Well folks, it is getting to be late in September which means for mainstream television shows it is the time for season premieres and shocking plot twists. This is known as the ‘Fall Sweeps’ and to my knowledge is one of the most profitable times of the year of television ad agencies. Right after summer’s end lots are glued to their sets (or streaming on demand) to see their favourite shows close one chapter or maybe even begin another. WWE’s Raw and Smackdown are wise to this and like to pull out some big surprises during this time of the year. One way they used to do this was producing endings of the show that left you wanting more, delivered on a big promise or left the viewer in suspense for the next week.
I will argue that WWE television (with a few exceptions) hasn’t given off that thrill in a long time. What I mean is that at the end of the flagship show Monday Night RAW that ‘must-see’ urgency from week to week just isn’t there. Some of this can be attributed to streaming and Youtube to accompany cable and some of it can fall on the fact that they don’t have any head-to-head competition in their field on that said night. Some fans and insiders pine for the days of the ‘Attitude era’ with all of its action and surprises. I will present a list that shows the company can still produce these moments no matter what era they are in. Whether its Golden, Attitude, PG or the Digital Aage a good ending is a good ending and nothing will change that. For those of you who watched the Sept. 21st edition of RAW (I only saw the aftermaths and reviews….yikes!!) I will produce this list to help you forget that mess of a show and focus on when this program got it right. I will present my twenty favourite Raw endings from 1997-2019.
Before I reveal the list I understand that I may be omitting some very classic moments that happened at the end of the show. I did not have the time to go back and check out every RAW episode to pan out this list. I’m not that much of a completist so this is from my own memory bank. Also I have disqualified full matches and certain segments I have talked about at length in past edition of The Grand Slam (ie: The Pipe-Bomb). I wanted to focus on the moments that captivated us right before signing off the air. This list is presented in chronological order based on year, not rank….
March 1997 – The Hitman Erupts
Before Austin and the Montreal Screw-job I believe this is the segment where the Mr. McMahon character was born. After unfairly losing his WWE championship weeks earlier Bret Hart was in a downward spiral. The final RAW before ‘Mania 13 had him fighting the champion Syd in a cage. The one man he thought he could trust (The Undertaker) ended up costing him the match and this was more than he could take and this is where the fun begins…
Vince comes from the announce booth to interview Bret and before the question fully leaves Vince’s lips Bret shoves him to the ground and steals the mic. He then goes on a profanity laced tirade that longtime fans of the Hitman didn’t comprehend was even possible. He had been the vanilla babyface but now had totally lost his cool and arguably his integrity. This leads to a crazy brawl to finish the show with leading into Mania.
Not only was the best part of this the quick and spontaneous nature of the outburst (that nobody saw coming) it was Vince’s selling. Outside of the ring he looks incensed and if you look close enough genuinely heartbroken. This was his longtime employee, confidant and friend who just humiliated him on camera. The inmates were about to run the asylum and the seeds of the Mr. McMahon character are born in order to put an end to it months before we even realize it. Laugh out loud moment in the brawl when Bret punches out a by-stander and Vince yells in commentary ‘He just decked Hall of Fame Pat Patterson!! That dirty-no-good-son-of-a..’….awesome spontaneous foreshadowing indeed as both men show sides of their personas on camera which had remained hidden for a long time.
January 1998 – Tyson / Austin
This segment was the moment the Austin / McMahon feud was truly born. After being in a press box during the Royal Rumble, Iron Mike Tyson with entourage in tow makes his first appearance in a WWE Ring. Vince is acting like the slimily politician who is setting up the perfect PR stunt. In true boxing / MMA fashion Austin crashes the party and all hell breaks loose. Not only does Austin look super badass by standing up to the ‘baddest man on the planet’ but everyone does an awesome job in this pull apart without making either man look weak. This segment gained mainstream media attention (it’s original goal) and was a major determining factor in the turning of the tides of the Monday Night War.
Once again Vince yelling and spitting at Austin ‘You ruined it!’ is beyond priceless and adds more depth to the segment and their eventual feud moving forward which would determine eventual victory of the Monday Night War. Another funny and bizarre moment is when Vince asks Tyson who is favourite wrestler was he screams ‘Bruno Sammartino’ (which is legit) and Vince does not look impressed as both parties were estranged during the Attitude Era and probably wanted no mention of his name whatsoever. Gonna tell Iron Mike what he can say? Didn’t think so!
March 1998 – New Outlaws In Town
The RAW after WMXIV was key and had some memorable moments. The crowd was white hot and provided an amazing backdrop to the opening segment of Vince presenting Austin with the belt. But another major shift happened on this show that culminated at the end of the main event, which was Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie vs. The New Age Outlaws in a steel cage.
Shawn Michaels injured his back and was out of action indefinitely. This left a major void in the upper card of the WWE. Earlier in the show HHH had a career defining promo when he became the new leader of D-X and brought back Sean Waltman as X-Pac who had just defected from WCW. If that wasn’t shocking enough they would come in and beat down old Cactus and Charlie to officially announce the once again Tag Champion New Age Outlaws were rounding out the new D-X.
This version of D-X would get so over they would turn face that summer and completely take the business by storm. This post-match beatdown which brought the group together was one of those happenings in the right place at the right time with the right execution.
January 1999 – That’ll put butts in seats
This was taped in late December and aired in early January and at that point in time it was a no-brainer that Rock & Austin would headline Wrestlemania. Steve was also hurting and needed to recoup which brings in Mick Foley.
Foley and the current champ The Rock had worked so well together and kept the ratings afloat that they feuded while Austin could heal up some injuries and the show didn’t miss a beat. In this show Mankind was Foley’s current persona and was this lovable loser presented as a tremendous underdog. Everything got thrown at him that evening and it was teased all night that Austin was not at RAW.
But in the throes of the main event it looked like Mick was going to get screwed then the glass shatters and the Worcester, MA crowd explodes with one of the craziest pops ever seen in the Monday Night War. He costs Rock the title to enhance their feud and Mick has his moment in the sun being paraded on the shoulders of D-X. One of the most talked about moments in the shows history and the true downfall of the competition. Since this show was taped Eric Bischoff ordered Tony Schiavone to ‘spoil’ the results on the air and insult Mick in the process by saying the title change ‘outta put butts in seats’….the majority of the fans watching WCW changed the channel and the rest is history….Eric Bischoff’s equivalent of the battle of Waterloo? I think so
November 1999 – I now pronounce you….
Looking back on this with a more mature pair of eyes this gets dark, real dark. This segment alludes to potential ‘date-rape’ and God knows what else but I impartially have to admit in the throes of the Attitude Era it played out perfectly.
Stephanie McMahon was going to marry Test and while an entire episode of RAW built up to the wedding you knew something was going to go wrong. But nobody saw HHH crashing the party and showing a video of him marrying Stephanie whom he ‘drugged unconscious’ at a drive-by chapel in Las Vegas. No…I am not making this up. It is absurd beyond belief and kind of icky looking back on it…not something you can get away with in 2020 but the execution and the players involved all played their roles perfectly and after all it got people talking.
HHH and Stephanie would alter date in real life (after doing it on-screen for a while), get hitched up and make McMahon grandkids…I wonder how they explained this segment to them? As for Test….the late Andrew Martin (may he rest in peace) swiftly moved down the card and never even got a big blowoff match with HHH….insanity…but the long term implications of this angle are still felt today
January 2001 – Time To Play The Game
In the career retrospective of these warrior Hall-Of Famers, it amazes me that more people don’t talk about this RAW main event between Kurt Angle and Steve Austin. This is when Angle was champ and for the first RAW of the year they have one hell of a competitive match. It would hold up to be one of the finest TV matches of that year but what happened after was just as awesome.
HHH had been off television for a few weeks and would run in to end this match in a DQ. Normally that is kind of lame but Hunter would lay an epic beat down on Austin that would lead him to towering over him at the announce table. The whole segment was great and this was a great way to end it and build hit for their incredible and ultra-violent 3 Stages of Hell match a month later. I also believe this is the first time Hunter debuted ‘The Game’ by Motorhead.
March 2001 – The Prodigal Son
Instead of WCW’s usual spring-break show they were roped into a simulcast with WWE because….WWE now owned them. The whole show was surreal and was the go-home show for Wrestlemania X-7.
It’s still fun to watch Vince cut that maniacal promo on both telecasts to only see his own son Shane come out to say he bought WCW from right under his nose. Vince looks like he is going to lose his steak dinner and was a nice addition to building heat into their WM match. With a cool beginning this angle did not end so well but that’s another writing for another day.
November 2001 – ‘We’re partners!’
I mentioned how the WCW purchase ended up being a train wreck in this year’s storylines. One of the big reasons is that the company’s big stars smartly sat at home and waited out their big-pay guaranteed contracts.
But in Charlotte, NC after seeing an unexpected return of Jerry Lawler and some other weirdness the first man to break that mould would be none other than the Nature Boy. The storyline being that Vince & Ric now owned the company 50/50 and would look after RAW and Smackdown respectively. This angle was fun for a while and fizzled out in mid 2002 but this intro to Ric was never to be forgotten.
March 2005 – Thumbs up, thumbs down
Any wrestling fan with half a brain knew that when Batista won the Royal Rumble and would get to choose which champion to fight at Wrestlemania 21 that he would choose his leader in Evolution, HHH. With that being said this segment played out to perfection and is still memorable to this day.
In some quite pathetic segments of Ric and Hunter trying to manipulate the Animal into choosing the Smackdown title shot Big Dave roped them in and in a contract signing segment teased it and then went to thumbs down…which was from the movie Gladiator and was a nuance Dave did before delivering his finisher the Batista Bomb. Ric and Hunter’s faces on the thumbs down are priceless and Hunter takes a nasty Batista Bomb through the table and Ric is incensed. Batista was just connecting with the crowd with his cool and explosive physical charisma and they ate this up…sometimes the predictable route is the way to go after all.
July 2005 – American super-kick
July 4, 2005 was not a very good episode of Monday Night RAW. In fact most episodes that take place on a holiday are kind of always in cruise control. In the American spirit Hogan would team up with HBK for the first time and beat Muhammad Hassan and I forget who else…the crowd was hot for it but after sitting through a lackluster show at home it was painfully predictable.
The obvious team won and Michaels joined Hogan for the infamous posedown then all of a sudden….bang!!! Sweet chin music out of nowhere! Hallelujah, this segment had been saved…the crowd was stunned and Michaels looked over Hogan without moving a muscle…it was an eerie way to end a show that almost turned out to be a complete disaster…this would lead to their epic match at Summerslam.
November 2007 – The answer is the code…save us
Randy Orton was celebrating his championship run and a long distance runner was literally running a torch (olympic style) into the arena…this was lame but kind of funny at the same time….just not what you want in a main event segment…then the torchbearer gets clotheslined backstage by a very familiar physique that sticks a pose…then the Titantron shows a culmination of random computer-generated messages from previous weeks that turns into Saveus.Y2J…..
Jericho is back with a new look to thundering applause and he punks out Randy Orton to make a very memorable return after a two year hiatus. This version of Jericho would fizz out in the ensuing months but would take him into a heel run with HBK that would define his career. This segment is where it would all start.
June 2010 – Next wave coming
For those of you bewildered by the car crash that has become the Retribution storyline (T-Bar? Seriously? His name is T-Bar?) this one takes us back to a time when it was briefly done right.
This is the famous assault laid on by the Nexus in June 2010. Not only did these NXT newcomers decimate John Cena and co. but they destroyed the ring and it was shocking partially because of the fact that you really didn’t know who these guys were…and their faces weren’t covered either. The storyline would eventually lose steam but this created a LOT of excitement in a short period of time.
Bizarre note: Daniel Bryan would get fired for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie. He would then end up hired back in the Summreslam main event but for team WWE….weirdness indeed!
February 2011 – After seven long years…
Finally…The Rock….has come back to Anaheim….and finally The Rock has come back home…the most Electrifying Man’s return to Monday night RAW in almost seven years. He is revealed as the guest host of Wrestlemania and even though its kind of an obvious reveal the crowd explodes and Rocky returns to form as if he never left in the first place.
Not only does he have the crowd eating out of his hand but punking out Michael Cole, the laptop and John Cena just makes this literally electrifying…a perfect return in the main event slot and a perfect setup for his year long feud with John Cena headlining back to back Wrestlemania shows. Some returns are flat or disappointing and this was neither and still gives one chills all these years later.
July 2011 – You’ve been relieved of your duties…
I talked about the brilliance of the segment in my Summer Of Punk offering but this deserves another mention. Vince’s son in law HHH has to reveal that he is no longer running the show and Vince breaks down in tears because he can’t except it. The crowd chants ‘Thank You Vince and it feels like the era of the Mr. McMahon character is over. It arguably should have been as this segment is chalked full of shock and emotion and if this were the end I would have been okay with it.
However, it did not turn out that way in the long haul and that is a whole other rant displayed in the aforementioned blog above. I will say that in the moment this segment left me extremely curious for what happened the following week.
April 2012 – Storm over Miami
This is when the RAW after Mania started to become a little bit wild. Some surprises, fans hijacking the show and who knows what else. This example shows why sometimes it pays to stay off the Internet.
John Cena got the main event slot to get jeered in the Rock’s hometown after losing in their epic Wrestlemania main event the night before. Then Brock Lesnar’s music hit and just as quick he hits the ring and delivers an F5 setting up for their awesome Extreme Rules match later in the month. This had a profound effect on me because at the time I was too busy to follow the ‘rumour mill’ and I had NO idea he was coming back. This was a surprise delivered with maximum efficiency and had long term lasting effects.
While Rock was gone for seven years Brock was gone for eight. This wasn’t the same guy who got cut from the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. This was a former UFC Heavyweight Champ and a man who had overcome a deadly stomach virus to come back meaner and stronger than ever. This segment was just the beginning and the rest is history.
July 2012 – Spoiling The 1000th Party
RAW 1000 was a show that had its share of strange and wonderful moments. The question was what would they do at the ending? How do you end arguably the biggest RAW show in history?
Big Show and CM Punk were beating down John Cena after their match and Rock comes in to make the save. Just while he is setting up for a People’s Elbow on Big Show Punk dives across the ring with a clothesline and turns on Rock. It was a bold move but it made Punk’s title reign even stronger (when booking wasn’t getting in the way of it) setting up for their match at next year’s Royal Rumble. This is very reminiscent of the HBK turn on Hogan that came right out of nowhere and was the most effective because of it. This heel run would culminate in his excellent Mania match against The Undertaker the following spring.
June 2014 – Divide and conquer
Here is another theme of surprise heel turns. After Wrestlemania XXX there was a brief yet cool reunion of Evolution. They were taking on the new dogs in town The Shield. After going back and forth a couple of months The Shield would beat them in a clean sweep in an elimination match.
The Shield had become so strong after that win that there was nowhere to go but down. The end of this RAW was the perfect time for Rollins to turn on his comrades Ambrose and Reigns. It was all done in a very sneaky manner making Seth look more like a coward. The Shield was no more and Seth joined HHH and The Authority becoming a top guy. Not only was the execution brilliant but the long term implications of this segment in the coming years are endless.
August 2015 – Pay no attention behind the man under the curtain
Fast forward one year and Rollins has pretty much become the man. He now has two titles after stealing the show with John Cena at the previous night’s Summerslam. Hunter and The Authority are so impressed they build him a statute that will be revealed in the ring at the end of the show.
An unwritten rule in wrestling is when a heel is receiving a gift or a presentation something will go horribly wrong but I don’t think anyone knew how this one was going to turn out. After a lengthy and nauseating speech by HHH the cloth got pulled up and it was none other than Sting….not a statue but the real guy.
The crowd pops huge and they have a decent brawl to end the show. Sadly their blowoff match would be Sting’s last due to injury and eventual surgery. But this wa s a great way to start a feud that deserved way more time than it got. I also find it hilarious that Sting’s faceprint looks like it hasn’t been removed since his match from Wrestlemania. It’s peeling in the same place and isn’t fully on….makes him look crazed and obsessed with getting even and I don’t even know if that was intended…but nonetheless a cool touch on a fun segment.
August 2016 – Universal surprise
I must be feeling deja-vu with this one. Same area, same month but one year later with slightly different people. NXT hot-shot Finn Balor beat Seth Rollins for the new Universal Title but sustained a shoulder injury. The title was vacated and Rollins would fight another NXT hot-shot Kevin Owens. It was a hot back and forth match and HHH gets involved again.
Everybody is thinking he will help out Seth but in a shock twist helps out Owens and he becomes the new Universal Champion. Owens had been on the main roster for a year and had tore it down many times and was seen as a potential top guy. However nobody saw him winning this match and I remember the furious and intense buzz it started when he got the title. Truly awesome and awe inspiring but unfortunately this run fizzled out for KO and he had to start over again before connecting with the brilliant Mr. Jericho in the following months.
February 2019 – Now do I have your attention?
This aired on February 25 to be exact which was the birthday of the Nature Boy Ric Flair. In fact they saved the main event slot for a massive birthday celebration in one of the many cities he made famous Atlanta, GA. HHH was behind it of course and it seemed like everyone was there including the likes of Arn Anderson and Ricky Steamboat to name a few. This was such a convincing setup and the ring was full of stars of the present and legends of the past. The arena was in a celebratory mood and Ric was coming out backstage when he gets blindsided.
The culprit is Dave Batista. He hadn’t been seen since the Evolution reunion on Smackdown 500 back in October. But unlike that night Dave was pissed and demanded a match with Hunter at Mania. He appeared to beat Ric within inches of his life and I mean that literally. Ric had a slew of health problems in the prior year and almost didn’t make it. That’s what made this birthday celebration so special and why Dave was such a jerk for committing this attack. His shaved head, more tats (how is that even possible with him?), shades had him looking downright mean. It would lead to the two men having an absurd yet fun no-holds-barred match at Mania where Hunter would prevail. It will be remembered as likely the last match of both men’s careers but this electric and shocking segment to kicked it all off and in this writer’s opinion was the last great shock ending Monday Night RAW has done.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Phil Gordon’s Grand Slam and stay tuned next week for Nicky Martin’s next edition. Like, subscribe comment and we will return to Youtube soon.