Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2023/01/23/pollocks-news-update-the-history-of-monday-night-raw/
POST IT NOTES
**Rewind-A-Raw is live at 11 p.m. ET tonight after the Raw XXX special as Wai Ting and I will get you up to date on all the news and review the show from Philadelphia. We will be live on the POST YouTube channel and feedback can be submitted on the POST Wrestling Forum.
**Wai Ting and I did a bonus show for POST Wrestling Café members on Sunday night with a review of the NJPW x NOAH event from Saturday, a reaction to the big angle between Okada and Kiyomiya, and discussed Great Muta’s final match from the NOAH card on Sunday.
**On Tuesday, it’s Rewind-A-Wai #124 covering NXT TakeOver: New York from April 2019 with the two-of-three falls match between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano for the vacant NXT Championship. We will cover the full event and the headlines from that week in 2019 that coincided with WrestleMania 35, the early days of AEW, and lots more. This event was chosen by Espresso Executive Producer Tyler Crane and will be available to all POST Wrestling Café members.
**Eric Marcotte & Phil Chertok provided a review of UFC 283 and handed out the 2022 POST MMAish Awards on Sunday with winners in all the big categories and made 2023 predictions. Categories included best fighter, best event, best fight, the comeback of the year, who they dropped the ball on, best round, best knockout, best submission, and many others.
**This Thursday, we are doing a special Watch Along for all Café members where we will watch the 1997 Royal Rumble match along with Brandon from New Jersey.
Tonight: Rewind-A-Raw with John Pollock & Wai Ting
Tuesday: Rewind-A-Wai #124: NXT TakeOver – New York (Patreon)
Tuesday: upNXT with Braden Herrington & Davie Portman
Thursday: Watch Along – 1997 Royal Rumble match with John, Wai & Brandon from N.J (Patreon)
Friday: Rewind-A-SmackDown (Patreon)
Saturday: WWE Royal Rumble POST Show with John & Wai
Saturday: The Long & Winding Royal Road with WH Park & Alan4L
Sunday: Wrestlenomics Radio
THE HISTORY OF MONDAY NIGHT RAW
WWE Raw celebrates its 30th anniversary tonight with a loaded show from the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia and the 1,548th episode.
While we will be hit over the head about Raw being the “longest-running weekly television program” tonight, it is not the case nor is it the longest-running weekly wrestling show in history but has become the show’s tagline when celebrating its longevity, which is a tremendous feat for a show that launched January 11, 1993.
Except for a five-year run on TNN/Spike TV, the home of Raw has always been the USA Network, a network with roots in professional wrestling through Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship and later, the World Wrestling Federation. An early ally of the genre was USA Network founder Kay Kaplovitz, who ran the network through 1998.
After Blanchard lost his spot at USA, it was the WWF that swooped in and launched All-American Wrestling on the network in 1983 after already having a relationship where USA had aired select matches taped at Madison Square Garden. The relationship included the addition of Tuesday Night Titans, and WWF Prime Time Wrestling, which begat Raw.
It was a slow adaptation from the weekly syndication model to a live/taped format on cable across the country, which was the future. The early home was the 1,000-seat Manhattan Center but would need to take Raw to other locales with too much product in the market to draw crowds so frequently, even with a venue of that scale.
It became the show where major matches could happen on free television with an early standout being Marty Jannetty defeating former partner Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental title and the angle involving the return of Hulk Hogan to set up WrestleMania 9.
For the Canadian audience, unless they were equipped with a satellite dish, audiences north of the border could not access the show until the New VR and TSN carried the show several years into its run.
After the launch of Monday Nitro in September 1995, the bloom was off the rose for WWF when business was down, and a hot competitor was throwing everything at them with a live weekly program on TNT. Nitro truly found its groove in early 1996 when the shows were hotter, several key names were added to the roster, a feud between Randy Savage and Ric Flair lifted business and included the reunion of Savage and Miss Elizabeth before the latter joined Flair, and it was fresh. The tactics became dirty between both sides from taped results being read on Nitro, WWF countering with Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ War Room to depict ex-WWF talent like Hogan and Savage as dinosaurs, and frequent knocks at the competitor on both shows.
WCW ran roughshod in 1996 and 1997 with the promotion already heating up prior to the arrivals of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and the advent of the New World Order. WWF struggled mightily including a $6.5 million loss in fiscal 1996-97, although WWF was still outdrawing WCW in attendance on a yearly average during this era.
Nitro expanded to two hours in May 1996 which coincided with Hall’s arrival. Raw added a second hour in early 1997 and fell into a routine of going live biweekly while Nitro remained live each week.
With the rise of Steve Austin that took hold in late 1996 through his program with Bret Hart and simmered throughout 1997, business exploded in 1998 when both companies were on fire. It was a great period for talent that had great negotiating power with a strong alternative and was an instant refresh for a character that could have grown stale in one company and popped up on the rival’s television program with a new coat of paint.
While ratings were through the roof, the money being generated for WWF’s Monday night flagship was laughable compared with the figures thrown around presently. In Sex, Lies, and Headlocks by Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham, it notes that a three-year deal signed in 1998 between the WWF and USA provided $624,000 on an ANNUAL basis for Raw. Today’s current deal for Raw has an average annual value of $265 million, which works out to $1.7 million per hour of Raw. It was not until Raw moved to Viacom that the era of wrestling benefiting from the rights fee bubble started to take shape.
Nitro remained a hot property even as creativity began to sink the company. WCW was red hot in 1998 even though WWF curbed the rating win streak in April 1998 for an episode built towards a match between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, which was the basis of the WWF boom period and the feud of the next several years.
A major turning point occurred on January 4, 1999, when a taped version of Raw saw Mick Foley win the WWF Championship from The Rock in Worcester while a live three-hour Nitro from the Georgia Dome countered with an advertised rematch between Kevin Nash and Bill Goldberg – eight days after Goldberg’s streak ended at Starrcade.
It was revealed in the January 18, 1999, edition of the Wrestling Observer that approximately 375,000 homes changed the channel from Nitro to Raw when announcer Tony Schiavone, on orders by Eric Bischoff, revealed the outcome of the Raw main event and Foley winning the championship and laughing off the notion of the beloved figure winning. Raw that night did a 5.76 rating while Nitro did a 4.96 over three hours. The Observer estimated that over the two-hour head-to-head period, nearly 12 million viewers were watching professional wrestling – while also going against the Fiesta Bowl which did a 17.18 rating.
For WWF viewers, it was the culmination of Mick Foley’s career aided by a red-hot crowd that lost its mind when Steve Austin made a dramatic return after being off television for several weeks and assisting Mankind’s title victory for the feel-good send-off. Nitro countered by delivering the catastrophic Finger Poke of Doom where Bill Goldberg was arrested on harassment charges issued by Miss Elizabeth and allowed Hulk Hogan to sub in, touch WCW Champion Kevin Nash and pin him for the title in front of 38,809 fans and a gate of $930,735.
WCW returned to the Georgia Dome in July 1999 where those same figures dropped by 35 and 36 percent respectively.
For many, that was the tide-turning moment as WWF was off to the races in 1999 and never looked back while WCW sputtered under creative chaos and was out of business fourteen months later.
On June 28, 1999, Steve Austin and The Undertaker wrestled on Raw in front of 10,721,000 viewers, which to this day, remains the most-watched pro wrestling match in cable history and the highest segment of Raw’s thirty-year history. They would come close a year later when The Rock and Shane McMahon had a steel cage match that topped 10.5 million viewers.
SmackDown was added in September 1999 after a successful pilot on the upstart UPN Network, allowing more homes to have access to the product and their first consistent network window since Saturday Night’s Main Event. It was this late into the Attitude Era that Raw was still taped on a biweekly basis with the company finally making the move to air Raw live each Monday and tape SmackDown the next night.
Raw made the jump to TNN in the fall of 2000 after battling USA Network in court and debuting on its new home on September 25, 2000. Numbers did slide on the new network but were indicative of the locomotive slowing down and not having the same cultural impact as 1999 represented, even with revenues going through the roof into 2001.
The loss of WCW and ECW were gut punches to the industry and a terrible time for talent where multiple bidders for their services had dramatically decreased. WWF botched the ready-made invasion angle, blowing through stories in record fashion and taking what could have been a several-year arc and wrapping it up within six months.
Their next shot at replicating the lost potential of WWF vs. WCW/ECW was the brand split in 2002. It did not live up to the hopes of replicating what the audience saw as “real” when the two warring companies were out for blood nor did WWF opt to present an illusion that Raw and SmackDown were separate with frequent talent popping up on the rival’s show and the business realities of promoting each other and pushing the WWF brand first and foremost.
It returned to the USA Network in 2005 after Spike TV (the re-branded TNN) publicly pulled out of talks with the WWF for renewal and left the company with little negotiating power with their home network washing their hands of the brand. It would be a stretch to say USA Network executive Bonnie Hammer “saved” the show but was another instrumental figure in the success of the series and it’s right to question what sized platform WWE would have secured if not for Hammer and USA. The new deal with USA cut WWF out of the advertising revenue, so they did take a hit moving back.
The first episode on USA was a “Homecoming” themed show from Dallas and the first of a boilerplate promotion bringing back all the legends they could find, which has become a constant over the years including tonight’s program. WWE also found itself against a new competitor in the UFC, which was Spike’s new toy, and aired a Fight Night head-to-head with Raw on October 3, 2005, where Vince McMahon attacked from the same playbook, he used in the wrestling wars. McMahon made an unsuccessful bid to hire UFC’s lead voice, Mike Goldberg away with the hopes of the broadcaster leaving the UFC high and dry. Goldberg stayed with the UFC for another eleven years and was the best decision for his career.
Over the next several years, the company was built around John Cena and was a hard transition from the peak years around Austin and The Rock while missing the boat on many talents with a narrow view of who could be a top star.
While the Owen Hart Tribute edition of Raw in May 1999 might be the most-remembered episode in Raw’s history, an ill-planned tribute for another Stampede Wrestling alumnus would be one the company would best forget.
In June 2007, Chris Benoit was found dead in his home along with his wife Nancy and son Daniel with an announcement made on the WWE website – just hours before a live edition of Raw, which in bizarre fashion, was set to feature a mock funeral for Vince McMahon. Those plans were scrapped but Raw was not. Instead, they presented a three-hour tribute show featuring many of Benoit’s classic matches and on-screen tributes by colleagues. The timeline of when the crimes committed by Benoit were known has been debated with Dave Meltzer writing the following after the Dark Side of the Ring documentary on Benoit in March 2020:
Not that this was a big part of the story, but the tribute show was brought up, and there are real questions there. The reality is that I was told, and keep in mind even being told I didn’t believe it, but I was in a state of shock and not in right mind for a few hours there, that it looked like Chris killed Nancy and Daniel and then himself before Raw went on the air and the person who told me had just heard from someone with WWE. This is before the show. But during the show, that did break on real news outlets. The talent didn’t know as the interviews were pre-taped.
The next night McMahon opened ECW on Syfy and said Benoit’s name would never be mentioned again.
In July of 2012, Raw would celebrate its 1,000th episode with another loaded-up show of past legends and shooting an angle involving The Rock and CM Punk to set up the next year’s Royal Rumble match for the WWE Championship. The episode coincided with a permanent move to the three-hour format that remains over ten years later.
The move to three hours has been panned by just about everyone from performers and employees that note how hard it is, to the fan base that continually cites it as a reason they cannot keep up and dedicate that amount of time each Monday on top of additional WWE programming, much less other readily available wrestling content. While television viewership as a whole continues to fall, one would surmise the three-hour format has sped up that process for WWE, although they have not paid for those losses, as the shows generate more revenue than were ever imaginable.
As WWE saw its media rights deals increase with a modest bump in 2014, they exploded four years later with the announcement of a new five-year deal with NBC Universal for Raw and Fox acquiring the rights to Friday Night SmackDown. Due to Endeavor shopping the UFC’s rights, it was recommended that WWE seek outside counsel to assist with their negotiations rather than retain the services of Endeavor, who could find themselves competing with their own property. So, Nick Khan, then of CAA, was enlisted to assist with the talks. The result was an average annual value of $470 million between the two programs that run through September 30, 2024.
With the eye-popping figures coming out of the last set of rights fees, it caught the attention of a wrestling fan and football executive named Tony Khan, who pitched the idea of professional wrestling to his friend and WarnerMedia executive Kevin Riley at a party in 2018. That connection and the timing of several major contracts coming due led to the arrival of All Elite Wrestling, which was formally announced in January 2019 and months later, a weekly two-hour series on TNT each Wednesday night – the first true competitor to WWE since 2001.
As Raw goes into 2023, there is more chaos and speculation stemming from Vince McMahon’s return to the company and the pending U.S. media rights deal and/or outright sale of the company, the effect either has on AEW and their own television rights negotiations and therefore, the future of the industry being defined by these respective deals.
The lifeblood of the industry is no longer live events, pay-per-views, or even stars, it’s television rights and keeping eyeballs glued to old media while extending its footprint to the emerging viewing options.
While the first episode of Raw was a 60-minute commercial for the fan at home to experience the WWF, today the commercial is the product and plenty of networks and streamers are banking on the hope that pro wrestling fans will remain creatures of habit with Mondays still designated as wrestling night in the industry.
**Dax Harwood reflected on Jay Briscoe and how close they became over the past year:
**Raw should do one of its largest audiences of the year for a stacked show built around the 30th anniversary of the program. The only shows you would expect to be in the same range are the episodes following Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, which are traditionally among the largest each year unless there is an unforeseen event that spikes the number. The Wells Fargo Arena will be packed with over 13,000 tickets out as of several days ago with only a few hundred remaining. The following matches and segments have been announced:
*The Trial of Sami Zayn – this is in place of the original Bloodline segment that was to involve multiple generations of the family
*United States Championship: Austin Theory © vs. Bobby Lashley
*Steel Cage Match: Becky Lynch vs. Bayley
*Raw Tag Team Championship: The Usos © vs. Damian Priest & Dominik Mysterio
*Advertised to appear: Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kurt Angle, The Bella Twins, Madusa, Road Dogg, Sean Waltman, Diamond Dallas Page, Jimmy Hart, Jerry Lawler, The Godfather, Teddy Long, Ted DiBiase, Mike Rotunda, and Teddy Long
**New Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH each ran Yokohama Arena over the weekend. The first night saw the second year in a row where New Japan and NOAH talent squared off including an LIJ vs. KONGOH series of singles matches. It was highlighted by Shingo Takagi beating Katsuhiko Nakajima in an outstanding match along with a major angle involving Kazuchika Okada and Kaito Kiyomiya.
The two promotion’s lead champions staged a recreation of an incident involving Akira Maeda kicking Riki Choshu in the face in November 1987 which eventually, led to Maeda leaving the company and launching the second incarnation of the UWF. The scene on Saturday had a level of intensity and danger that few angles have generated in years that completely compensated for a non-finish and not delivering the match advertised. They are scheduled for the big singles match on 2/21 at Tokyo Dome and come be a generational rivalry among the companies stars for years to come. It is the most significant event of Kiyomiya’s young career and added a much-needed feeling of legitimacy and toughness that correlates so well with the audience. For his part, Okada could have given more and frankly, I cannot envision many top stars and companies like New Japan offering up a spot where a mistimed step could lead to your company’s champion breaking his orbital bone. There was a huge level of trust placed on Kiyomiya, who was still delivering a blow to the head, which has its problems, but hitting him in the brow to bust Okada open hard way similar to Harley Race using his knuckle to generate the same type of wound in that spot.
The first night at Yokohama Arena saw New Japan draw 5,533, which is down from last year’s New Japan vs. NOAH card in the same building that drew 7,077. It should be a bit disappointing that this year’s show was down given the push of singles matches this year. However, you had two major shows in the arena on back-to-back nights and clearly, the NOAH card promoted around the final Great Muta match was the larger attraction by drawing 8,433. While NOAH had the larger show, you still had 14,000 people over two nights in the same building and it’s the latest confirmation of the Muto retirement tour being a big hit for NOAH and increasing the ceiling of who well the final match does next month at the Tokyo Dome, which is a fairly loaded card involving all the major promotions sending talent.
**Kazuchika Okada and Kaito Kiyomiya will each have separate title defenses before their meeting on 2/21. Okada defends the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against Shingo Takagi on 2/11 in Osaka at Edion Arena, and the next day, Kiyomiya defends the GHC Heavyweight Championship against Jack Morris in the same venue in Osaka. While either title changing is unlikely, the inter-promotional match may add skepticism regarding one side not wanting their champion to lose and taking the belt off either, though I don’t suspect it, nor would you assume a clean finish in the first of likely several matches between Okada and Kiyomiya.
**Former WWE Magazine Brian Solomon shared a story involving Shane Helms’ brief push in 2003. After Hurricane and The Rock displayed tremendous chemistry on camera, they had a No Disqualification match where Steve Austin distracted The Rock and led to Hurricane winning with a roll-up. Without consulting the company or the creative team, the magazine department wanted to capitalize and put Hurricane on the next cover of the magazine. For whatever reason, right as the issue was about to come out, they had Triple H beat The Hurricane on Raw on the night after WrestleMania 19, which Solomon felt was done in spite.
**AEW Dark Elevation is streaming at 7 p.m. ET with taped matches from Fresno including Alex Reynolds, John Silver & Evil Uno vs. Ryan Nemeth, Serpentico & Peter Avalon, The Butcher & The Blade vs. Richie Slade & David McCallion, Ari Daivari & Tony Nese vs. Big Fonz & Jordan Cruz, Skye Blue vs. Zoe Dubois, Rush & Preston Vance vs. Papacito Negro & Papacito Blanco, and Emi Sakura vs. Brooke Havok.
**The Undertaker goes sneaker shopping with Complex.
**MLW has added a match between John Hennigan and Willie Mack for its SuperFight card this Saturday at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia.
**The WWE stock closed at $88.40 on Monday.
**Jose Aldo was the first fighter announced for the UFC’s Hall of Fame class for 2023. Aldo is a shoo-in for any MMA Hall of Fame as the dominant featherweight in his era going from the WEC into the UFC and going unbeaten for nearly ten years. He entered the WEC at the age of 21 with a 10-1 record and ran through five opponents within one year including an eight-second stoppage of Cub Swanson to earn a title fight against then-champion Mike Thomas Brown, who he finished in November 2009. Aldo and WEC poster boy Urijah Faber headlined the first and only pay-per-view in WEC with Aldo retaining the title over five rounds and destroying the legs of Faber in the process as Aldo became famous for his leg kicks. Aldo went to the UFC the next year and made defenses against Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes twice, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, and Ricardo Lamas before the knockout loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 194 in December 2015. He stayed at featherweight for the next several years and still beat quality opposition but dropped back-to-back fights to Max Holloway and his final fight in the division was a decision loss to Alexander Volkanovski. Aldo did the unthinkable and cut down to bantamweight (he had a notorious tough weight cut getting to 145 pounds) and reinvented himself. Despite losing to Marlon Moraes by split decision, he was still given a title fight against Petr Yan and lost by TKO in the summer of 2020. He rebounded with wins against Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font until losing by a decision to Merab Dvalishvili, which ended up being his last fight at UFC 278 last summer. Aldo is going to try boxing and is expected to fight in a few weeks in Brazil.
**There is no UFC event this weekend with a rare weekend off. The promotion resumes its schedule on 2/4 with a late-night Fight Night card that was originally targeted to take place in South Korea. The main card will air at 1 a.m. ET late Saturday night and is headlined by a heavyweight fight between Derrick Lewis and Serghei Spivak from the Apex in Las Vegas.
**Sage Northcutt is returning to fight in May for ONE Championship. Several years ago, Northcutt was a major prospect that the UFC was heavily promoting but left the promotion after his contract expired. He had one fight with ONE in May 2019 where he moved up to middleweight and was greatly outmatched against Cosmo Alexandre, where Northcutt was knocked out in the first round and has not fought since. SI.com reports that the 26-year-old will fight on 5/5 when ONE holds its first card in the U.S. with ONE on Prime Video 10 in Broomfield, Colorado. Northcutt will fight Ahmed Mujtaba (10-2) in a lightweight fight. Mujtaba is coming off back-to-back first-round stoppage victories and last competed in November where he submitted Abraao Amorim.
ON THIS DATE
After holding the title for less than a month, the Iron Sheik lost the WWF Championship to Hulk Hogan at Madison Square Garden in 1984. Iron Sheik had just ended the legendary reign of Bob Backlund to serve as the transitional champion to Hogan, who would spearhead the national expansion and keep the title for four years.
The Royal Rumble took place in Madison Square Garden in 2000 highlighted by the Street Fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack which was many people’s match of the year. The 30-man Rumble was won by The Rock, although saw an errant finish where Rock’s feet hit the floor by mistake, which was woven into a story with the Big Show over the next month. The show featured a Tables match between The Hardys and The Dudley Boyz, as well as the debut of Tazz:
NJPW x NOAH: Wrestle Kingdom 17 & Great Muta Final Bye-Bye
John Pollock & Wai Ting review Wrestle Kingdom 17 in Yokohama Arena: NJPW x NOAH and discuss Keiji Muto’s final match as The Great Muta.
Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo talk about the latest interview with Nick Khan about the return of Vince McMahon and the potential sale of the company, Vince makes a legal settlement with Rita Chatterton, Bushiroad disclosures on Stardom and New Japan, and more.
UFC 282 POST SHOW
Phil Chertok and Eric Marcotte are back to review UFC 283 including Glover Teixeira vs. Jamahal Hill and Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno for the Flyweight title.
John Pollock & Wai Ting chat about updates on the Pugh family, Vince McMahon’s settlement, Power Slap ratings, and reviews of SD & Rampage.
THE WELLNESS POLICY: Anxiety (w/ Matt Halpern)
Wai Ting, Jordan Goodman, and Neal Flanagan were joined by special guest Matt Halpern of the progressive metal band Periphery to discuss anxiety, what it is, and how it differs from the day-to-day worries and stresses of life.
John Pollock & Wai Ting open the show by discussing the tragic death of Jay Briscoe at the age of 38. Plus, a review of AEW Dynamite.
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