James Dixon: This installment features the supposed best action from January and February 1998 on the WWF’s flagship television show. This was an interesting and important time for the company, with their hand being forced into creating new stars following the dissolution and departure of the Hart Foundation following the Montreal Screwjob two months ago. Vince McMahon was now positioned as a super-heel, Steve Austin was riding a wave to success and the show was becoming far edgier and pushing the envelope further than ever before. WCW was still winning the ratings war, but only just, and in a few short months all of that would change. Michael Cole, looking like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, is the host.
We start with a brief video package that highlights some of the best moments on Raw in January and February, which is pretty redundant on a TAPE highlighting that very thing. We get brief clips of Kane and the Undertaker seemingly reconciling, Austin “doing unto others” and the legendary Austin-Tyson confrontation. Austin’s delivery, poise and aura in the latter is tremendous, though I would have preferred to see the full thing given how important it is.
WWF Tag Team Championship
The New Age Outlaws (c) vs. Cactus Jack & Terry Funk
This is joined in progress and is completely wild, with Terry Funk throwing chairs around and the Outlaws getting a leathering from the two hardcore icons. We get about a minute before the ref calls for a DQ, but that doesn’t stop Jack and Funk, who bury Road Dogg under some chairs and Funk hits a moonsault from the top onto them. As far as Terry Funk moonsaults go, it is one of his better efforts. It wouldn’t be fair to rate this given how little was shown, but it was enjoyable in the same way fast food is.
WWF European Championship
Hunter-dust (c) vs. Owen Hart
The champion is actually Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but he is injured so Goldust takes his place, complete with wig, massive schnozz and Luna playing the part of Chyna. Our boy Dustin was going through one of his “phases”, and had eschewed the gold jumpsuit in favour of various different guises each week, and was now The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust. I guess you had to be there. In many ways this is actually preferable, because Dust is far more entertaining that the turgid Helmsley. The fact that Owen Hart is reduced to this when he should have been main-eventing is a real shame. Another victim of shitty politics. Dustin gets the better of the majority due to Owen being unprepared to face him (in kayfabe world), but Hart is too good for Dust and switches out of a Pedigree attempt into the Sharpshooter to win the match. DX show up on the screen and tell Owen that no-one outsmarts them, and ask “How stupid can one family be?”. Commissioner Slaughter comes out and says that he was so convinced by Goldust’s performance as Hunter, that he is not only awarding Owen the match, but also the European Title. Helmsley has a little fit backstage, but his unintentionally hilarious accent makes it come off as a comical parody rather than him being seriously pissed off. He might as well have said: “Oh, I do so declare good sir, that I am most perturbed by this turn of events, and I intend to smite thee with one’s hand”. The only voice that grates more, in wrestling history, is that of Michael Cole. Well, maybe Sable too. On the surface this seems like a victory for Owen over DX, but in reality it is a pyrrhic one, because it is just another way of someone in the Kliq losing a title without having to do any jobs.
Final Rating: *¼
Justin Bradshaw & Flash Funk vs. Barry Windham & Jeff Jarrett
Windham and Jarrett are representing the short-lived NWA faction that briefly turned up in the WWF and ultimately went no-where. Big Baz and the future JBL used to team only months ago as the New Blackjacks, but Windham has thankfully reverted to his natural blonde hair for this gimmick. Jarrett is still sporting his bizarre jumpsuit, which JR mocks and quips is “not being sponsored by Aztecs”. Well, given that the Aztec people lived from the 14th to the 16th century, that is not a huge surprise. Then again, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express are out there with the NWA duo, and both of those guys have been around since at least those days, so anything is possible. On paper there is some cracking talent in here, but none of them are anywhere near their individual peaks, nor are they anything other than bottom rung on the radar at this point. “I wanna see Steve Austin” says JR a minute or two in. Me too JR, me too. Funk gets taken out by the Express on the outside and has to be carried away, leaving Bradshaw on his own in a handicap match. The stuff between him and Windham is pretty slow, and Windham is in horrible shape, looking nothing like he did a few years back in WCW. I have never seen a wrestler deteriorate as quickly as he did. Despite being outnumbered, Bradshaw still manages to catch Jarrett with the Clothesline From Hell and score the win, because nothing gets a new heel faction over like having them be beaten by one guy when they have FIVE out there (including Jim Cornette). At least they get a measure of revenge, laying out Bradshaw after the match thanks to Corny and his tennis racket, before Jarrett puts on the figure four and Windham tries to break his leg. Well, the post-match stuff was decent at least, but this match sucked and the Windham-Bradshaw thing ultimately went no-where. I’m not necessarily complaining about that, I am just saying.
Final Rating: ½*
Kane vs. Vader
The fact that this is advertised on the back of the tape as a match is deplorable, because what actually happens is Vader comes out to save an innocent ring announcer, then delivers one of the worst promos ever before chasing Kane away by unloading on his face… with a fire extinguisher. It was never a match to start with and never intended to be, because they have a PPV match scheduled soon at No Way Out of Texas. Come on, this is not WCW, PPV matches don’t get foolishly squandered and given away for free here!
Steve Austin vs. The New Age Outlaws
One interesting thing here is that Billy Gunn is the man to deliver the pre-match spiel, and he does a good job of it too. He claims, on the mic, that the Titan offices are going to be huge NAO fans tomorrow when the Nielsen television ratings come in for Raw. Given the lack of any context shown on this tape, I have no idea what the purpose of the booking here even was. Whatever its purpose, it doesn’t last long, with Earl Hebner quickly calling for the bell due to the Outlaws double-teaming. DX come out and do a number on Austin, which might seem fairly standard and commonplace, but you must remember, the Outlaws were not quite in DX at this stage. Austin gets tied in the ropes Andre the Giant style, and Michaels gets right in his face with the belt, repeatedly yelling “This is as close as you are gonna get, this is it, this is it Austin”. Cactus Jack and Terry Funk, in a hospital gown, come out for the save. The match again is unrateable due to its brevity, but the post match shenanigans are worth sticking around for. Rarely has Austin looked so vulnerable and defenceless.
Ken Shamrock & Chainz vs. The Rock & Faarooq
What sort of cockamamie thrown together pairing is this!? I guess they had a mutual enemy in opponents the Nation of Domination, as Shamrock was involved in an extensive feud with the Rock, whereas Chainz and his DOA have been at war with the faction for months. Now picture for a moment Shamrock as a member of DOA, bedecked in denim and leather, and riding a hog. Crikey! Ahmed Johnson, dressed confusingly in all-black, is in the corner of the babyfaces. No-one cares anymore Ahmed, no-one cares. Speaking of useless workers who no-one cares about, the former DOA leader Crush is absent due to his leaving the company in the wake of Montreal, rather killing the already waning Gang Wars stone dead. Rock cuts a promo before the match to endear himself to the fans, saying of everyone in the building only he is worthy of being cloned. Strangely enough, in the late 2000s the WWE would actually develop and utilise a human cloning machine, and were able to produce a plethora of cookie cutter wrestler indistinguishable from each other. Modern science! Let’s try and take our minds off the image of the Miz being assembled in a lab somewhere, and focus on this match. Though as ever with the Nation when they wrestle on Raw, there is not a great deal to write home about. It is your standard slugger, which descends into a brawl, allowing Shamrock to hit a rana and apply the ankle lock on Faarooq, only for Rock to BELT him directly in the goddamn face with a chair, and Faarooq pins him. Why were the Nation so unbeatable on Raw?! Shamrock snaps after the result and hits the referee and then his tag partner with belly-to-belly suplexes, before all the faces pile on him to restrain and calm him. As a match this was nothing, but as a set up to the “war of attrition” at No Way Out of Texas, it was… well, pretty mediocre actually. That chair shot was sick though.
Final Rating: ½*
Steve Blackman vs. Recon
Before the match, Blackman twirls his glow sticks to silence. What a fabulous character trait. The match is just a backdrop for the insufferable Jackyl to descend from the ceiling on a pulpit and give a tedious, preaching sermon. He just rambles on and on and on without ever saying anything that resonates or even peaks interest. At one point he uses the term “intellectual intercourse”, and says Recon and Sniper would have to pay for tickets if they weren’t with him, but instead “headlined Survivor Series”. Oh, just go away, you tool. Pleasingly the WWF make him look like a complete goon when Blackman cleanly taps out Recon, and then Sniper takes a big bump off nothing just to compound the misery. This was atrocious from top to bottom.
Final Rating: DUD
Marilyn Manson-dust vs. Thrasher
This is advertised as Dust and Marc Mero against the Headbangers, both on screen and on the back of the video case, but it’s not, it’s a singles bout. That just shows you how much attention the WWF was giving anything not involving Steve Austin and DX. It goes without saying that Manson-dust is Goldust dressed as, you guessed it, Marilyn Manson. He looks pretty good and does a fair impression of the shock-rocker, clad in black fishnets, face-paint and even with fake scars on his chest. Jim Ross does not approve. Based on the Headbangers’ previously established love of the real Manson, should they not get on with Dust? The story of the match revolves around Sable, obviously, with Marc Mero having accompanied Dust to the ring and then sent “nice person” (JR) Sable to the back due to his jealousy issues. Sable returns for the finish now clad in PVC, and slaps Dust to give Thrasher the win. A cat-fight with Luna nearly breaks out, but gets split up. Sable’s expressions and “acting” here were dire, like they always are. Another horrible match too, but that is no surprise. Raw in 1998 was not even slightly about the matches and was entirely based around the angles, segments and various happenings that would take place, but none of them are shown here. The New Age Outlaws dumping Terry Funk and Cactus Jack off the stage in a dumpster? Nope. DX campaigning for Tyson vs. Austin at WrestleMania? Nope. No, rather than those we have to put up with short, crappy matches like this one instead. No wonder the run-time of this tape is a reduced 90-minutes compared to the two hour offerings from 1997.
Final Rating: ½*
The Legion of Doom vs. The Quebecers
Speaking of matches no-one wanted to see… Actually this would have probably been good fun in 1993/94 had the LOD survived through to those years, and I am sure LOD knocking the Quebecers off their perch back then would have received a great response, much like when the Headshrinkers did it. However, this is 1998 and the landscape has changed dramatically. Once underrated and a welcome addition to the roster, now the returning French Canadians are a mere shadow of the team they were in their glory days half a decade prior. Their appeal is not helped by awful generic music, Jacques sporting an 80’s mullet that exposes his bald spot and their decision to work in plain black singlets. With everything that once made them entertaining firmly stripped and binned, they settle into a run as one of the most boring teams in history, though Jacques does show the odd flash of his Fabulous Rougeau days when he nips up and hits a dropkick. Jim Ross gets bored and hypes an upcoming house shown at the Toronto SkyDome (home of WrestleMania VI) and claims the Quebecers will play a big part. Sure they did, they cleanly jobbed to the Headbangers in under 10-minutes. It is a notable show though, as it was headlined by Steve Austin against the Rock, due to the scheduled main event of Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart not happening thanks to Shawn’s back injury. It was the first major show (even though it was just a house show, it drew an impressive 13,000 fans) that the two ever headlined. The history lesson is over, but this match still rolls on endlessly, and a grand total of nothing at all happens. Well, except stalling. JR knows a lost cause when he sees one, and continues to use this as an opportunity to plug any and every house show he can remember from the schedule off the top of his head. I would be remiss not to point out the commentary team for this Raw, which consists of play-by-play man JR, play-by-play man Kevin Kelly and play-by-play man Michael Cole. You see any issue there? The New Age Outlaws come out to heap further misery on the LOD, dumping Hawk into a dumpster and leaving Animal at a 2-on-1 disadvantage. Like Bradshaw, Animal still doesn’t lose despite that, mounting a comeback and then going to tag Hawk. When he realises he isn’t there and sees the Outlaws sat on the dumpster, he grabs a chair and chases them off, with Hawk escaping and joining the pursuit. The Quebecers win on a count-out, and I am left wondering who thought it would be a good idea to give that match (what felt like) 30-minutes if they were just doing to do that finish anyway?
Final Rating: ¼*
Ken Shamrock vs. Sniper
This had better not mean more Jackyl. You know, people generally adore 1998 when looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but as this tape has shown it was a horribly boring year in the ring. We see highlights of the Blackman-Recon mess from last week, and then the post-match that wasn’t shown where Jackyl slapped Recon, who then got in his leader’s face but didn’t retaliate. Pussy. Jackyl thrillingly joins the commentary team, which means Jackyl AND Michael Cole TOGETHER! Did I do something in a previous life that I am being punished for? We hark back to 1996, with the match being secondary to the extra-curricular, as we get the pleasure of split-screen, just so we can see Jackyl’s ratty little face at the same time as hearing him. Why do we need to see his face? I can’t focus on the match at all because of Jackyl and his “bed of knowledge” talk, which of course leads to more “intellectual intercourse”. Someone was trying and failing to get over a catchphrase. This horrible effort comes from the same show as the previous match, making me wonder how the WWF made so many new fans at the start of this year given the quality of the overall product. Things were changing, sure, but in truth Raw was a far better show in 1997, it was just watched by less people. This drags on for too long as well, and then Shamrock wins with the ankle lock, once again showing Jackyl up to be a complete blowhard idiot. Where the hell is the Interrogator anyway? He is the only guy from the Truth Commission I actually want to see. He is terrible, but at least he is entertaining with his wild expressions and unfathomable neck. Sniper and Recon argue with Jackyl and walk off, but Jackyl smiles. It’s all part of a bigger picture. Probably. Has there ever been an angle to care less about?
Final Rating: ¼*
Cactus Jack & Terry Funk vs. Goldust & Marc Mero
This time we DO have a tag match, though Sable is not present. Goldust has reverted back to his classic gold and black attire, though there is nothing on the tape to explain why. Funk yells at Goldust that “I have known your old man for years”, and Jerry Lawler needs JR to clarify what he means. Playing dumb like that just makes him seem stupid. I mean, what did it achieve pretending to not know what he meant? It’s not like he was banned from connecting the reference, because JR did it anyway. Seeing Mero and Foley go at it is more interesting if you have read Hard Knocks & Cheap Pops, which nicely outlines Foley’s utter disdain for the over-paid and over-pushed Mero. I actually didn’t mind him when he arrived in 1996 (and I loved him in WCW as Johnny B. Badd) but there is nothing about him in 1998 to get excited about. Everything that made him exciting as ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero has been stripped away and abandoned. It is almost like that is a running theme this year. All the crowd cares about is Sable, who eventually does wander out with some flowers she received earlier from a “secret admirer”. Luna eats them which pisses off Sable and an argument ensues. In the melee, Cactus wallops Goldust with a chair and Funk pins him for the win. Another cat fight occurs, and Sable’s big floppy tit pops out quite blatantly. This being 1998, it is encouraged and is not censored on this release. Swell.
Final Rating: ½*
WWF Tag Team Championship
The New Age Outlaws (c) vs. The Legion of Doom
More Michael Cole for your aural pleasure! For anyone who thinks he gradually developed into a detestable little shit, don’t be fooled; he is just as awful here as he is in modern day WWE. JR makes subtle allusions to the LOD being past their prime and having not changed in the last 15-years. This of course results in an ill-advised repackaging at WrestleMania XIV as the space-age LOD 2000, which I hated. There was nothing wrong with them in the first place, and even as recently as November they were getting massive reactions from the crowd (see Survivor Series 1997). They had lost their aura due to too many defeats, but that is easy to rebuild. I guess they didn’t fit the new Attitude, but they were certainly a better fit here than as LOD 2000, which was goofy and silly. They would have been better repackaged as something more akin to their Road Warrior personas from the 80s, complete with leathers and bikes, maybe even as part of the DOA. It would have been something at least. This is meandering like everything else on the tape, until an LOD Doomsday Device looks to have it won, but Gunn belts Animal with the tag belt and Dogg covers for the win. Post-match, Hawk and Animal brawl as Michael Cole speculates that LOD is no-more.
Final Rating: ½*
Summary: What a disaster. This is a horrible representation of what made Raw so strong in 1998. As the WWF became enveloped in the throes of Attitude, the in-ring product took a colossal nosedive in the quality department, yet the ratings started an unstoppable climb, going on to overtake and then decimate WCW. Perhaps there is a message to be found somewhere in there, but it is not one I care to entertain. Speaking of entertainment, there is almost none of be found in this release. The majority of the matches are the worst kind of throwaway TV crap, and as stated previously, the majority of the company’s hot angles were left off. If this represents the best from Raw, then I am dreading seeing what was left off. Strong recommendation to avoid a really horrible tape.