen their classic AWA title match in Memphis, it was a lot of fun to watch the heel/face roles reversed as Lawler berated the crowd and Hennig played total babyface.
As a fan, these shows were perhaps the most important that I ever attended, as it was the first time I regularly attended wrestling, and ended up meeting some of the closest friends I've been lucky enough to encounter in my life. While a whole generation today sees Raw as a huge event, complete with pyro, Titantrons, and lots of other goodies, to me, the best Raws will always be the era od the shows that were "Uncooked, Uncut, and Uncensored." In many ways, that will always be the case.