Tonight is something of a television milestone, as WWE Raw will celebrate episode number 1,000. How do you celebrate such an incredible feat? By inviting basically everybody who has ever been on the program and cram in nearly 20 years of wrestling history, of course.
The guest list this evening includes former champions and crossover stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mick Foley, and Brock Lesnar, as well as pro wresting legends from previous generations (Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Mae Young, Sgt. Slaughter, Vader, Bob Backlund, and Road Warrior Animal among them). There’s also a ton of other stuff planned, like a championship match between current top-level guys John Cena and CM Punk, a wedding between Daniel Bryan and a game-changing woman named A.J., and the naming of a new General Manager of the show.
It will also be the launching pad for the program’s new three-hour format. Raw has occasionally expanded to three hours for the sake of some special events but normally clocks in at two hours. But when the show began in January of 1993, it was only an hour long. In fact, quite a bit has changed since the first program, which WWE put up on YouTube in its entirety. Go ahead and check it out below — even if you only tune in for two minutes, you’ll be shocked at how much can change over the course of 999 episodes.
Just in case you don’t have 41 minutes to spare in the middle of your Monday afternoon, here are the things that jumped out at me while taking this particular trip down wrestling’s memory lane.
The Old Song!
WWE Raw has gone through a number of different theme songs over the years — in fact, the show is debuting a new one tonight in Outasight’s “Tonight Is the Night.” That original song was pretty good and straightforward, though the best one would have to be “Thorn In Your Eye” from the Attitude Era, right? The low point for Raw’s music would have to be the middle of the aughts, when that goofy Union Underground tune about playing that funky music was replaced by Papa Roach.
The Rob Bartlett Fiasco
WWE has actually had programming on Monday nights dating back to 1985 in the form of Prime Time Wrestling, which in its most famous iteration featured fan favorites Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan riffing on various matches from various other shows. In the shift from the old formats (which also included a talk show-esque set-up with a live studio audience and a roundtable discussion show, both of which were somewhat disastrous in their execution), WWE added radio personality Rob Bartlett (then of Imus in the Morning) to spice up the booth, perhaps because he was edgier than Heenan. Bartlett didn’t last very long (he did his last show three months later), and his schtick was pretty stale even by the standards of wrestling comedy in 1993. Go ahead and check out the bit at 23:55 where Bartlett pretends to be Mike Tyson — it’s painful, and it’s not even the worst piece of comedy on the show.
Wrestling Used To Be Way, Way Goofier
Sure, the current version of WWE Raw has guys like Hornswaggle and Santino Marella running around, but the roster in 1993 stuck much closer to pro wrestling’s sideshow roots. In the clip above alone, there are appearances by freaks like Doink the Clown, Max Moon, Damien Demento, Paul Bearer, and Kamala. The Undertaker probably should have been in that list, but he’s been such a big star through thick and thin that he has clearly transcended his wacky character.
We Miss You, Sean Mooney
Mooney was another old guard guy at WWE, hosting hype shows and conducting backstage interviews during big events. He always lent a certain amount of gravitas to even the most absurd situation, and he was a great foil for comedy characters like Heenan. Mooney was also out of the company by the end of 1993, though perhaps he just had post-traumatic stress disorder from when Sgt. Slaughter kidnapped and tortured him (which was actually a story line on Prime Time Wrestling in the lead-up to The Match Made in Hell).
Some Old Things Are Better, But Not This One
It’s easy to get nostalgic for just about anything these days, but in the case of Raw, today’s version is light years better than the original. The show you’ll see tonight will have more dynamic stars, far superior matches, and an infinitely higher production value. Still, the best run of Raw remains the period between 1998 and 2000 when the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Edge and Christian, and the rest of the Attitude Era denizens turned in smashing performances week after week. Of course, if that’s what you’re into, just remember to tune in at 8 p.m. tonight on USA, because D-Generation X (Triple H, Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn) are all getting the band back together to kick the show off. And they’ve got two words for you!
Now let’s get the nostalgia going: What’s your favorite Raw memory? Personally, I’ll never forget the night that Mick Foley (then working as Mankind) won his first world championship against the Rock. The pop that Steve Austin got when he cleaned house might be the biggest I’ve ever heard.