Here’s another piece of WWE at Madison Square Garden history: the first Raw broadcast from Madison Square Garden. It took place September 22, 1997 and featured a number of important moments, which we’ll cover in a bit.
I’m not 100% sure why it took so long for them to run Raw at The Garden. Probably a combination of wanting to protect their Garden house shows, which they ran much more frequently back then, and the issue of the rental fee for the arena being so astronomical for TV tapings that it’s almost impossible to turn a profit on it (which is why they never run it for TV anymore).
Anyway, as everyone knows Madison Square Garden is the most important arena in the history of wrestling. It was WWF’s home base, though Barclay’s Center has sort of displaced it in recent years due to the fee issue mentioned above. With this being smack in the middle of the Monday Night War and the first time Raw had ever been at Madison Square Garden, you knew it was going to be special.
Jim Ross narrates a video package on the history of the WWF at Madison Square Garden. I usually prefer wrestling shows cut straight into the arena and get to the action, but this was a good exception to that rule. Absolutely set the stage for the show and made it feel special.
Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, and Vince McMahon are on commentary tonight.
Intercontinental Championship Tournament: Rocky Maivia vs. Ahmed Johnson
Rocky had only recently turned heel and joined The Nation. He’s got Faarooq, Kama, and D’Lo backing him up here. They’re having a tournament to crown a new Intercontinental Champion because Steve Austin was injured by Owen Hart at Summerslam and cannot defend the title. Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter sends the other Nation members back to the locker room to give us a fair fight. Ahmed turned heel and joined The Nation a few months back, but got hurt immediately, so he was kicked out.
Ahmed Johnson is one of those top guys who never was. They clearly had intentions of giving him a huge push. Notably, he and Austin were the two most prominently featured wrestlers in the Raw opening. Ahmed had a great body and was an amazing athlete, but he was super unsafe in the ring and ridiculously injury-prone. He got hurt not long after this and was released in early 1998. He ended up in WCW as “Big T” and defeated Booker T in a match for the rights to the letter T. True story.
Captain Lou Albano is at ringside, apparently scouting for a new protege. I don’t think anything ever became of that.
Not much happens here. Ahmed wins with the Pearl River Plunge (Double Underhook Powerbomb) in five minutes.
They run through the matches for the rest of the night: Owen Hart vs. Brian Pillman, Bret Hart vs. Goldust, and Dude Love vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a Street Fight. Nice touch to let us know what’s to come.
The glass shatters and Steve Austin appears in the crowd. He promises to whip someone’s ass tonight.
Segment Grade: C+. Not a great match, but a good Austin tease. Truthfully, if I was watching this show back in 97 I would have been flipping over to Nitro.
They recap the happenings at the WWF One Night Only UK pay-per-view from the weekend. Shawn Michaels defeated Davey Boy Smith to win the European Championship. If you’ve never seen One Night Only, check it out.
The bell tolls and Undertaker makes his way down to the ring. He’ll face Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood in a few weeks in the first ever Hell in a Cell match. Vince has stepped into the ring to interview him. I like having an interview for these things, it gives the wrestler someone to play off and makes the segment more authentic. Taker promises to destroy Shawn and then win back the title from Bret.
Shawn Michaels interrupts. Shawn rambles for a long time, and Taker just has to sit there listening to him like a dork. Also raises the question of why Taker doesn’t just go beat Shawn up since he’s only like 50 feet away. Probably would have better for Shawn to be up on the screen for a pre-tape so they could edit him down and Taker wouldn’t be able to go beat him up.
Segment Grade: C. Promo segment didn’t really come together.
Sunny comes out to serve as guest ring announcer for the next match. She’s one of the most over people on the roster and they couldn’t think of anything to do with her.
The Legion of Doom vs. The Nation of Domination
Faarooq and Kama (better known as The Godfather) representing The Nation here. This feud had been going on and off since Hawk and Animal returned to the WWF back in February.
Three minutes in Hawk and Animal set Faarooq up for the Doomsday Device, at which point D’Lo and Rock hit the ring for the DQ. Ahmed Johnson shows up, but that’s not enough to even the odds. Referees and agents (including Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco) run down to break up the brawl.
Segment Grade: D. Lame match advancing a storyline no one really cared about.
Intercontinental Championship Tournament: Owen Hart vs. Brian Pillman
Both men are members of The Hart Foundation. Owen has a police escort to protect him from Steve Austin. Pillman is accompanied by Marlena, who he won from Goldust in a match. Because women are property to be won and lost in a wrestling match. And winning the match entitled him to rape her for a month. I mean, they don’t say that but it’s the vibe here. This gross storyline was going to culminate in Marlena betraying Goldust and joining Pillman, but Pillman’s unfortunate death prevented that.
Pillman has his arm in a sling and says he can’t wrestle tonight. He says he slipped in the bathtub after he finished banging Marlena last night. Sgt. Slaughter comes out. He throws Pillman the mic, which he instinctively catches. Sarge declares that if Pillman doesn’t wrestle tonight he’s fired.
They proceed to go through the motions with no intensity. We go to commercial.
Segment Grade: C+. Fun angle, but it dragged on a bit.
During the break Owen and Pillman got into it after Marlena hit Owen with her purse and made him think it was Pillman. Jerry Lawler, being an awful person, advocates that he go beat Marlena up for that. Goldust shows up and goes after Owen and Pillman. He hit Owen first, so Owen wins the match by disqualification.
Goldust chases off Pillman. Owen gets on the mic to celebrate his victory. Classic Owen. Steve Austin shows up and stomps a mudhole in his ass. We get a standoff between Austin and the cops, leading McMahon to intervene. McMahon tries to talk some sense into him, explaining he can’t compete because he hasn’t been medically cleared. Just as it looks like things have calmed down, Austin grabs the mic, tells Vince to kiss his ass, and hits the Stone Cold Stunner to a massive pop.
Historic moment there. This was one of the first acknowledgments of McMahon being the real owner of the WWF. It was the first time Austin went after McMahon, first time he Stunned him. People say that the Montreal Screwjob led to the Mr. McMahon character, but this definitely feels like it was the start of Austin vs. McMahon, all the way back in September 1997. It was a slow burn until after Wrestlemania, when things really got hot.
The cops handcuff Austin and drag him away. Meanwhile, agents attend to Vince and carry him to the back. JR says Austin is going to get fired. Well, if this were the real world. But that doesn’t happen in wrestling.
Segment Grade: A. Such a hot angle. Austin was on fire at this point. Great way to end the first hour.
We get the opening package for the second hour. I like treating the two hours as separate entities. Something they should consider doing today.
We’re back for the War Zone. They recap the Austin/McMahon fracas. They’re doing a great job of making this a huge deal. It doesn’t feel like business as usual, it feels like the world just ended.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna come down to the ring. Helmsley defeated Dude Love at One Night Only over the weekend.
Dude Love’s music come on but he doesn’t come out. He appears on the screen and proceeds to interview Mankind, sitting next to him. Nice work from the production team to put this together, it’s seamless. Mankind says he’s got a surprise for Helmsley…CACTUS JACK IS BACK!
Falls Count Anywhere: Cactus Jack vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
The pop for Cactus is enormous. Pretty good for a character we hadn’t seen in two years at this point and had never been seen in the WWF. Cactus beats on Helmsley and throws up the mats for a Neckbreaker on the floor. Chyna Clotheslines Cactus over the guardrail. They fight up the tunnel and backstage. That was still a big novelty at this point, the only match that jumps to mind where that had happened before this would be the Boiler Room Brawl between Mankind and Undertaker the previous year.
Cactus Clotheslines Triple H into the guardrail and the entire railing collapses. Helmsley takes the Flair bump to the floor. Cactus comes off the second rope, but misses an Elbow Drop on a trashcan on the floor. They go to commercial.
Segment Grade: A. This show is absolutely rolling now.
We come back with Helmsley still in control. Cactus comes back with a Sunset Flip off the second rope to the floor. Always found that move absurdly painful for little payoff. Helmsley gets Back Dropped on the ramp, but Chyna distracts Cactus. That gives Helmsley the race to hit Cactus from behind, which knocks Chyna out. Helmsley Suplexes Cactus on the ramp. Helmsley sets up a table. A really thick table that looks like a wooden door on legs.
Cactus hits a brutal Piledriver through the table for the pin.
Segment Grade: A. One of the best matches in the long history of Monday Night Raw.
We come back and they recap the Shawn/Bulldog match from the weekend again. Shawn then comes out with a mic and steel chair. Shawn calls out Taker as we go to commercial. Taker comes down the aisle and gets jumped by Helmsley, who probably shouldn’t be walking after the beating he took from Cactus. Michaels, Helmsley, Chyna, and Rick Rude put the boots (and chair) to Taker. Taker sits up and chases after DX.
Segment Grade: B. Good way to put heat on DX. I wonder if something went wrong in the initial segment, because this would have been much better there than here.
Bret Hart vs. Goldust
No title on the line here. Bret says he doesn’t care who wins between Shawn and Taker, he’ll beat whoever he fights at Survivor Series.
Lawler spends the early part of the match talking about Pillman boning Marlena. Bret works on Goldust’s leg. He locks on the ringpost Figure Four. Shawn comes down the aisle as we go to commercial.
Segment Grade: B. Good in-ring action and I like the Shawn tease right before the commercial.
We come back and Bret is still working the leg. Meanwhile, the crowd chants “faggot” at Shawn. I do love that Shawn can be messing with Bret while he has a match with Taker this month. They know they’re going to Bret vs. Shawn next month because they’ve planned ahead and they’re building to it. And even if they weren’t, Shawn and Bret still hate each other and should be in each others business.
Goldust finally makes his comeback. Bret goes for the Diving Elbow, Goldust gets his foot up…but Bret catches him in the Sharpshooter and Goldust gives up immediately. That was weird. Basically a 15 minute squash match.
Shawn hits the ring and deals on Bret. Helmsely and Chyna join him. Owen and Bulldog hit the ring for the save. Rick Rude shows up. Now it’s Neidhart. And Undertaker is here! Taker goes after everybody and Double Chokeslams Shawn and Bret! We’re out of time and the show goes off-air. I love that “we’re out of time” finish. Leaves us on the edge of our seats. They never do that anymore.
Segment Grade: B. Kind of a weird match where Goldust got in almost no offense in 13 minutes, but I really liked the brawl at the end.
Overall: An excellent episode of Raw. Most of the first hour was nothing of interest, but everything starting with the Austin/McMahon was solid to great. They made Austin look awesome, got heat on DX, put Bret over strong as the champion and Undertaker looked like a beast taking out everyone at the end.
Episode Grade: B+