WWF Monday Night Raw debuted on January 11, 1993, and will celebrate its 30th anniversary this Monday, January 23rd with a three-hour show on the USA Network. Over 1500 episodes from over 200 different arenas and over 100 cities. What started as a one-hour show to replace the iconic Prime Time Wrestling has become a cultural institution over the decades. I’ve probably watched 1400 of those episodes over the years. When the show began, Raw was live every so often and then taped the next few weeks. From one hour to two to three. From small buildings to arenas. From taped to live every week. From wrestling being for kids to it becoming the number one show on cable and a billion-dollar company. From a 14-year-old freshman in high school to a 44-year-old father. Raw has been a part of my life second only to comic books. The colorful outfits. The eternal battle of good vs evil. The words of those who don’t understand asking if I’ll ever grow up. The Venn diagram of these two loves is almost a complete overlap. Raw would still be Raw without me, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without this Monday night ritual.
Raw debuted and it was only an hour once a week. I watched the Saturday syndicated wrestling, but this was something different. Not a pay-per-view, but pay-per-view level matches every week. Wrestlers were fighting other wrestlers that were higher up. Not enhancement talent, but Superstars with entrance music and action figures. Title changes could happen on this show. Anything could happen. It’s uncut, uncooked, and uncensored. It’s Monday Night Raw! At the time there was only one TV in the house hooked up to cable and maybe my mom didn’t have a show she wanted to watch on Monday nights. Maybe as I was a teenager and could be at home by myself she was working nights. Maybe I should have made better dietary decisions and not decided that my weekly treat would be eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s while watching one hour of Raw. No matter the reasons, Monday was my night and everyone knew exactly where they could find me.
Raw made wrestling exciting again. I didn’t know at the time, but I was one of many who would record the show every week. Stacks of 6-hour tapes because anything can happen, especially on a live episode. These stacks led to one of the closest friendships of my life. A friend of a friend was helping me move things with his car one day and saw all of my wrestling tapes. He asked a couple of questions, and I gave embarrassed answers. No one but me understands why wrestling can be great. We stopped over to his house later in the day where he showed off his extensive wrestling collection. I’ve lost count over the years of how many wrestling shows, on Monday night or otherwise, we have watched together. I know there’s one more coming up though for the 2023 Royal Rumble.
It’s funny how wrestling fans find each other. My brother had a friend, and because we were all close in age he became my friend as well. When word got out that we both watched wrestling, now we’re hanging out all the time too. As the years went on I became closer friends with his brother and that bond continues to this day as well. There’s nothing like watching wrestling with long-time friends and referencing events on Raw from many years passed that all of us watched together. Even better is the opportunity to travel, to record podcasts, and to still get together to this day with these same friends. Even in the modern day of streaming, these friends will still ask if they have to put a videotape in front of the clock. Overruns be damned, if there were only 5 minutes left until the top of the hour and the main event was just starting, I wanted the clock on the cable box blocked. I wanted to be fooled and think there could be time for an epic 20-minute classic match, and not a 3-minute screwy finish forcing me to tune in next week. Which I would be doing either way.
The only way I wasn’t in front of the TV on a Monday Night would be the special times that Raw was at a venue near me. While I will watch every episode, I recognize not every show is special. However, my first live event was. Bret Hart vs Sid in a Steel Cage just before WrestleMania. Bret flips out, pushes down Vince McMahon, and starts swearing! What an amazing thing to see live because there’s no way this aired on the USA Network. Except it did and looking back, I got to see one of the pivotal turning points of WWF with my own eyes.
As Raw became bigger, so did the competition. WCW debuted Monday Nitro and the Monday Night Wars were on. This was a perfect time to be at college when all of the children of the 80s became the young adult morons of the late 90s. Raw earned the uncensored label with Steve Austin and D-Generation X. So many of my peers got in trouble at school for middle fingers and crotch chops. There was always a Monday night gathering, and always a party for a PPV. What was once a solitary viewing now became a community. Tuesday mornings were full of discussion over what happened the night before. Those of us who had access to the early days of the internet spent way too much time on news sites to see who would jump companies next, or to very slowly download pictures of Sunny over 56k modems.
Later, the competition and the Attitude Era ended and this was once again a solo viewing. Only those of us most obsessed with wrestling was still watching but by now we were at college, starting careers, moving to other towns, and spending time with girlfriends and then wives. Cell phones and internet messaging services helped but lonely is the life of the wrestling fan at the time. Lonely was my life as well. I had a period at college (round 2) in which I did feel alone. Other than classes I was in my room. But that room had cable and there was Raw. As my life was moving towards an uncertain future, I could always count on Raw. Until Raw itself wasn’t a constant anymore. What was meant to be entertainment is now a wake because Eddie Guerrero died the night before. I sat alone in my dorm room and wept. Not just for Eddie’s death, but because nothing felt right anymore. How does someone die in the prime of their life? A prime I’m hoping to reach. How did I go from spending my Mondays surrounded by friends to sitting here by myself with a soda and a sub? Granted, I wasn’t a child when this happened but in a way, it felt like the death of my childhood.
All that seemed like escape was now weighted down with reality, and I had no idea how to grasp that revelation. But you know something? I watched Raw the next week, and the next, and the next. We all watched wrestling over the summer. We moved ahead. So many of my peers still collect toys and buy comics and watch old cartoons still. I feel like we’re the first generation to refuse to give up our childhoods and tell the previous generation we can be adults and still enjoy foolish things. Many years ago I was dating a girl and she was telling her mom about me. When she said I watch wrestling her mom said, “I thought you said he’s intelligent.” Ouch. I hope she’s doing well. Girlfriends may come and go but Monday Night Raw is then, now, forever.
Raw has been there through everything, even when the world seemed at its darkest and we questioned how to enjoy things again. As the world shut down due to an unprecedented pandemic, WWE came out every week and still entertained us. While we adapted to this new state of the world, Raw changed every week too. From no fans to TV monitors so we can enjoy the show remotely. Camera angles changed, and characters changed, but Raw showed what can happen when everyone is working together in an uncertain time towards a singular goal – to entertain the fans like they always have. In the midst of a unique situation, Raw gave us something familiar.
We also are in a unique position to grow with our fandom. We began as children worshiping Hulk Hogan. Then Shawn Michaels came along when we were full of teenage testosterone and no clue what to do with it. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin showed us that words have just as much power as muscles. John Cena was for kids, but we all loved booing him and secretly knew how good he was. We’re at the point now where champions weren’t even born when the show started. We’re seeing the children of wrestlers each and every week. The Usos, Cody Rhodes, and even Dominik Mysterio who we saw as a child on the show. Now that many of us are parents we’re lucky to have Superstars for ourselves and our children. Every son and daughter can curl up on the couch and cheer or boo their favorites. This show that so many of us watched on our own has now become a family tradition. A tradition that if we’re lucky we will enjoy in the future on some 10k immersive 3D television with our grandparents. Tough times don’t last, pain is temporary, but Raw is forever.