New York City – Raw 25 served as a night filled with nostalgia, a blueprint for WrestleMania 34, and a glimpse into the future of WWE.
Monday Night Raw debuted in January of 1993, redefined the way wrestling is consumed on a weekly basis, and even endured a short-lived beat down from its competitor, Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, before swallowing up any and all competition as WWE made sports entertainment its yard.
I was 10 years old when Raw hit the airwaves, originally disappointed that Prime Time Wrestling was replaced. My feelings soon changed, as Raw instantly became appointment viewing.
For those of us who have watched since the beginning, Monday’s show—particularly the scenes from the Manhattan Center, home of the first Raw—were callbacks to childhood.The Attitude Era in the 1990’s served as an unforgettable piece of our formative years, and friends still discuss the nights when Vince McMahon purposely goaded the audience, The Rock hurled his “roody poo candy ass” insults, and Steve Austin closed out the show by stunning the living daylights out of Vince McMahon.
Naturally, the Raw 25 anniversary show opened with Austin and McMahon back together, two middle fingers in McMahon’s face, and a stunner before the second commercial break.
A night filled of memories also included a build to the future, particularly the direction of WrestleMania 34, with key moments from The Undertaker, Roman Reigns, and Finn Balor.
After a memorable night at the Manhattan Center, here are my top 10 takeaways from Raw 25:
10. The Manhattan Center
The lyrical little band box known as the Manhattan Center felt like 1993 again for Raw 25.
The modern-day product has outgrown the original venue, but WWE made a great decision in returning to Raw’s first home.
The Manhattan Center crowd wasn’t always pleased with the amount of action emanating from the Barclays Center—there were constant chants throughout the evening expressing that displeasure—but those in attendance were even treated to some standup comedy on the mic from Jerry Lawler and souvenir WWE chairs. Returning to Manhattan with The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, who were each on the original show, was the right call.
Cesaro is currently preparing to reclaim the Raw tag team titles with Sheamus at this Sunday’s Royal Rumble, but the “Swiss Superman” also took time to reflect back on his favorite memories from Raw over the past 25 years.
“What stuck out to me was the extreme high quality in every show, and, of course, those moments,” said Cesaro. “Austin stunning McMahon, Shawn Michaels and Bret, the milk truck, the beer truck, the zambonis, all The Rock moments, the Jericho debut. You could fill a three-hour with the highlight reel of what’s happened over the past 25 years.”
Cesaro’s work resonates for his spectacular in-ring performances, so it should come as no surprise that his all-time favorite moment is a match that served as a technical classic.
“It’s the Bret Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid match from a very early Raw,” said Cesaro.
Cesaro noted he is extremely grateful that his own work in the ring is now the highlight of the night for many fans. He was asked to touch on some of his favorite moments from his Raw career.
“The ones that stick out are my match with John Cena, my match with Roman Reigns, but also ones with Sheamus, opposing each other in our best-of-seven series and together as a team,” said Cesaro. “There are so many quality matches that it’s easily overlooked how high the standard is now on Monday Night Raw. I’m extremely proud to be mentioned in those matches, because that’s what I stand for and that is what Sheamus and I stand for. We don’t just raise the bar, we are the bar.”
8. Enzo Amore Darkens the WWE News Cycle
News broke late Monday afternoon that Enzo Amore—31-year-old Eric Arndt—is under investigation for sexual assault from an incident that reportedly occurred this past October.
WWE acted swiftly, suspending Amore until further details emerge.
Amore has played fast and wild as a WWE superstar, turning his gimmick into a over-the-top character that has headlined the cruiserweight division. His future is now unknown, but fans will not be forgiving if the accusations are true.
The question now is whether WWE can somehow turn a horrible Amore situation into a positive. Will the suspension be addressed on Tuesday’s 205 Live? If Amore is stripped of the Cruiserweight title, will there be a tournament to crown a new champion? Could stars like Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrero, and Super Crazy be involved? Will WWE stay committed to the division? Amore’s departure, whether temporary or permanent, creates many questions.
Edge is in Ireland filming the mid-season finale for Vikings, so the “Rated-R Superstar” was unable to attend the 25th anniversary of Raw.
“I just miss seeing everyone,” said Edge, who will break down the Royal Rumble in tomorrow’s Week in Wrestling column. “At this point, if I get in the ring, I want to come back to build something important for a character that’s currently on the show. One of the last times I did was solidifying [Seth] Rollins and setting him up with some heat. But it would have great to be there and catch up with people, like Vince and Bischoff, and see a lot of people I don’t get to normally see outside of WrestleMania.”
Edge added that, if he'd been at Raw, he would have done everything humanly possible to avoid his longtime tag team partner Jay “Christian” Reso.
“I’m sick to death of Jay,” said Edge. “Had I been there, I would have avoided him for most of the day, to be completely honest.”
6. Vince Russo
Conspicuous by his absence at Raw 25 was former WWE lead writer Vince Russo.
Russo became the head writer in 1997 right in the throes of the company’s head-to-head battle on Monday nights with WCW. True to his roots as a native New Yorker, Russo’s writing style was edgy, controversial, and helped create some of the most unforgettable moments in the 25-year history of Raw.
“At the end of the day, those numbers of what that show used to do on Monday nights will forever be there,” said Russo. “People know that Vince McMahon was there before Vince Russo and Vince McMahon is there after Vince Russo, but the numbers when Vince Russo was the head writer of the show will always be there.”
Raw produced record-setting ratings during Russo’s time at the helm, which is among his list of achievements.
“I take solace knowing the true fans of the WWE, especially the Attitude Era, know my contributions, and the talent knows,” said Russo. “Steve Austin knows, The Rock knows, Shawn Michaels knows. That means more to me than anything else. That was the period where the talent made the most money they ever did during their entire careers. I was working for the boys. The more money they made, the more successful we were. I know everyone knows my impact from that time, and that means the most to me.”
5. Luke Gallows
Formerly known as Raw is War, Luke Gallows believes that Raw will soon be Raw is Balor.
“The Balor Club is the next evolution of Monday Night Raw,” said Gallows. “It’s a great time to be a performer, but it’s a great time to be a fan again.”
The 34-year-old Gallows is also another member of the WWE roster who spent the Mondays of his childhood watching Raw.
“I remember watching as a kid how Razor Ramon vs. the 1-2-3 played out and how excited I was when Kid won,” said Gallows. “I’ve got a lot of memories of those early Raws, especially the first main event of the show with The Undertaker vs. Damien Demento. I always thought Damien Demento was a character that never took off.
“Early in my career, I had a career called the Freakin’ Deacon that I used in developmental, and that was based off Damien Demento and what I imagined that he could have become if he evolved a little more. As I came into my teenage years, the Attitude Era was on and I felt like everybody on the show was a superstar, and we’re getting back to that, which I think is a great thing.”
4. The Return of the Undertaker and Glimpses of WrestleMania
Raw 25 did not explicitly provide any clarity for the future of The Undertaker, but sources close to WWE have informed me that ‘Taker will be wrestling at WrestleMania 34.
And why wouldn’t he?
The Undertaker is in great shape, healthy, and motivated for another ‘Mania moment. Permitting he is in the ring with either AJ Styles, Roman Reigns, or, most likely, John Cena, then ‘Taker will deliver another must-see moment at WrestleMania 34.
As for more clarity regarding the upcoming WrestleMania in New Orleans, all systems are progressing for Brock Lesnar to drop the WWE Universal title to Roman Reigns. No longer encumbered by the Intercontinental title, Reigns is now free to win the Royal Rumble, cause (another) riot in Philadelphia when he wins the Royal Rumble and goes on to main event WrestleMania for a Hogan-esque fourth straight year.
3. Shawn Michaels
The “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels took time early Monday evening to reminisce about the first Monday Night Raw.
“From the time I was 23 to now at 52 years old, I’ve lived my life and grown up on television,” said Michaels. “I have a tendency to romanticize my life with WWE, but it’s so cool that my name is synonymous with one place and one company, and that’s Vince McMahon and the WWE. They’re a part of my life and my family. There are only two men I’ve turned to for direction in my life: my father and Vince McMahon. It’s only fitting, that at 52 years old and after my father has passed away, I’m still here for Monday Night Raw.”
After Michaels retired, he briefly entertained the idea of a different career. He now lives in Florida, training the next crop of stars at WWE’s Performance Center.
“I’ve realized I have no other calling,” said a smiling Michaels. “It’s been the absolute, most fabulous life a man could live. I lived my life on Monday nights in front of the world, and it wasn’t always pretty, but it was my life.”
Raw served as the canvas for many of Michaels’ masterpieces and the foundation for his future.
“I didn’t have that kind of depth of vision in 1993,” said Michaels. “I’m glad Vince McMahon did.”
2. Austin and McMahon
The interactions between Vince McMahon and Steve Austin remain timeless.
Austin also did not speak a word, yet commanded the crowd’s attention with every move. With the exception of Hulk Hogan, who was a major draw in three different decades, there is no bigger draw in the history of the business than Austin.
Austin carried the company in its time of peril. WCW’s product was cutting edge and scorching hot in 1997, and both Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were gone from the WWE in a five-month period from November of ‘97 to March of ‘98. With the help of a talented cast, and an incredible antagonist in Vince McMahon, Austin carried the company on his back and revolutionized the entire wrestling business.
1. Finn Balor
The second-to-last segment of Raw 25 saw Triple H and DX endorse Finn Balor and The Club.
Along with the Austin-McMahon interaction, Undertaker promo, and Roman Reigns dropping the IC title, the interaction between Balor and Triple H was extremely significant. WWE’s renewed faith in Balor as a lead talent was on display as Raw drew to a conclusion.
Balor, who led NXT during its most successful run, shared that Raw marked his first trip to the Manhattan Center.
"The building has a very familiar feeling, like I’m coming home,” said Balor. “I watched episode one as a fan of Monday Night Raw back home in Ireland, and I have such clear memories of Max Moon vs. Shawn Michaels. I’m curious to ask ‘Taker about his entrance. It was so short, when he actually came on camera he was already on the ring steps. The commentary was a little out there with a local New York radio disc jockey [Rob Bartlett], which was way out there. A lot has changed in 25 years. Back then, I was a kid smiling at the TV. Now I’m smiling on it.”
The significance of the passing of the torch from The Kliq to Baylor’s Club did not go unnoticed.
“Twenty-five years ago, you had The Kliq,” said Balor. “Now you’ve got The Club. We don’t have the same heat backstage that The Kliq did, but it’s very much a real thing. We travel together and we work out together as much as I can make them work out, it’s all legit.
“At the time, 25 years ago, nobody knew 1-2-3-Kid was in The Kliq. Our 1-2-3 Kid is Curt Hawkins. Not a lot of people know that. He’s become an honorary member of The Club, and we hope his losing streak lasts forever.”
Balor is on the precipice of a major breakout in WWE, and wants WrestleMania to serve as his first masterpiece with the company.
“My road to ‘Mania started when I was six years old watching Hulk Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior, so this has been a long journey,” said Balor. “I’m right on the brink of a WrestleMania debut. Last year, I missed out due to injury, which was very bitter, especially considering because I was medically cleared but the card had been booked and there was no spot on the show.”
Balor is looking forward to the future, but not at the expense of the present. He soaked up every moment of Raw 25, and now turns his full attention to Sunday’s Royal Rumble in his conquest to become the next face of WWE.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” said Balor. “I wouldn’t change the injury, I wouldn’t change how long it took me to get to WWE, I wouldn’t change not being with The Club for so long. My path remains my path, and that’s the journey I have to go through. The goal was to perform on Raw 25, make it to Royal Rumble, and then the next Monday Night Raw. I worry too much about the present to worry about the future.”