In sports, there are certain milestones that transcend modern society’s need for instant gratification. By and large, we live in a world where it’s all about “what have you done for me lately?” Yet, these historical moments go above and beyond that mindset. In the next few years, for instance, Coach K of the Duke Blue Devils will get to 1,000 career coaching victories in college basketball – something nobody has ever done before. Theoretically, even if his team was sitting at .500 when he got that win, all talk of a mediocre year would be put on hold for an appreciative night honoring such an occasion. WWE’s “Raw 1000” was like that. It came during an unimaginative time on the wrestling calendar, yet it was such a big deal that most people temporarily forgot that the product, in general, stunk at the time.
Doctor's Orders: Reflecting on 20 Years of Monday Night Raw (Doc's Top 50 matches)
By The Doc
Jan 12, 2013 - 12:42:03 PM
Landmark achievements, though, are still most appreciated when things are going well. If Duke is undefeated and Coach K gets that elusive victory, then it’s on a whole different level of awesome. That’s how I feel about this Raw 20th Anniversary show. Last week’s Raw was really good, in my opinion. I’m quite pumped about this week. Because of my enthusiasm for the product, at the moment, I am inspired to better appreciate the fact that Monday Night RAW is about to celebrate twenty years of existence. That’s quite an achievement.
On their website, the WWE listed its “Top 50 matches in Raw history.” I decided to wait and look at their list after attempting to compile one of my own.
The Doc’s 20th Anniversary Raw Rewind
It did not take long for the WWE’s cable program to deliver its first classic match, but they had to send Ric Flair back to WCW in the process. The Nature Boy ended his memorable WWE run in a Loser Leaves Town match to Mr. Perfect (#14) that would only remain the top match in the fledgling weekly show’s history for all of six months. In July 1993, Marty Jannetty surprisingly showed up to accept an open challenge by his old pal, Shawn Michaels, who promised to put the Intercontinental title on the line against whoever answered the call. HBK dropped the strap to the other Rocker in the 1993 MOTY (#4) by many publications.
Michaels, over the years, earned the nickname “Mr. Wrestlemania” for his exploits on the grand stage, but he could also be considered “Mr. Raw” if my list was taken in consideration. He and the various members of the Kliq had some of the best TV matches of that era, mostly against each other. Never was that better displayed than in the fall of 1994 when HBK and Diesel put their tag team titles on the line against Razor Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid (#9). Wrestling arguably Raw’s most underrated match ever, the “Two Dudes with Attitude” and their other two cohorts gave us a look at four of the most influential talents of the 90s. A few months prior, the Kid had shown his chops in the early stages of his career in a great, fast-paced match with Owen Hart (#41).
Bret Hart might have given HBK a run for his money if he had been around longer than the first four years. His match with Bob Backlund was impressive (#28), but one of my favorite Raw matches was the Hitman’s forgotten classic with Hakushi (#11) in the summer of ’95. I remember laying around after not having watched the WWE in awhile and there they were, pulling off sequences that would make many modern stars green with envy. The old Michaels-Hart rivalry lived on Mondays, though. Not to be outdone, HBK performed one of the great acting jobs of my fandom, feigning a concussion after a kick to the head by Bret’s illustrious brother, Owen. The youngest Hart is a name seen often in the annals of time in the Rawest sense, as well. He did some of his best and most important non-Bret-related work on the flagship; perhaps none as significant as the enziguiri (#15) that put the “Boyhood Dream” in motion.
When HBK returned and prepared to fulfill his destiny, he had a match with the Kid in March ’96 (#36) that, if you watch it back, reminds you of why Sean Waltman was such a commodity in those days. No one should forget how much of a stud that guy was when healthy, just as no one should underappreciate the talents of the British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith. The Bulldog, be it in tandem with Owen or on his own, littered the year 1997 with classic television, starting with a team effort with the Rocket against Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon in January (#50). It doesn’t get much better than the finals of the European title tournament that pitted Davey and Owen against each other (#5) in one of the definitive best TV bouts of all-time, no matter the promotion. They were tag team champs, at the time, so they quickly got back on the same page before losing to HBK and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the spring (#25). What an odd pair were the latter…
Sandwiched in between the last two matches was a WWE Championship bout (the first on the list so far that just made the cut over some its predecessors) featuring Bret Hart, newly crowned at the Final Four, dropping the belt to Sid (#47) after that dastardly Rattlesnake continued to make his life hell. Others of the Attitude era’s finest made their Doc-list Raw Top 50 debuts later that year, as a young Triple H got his momentum going in a Falls Count Anywhere match with Cactus Jack (#19) – a match somewhat swept under the rug by their Royal Rumble epic two years and change later. Mick Foley would try to outdo himself with his old rival, Terry Funk (#24), the following year in a match of the same stipulation.
1998 was Austin’s breakout year as a main-eventer, but he dropped his first WWE title to Kane at King of the Ring. Kane’s biggest moment lasted all of 24 hours, as he dropped it right back in a shocking and exhilarating moment, whether you liked Austin or not (and I didn’t), the very next night (#46). The Rock burst onto the scene that year, too, earning white hot status by ‘98’s end. Throughout the first half of the year, he had feuded with Ken Shamrock over the IC title, but they had failed to ever have a really good match to cap it. It finally happened in the build-up to the WWE title tournament at that year’s Survivor Series. Two weeks prior to Rock becoming WWE Champ and a heinous “Corporate” villain, he had a helluva match with Shamrock (#38). His title reign lasted until just after the New Year, when in one of the most important moments of the Monday Night War, he was defeated by Foley (#12 not because of the quality of the wrestling but because of the significance of having so many people change the channel from Nitro to Raw to see the switch that was mocked by Tony Schiavone when he announced it in advance, sealing WCW’s fate).
Triple H was giving Rock and Austin a run for their money in being “The Man” heading into 2000. With Stone Cold out, The Game was set-up opposite of The Rock and Foley. Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Perry Saturn debuted on Raw shortly after Benoit had won WCW’s World title and said “to hell with them, anyway.” What a moment that was. The 10-man tag pitting Trips and the Radicalz against Rock, Foley, and Too Cool that February was fantastic (#22). Benoit took part in several of the top Raw matches in the years that followed, most notably a pair of all-time specials within three weeks of one another in the spring of 2001. Teaming with Chris Jericho, Benoit captured the tag titles from the “Two Man Power Trip” of Austin and Trips, who blew his out his quad for the first time and gutted through the climax of the match (#2). Against Kurt Angle in the amazing cage match where each took death-defying risks off the top, Benoit solidified a WWE legacy that lasted until the events surrounding his death (#3).
Our Olympic Hero had his fair share of Raw moments. Unfortunately, one of them was not losing the WWE Championship to Stone Cold in early October ’01 (#43). Most of Angle’s best TV bouts came on Smackdown, which took over as the show that produced the best quality for quite awhile. 2002 and 2003, especially, were down years for the Raw brand. Three notable exceptions were the fourth Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match featuring Kane going it alone with he and Hurricane’s tag belts on the line (#16), the meeting between “The Showstopper” Shawn Michaels and “The Whole Dam Show” Rob Van Dam (#48 – it was cool to see those guys in the same ring even though the match wasn’t altogether that great), and the Wrestlemania XIX rematch between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho (#33).
In the fall of 2003, Raw started to get its act together a bit. The period where guys who absolutely sucked were getting title shots would soon be coming to an end. The mid-card was back in business with the earlier year restoration of the IC title (inexplicably done away with briefly in the year prior) and guys like Christian and RVD were taking full advantage. Their ladder match (#17) for the belt in Chicago was not only one of Raw’s best, but one of the undervalued editions of the gimmick. The main-event followed the mid-card’s trend of better work when HBK got his swagger back. Interesting, is it not, that Raw’s quality so dramatically improved once better wrestlers like Michaels (and later Benoit) were made the top babyfaces ahead of Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, and Goldberg? On the last Raw of 2003, HBK challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship in San Antonio. That’s the top Raw match in history (#1), for my tastes. I loved watching those two work together – pure excellence every time out. I really thought, there for a second, that HBK won the belt.
2004 was one of my favorite years for Raw. There were a bevy of matches that I still fondly remember to this day in fairly vivid detail. Shelton Benjamin moving over in the WWE Draft and beating Triple H (#18) made me a Shelton fan for life. I miss that guy. A month later, HBK and Benoit had a nicely hyped match for the World Championship that felt (and was wrestled) like a PPV main-event. I wish they would have gotten a one-on-one match for the title on PPV, but it didn’t stop their Raw match from being a blockbuster in its own right (#10). The next week, Jericho and Christian finished off their superb mid-card feud (the one that made me a Christian fan for life) with a cage match (#21) that had me glued to the TV.
Benoit’s title reign and the onus that he put on everyone else, as champion, to up their performance level was a noticeable reason for the success of the program, critically. His reign ended at Summerslam, but he and Orton had arguably just as good a match the following night (#23), after which Orton famously got booted out of Evolution in one of the most ill-advised attempts at turning someone babyface in modern wrestling lore. Triple H got the title back a month later and what was then considered a reign of terror resumed. However, he lost it in December…to Benoit? No, it was to Edge (!!!). Actually, it was to neither. Both of them beat Trips (#27) at the same time (Trips never put anyone over, huh?), vacating the title.
Orton, the character, may have flopped during that time, but Orton, the wrestler, continued to blossom. He and Christian had a match (#44) that, when they tore it up in 2011, had me waving a flag reminding people of how well they worked together in 2005. That might’ve been my favorite TV match of ’05 had it not been for the brilliance that was HBK vs. Shelton Benjamin (#7) in the Gold Rush tournament a few months later. I think I can best sum up my thoughts on it by referencing HBK’s comments from the following week, when he – clearly unscripted – took the time to state publicly that Shelton was the best young piece of in-ring talent he’d seen in years. Benjamin proved it again when he performed the caliber of work with Angle (#32) that I thought – mic skills or no – could have put him in the main-event some day. German suplex off the top rope into a belly-flopping back flip! Angle also had a match with Ric Flair that year that stands out to me as one of Raw’s all-time half-a-hundred best (#37). I would’ve loved to have seen one more Horsemen incarnation with Flair, Angle, Trips, and HBK.
John Cena came into his own that year as a superstar and WWE Champion. His wrestling was often called into question, but never could that have been said in reference to his matches with Chris Jericho. After a classic at Summerslam, they had a rematch on the next night’s Raw; a “Loser Gets Fired” match (#34). It was, like the previous year’s Summerslam main-event rematch that took place a day later, just as good as the PPV bout.
Edge had several matches with Matt Hardy in 2005 that just missed my cut, but there’s no way his early ’06 TLC match with Flair (#8) would ever miss any cut; I don’t care if it’s Raw 50th Anniversary we’re celebrating, that match never leaves the best of list. I hate that I lived in STL when those guys tore the roof off of NC State’s (then) RBC Center in Raleigh. My friends were in attendance. The Rated R Superstar went onto a career year as the lead antagonist in the business, primarily feuding with John Cena. Their best Raw encounter was a cage match (#20) after their main story had basically ended. The fact that they had me believing that Edge had a shot to regain the title – and that it was the best Raw match during my time reviewing the flagship for LOP – has always made the match stand out.
Jeff Hardy came back to the WWE in ’06 and provided us with another Edge bout that just missed the cut, in part because the Charismatic Enigma’s ladder match with Johnny Nitro, in my opinion, was so good (#40). That’s another match that I reviewed that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reporting in real-time. The same could be said of the HBK vs. Edge Street Fight (#29) from January ’07. It was my dream match to see those two clash at a Wrestlemania that I attended, so I had to settle for 4-star matches like that one from Raw. I thought we might get Edge-HBK at Wrestlemania 23, but Michaels was pushed into the main-event slot when Trips went down with his second quad tear. Cena vs. Michaels was awesome, but they saved their best for a near 50-minute MOTY candidate (#6) in England on Raw. A week later, Edge did his best to top their effort with an excellent match against Randy Orton (#13) that I, to this day, wish had taken place at Wrestlemania that year. Mania 23 would’ve been much better for it.
Back from injury, Triple H really got on a role toward the end of 2007. Flair had come back to finish up his career with a “if you lose, you’re done” storyline and, at one point, he had to face The Game. I thought that was the most compelling non-Mania-HBK bout of Flair’s twilight (#39). That year, Trips helped put over Jeff Hardy as a future main-eventer. Hardy, with the exception of one bone-headed move, had a helluva 2008. I’ll, personally, never forget his six week build-up to the Royal Rumble title match with then champion, Orton. Remember that song “Roof Tops”? One of the images in his highlight video from that feud saw a vintage, daredevil leap – a Whisper in the Wind – off the top of a cage in a bout against Umaga (#26) that really made him look like he could conquer the wrestling world. He also had a match with HBK that some called a battle of one era’s HBK against another’s (#42) in the build-up to the Elimination Chamber in February.
If you read my Road to Wrestlemania series a year ago, you’ll know that John Cena vs. Trips was a match that I’ll always rank higher than most because I was there live to see it. There’s something special about those two staring at each other from across the ring. In 2009, they had a rematch on Raw – a rubber match in their series, if you will. “Special” would be the word I’d choose to describe their work together, based on crowd reactions alone (#35).
Recent years have seen some trends with the flagship that have not necessarily reflected the quality of the in-ring action that we have demanded. Some of the matches that did deliver have not yet had the chance to stand the test of time (for me). A few that did make the cut were 2010’s King of the Ring Final featuring Sheamus and John Morrison (#45), the summer of 2011’s Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton match that made me stand up and say “Damn, that guy’s good” (about Ziggler) and the WWE Championship match between John Cena and Rey Mysterio that scratched my itch to see them tango in a high profile bout, and last year’s CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan “Champion vs. Champion” matches.
The years to come will certainly provide just as many memories as have been provided in the past. I just hope everyone can sit back and find enough enjoyment in the product to notice…
1) Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
2) Benoit/Jericho vs. Austin/Triple H
3) Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle (cage)
4) HBK vs. Marty
5) Owen vs. Davey Boy
6) John Cena vs. HBK
7) Shelton vs. HBK
8) Edge vs. Flair (TLC)
9) HBK/Diesel vs. Razor/Kid
10) Chris Benoit vs. HBK
11) Bret vs. Hakushi
12) The Rock vs. Mankind
13) Edge vs. Orton
14) Perfect vs. Flair
15) HBK vs. Owen Hart
16) TLC IV
17) Christian vs. RVD (ladder)
18) Triple H vs. Shelton Benjamin
19) Cactus Jack vs. Triple H
20) John Cena vs. Edge (cage)
21) Christian vs. Y2J (cage)
22) DX and Radicalz vs. Rock, Foley, and Too Cool
23) Benoit vs. Orton
24) Foley vs. Funk
25) Owen/Davey vs. HBK/Austin
26) Jeff Hardy vs. Umaga (cage)
27) Triple H vs. Edge vs. Benoit
28) Bret vs. Backlund
29) Edge vs. HBK
30) Rey Mysterio vs. John Cena
31) CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan
32) Angle vs. Benjamin
33) HBK vs. Y2J
34) John Cena vs. Y2J
35) Triple H vs. John Cena
36) HBK vs. Kid
37) Ric Flair vs. Kurt Angle
38) The Rock vs. Ken Shamrock
39) Triple H vs. Ric Flair
40) Jeff Hardy vs. Nitro (ladder)
41) Owen vs. Kid
42) Jeff Hardy vs. HBK
43) Austin vs. Angle
44) Orton vs. Christian
45) John Morrison vs. Sheamus
46) Austin vs. Kane
47) Sid vs. Bret
48) HBK vs. RVD
49) Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton
50) Owen/Bulldog vs. Furnas/Lafon
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What's your top 5 matches in Raw history?