5 Things About Monday Night Raw That Have Improved Since 1996
The reliance on the WWE eras of yesteryear is always a source of frustration. I’ve written about it on multiple occasions (including last week) and any fan of today’s current product will agree that WWE needs to look to the future more consistently rather than the past. In life, we regularly look at the past through rose-colored goggles. We’ve all had the grandparent tell us, that “back in my day….” It was always better back then. But if we really look at it, and are actually honest with ourselves, was it really that much better back then? Specifically looking at professional wrestling, at the time the New World Order was dominating wrestling, was it truly that much better?
I’ve been making my way through 1996 and 1997 on the WWE Network, watching both Raw and Nitro, and since I have always been a WWE fan at heart, the episodes of Nitro from back then are relatively foreign to me. Sure, I remember the NWO being a dominant stable, but what about the rest of the show? We are repeatedly told that the NWO changed the course of wrestling, specifically at Bash at the Beach in 1996, when Hulk Hogan turned heel and joined Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. I’ve watched a ton of episodes of Nitro, from that moment through the end of the year. This was a point when they were dominating the WWF in the ratings. To be perfectly blunt: it was garbage.
Nitro regularly in its first house featured matches that had no bearing on anything whatsoever. On the September 16th edition of Nitro, matches like Diamond Dallas Page (pre awesome diamond cutter out of nowhere, monster babyface push) vs. someone named Ice Train took place. This match was so important, WCW missed the finish. They were showing an NWO merchandise stand in the backstage area, rather than showing the finish to the match. The crossover hour match, featured Hugh Morrus vs. Brad Armstrong. The NWO was taking over Nitro and professional wrestling in general, but WCW was not taking a group stand against the evil New World Order. Instead, they were having meaningless tag matches like Ric Flair and Arn Anderson vs. Marcus Bagwell and Chris Jericho. What the hell was the point of that? Even the Nexus was booked better.
For all of the flack WCW gets when the company closed and how Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff wound up destroying the company, the television booking wasn’t exactly stellar. I realize that as I get deeper into the NWO storyline, it will (maybe) get better, that there will be a sense of urgency. The Sting black crow storyline has just begun, DDP is still a relative jobber, and while Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and Juventud Guerrera are on the show, they are just in throwaway matches that do not matter. They were all fighting each other, instead of saving the company they work for. I know we aren’t supposed to have logic in professional wrestling, but come on. In fact, none of the show actually matters. It’s all about the NWO running around and acting cool. Of course acting cool means Hollywood Hogan saying things like, “come on dudes, let’s get these guys”! Super cool Hogan, super cool.
After WrestleMania 13 in 1997, it was clear the WWF was giving Steve Austin the ball to run with. They pushed him very hard in late 1996 and he was really connecting with the fans. The best part about turning Austin into a babyface, was that his character never changed. He was the same son of a bitch, just targeting people the fans didn’t like. It was like WWF learned their lesson after their previous Diesel debacle, when they turned him into a face and took away all that was cool (think sufferin succotash Roman Reigns). As Austin’s ascendance began though, before the McMahon Corporation feud, WWF still wasn’t exactly churning. The Steve Austin/Bret Hart angle was no doubt awesome. But in a two hour Raw, to have matches like Tiger Ali Singh vs. Salvatore Sincere and Rockabilly vs. Jesse James (aka the battle of the New Age Outlaws) take place just shows you how lost the company was. Even announcer Vince McMahon sounds bored (although the main event of this April 21, 1997 episode is Triple H vs. Undertaker).
The past isn’t always the golden age that we personify it to be. It had plenty of unwatchable crap, just like today does. The formula may be different (no there isn’t a 15 minute repetitive promo to open every show), but there was still as much to complain about as there is today. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and we remember professional wrestling for what it used to be, an up and down show just like it is today.
Here are five things that have changed for the better since the 1996/1997 era on Monday Night Raw:
Opening the Show With A Purpose
We all despise the long, summarizing, boring promo that we hear every week, usually from Seth Rollins. But at least the focus here is on the main eventers. Yes, Seth Rollins loses WAY too much for being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but more often than not, he is the focus of the show. Other main eventers like Roman Reigns and Randy Orton also regularly open the show, so we are not starting the first hour of a three-hour broadcast with a match like Flash Funk vs. Rockabilly or Brad Armstrong vs. Jim Duggan. Setting up a show’s direction, even like last Monday’s Authority promo, where they laid out that all of the winners from the night before would have an opportunity at becoming the number one contender, was effective.
The Background Set/Ring
Of course, this comes with technology and what looks best in today’s high definition age, but it’s unbelievable how far we have come on the set design for Raw. When 1997 began, Raw still used the long outdated set, with no ramp or titantron or entrance videos. We were lucky that we had theme music for every wrestler. The ring ropes were also always red, white and blue. While this was very patriotic, it just looked archaic even for 1997. Many fans want the WWE to change their current Raw set, as ever since they started filming in high definition, it’s been the same exact incarnation. I don’t disagree with this particular notion, but believe me, it’s miles better than what we used to have.
Update: As I was finishing off this column, I started the April 28, 1997 edition of Raw. This is the first episode that the ring ropes are now all red.
The announcing is…better?
I know you can’t possibly believe this, but to a certain degree the announcing is better today than it was during the time before the Jim Ross/Jerry Lawler prime years. Tony Schiavone, Eric Bischoff and their cast of color commentators in WCW tried to be louder than each other. It was seemingly impossible for Mike Tenay to properly give us information about the cruiserweights and international superstars, because Larry Zbyszko was too busy challenging wrestlers, despite being 45 years old and no longer being an actual wrestler. Over in the WWF, Vince McMahon was overhyping everything the ridiculous, and underselling things that didn’t matter. Today, it’s true that Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton don’t bother to call the moves, because they “don’t call wrestling, they tell stories”. Okay, so maybe it’s not better, but it has changed. The announcers today just seem less over the top than the 96/97 announcers did.
The Elimination of the Mid Match Interview
It’s incomprehensible now, but both WCW and the WWF would have interviews in the back or on half the screen with wrestlers that had nothing to do with the match in the ring. At times, (mainly in WCW where the NWO ruled all), the finish of the match was completely missed. This made the match in the ring seem entirely worthless and as a viewer, if the company didn’t care about the competitors in the match why should I? As much bad comedy as WWE has now, and as many channel changing inducing segments they have, they would never cut out of a wrestling match now. Yes, every winner loses a week later, and championships never mattered less, BUT the matches matter enough to show the finish and to actually feature the wrestlers on the screen.
In the Internet age, the fans are just much more aware of what is going on, both in the ring and behind the scenes. For so long, wrestling fans just took what WWE and WCW gave them. As Roman Reigns and Batista will now tell you, that just is no longer the case. WWE fans, particularly in cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, spit out if they don’t like the crap on the screen. Randy Orton and Sheamus had to deal with both jeers and worse indifference, something a wrestler like the British Bulldog or Ken Shamrock would have been much worse at. If the fans reject something, you will not get through a show without hearing about it. With the ability to have instant reactions all over social media, I would like to think we wouldn’t be stuck with a seven month, going nowhere Shawn Michaels title reign…unless of course, John Cena is due. What’s that? Cena hasn’t had the WWE Championship in over a year and is due back early next year, just in time for the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania season? Oh shit.
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