Next week, WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, celebrates its 30th anniversary with what promises to be a star-studded, three-hour spectacular. Debuting on January 11, 1993, the show has become the longest-running episodic weekly programme in US TV history, creating countless incredible moments that have entertained generations of wrestling fans.
From ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and The Rock leading the Attitude Era to the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton spearheading some Ruthless Aggression, all the way to Charlotte, Paige et al igniting a women’s revolution in the 2010s and 20s, Raw has produced unforgettable episodes across every incarnation of its three-decade lifespan.
With that in mind, here are the ten moments in WWE Raw history that have defined its run more than any other.
Bobby The Brain Heenan is denied entry…over and over (January 11, 1993)
The very first episode of Monday Night Raw also provided one of the most hilarious angles in the programme’s history, as beloved, dastardly heel commentator Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan was refused entry to the show. Never one to give up, The Brain proceeded to attempt to sneak into New York’s Manhattan Center via a variety of ridiculous disguises – most memorably including that of a fussy old lady. Heenan would depart WWE later that year, joining rivals WCW, but his legacy as one of the former’s greatest ever on-screen characters was never in doubt.
ECW invades Raw (February 24, 1997)
As Monday Night Raw’s stature grew through the 90s, so did the standing of a Philadelphia-based, hardcore wrestling promotion by the name of Extreme Championship Wrestling (formerly Eastern Championship Wrestling). Come 1997, WWE owner Vince McMahon had established a working relationship of sorts with the far smaller but much edgier company, resulting in an unforgettable episode of Raw that saw a full-scale ECW invasion take place. In front of a packed Manhattan Center, ECW tag team champs The Eliminators bumrushed the ring, took out a crew member and paved the way for owner Paul Heyman to arrive on the scene and announce that “ECW is In. The Houuuuuse!” Heyman would even join the Raw commentary team as ECW stars wrestled a match in a WWE ring for the very first time. The historic moment was a prelude for the ill-fated WCW/ECW ‘invasion’ angle four years later.
Stone Cold drives a Zamboni (September 28, 1998)
As the man who personified WWE’s Attitude Era, we could so easily have filled a list like this with 10 ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin moments alone. But which one tops them all? Austin’s first stunner on Vince McMahon? Austin vs Tyson? The beer truck? We’ve gone with the wild moment Stone Cold drove a Zamboni through the backstage Raw area and into the main arena, crashing it straight into the WWE ring before scaling the vehicle, jumping clean over waiting security guards and slapping the crap out of Mr McMahon. The unreal volume of the crowd, the uniqueness of the segment and its role in establishing that absolutely anything can happen on Monday Night Raw were all pivotal in kicking WWE’s late 90s run up a notch. It’s also notable for educating people outside of North America on what the hell a Zamboni is.
Mankind wins the Big One (January 4, 1999)
If one moment can be said to have defined WWE’s Monday Night Wars against rival promotion WCW, in which Raw was pitted against WCW’s Nitro show every Monday evening, it’s surely this. Booked in a WWE Championship match against The Corporation’s cocky leader The Rock, lovable misfit Mankind – AKA Mick Foley – seemed like a total outside bet to win the Big One. Thanks to a little help from his pals in Degeneration-X and a certain Rattlesnake, however, Mankind managed to beat the odds and land his first world title. WCW – which was broadcasting live on another channel ahead of Raw – attempted to spoil the party, with commentator Tony Schiavone revealing the result of the match in advance and sarcastically noting: “That’ll put some butts in the seats.” The jibe backfired: hundreds of thousands of fans turned Nitro off and switched immediately to Raw. Just over two years later, WCW would be out of business.
Milk-o-mania runs wild (August 20, 2001)
While 2001’s invasion angle that saw WCW and WWE wrestlers finally come to blows massively underdelivered, it wasn’t without its classic moments. Chief amongst those has to be Kurt Angle’s ‘milk bash’, which parodied ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin’s beer bash from a few years earlier by dousing the entire WCW/ECW alliance in milk. Angle even mimicked Austin’s famed beer-chugging antics, emptying two cartons of the white stuff as he sat triumphantly on top of the dairy truck he’d driven to the ring.
Lita and Trish main event Raw (December 6, 2004)
One of the things about WWE’s Attitude Era that has not aged well over the years is its depiction of women. While the company boasted some excellent female athletes in the 90s and 00s, too often they were reduced to ‘competing’ in bra and panties matches (where opponents had to literally strip each other down to their underwear to win), bikini contests and even mud wrestling. It meant that Lita and Trish Stratus becoming the first women to main event Raw in 2004 felt like a sea-change moment. Their bout for the WWE Women’s Championship was physical, fast-paced and hugely entertaining for all the right reasons, proving once and for all that the highest level of professional wrestling doesn’t need to be a wangfest. 15 years later, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Ronda Rousey would become the first women to main event Wrestlemania.
The Nexus arrives (June 7, 2010)
Following the end of the first season of NXT, essentially a WWE version of X Factor that saw emerging young superstars face off in a weekly competition to become the company’s next breakout star, all eight contestants would appear on a following episode of Raw in one of the most shocking ends to a programme in the show’s history. Invading the arena to beat down John Cena and CM Punk, attack ringside personnel and dismantle the ring itself, it was a moment absolutely no one saw coming, establishing a new, dangerous stable in the process: The Nexus.
CM Punk’s pipe bomb (June 27, 2011)
“I’d like to think that maybe this company will be better after Vince McMahon is dead. But the fact is, it’s going to be taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family.” With those words ringing out in front of an astonished Las Vegas crowd, WWE fans around the world realised that they had just seen a promo unlike anything else in Raw’s history. CM Punk’s brutal, fourth wall-shattering takedown of the company’s Chairman, his staff and the system WWE was built upon was shocking, thrilling and an instant magnet for many Attitude Era fans to begin tuning back into Raw again. While the ‘Summer Of Punk’ that followed didn’t quite meet expectations, CM Punk’s name will be forever etched in Raw history thanks to these electric, industry-shaking five minutes.
Brock Lesnar returns (April 2, 2012)
Arguably the most fearsome athlete to emerge from WWE in the 00s, Brock Lesnar had all the tools to be a decade-defining superstar after he debuted in 2002. Sadly, it’d all come to a premature end just two years later, as Lesnar decided he just wasn’t up to the intense schedule of WWE life, and fancied testing himself elsewhere. After stints in New Japan and MMA mega-promotion UFC, where Lesnar would win the UFC Heavyweight Championship, Big Brock made a stunning return to the WWE the day after Wrestlemania 28, in front of an ecstatic crowd in Miami. Striding to the ring and dismantling WWE golden boy John Cena with an F5, Lesnar reintroduced himself in some style, instantly installing himself as the baddest man in the yard.
The Festival Of Friendship (February 13, 2017)
Chris jericho and Kevin Owens’ union in 2016 and 2017 was one of the most joyful WWE angles of the modern era. Despite being heels, their daft antics and wholesome friendship delighted WWE audiences – making their eventual break-up all the more harrowing. After Jericho put on a special ‘Festival Of Friendship’ to honour his beloved pal, Kevin Owens responded by giving Jericho a present – a new version of his beloved List that had gotten over spectacularly in recent months. Sadly, it wasn’t a List Of Jericho – it was a List Of KO, and Jericho’s name was the first on there. What followed was a heartbreaking, brutal attack from Kevin Owens that Jericho later compared to the infamous Game Of Thrones Red Wedding: we knew something was coming, but we had no idea just how violent and relentless it would be.
WWE’s 30th anniversary episode of Raw airs this coming Monday, January 23.
Louder Sound – The 10 greatest moments in WWE Raw history
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January 19, 2023