The Rock told jabronis to know their role long before he travelled to Jumanji. Batista defended championships before he guarded the galaxy. Steve Austin left losers in his path with “Stone Cold” stunners instead of Skullbusters .
Before the trio of WWE stars stretched into other entertainment avenues, they had talked trash, flipped middle fingers, laid the smack down, chugged beer and raised a whole lot of hell on the wildest show on Monday nights.
Betty White , Bob Barker, Bradley Cooper and even Tiny Tim joined the fun inside the squared circle.
Welcome, everyone, to Monday Night Raw!
The WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday with a three-hour bash stuffed with Hall of Famers, Hollywood stars, the Boogeyman, the Bellas and a Brooklyn Brawler.
From its debut on Jan. 11, 1993, “Raw” revolutionized wrestling and made the — sport? — hip again. “Raw” billed itself as an uncooked, uncut and uncensored slice of sports entertainment, and for most of its 25 years, “Raw” has delivered the wacky and the wild for more than 3 million viewers each week; whether it’s Braun Strowman flipping over a semi-truck or Brian Pillman pulling a gun on Austin .
Led by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, “Raw” shook the wresting industry out of its staid Saturday morning ways.
“I remember being in the office and Vince talking about going live and moving this forward,” WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan said.
The pro wrestling TV landscape had been mostly one-hour weekend shows mostly filled with noncompetitive matches in which a superstar would flatten some enhancement talent. WWE had been a staple on Monday nights since “Prime Time Wrestling” debuted on USA on Jan. 1, 1985.
The weekly taped wrestling shows mostly went down for the three count.
“(McMahon) called it a new breath or a new life for the wrestling business,” Hogan said. “Once we went live and people got used to the live vibe, taped shows would be a dinosaur.”
“Raw” chugged along as a solid cable performer until rival WCW unleashed “Monday Nitro” in 1995 and soon beat WWE at its own game, winning the ratings battle in what was called the “Monday Night Wars” for 83 straight weeks.
McMahon, who declined comment to the AP, was forced to steer the show into the Attitude Era , led by a foul-mouthed Austin, a crotch-chopping Degeneration X, and a catchphrase spouting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that spiked the show into new heights.
WCW would go out business when WWE bought the scraps of the company in 2001.
“You can’t beat someone at their own game when they are the game,” Hogan said.
Triple H would surely agree.
The 72-year-old McMahon, who morphed from an original “Raw” announcer to the show’s top bad guy, has starred in the most memorable storylines for the dominant company in the industry.
“He doesn’t like to take credit for it, but Vince is the guiding force of that,” WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque said. “He’s never afraid to take that risk. He never feels like he knows the answers.”
Trying to find the answer for the greatest moment in “Raw’s: history is a bit like trying to pick the perfect PowerBall combination.
At the top of the impossible list, the real-life Ric Flair, Edge and Daniel Bryan retirements that had even the hardest of the hardcore fans reaching for a tissue. Bob Backlund slapping Arnold Skaaland in the crossface chicken wing. CM Punk’s pipebomb . Sabu’s leap off the Raw letters. The villainous stable Nexus that destroyed John Cena and even choked out the ring announcer. Kurt Angle and the milk truck .
And Donald Trump , yes, WWE Hall of Famer and the president, who, ahem, purchased “Raw” in 2009 from McMahon.
“I’m going to do stuff that’s never been done before, never been seen before,” Trump said. “People have been watching Raw for 17 years and they deserve something special. You’ve made a lot of money off these people. It’s about time you give back. Like our president says, ‘Give back.’”
Trump’s reign of terror on “Raw” lasted less than four years. He, ahem, sold “Raw” back to McMahon the following week for twice the price.
Even the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase would have cackled at the swindle.
DiBiase will be in New York on Monday with other WWE Hall of Famers such as Scott Hall, Ron Simmons, Austin, Flair and Shawn Michaels. The Undertaker should be back from the dead to kickstart a feud against Cena for WrestleMania.
The show will have a bit of a WrestleMania 2 feel, airing live from two locations: “Raw’s” original home at the Manhattan Center and the Barclays Center. WWE stars and matches are scheduled at both venues, though the exact format has yet to be disclosed.
Michaels and the Undertaker were on the first show and will serve as bookends for the first and the 1,288th episode.
“Raw” has even sprouted branches on the family tree.
WWE champion Charlotte Flair was just a teenager for her “Raw” debut. Look closely, and Flair can be spotted in the stands during a women’s match on a 2004 episode. She was back four years later when she joined her family and other WWE stars in the ring for father Ric Flair’s farewell retirement speech.
She made her debut as a wrestler on the show in 2015 — complete with a strut and gold her around waist, just like The Nature Boy.
“The talent has passion for what we do and wants to show up every Monday to give everyone sitting at home the best show possible,” Charlotte Flair said.
Michaels could fill a few hours on the WWE Network with “Raw” highlights: His 2009 bout in London vs. Cena, regarded as “Raw’s” greatest match , stripping Mike Tyson down to his DX shirt and collapsing against Owen Hart in a classic 1990s matchup. He wrestled Max Moon on the inaugural “Raw.”
“The first ‘Raw’ was the genesis, the nucleus, of everything that’s ever gone on in WWE,” Michaels said. “None of us had any idea at that time what we were about to embark on.”
The future may not include the USA Network. The TV rights are up for grabs in late 2019 and WWE as live, weekly content should surely command a big-bucks bidding war in the open market. Imagine “Raw” on Mondays on Fox with highlight shows and auxiliary programming on FS1, much like UFC does now.
“I can tell you that WWE is uniquely positioned so whatever way it goes, whatever way our fans are telling us to go, we’re there,” Levesque said.
McMahon recently sold $100 million of shares to fund his Alpha Entertainment company and could re-launch the XFL. Levesque said outside interests will never get in McMahon’s way of running WWE.
“I don’t think there’s any sense of change,” Levesque said. “If anybody thinks they’re going to push him out or take this thing, there’s going to be a hell of a fight.”
If there is, what better place to show it than Monday nights on “Raw.”
Dan Gelston, The Associated Press