What was once a sputtering weekly program that was losing out to its biggest competitor more so than not, Raw has become the most important television show in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment and in the history of North American professional wrestling. WWE, formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation, pushed newer and younger superstars to launch the “Attitude Era” in the 1990s through Raw, and it was that decision that helped propel the company past World Championship Wrestling in the Monday Night Wars. It is, looking back, almost hard to believe that Raw lost in the ratings to Nitro for nearly a year and a half when you remember just how bad Nitro got at the end. Yikes.
It was back in 2012 when WWE launched a DVD for what it said to be the “The Top 100 Moments in Raw History.” While it is interesting to view what the company sees as the very best of the best of its flagship program, there is, of course, no harm in disagreeing with the list put out by the WWE during the 2012 holiday season. The famous Steve Austin “Beer Bath” was undoubtedly a historic moment for WWE and for the man who became the biggest pro wrestling draw on the continent, but was it really the top moment to ever occur on an edition of Raw?
Spoiler alert: I don't think so.
From an entertainment purpose, the “Beer Bath” is, almost 16 years after the fact, a fun watch, one that makes somebody who was a teenager during the Attitude Era feel nostalgic for a time when he counted down the days and hours until a new Raw would air on television. That memory has, over the years, been surpassed, most notably by two memorable in-ring events that included the man who is seen by many to be the greatest pro wrestler to ever perform in the business. Looking back, one could make an argument that the “Beer Bath” was not even Austin's top Raw moment.
20 Triple H and Stephanie Marry
Sometimes life imitates art, after all. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were not even close friends when an on-air storyline would see the two “get married” while in Las Vegas. The “McMahon-Helmsley” era was born, but what occurred when fans weren't watching would impact World Wrestling Entertainment for years to come. The two kicked off a relationship and eventually legitimately married each other, and they now serve as “The Authority” that rules over WWE programming with an iron fist. That duo also plays a variety of roles behind the scenes in WWE.
19 Shawn Michaels vs. Montreal
Any young would-be professional wrestlers who one day wants to play heel needs to stop reading this sentence and watch the video of when Shawn Michaels made his return to the scene of the “Montreal Screwjob” crime. Michaels had the in-house crowd in the palms of his hands for nearly 15 minutes, and the Heartbreak Kid teasing a return of Bret Hart, one that was never in the cards on that particular night, nearly caused the fans in attendance to blow the roof off of the arena with their boos. That night offered another reminder that Michaels could play just about any wrestling role asked of him.
18 Eric Bischoff's WWE Debut
There was a time – close to a decade, at least – where Eric Bischoff showing up on World Wrestling Entertainment television would have been as likely as somebody walking from Cleveland across Lake Erie into Canada. The former head of World Championship Wrestling was given a chance to be an on-air performer following the death of that company, and Bischoff, to his credit, was involved in some entertaining storylines. This first few minutes in WWE were surreal to watch at the time, even more so than any defection that occurred during the Monday Night Wars.
17 1-2-3 Kid Upsets Razor Ramon
“Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation” was a popular saying used on WWF television when The Kid faced off versus Razor Ramon. An unknown to the majority of viewers tuning in on that night, The Kid seemed destined to do the job, as was usually the case for wrestlers of his status at the time, when he avoided Ramon in the corner before hitting a moonsault for what may have been, to date, the biggest upset in Raw history. Kid's WWF career was underway, and he would go on to link up with The Kliq, the New World Order and D-Generation-X.
16 Brock Lesnar Returns
It is difficult to keep such a large secret quiet in this world of Twitter and social media, but the fact that the fans in attendance were expecting Lesnar to return and crush John Cena on the Raw following WrestleMania XXVIII didn't ruin his comeback appearance. Lesnar, who had left World Wrestling Entertainment to eventually become the Ultimate Fighting Championship World Heavyweight Champion, wasted little time before laying Cena out with the F-5 to the delight of the anti-Cena crowd. While Lesnar's return was originally botched due to poor booking, the company eventually got things right and made “The Beast” the WWE Champion.
15 The YES Movement
Before Lesnar delivered his finishing move on John Cena on the Raw after WrestleMania XXVIII, fans inside of the arena, upset about the fact that their hero Daniel Bryan had been defeated in under 30 seconds the night before, hijacked the show time and time again with “Yes!” chants that had become associated with the American Dragon. While it would take some time before those running the company truly listened to their audiences, Bryan's ascent to big-time player who would be the main event of a WrestleMania program kicked off during this Raw and the match that aired once the program went off the air.
14 Bret Hart Returns
13 Y2J Debuts
Wrestlers jumped back and forth from the World Wrestling Federation to World Championship Wrestling and vice versa during the Monday Night Wars. While WCW made news with the invasion of “The Outsiders,” it was Jericho who made a flashier debut in his first appearance in WWF. Jericho was largely used as a midcard performer and not much more in WCW, but his first Raw moment was made to feel like something special. The funny thing about it, of course, is that it would be years before Jericho would rise to main event status in the WWF. Good things come to those who wait.
12 This is Your Life
The “This is your Life!” celebration of The Rock thrown by Mankind was one that went on...and on...and on, but it is one that remains the most-watched segment in the history of the Raw program. You can find a shortened version of the moment on the official WWE website, but those of you who are looking to watch the entire thing from start to finish can do so by searching Youtube for the full video. It had its funny moments, sure, but both The Rock and Mankind have participated in better promos/segments that went about half the length as did “This is your Life.”
11 The Pipe Bomb
Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment shamefully botched the “Summer of Punk” angle so beautifully executed by Ring of Honor years before CM Punk's Raw promo, but his “Pipe Bomb” on John Cena was, even though we didn't know it at the time, the beginning of the end of Punk's time with the company. Nobody, perhaps not even Punk himself, could have guessed just how miserable working in the WWE was going to make the Straightedge Superstar in the long run. Punk has since quit the company, cut another famous promo -- one that occurred on a podcast -- and linked up with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
10 Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker: WrestleMania XXVI Promo
There are videos that cause you to be interested in seeing how a feud will play out, and then there is the first hype promo for what was to be the final match of the career of Shawn Michaels. The entire story, from Michaels barely losing to the Undertaker at the previous WrestleMania, to Undertaker refusing to give the Heartbreak Kid a rematch, to Michaels causing the Undertaker to lose the World Heavyweight Championship, is brilliantly depicted in what is widely regarded as one of the best match advertisements ever put together by World Wrestling Entertainment. The match itself led to the next moment spotlighted in this piece.
9 Shawn Michaels Says Goodbye
Unlike another individual featured in this piece (more on that man later), Michaels has stayed true to his word since delivering an emotional farewell as an active wrestler following a loss to the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI. While the Heartbreak Kid has made several appearances at World Wrestling Entertainment events since his last in-ring defeat, Michaels has not again wrestled. One of the greatest in-ring performers in the history of the WWE, Michaels putting what seems to be a forever end to his wrestling career could, considering all that he achieved while with the company, be even higher on this list.
8 Beer Bath
The premise is just as ridiculous as was the execution of this angle, which is why it was pure pro wrestling gold. Steve Austin wanted to ruin a celebration that featured Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and The Rock, so Austin did what any of us would have done: He drove a beer truck down the ramp toward the ring, jumped on top of the truck, and then hosed “The Corporation” down with some ice cold Coors Light. While McMahon and the WWE have been trying to re-create this feud using different characters for well over a decade, Austin-versus-McMahon was something special and unique.
7 Pillman's Got a Gun
Brian Pillman was billed to be “The Loose Cannon” in the fall of 1996 when he was feuding with real-life friend Steve Austin. Pillman was recovering from a leg injury inside of his home when Austin threatened to attack Pillman during an episode of Raw. The immobile Pillman was in the middle of an on-air interview when, out of nowhere, he brandished a gun and said that he would “blast Austin's sorry a-- to hell!” Austin showed up to the house as promised, and, after a brief brawl outside, “Stone Cold” broke in through the back door, only to be met by Pillman pointing the pistol at him. The feed cut out while the two were “separated,” the ending of a Raw moment that was about a year before its time.
6 Foley Wins the WWF Championship
“That'll put a lot of butts in seats.” It's that famous sentence mouthed by World Championship Wrestling announcer Tony Schiavone, one he said by order of WCW Executive Producer Eric Bischoff, that turned the tide in the Monday Night Wars for good. Over half of a million television sets tuned from Nitro to Raw upon learning that Mick Foley, playing the Mankind character at the time, was going to finally win the World Wrestling Federation championship. The Mankind victory was a hit inside of the arena and for viewers watching at home, as future ratings would indicate that some never returned to WCW after that fateful evening.
5 Tyson and Austin
Some forget that the World Wrestling Federation was losing badly to World Championship Wrestling in the television ratings when the WWF swung for the fences and acquired the services of controversial boxer Mike Tyson. While Tyson signing with the WWF for a WrestleMania appearance created some buzz, it was the beginning of the on-air feud involving “Iron Mike” and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin that earned the WWF worldwide headlines. Some within WCW mocked the idea that the WWF was so desperate that it reached out to a boxer past his prime, but the move worked out even better than McMahon and company could have imagined.
4 “Bret Screwed Bret”
The ultimate irony of the Montreal Screwjob is that, by not simply doing the job on the way out to World Championship Wrestling, Bret Hart helped the World Wrestling Federation defeat WCW. That infamous Survivor Series night and the subsequent promo cut by Vince McMahon led to the creation of the “Mr. McMahon” character, one that would battle “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a feud for the ages that helped the WWF overtake WCW in Monday night television ratings. While Austin had done well to get over with crowds all on his own, McMahon allowed “Stone Cold” to reach another level.
3 Raw/Nitro Simulcast
It was the end of an era in 2001 when Shane McMahon appeared on television at the end of the final ever Nitro that was being simulcast along with that night's Raw. What was supposed to be the storyline celebration of Vince McMahon killing off World Championship Wrestling once and for all turned out to be the unofficial launch of the Invasion angle, an angle that did just about as much to kill off WCW as anybody who ever booked for the original company. The worst fears had by those on that night have since been realized, in that North American pro wrestling hasn't been the same since the WWF won the Monday Night Wars.
2 Flair vs. Triple H - Plus the Aftermath
It was in May 2003 when Ric Flair, well past his time, got one final opportunity to win a World Championship, this time against Triple H. While not a five-star classic, the match contained a few teases that Flair may pull off what would have been, in storyline, an impossible victory, but Triple H emerged victorious after hitting a Pedigree. Even more special than it was to see Flair turn back the clock was the post-match and post-Raw tribute that Triple H and other members of the locker room gave to the living legend of the business, an honor that Flair deserved.
1 Ric Flair “Retirement”
Any knowledgeable wrestling fan could have guessed that the “Nature Boy” was not hanging up his boots for good when he entered a Raw ring after losing that famous retirement match to Shawn Michaels. That night did, however, signal the end of Flair's active in-ring career, and those watching in the arena and on television hung onto every word of the man who was, in his prime, the “dirtiest player in the game.” There are wrestling heroes, wrestling legends and wrestling icons. Then, there is Ric Flair, the greatest American pro wrestler/sports entertainer that the world will ever see.