While in recent years the Grandest Stage of Them All, WrestleMania, has become more of a celebratory staff party in the ring that pays tribute to WWE’s past and present all at once, the following night’s Monday Night Raw has become the most must-see TV for WWE of the year. With the brand draft and Smackdown Live airing live as well, we can expect two nights of surprises, where once we had but one. And while it’s had it’s share of surprises – be it surprise returns (from lengthy departures to long-term injury), NXT call-ups or shocking affiliations or turns – the Raw directly following WrestleMania has always been one of the most fun episodes of the year.
Has it always been? It’s sure had it’s moments, going back to the early to mid-90’s, but it seems that it’s only been within the past decade that the Post-Mania Raw has become the spectacle it is today. With the lengthy WrestleMania Week, it’s become the final party for the die-hard fans, where WWE tries to appease the vocal and intelligent crowds with big moments, and set the tone for the next year of the WWE landscape.
Here’s a look at some of the WWE’s biggest Post-Mania Raw surprises.
April 1, 1996 (Post-WrestleMania 12): Mankind Debuts in the WWE
Mick Foley had been a staple in both WCW and ECW as the maniacal hardcore madman Cactus Jack for years prior to him finally becoming a Main Roster player in the WWE when he joined the company in early 1996. Debuting as the equally twisted character Mankind, Foley debuted on the Raw following WrestleMania 12, initially in a contest against a young Bob Holly, later in the evening he went straight for the former client of his manager, Paul Bearer, The Undertaker. Mankind would go on to become a twisted adversary of the Deadman, while Foley emerged as one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE history.
March 30, 1998 (Post-WrestleMania 14): A New D-X Army is Former and McMahon vs. Austin is Born
Shawn Michaels left the WWE for several years following his World Championship loss to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin the night before at WrestleMania XIV, a move that changed the landscape in the WWE as the Attitude Era was picking him momentum. First off, it left D-Generation X without its leader. Triple H, the former second in command, assumed leadership and quickly introduced three new members to the faction (that following WM14 was reduced to just himself and his enforcer, Chyna). First he welcomed The New Age Outlaws (“Road Dogg” Jesse James & “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn) into D-X as full fledged members (they’d just been hired guns the past few months), but it was the shocking new addition on the Post-Mania Raw that had the world’s mouth gaped open. Triple H went back to the Kliq, unveiling former nWo original Syxx (formerly the 1-2-3 Kid in the WWF) as his new lieutenant, under the new moniker X-Pac. Later in the show, Vince McMahon, still somewhat fresh into his Mr. McMahon character, went to present Steve Austin with a new WWE Championship belt and the ensuing tension between the two would ignite the feud of the Attitude Era – that of the Evil Mr. McMahon vs. The Texas Rattlesnake.
April 2, 2001 (Post-WrestleMania X7): The Two-Man Power Trip is Unleashed
The previous night, the unthinkable had happened. In a classic match-up between WWE Champion The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Austin turned heel to win the title and in doing so, aligned himself with his archenemy, Mr. McMahon. The next night on Raw, The Rock challenged Austin to a rematch to avenge the turn. Following another heel victory and while Austin and McMahon continued to beat down the Rock post victory, Triple H ran down to the ring. A heel himself, his sudden action and arrival lead many to believe that Triple H was about to turn face and align with the Rock against his new adversarial duo. Instead, Triple H joined in the fun, and McMahon suddenly had a formidable duo of enforcers united together – named The Two Man Power Trip – he began to cause havoc in the WWE Universe. Sadly, this angle never reached it’s true potential, as Triple H would be forced to leave television for months following a quad tear in a Tag Team match-up against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit just over a month later in May, ending the alliance. Despite it’s short shelf life, it remained one of the coolest Post-Mania moments of the Attitude Era.
March 18, 2002 (Post-WrestleMania X8): “Hollywood” Hogan Turns Face and The Next Big Thing Arrives
Following WrestleMania X8, the big story was the iconic match between “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Hogan, at the time a heel part of the nWo, came out and received the face reaction intended for The Rock. But it was the following night on Raw, that Hogan finally acknowledged the crowd and became a face again in the WWE for the first time in nearly a decade. But it was the debut of a new recruit out of WWE developmental, Ohio Valley Wrestling, that would set the wrestling world on fire. Former ECW owner Paul Heyman emerged with a new beast to call his own, and the WWE Universe was first introduced to the Conqueror himself, Brock Lesnar.
March 31, 2003 (Post-WrestleMania XIX): Goldberg Debuts In The WWE
People had all but given up on most of WCW’s marquee stars showing up in the WWE, nearly two years after WCW fell, but on the Raw following WrestleMania XIX, The Rock was introduced to one of WCW’s biggest stars. It was on this night that Bill Goldberg finally arrived in the WWE Universe with a very simple but clear message: The Rock was NEXT.
March 31, 2008 (Post-WrestleMania 24): Ric Flair Retirement
It may not have been Ric Flair’s best match of his career, but it was definitely one of his most memorable. At WrestleMania 24 the night before, Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair after a beautifully emotional thrill ride of a match. But on this post-Mania Raw, Ric Flair officially announced his retirement from the WWE in an emotional rollercoaster of a segment.
March 29, 2010 (Post-WrestleMania 26): Shawn Michaels Retirement
Just two years prior, Michaels retired his childhood hero, Ric Flair. The night before, Michaels was retired by one of his own legendary adversaries, The Undertaker. It all came to a weepy head the following night on Raw when the Heartbreak Kid finally called it quits on a Hall of Fame career.
April 4, 2011 (Post-WrestleMania 27): Rock vs Cena Announced
It was a bizarre announcement, but one that become the most talked about match of the year. WrestleMania 27 host The Rock appeared on the post-Mania Raw and challenged John Cena to a match – Once In A Lifetime – in one year, as the main event of WrestleMania 28.
April 2, 2012 (Post-WrestleMania 28): The Return of The Beast
One night removed from The Rock and John Cena’s year long built match-up, and John Cena was given little time to lick his wounds, as he was attacked by the return of another performer than most had assumed would never return to the WWE Universe again: former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. Brock not only returned, but laid Cena out. A lesser return earlier in the evening saw Lord Tensei (formerly Prince Albert/A-Train) return to the company following a lengthy sabbatical in Japan. Tensei has since retired and under his real name, Matt Bloom, is the head trainer in NXT.
April 8, 2013 (Post-WrestleMania 29): Ziggler Cashes In
This edition of Raw produced one of the most memorable post-Mania moments of all time when Dolph Ziggler successfully cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase against World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio to claim his 2nd World Championship. Also, following a big win in his WrestleMania debut the previous night, the WWE Universe was briefly caught in Fandango fever as “Fandangoing” became a thing – the crowd hummed his entrance music throughout the night.
April 7, 2014 (Post-WrestleMania 30): Paige Wins Gold in Her Debut, RVD Returns and Rusev and Lana Get The Call-Up
For many that night, the biggest new face was the return of Rob Van Dam to the WWE, facing off against Damien Sandow. And while it was fun and unexpected, in hindsight there was two bigger moments. First off was the impressive debut of NXT Women’s Champion Paige, who not only debuted on the Main Roster while still NXT Champion, but also defeated AJ Lee to win the WWE Divas Championship her debut night. The debut post-Mania Raw to feature NXT call-ups, this episode also featured the main roster call-up debut for Rusev and Lana.
March 30, 2015 (Post-WrestleMania 31): The Man That Gravity Forgot
The only NXT call-up following WrestleMania 31 was the emergence of the former NXT Champion Neville, who became a fan favourite as The Man That Gravity Forgot. With his game and grin, he was a far cry from the King of the Cruiserweights character we see on 205 Live now.
April 4, 2016 (Post-WrestleMania 32): How You Doing?
While Baron Corbin made his WWE main roster debut the previous day at WrestleMania 32 when he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, NXT saw three more stars get the call-up to the main roster on the following night’s Raw. Following a tag team match-up between the Dudley Boyz and The Usos, the WWE Universe was introduced to the charismatic duo from NXT, Enzo & Big Cass. Another NXT Superstar, the athletic powerhouse Apollo Crews, also made his Main Roster debut, but hasn’t found the footing yet in his first full year. This episode also featured the return of former Divas Champion Maryse to the WWE after a 5-year hiatus, as the valet of her real life husband, The Miz.
So who will we see debut tonight? Will it be a returning former star, like Shelton Benjamin? A return from injury, like Finn Balor? Or perhaps an NXT call-up, like Shinsuke Nakamura?
We’ll find out tonight, as the tradition of the Post-Mania Raw continues.