Monday Night RAW is undoubtedly WWE’s Television juggernaut. Meant to be equal parts pro wrestling TV and marketing presentation, it’s WWE’s flagship show even during the brand split when SmackDown is meant to be it’s own, equally as important entity. The last Superstar Shakeup proved just that when The Miz, who was one of the SmackDown MVP’s in the year of 2016, was moved over to RAW while Jinder Mahal was a jobber turned main event player overnight simply by sending him to SmackDown. RAW is WWE’s crown jewel, and it’s easy to see why when you see how long it’s been around and how much money it brings in yearly. With that being said, when the marketing presentation is left out of things, there can be some pretty great wrestling when they allow for it considering the depth of their roster and history, and with a long illustrious history behind it, RAW has had it’s fair share of hidden gems and classic matches. With no shortage of content to choose from, here’s part one of the 50 greatest matches in Monday Night RAW matches in it’s near 25 year long lifespan. Keep in mind this is in no particular order so it’s not a ranking, however each list will be in chronological order.
Ric Flair vs. Mr. Perfect
“Loser Leaves Town Match”, January 25th 1993
Starting off with the earliest example of a hidden gem RAW match, Ric Flair vs. Mr. Perfect was the main event of the 3rd episode of Monday Night RAW, and still stands out today as a great example of classic pro wrestling storytelling. Building up for months with the partnership between the two slowly dissolving, they blew it off here with a Career Threatening (or loser goes to WCW, although that can be argued as being the same thing) match. Two men who have a lot in common from the similar gimmicks to both being from the great wrestling state of Minnesota, who were both prolifically talented veterans and the greatest of all time, both motivated to put on a memorable match and work as hard as they could. It gets somewhat sloppy at points, like a moment where Mr. Perfect does a weird leapfrog into a headlock on Flair really late into the match, then looks a little lost, but other than that, this match is incredible. Both men known for their bumping and selling, putting it all on showcase, from the bump that Perfect takes over the turnbuckle and blades off of, to the vintage yet massive fall Flair takes when he’s thrown off of the top rope. There’s tension, drama, blood, and best of all, Bobby Heenan slowly working himself to a boiling point at the end of the match, when Perfect wins with a Perfect Plex triggering him to shout a series of expletives. Extra points for Perfect going Sting-mode and no selling Flair’s chops near the end, so next time someone talks bad on “indy no-sell strong-style” just remember that spot.
Owen Hart vs. British Bulldog
European Championship Tournament Final, March 3rd 1997
While it may be somewhat bittersweet to watch back now given both men were dead not 5 years later, this match in Munich, Germany for the first ever European Championship still stands out as one of the best RAW matches in history. The main event of what was at the time a stacked RAW card in front of a rabid European crowd, Owen Hart vs Davey Boy Smith was the finals of a tournament to crown the first ever champion, but the other factor to be thrown in was both men were tag team champions together, and were supposed to be heels. Ending up being obviously turned babyface by the crowd, both men decided to play fair with each other out of respect not just for the crowd but for each other, opting not to use heelish tactics on their tag team partner and try to out wrestle each other instead. It was one of the more unique stories in wrestling that deserves more attention than it gets, and is one of the greatest examples of pro wrestling as an art. The match itself is, unsurprisingly, incredible. There’s not a flaw to be found throughout the whole match from the unbelievably sound World of Sport style grappling to the high spots, diving headbutts and missile dropkicks. The match was finally brought to an end when Davey Boy, ironically, reverses a victory roll from Owen Hart to secure the victory, not necessarily being the better man, but being the faster man on that particular night. Both men shake hands and embrace afterwards still being tag team partners and best friends, but Owen is noticeably touchy and focused with the new European Championship belt, letting everyone know it’s still not far from his mind.
The Rock, Cactus Jack and Too Cool vs. The Radicalz and DX
10 Man Tag Team Match, February 7th, 2000
Surreal is one of the words that comes to mind when watching this match. 10-Man tag matches usually feel very by the numbers and can largely be boring especially nowadays when multi-man tag matches are used on almost every show to build up for main event matches. This match, while being used to promote for multiple matches at the next pay per view No Way Out ’00, was not boring or by the numbers by any means. Ten of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, all at the peak of their popularity, in one match at once. The crowd, needless to say, was electric throughout the bout. Originally supposed to be a 5 on 2 affair against The Rock and Cactus Jack alone, Too Cool came to the aid of their fellow babyfaces before the match officially starts, evening the odds with a 5 on 5 affair. The action is crisp, believable, fast paced and can’t miss. You can tell just by watching that everyone is working at 150%. Some of the notable spots are Chris Benoit German suplexing Rikishi right on his head, Rikishi hitting one of his most beautiful superkicks of all time on HHH to help the Rock out of a Pedigree, and my personal favorite, Grand Master Sexay getting his glasses kicked right off of his face by Dean Malenko. HHH eventually Pedigrees Grand Master Sexay allowing Benoit to follow up with a diving headbutt to get the win faster than you can blink, but the brawl doesn’t end there. Eventually The New Age Outlaws come out to help give the advantage to the heels, only to be thwarted by the returning Kane, who is at his physical peak as far as his career is concerned, and destroys almost the entire heel team to send the fans home happy, or screaming in this case. Fast paced, good crisp action that keeps you paying attention, with everyone involved being a huge star and a huge babyface return to end it off with people wanting to see more. This match is not only the Attitude Era personified, but it is in essence everything that pro wrestling is supposed to be.
Shawn Michaels vs. HHH
World Heavyweight Championship, December 29th 2003
From late summer of 2002 to the late autumn of 2004, HHH vs Shawn Michaels was pretty much the top feud on RAW. While near the end it felt a little too drawn out, the majority of the feud is remembered fondly and for good reasons. Having already had the classic SummerSlam Street Fight and underrated (but also not quite as good) Three Stages of Hell Match behind them from the previous year, it was time for them to rekindle the rivalry for the latest installment of their program together. On the last RAW of 2003, Shawn Michaels and HHH showed again why they were put together so often, having one of the absolute best matches of the year for the World Heavyweight Championship, only there was a wildcard. This RAW was in Shawn Michaels’ hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and they wanted to see a title change bad. As opposed to the type of wrestling we have today, which is a lot of building up to high spots, this match is more of a sell job than anything else, with Shawn selling his back for the majority of the match and HHH selling his leg near the end of it. There are some huge bumps, like the bumps both men take over the turnbuckles respectively, but not really any high spots, which is far from a bad thing. Both men opted to instead try and draw the crowd in using realistic selling and basic storytelling. In a wild turn of events after Earl Hebner takes a pair of bumps and ends up lying outside the ring, Eric Bischoff ends up taking over the officiating for the match, and actually does a fairly respectable job, to the point of almost briefly turning babyface in front of the San Antonio crowd. In the end however, Shawn Michaels hits the one finisher used throughout the match, which was directly involved with the finish, and seemingly got the pinfall victory over a bloody HHH, only for Bischoff to stick to his heel ways and call a Dusty Finish, claiming both men’s shoulders were on the mat and the contest is ruled as a double pinfall draw. HHH remains the champion, and it was the perfect buildup for them to have a stipulation added for their rematch like their Last Man Standing Match at the Royal Rumble.
John Cena vs. Cesaro
United States Championship, July 6th, 2015
It may be a 10 year jump between matches, but if you watched this match you would understand why it needed to be one of the first matches mentioned on these lists. In the midst of the golden idea that was John Cena’s US Open Challenge, one of the best competitors he ever had during this time and possibly throughout his career was Cesaro. The two men had excellent chemistry with each other and were able to mesh almost instantly. This being the rematch to their first match a week prior (ending due to interference from Kevin Owens) this match was meant to be the make or break match for Cesaro. Either he was going to walk away the new US Champion, or he was going to have to step aside and let Kevin Owens challenge for the championship at Battleground. The story of the match is one of the best ever, with Cesaro having Cena’s number at every move and turn, and knowing how to counter almost every move, pushing Cena to have to pull out more dire offense such as springboard DDT’s and Frankensteiners, but even then Cesaro was capable of overpowering Cena. Watching John Cena get manhandled by Cesaro felt almost unreal at the time, and the live Chicago crowd in the Allstate Arena’s reaction reflected that. Every move felt like it could potentially be the end of the match, even though common sense would dictate that Cena was most likely going to retain. It’s a perfect example of wrestling suckering you into the feel of the moment, and suspending your disbelief. In the end Cena was able to hit an avalanche Attitude Adjustment from the second rope and put away the Swiss Superman, but in a lot of ways that match made Cesaro and showed everyone just how good he really can be. A match that stand out even in a group of stand out matches, this match is well worth the 20 minutes of time it takes to watch it.
So there you have it. 5 different matches, five different examples of different era’s in WWE’s history. With that in mind, there’s plenty more classic matches from WWE’s A show to be remembered over its 20+ year history. Make sure to stay tuned next week for 5 more matches from RAW’s past on the journey to finding the 50 greatest matches in RAW history.