Hello and welcome to the second installment of the 50 greatest matches in the illustrious 20+ year history of Monday Night RAW. In part one, we went over 5 matches all from different era’s in the shows existence, that were all different, but by and large great and memorable. This week we will be doing much of the same with 5 more matches all from different points in the shows timeline, all with different participants. Like last week, this will not be a ranking and is simply a list of some of the greatest TV matches in RAW history, and each match will be listed in chronological order, so without further adieu here are this weeks 5 matches.
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs. Hakushi
July 24, 1995
Those of you who know of Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW) back in the day, probably know who Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki were. One of the best and most unique tag teams, both men were popularized in the States mostly by their match against Rob Van Dam and Sabu, but Jinsei had had a small taste of the states during a brief stint in the WWF as a foreign heel from the Orient named Hakushi. He didn’t do a whole lot of note as is easy to tell by the fact you don’t see a whole lot of “best of Hakushi” lists, but some of the good stuff he did was, not to any surprise, very very good, and when you take someone who’s already a great worker and put them in a ring with Bret Hart and give them enough time to tell a story, the result can sometimes be magical as was the case here. Having had a solid yet somewhat underwhelming match at an In Your House Pay Per View prior to this, the 2 men seemed to have vastly improved as far as chemistry with each other went and were able to have one of the all time best hidden gems in Monday Night RAW history. Everything from the high spots like Hakushi’s flawless handspring moonsault over the top rope, or Bret Hart’s superplex that was so picture perfect in the middle of the ring Bob Orton could have shed a tear somewhere if he saw it was believable and crisp. Bret’s selling is especially on fire in this match as he does everything in his earthly power to put Hakushi over and make him look like a killer, despite being the one going over. It’s really somewhat of a shame that Hakushi didn’t get a bigger push after this, some more matches against Bret and also matches against Shawn Michaels and Owen Hart are somewhat salivating to think about, but the fact that we got this match alone isn’t something you can really complain about. The match is relatively average as far as length goes, clocking in at about just 15 minutes, but it’s 15 minutes of crisp, fast action that’ll leave you not wanting to look away from the screen out of fear of missing something. These men did something truly ahead of their time, which when you think about it isn’t that surprising since that’s something both men had an uncanny knack for doing.
The Rock vs Mankind
Ladder Match for the WWF Championship, February 15th, 1999
It may be a radical change in style from the previous match, but this ladder match for the World Championship between The Rock and Mankind is probably the most underrated ladder match to have ever graced WWE television or, really any wrestling promotion. Aiming to tell more a story of two men trying to incapacitate the other and retrieve the championship than execute a series of jaw dropping sequences and spots, the two had an absolute barnburner of a match in the main event, filled to the brim with all your usual Attitude Era nonsense as well (crowd brawling, Announce Tables breaking, outside interference and overbooked finishes). The Rock gets flack nowadays from the internet for not being a great technical wrestler, but he didn’t have to be. He got over just as easily by punching his opponents into oblivion as he would have if he had used Bret Hart-esque technical wrestling skills, and besides, the heart of all work in wrestling is psychology and timing, and The Rock had these two mastered from day one. And of course Mick Foley is absolutely perfect in this environment. Even though he wasn’t in the best of shape by 1999, he still knew how to sell like it was nobodies business, as evidenced by the constant limping and hobbling of his leg having had it injured the night prior as well as during the match, and was a still as prolific a brawler as ever. This was the last match of the series between these two in which they traded the title back multiple times (Attitude Era, keep in mind) and was probably the best match that they had, making it a perfect blow off. Oh yeah, and it was right before WrestleMania and the winner would have to defend against number one contender “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at the event, so stakes were pretty high to say the least. In the end, pre-Big Show Paul Wight came out to chokeslam Mankind and screw him out of the title setting up for the first Austin/Rock WrestleMania match, blowing off the Rock/Mankind feud in spectacular fashion.
Ric Flair vs Triple H
World Heavyweight Championship, May 19th, 2003
Well this match certainly is interesting. So, Ric Flair at the time of this RAW was in the midst a very brief babyface run being in South Carolina for RAW. In case you didn’t know, and I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t, the Carolina’s are essentially considered Flair Country, meaning Flair could do no wrong as far as the audience was concerned, which ALSO in turn meant there was no earthly way he was going to get booed there. So, WWE decided to turn him babyface for basically one night, telling the story of Triple H asking for a match with Flair so he’ll lay down for him, only for Flair’s pride to get the better of him in front of his home crowd and fight with everything he has, and I really do mean everything. Ric Flair was 54 at the time of this match, but he was not wrestling like a 54 year old man. Actually, he was wrestling more like a 34 year old man, bumping and selling and going all out with his offense, surprisingly not leaving much breathing room and keeping a steady and fast pace throughout, which is evidenced by how excited Jim Ross is throughout the bout. HHH was going in with injured ribs due to a post match attack from Kevin Nash the night before at the Judgement Day PPV, and you could tell he was working especially hard to sell them for Flair, as well as bumping all around for him, clearly wanting to make his real life best friend and idol look good. It’s not all that long, probably because they knew that going any longer could risk making Flair not look as good, and the ending is somewhat tepid with HHH simply hitting a pedigree out of seemingly nowhere (not in the good way) but still, this match is definitely something you should go out of your way to see.
John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
April 23rd, 2007
You probably all knew it was coming eventually, and I think it’s about time. I didn’t wanna include it on my first list because I felt like an hour long match was too long for the first part, but now is the time. The nearly hour long match between Shawn Michaels and John Cena from the RAW before Backlash ’07, where both men would be in a fatal four way with Edge and Randy Orton for Cena’s WWE Championship. This match however, was not for the championship, but was about something much more personal than that: pride. Shawn Michaels had never beaten John Cena in a one on one match, and if ever he needed a victory, the week before a World Championship Match was the time. In the very beginning, the match starts at a very slow pace, with both men chain wrestling and feeling each other out first before Cena repeatedly makes attempts at the STF, the same hold that Michaels tapped out at to at WrestleMania. When they come back to commercial, Cena starts to slap a tight headlock on Michaels and refuses to let go, and Cena’s biceps plus HBK’s selling make it look like a legitimately painful headlock. Michaels would try to get out every once in a while and Cena would throw in a punch or a clothesline for variety. At this point in the match, it’s very clear both men are planning to wrestle a long time considering how controlled they’re keeping themselves, and how slowly the match builds in it’s pacing. As the match goes one, it starts to become more physical with both men taking bumps for each other all over the place and Michaels eventually turning it into a chop fest. Eventually, John goes for his running shoulder block, but Michaels ducks and John goes clean over him like a human javelin with no destination, and crashes and burns on the canvas then rolls out of the ring on the floor, one of the scariest bumps I’ve ever seen him take. Off of this he hurts his shoulder, which Michaels works over for a time with arm wringers and objects such as the ring post and ring steps. Eventually however, Cena would turn the tables and do the same with Michaels back. There are plenty of other notable bumps in this match as well, my favorite of which is the one where Shawn takes a crazy spiral bump into the corner and over the top rope to the apron and to the floor. Eventually though, Shawn counters an Attitude Adjustment (back when it was called the FU) by flipping out of it and landing on his feet, followed up by Sweet Chin Music for the clean pinfall victory. Fun fact: This was Cena’s first clean pinfall loss since winning the WWE Championship in 2005, and it was to Shawn Michaels, who at the time was in his early 40’s, and I don’t think anyone was complaining. This was a perfect example of how sometimes losing cleanly to an older talent doesn’t always mean someone is being “buried” (a term I hate) or put in the doghouse, both men looked completely equal to one another in this match and no one looked bad despite the clean pinfall loss. Absolutely tremendous, and one of the best hour long matches I can remember seeing.
Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton
December 16th, 2013
The Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton feud was tricky. Both men were consummate professionals in the ring, and could probably have a 4 star match together in their sleep, but the booking of their feud was admittedly shoddy from the start, with certain WWE officials backstage not really having faith in Daniel Bryan. Needless to say, things didn’t go well and whatever plans may have been in the works post October were scrapped in favor of splitting both men up to do new things. Daniel went to go work with The Wyatt Family and actually deliver some really stellar stuff, while Randy Orton would go on to work with… Big Show. Fast forward to December though, and Randy Orton is the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, having defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena in a TLC match to unify the to championships. John Cena had promised Daniel Bryan a shot at the Champion after he won, so when he lost he gave his spot up to Daniel Bryan so he could have a match with Orton instead, and thus we got this match. It’s not the only match they had on RAW (foreshadowing) but it’s packed full of great action and storytelling. Both men’s selling is especially superb in this match, Randy with his leg and Daniel with his arm. Daniel Bryan was just so unbelievably good, he was a great brawler when the time called for it and could be believably competitive with his opponents, but at the same time was a master of generating sympathy with his babyface selling where he was literally SCREAMING with pain, and also had more babyface fire than anyone on the roster during his comeback. He could quite literally excel in just about ANY environment he was put in. I don’t mean to understate how good Randy was in this match though, because this was a perfect example of a 100% motivated Randy Orton. He was in a lot of ways the perfect opponent for Daniel Bryan, the d*ckhead pain inflicting heel to Daniel’s sympathetic, persevering babyface. Certain notable spots are the suicide dive from Daniel that Orton just sidesteps and sends Bryan crashing to the floor, (…dive) the early on European Uppercut back and forth in the beginning of the match, probably what was the most brutal superplex I’ve ever seen, and the amazing counter from a school boy into the Yes Lock from Daniel Bryan. The match, unfortunately, ends in a disqualification after Randy nails Bryan with a low blow and the match calls for the bell, but this was not the last time these two men would meet one on one on RAW.
Another week and another 5 five matches to come with it. Be sure to check back next week for 5 more matches from WWE’s weekly juggernaut as we get down to the final 40 of the 50 greatest matches in RAW history.