Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Revisiting the May 17, 1993 Episode of Monday Night Raw!

The Kid upsets Razor Ramon, Yokozuna squashes Kamala and Marty Jannetty shows up out of nowhere to challenge Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Championship!

By: Jimbo X


I’ve already written about this — and recently — but it’s kind of hard to overstate just how significant Monday Night Raw was when the program first launched in 1993. Yes, today, Raw is pretty much the inverse of must-see-TV, but back in the day, it was essential viewing for any self-respecting pro wrestling fan.

Needless to say, the program got off to a hot start, with a stellar Ric Flair/Mr. Perfect “loser leaves town” on the docket within weeks of Raw hitting the airwaves. Now, I’d be a lying sack of shit if I told you every week had top-tier ‘rasslin of such a caliber. In fact, a lot of weeks you had sheer dookie like Razor Ramon squashing Ross Greenberg and Typhoon flattening probable drug addicts like L.A. Gore buttressed in between disappointing “dream” matches like Bob Backlund vs. Papa Shango and The Headhunters vs. The Nasty Boys. Oh, by the way, all of that stuff transpired on just ONE episode from March ‘93.

Shameless squash matches and hyper-condensed bait-and-switch TV title bouts aside, the early, early months of Raw were still pretty damn entertaining, and every now and then, you actually got an episode with a genuinely excellent main event. And few episodes demonstrate the totalistic greatness of year one Raw quite like the one that aired on the night of May 17, 1993 — and for a multitude of reasons. 

And hey, what do you know, I’ve got an old ass taped-off-the-USA-network copy of the episode from the very night it first aired right here in front of me! So how about we dust the VHS cassette off, wedge it inside our trusty Sanyo video player and hop right into the action, why don’t we?

Complete with spring-loaded Stephanie McMahon deflowering action!

Alright, we are coming to you LIVE from the Manhattan Center in NYC, where the triumvirate of Vince McMahon, Bobby Heenan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage are calling the action. Savage talks about how some of his best friends were at the Special Olympics, and you can just TELL Heenan is doing everything he can to keep from making a retard joke. 

Then we revisit last week's episode of Raw, where Shawn Michaels got assailed by Mr. Perfect at a meet and greet. I mean these motherfuckers were getting INTO it, complete with Perfect shoot snapmaring Micheals onto the hood of a car in an obvious attempt to LITERALLY shatter that fucker's windshield. Of course, a buncha' suits have to pull them apart as the fans hoot and holler. Then we cut it to Lord Alfred Hayes, who says you will not BELIEVE who is in the building tonight in disguise. Huh, I wonder what he could possibly be alluding to?

Our first match of the evening pits the Smoking Gunns against the tag team of Glenn Ruth and Tony Vajra. LOL at Heenan accusing the Gunns of bringing sawed-off shotguns into the building. It's Bart and Vajra to begin. Ruth and Billy are quickly tagged in after some hip tosses and Billy hits him with a fuckin' SLING BLADE. Ruth takes a double Russian leg sweep and Macho Man says the only exercise Heenan gets is "jumping to conclusions." Cue Vince McMahon's lame fake laugh. Bart hits Ruth with a drop toe hold and Billy elbow drops that jobber nigga. Billy hits Glenn with a suplex and Bart is tagged in. Billy Gunn lands a leg drop on Ruth's arm and Bart does the same. Billy is tagged in and he hits Ruth with a powerslam. Bart is tagged in and Billy alley-oops Ruth over to Bart, who promptly piledrives his no-name ass for a three-count. [**]

We do a preview for "WWF Mania" hosted by Todd Pennengill, who advises viewers to brush their teeth before watching it, because it comes on at like 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Then we cut to Vinny Mac, who is in the ring to interview the reigning, defending Intercontinental Champ Shawn Michaels. LOL at the fans chanting "SHAWN IS GAY," to which Heenan replies "listen to that, they're saying Shawn is GREAT." Michaels talks about beating Hacksaw Jim Duggan in a lumberjack match and how much better he is than Mr. Perfect and Vince accuses him of being a "reluctant defending champion." Michaels says he'll defend the belt against anybody, anywhere ... which draws some guy in a hoodie to the ring. Oh shit, it's MARTY JANETTY! He asks Micheals if he's really a man of his word and demands he gets a crack at the IC title TONIGHT. Vince makes the bout official despite Michaels protestations, and that's our cue for commercial break number one.

After a teaser for the USA movie of the week A Case For Murder, we return to the ring. Up next, it's Razor Ramon going toe-to-toe with "The Kid," who some of you might know better as Sean "X-Pac" Waltman. Razor flicks a toothpick in The Kid's eye and quickly shoves him to the mat. Razor slaps the yellow off The Kid's teeth and follows suit with a nasty knife edge chop. Ramon rag dolls The Kid halfway across the ring and follows suit with an abdominal stretch. Ramon hits a fallaway slam but eats nothing but turnpost. Ever the opportunist, The Kid quickly climbs the top rope and hits a fuckin' picture-perfect moonsault for a quick 1, 2, 3. You have to remember, "jobbers" like The Kid NEVER beat top-tier wrestlers like Razor on TV, so at the time, this was a HUGE fuckin' upset and a HUGE fuckin' deal. The fans chant "loser" at Ramon as The Kid makes a fast break for the locker room and we head to commercial break number two. [**]

Remember, this was when flippy anorexic wrestlers weren't normally allowed to win anything.

Now it's time for "The Native American" Tatanka to take on Scott Taylor. Yep, the future Scotty 2 Hotty himself, folks. Tatanka hits Taylor with a clothesline and a big back body drop. Scott gets launched over the top rope and Tatanka skulls him with a flying Tomahawk Chop. "He's on the warpath, no doubt about it," Savage remarks. Tatanka drops Taylor with another chop and Heenan goes off on a long tangent about toilet paper that I don't think even has a punchline. Tatanka with more knife edge chops and a scoop slam. The fans are doing the old "Tomahawk Chop" chant as Tatanka hip tosses Taylor like a pale face piece of shit. Scott finally starts to get some offense in, just in time for Tatanka to start hopping around the ring and Indian-ing around. He quickly hits Taylor with a Samoan Drop and yep, that'll be the finish. I had to do a quick Google search to see what the technical name for that move was: believe it or not, they actually called it "The End Of The Trail." Like, The Trail of Tears, where all the Indians died and shit? Fuck, that's like calling Goldberg's finisher "The Final Solution," isn't it? Speaking of Hitler, Tatanka bids the fans farewell with no less than FOUR Sieg Heil salutes, which I suppose mean something different in Lakota culture ... or DO THEY? [**]

Now we throw it to Mean Gene Okerlund, who pimps the upcoming King of the Ring PPV. "These guys make Carl Lewis look slow!" he remarks. Yeah, nobody under the age of 35 is going to get that one. The main event for that one, of course, if Hogan vs. Yokozuna in a WM9 rematch. Then Mean Gene says the Sensational Sherri will be his special guest for that week's episode of All American Wrestling, at which point Savage asks him to be on the lookout for a "sunset flip." 

Next on the docket, we've got a match I NEVER knew I needed: Kamala versus fuckin' YOKOZUNA. Holy shit, how can you NOT love a match where Kamala is playing the undersized babyface for a change? But first, we need to watch an Icopro ad with Tatanka, for some reason. OK, we're back. Yoko is greeted by two geishas with a bouquet of roses as soon as he gets into the ring. Kamala is TOTALLY playing against type, actually looking terrified of his larger opponent. Naturally, they start off the match by charing at each other like rhinoceri, with the fans going APE SHIT as Kamala lands a series of chops on Yoko. The Japaheeno rakes his eyes and gets a headbutt in before landing an XXXXL leg drop. Yoko with more chops, with Kamala getting tripped up by Mr. Fuji just long enough so that Yoko can hit him with a Yakuza kick and ass splash him in the corner. Yokozuna then hits the Banzai Drop, with both Heenan and Savage stating that Kamala isn't smart enough to play possum. You know, because he's black and stuff. OK, they didn't say that last part, but you know that's what they REALLY meant here. Well, you shouldn't have expected a 20-minute epic there, but for what it was, it wasn't too shabby. I'd feel alright giving it a [**] rating, personally.

Sure, it may look like Tatanka's saluting Hitler. But it's actually a Lakota Tribe hand signal that means "Jews? Get in THAT line right over there."

We get an ad for All American Wrestling and Heenan says he's worried that Sherri might propose to him. And that's our cue for the main event, folks, as Shawn Michaels makes his way ringside. 

Marty comes out to the old Rockers theme and there's a collar-and-elbow tie-up right out the gate. Michaels slams Marty into the turnbuckle pad a couple of times and Jannety almost catches him with a roll-up. There's a buncha' leapfrogs and Marty almost scores ANOTHER flash pin with a sunset flip. Marty works a side headlock and drops Michaels with a clothesline over the top rope. He follows suit with a sliding dropkick and a great-looking plancha to the outside. Marty tosses Shawn back into the ring and Micheals eats a flying headscissors for dos. The fans are clearly behind Marty tonight at the Manhattan Center. Shawn escapes but whiffs on an elbow drop. Janetty with a back body drop and Michaels does the old Ric Flair tumbleweed spot on a turnbuckle bump. Michaels grabs his belt and starts heading back to the locker room, only to be cut off halfway by Mr. Perfect. Ah man, that is EXQUISITE timing right there. We return from commercial break and Janetty continues to whup Michaels' ass. Shawn catches his former tag team partner with a stun gun on the ropes, followed by a blatant choke until the ref breaks it up. Shawn with some punches in bunches in the corner, then he starts choking Marty with his boot. Shawn hits Marty with the old "flying ballsack to the back of your head while your jaw is on the middle rope" spot and follows suit with a snapmare/rear chinlock combo. Michaels hits Janetty with a dropkick, then Marty slingshots Shawn into the turnbuckle post. Shawn gets a shoulder up at 2.99999. Jannety hits a neckbreaker and a flying elbow off the ropes. Marty connects on a powerslam for yet another 2.9999999 count. Marty climbs the top rope and hits a flying crossbody for yet ANOTHER 2.9999999. There is a GREAT counter sequence where the two trade near falls and Michaels drops Janetty with a superkick. He decides to jaw with Perfect instead of going for the pin. Perfect tosses his towel at Michaels, which gives Marty JUST enough time to sneak up behind Shawn and get the flash roll-up for the three-count AND the Intercontinental title. We have a quick promo for that old cat-themed horror movie Strays and a GREAT commercial for the Hasbro WWF action figures, and following one final, lingering shot of Perfect's towel in the middle of the ring, it's a fade-to-black.

I mean, shouldn't it technically be a submission win for Michaels since Jannetty's cornerman threw in the towel?

I could be mistaken here, but I’m fairly certain that episode represented the first official title switch in Raw history. And even if it isn’t, that main event was still absolutely fabulous, a [****] caliber affair that gave you about as much hot and heavy pseudo-cruiserweight action as you were going to get out of the WWF at that point in time. Eleven minutes is hardly a surfeit of time to cobble together a top notch championship-level contest, but I’ll be a monkey's uncle if Shawn and Marty didn’t make the most of every second, in turn giving us one of the most memorable moments of Raw’s first year on the boob tube.

But it wasn’t just the main event that made this particular episode so great. With barely 45 minutes of actual airwave time, they managed to sneak in a squash match that immediately established The Smoking  Gunns as legitimate threat for the WWF Tag Team Championship, got Yokozuna over big time as an unprecedented monster heel by having him fuckin’ wreck a wrestler who, at one time, was considered the promotion’s ultimate unprecedented monster heel, and if that wasn’t enough? They swerved the smarks good by having a virtual no-name lightweight upset a soon-to-be IC title holder, in turn kickstarting one of the more underappreciated WWF feuds of the early to mid 1990s. And, even better, all of that was hardly anything more than a Trojan horse to get you pumped for the inaugural King of the Ring PPV event — so unlike today’s Raw, this episode actually left you craving MORE wrestling product instead of less of it.

Going back and watching some of these top-tier episodes of Raw from ‘93, it’s abundantly clear to me just how valuable the whole “less is more” approach is when it comes to pro wrestling television. You certainly don’t need four hours of TV time a week to set up consumer demand for the latest and greatest PPV spectacular, and keeping the programming block so light pretty much requires the writers to trim out as much excess as possible. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the COVID era of professional wrestling television, it’s that NOBODY wins when TV writers are asked to fill up time simply for the sake of filling up time.

Perhaps this episode of Raw in particular felt a little rushed and unwieldy. But that’s not exactly a bad thing, though. That fast, frenetic pace gives the show a certain energy and atmosphere to it, like the entire program  is the cable TV equivalent of an ambulance going 90 miles per hour against traffic. The thrill, to some extent, is just waiting for the inevitable derailment — and if that feels counterproductive to you, feel free to stall yourself behind a slow-moving train for 20 minutes and tell me which experience is preferable

Early to mid 1990s WWF programming is the epitome of “hit and miss,” but to me, there’s no denying that this particular episode of Monday Night Raw was a home run shot if there ever was one. Even if the bulk of the matches were made-for-television ass stompings, you still walked away with a sense that the one-sided pummelings had some gravity to them, and once you factor in the always hilarious musings from Bobby Heenan — not to mention the impossible to ignore ‘90s nostalgia and the refreshing crassness and crudeness of the Manhattan Center crowd — it’s pretty hard to not be impressed and entertained by the episode from start to finish. 

If you’ve got about 45 minutes to spare, you could certainly find worse ways to squander your freetime. After all — you could be watching a 2021 episode of Monday Night Raw instead, couldn’t you?


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