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Thursday Night Tanders (10/8/15): Bad News Bartlett Calls The First Ever WWF Monday Night Raw


Time to take a trip down memory lane—just like the Champ, the Throwback Tito is here! Welcome to the first-ever edition of Thursday Night Tanders!  And boy, am I tanders.

I’ll leave it up to you to guess how old I am, but let’s just say I attended high school at a time when grunge killed hair metal, when Home Along da Riles debuted as our live-action answer to The Simpsons, and before the Internet killed kayfabe. (Did it really?) Anyway, starting this week I’ll be recapping significant Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro episodes, as well as major pay-per-views from both WWF/WWE and WCW.  You may see some occasional pre-1993 deviations, but for the most part, we’re going to do this chronologically, starting from the year Raw was born, the year of our Lord, nineteen-hundred and ninety-three.

Every historical account starts at the very beginning, so let’s now go back in time to January 11, 1993—the very first Monday Night Raw at the Manhattan Center in New York City.  Your announce team for this show is Vince McMahon, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Rob Bartlett.  It may not ring a bell, but expect to see that final name A LOT in this inaugural in-depth Raw recap.

*****


The show starts with backstage reporter Sean Mooney speaking to an indignant Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who’s insisting he be let into the Manhattan Center so he can host the first-ever Monday Night Raw.  Mooney explains to Heenan that he’s been replaced by Rob Bartlett and that tickets are all sold out, but that only makes the Brain angrier.  We feel his pain—as you’ll soon find out, this Bartlett character has no business calling a wrestling show.

We then go inside, where we’ve got pre-Mr. McMahon Vince and the Macho Man introducing us to the new guy.  Immediately, Bartlett betrays his lack of knowledge about the product by hyping up a match between Koko B. Ware and “Yokozuma,” throwing in some lame phallic references that only he seems to think are funny.  Anyone who thinks Michael Cole is bad should listen to Rob Bartlett call a Raw episode.

*****

MATCH #1 – Koko B. Ware vs Yokozuna (w/Mr. Fuji)

To paraphrase Apu from The Simpsons, I can’t believe Bartlett doesn’t shut up.  This guy compensates for his lack of wrestling knowledge by firing off what seems like a hundred bad jokes per minute, mostly about Yokozuna’s weight. And as Koko works the crowd with a U.S.A. chant, we hear McMahon and Savage dueting on the thankfully short-lived Raw catchphrase – “it’s uncooked, uncut, and uncensored!”

Yoko vs Koko is slow and plodding, with Yoko no-selling the few moves Koko is able to get in.  This glorified squash match ends in less than four minutes with a Banzai Drop on the Birdman.

*****

Commercial break follows, and we return for the second match, where an unnamed Raw Girl holds up a Raw sign and parades around the ring.  Arianny Celeste she’s not, and her hairdo looks out of style even by 1993 standards.

But before we proceed with the second match, Bobby Heenan returns with a taped promo hyping up his newest client, a man named Narcissus who’s “beyond perfect,” hence better than the recently-turned Mr. Perfect.  He says comparing Narcissus to Mr. Perfect is like “comparing ice cream to horse manure,” which is the complete opposite if you’re thinking about their wrestling ability. Heenan wraps up by promising to unveil Narcissus at the Royal Rumble.  Decent promo from one of the great mic men of his era.

Who is this Narcissus guy anyway?  Let’s just say his usual ring name reminds us of Superman’s arch-enemy.

*****

MATCH #2 – The Steiner Brothers vs The Executioners

Yay, masked jobbers!  And holy crap, is that the man who would become Big Poppa Pump? The ‘80s called and they want their mullet back, Scotty!  More Bartlett bloopers as he can’t tell which Steiner Brother wears the headgear. Research, Rob.  Research.  Don’t go to war without bullets.  Nothing to see in this squasheroo, though we do see brief glimpses of Doink the Clown in the audience.  And it won’t be the last time we see Doink in this episode.

*****

We then go back to Sean Mooney, where he tells us security has nabbed a “woman” claiming to be Rob Bartlett’s aunt, demanding to see “her” nephew.  Of course it’s Bobby the Brain in drag, and he’s still begging to be let into the building.

*****

Back after the break, Vince McMahon is in the ring to interview Razor Ramon.  Yes, that’s right, kiddies – before wrestlers took matters into their own hands and hit the ring to cut their own promos, it was Vince (or other announcers) facilitating these promos back in the day.  Ramon, who’s a heel at this point, says he was “born ready” for his WWF Championship match against Bret Hart at the Royal Rumble.  Ramon says that while it took eight and a half years for the “Hitmang” to make it to the top, it took him eight and a half months to catch him.  Eight and a half months and several Ultimate Warrior no-shows is more like it, chico.

During the interview, we also see a brief clip of Ramon assaulting then-squeaky clean babyface Owen Hart backstage.  Poor Owen.  Back then he was merely Koko B. Ware’s tag team partner and Bret’s meek little brother, mostly a jobber to the stars.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case later in the year, though that’ll be something for another Thursday Night Tanders installment.

*****

MATCH #3 – Shawn Michaels (champion) vs Max Moon, Intercontinental Title Match


Sign of the times—HBK enters the ring to his original ring music, where it’s ex-manager Sherri Martel doing the singing.  Bartlett drops a tasteless reference to the Amy Fisher case, because, well, it was THE American crime story of the time.  He also makes a wisecrack about Raw being so raw that Michaels pulled a knife during the commercial break, and I can totally imagine Vince glowering at him for making such a crude quip.  Bartlett also does a poor impersonation of the then-incarcerated Mike Tyson for most of the match.  MAKE HIM STOP!  Say what you want about today’s WWE announce team, but at least they know better than to pull off such crap.

Despite all the jokes about the Max Moon gimmick, Paul Diamond is actually a capable wrestler, and both men do get an equal amount of offense in here.  No Sweet Chin Music from the Heartbreak Kid, though he does hit a “savate kick” shortly before the end of the match.  Also interesting to see Michaels using a teardrop suplex, and not Sweet Chin Music as his finisher.  Shawn wins this one over the Man from Uranus, er…Max Moon and keeps the IC title, though it wasn’t an easy squash like the first two matches.  He’ll be facing former Rockers tag team partner Marty Jannetty at the ‘93 Royal Rumble for the IC belt.

*****

Before we head to our main event, Mooney is outside the Manhattan Center once again, and look who’s back!  Bobby Heenan’s wearing another bad disguise, and now he’s stereotypical rabbi “Morty Feldman,” demanding to see his nephew, “Ron” Bartlett.  Mooney feigns surprise upon seeing that it’s Heenan once again trying to get in, and while these segments get old quickly, at least it’s better than listening to Bartlett’s corny, dated, and occasionally offensive jokes.

Quick video recap from the last WWF Superstars – Kamala is being berated by manager Harvey Wippleman and “handler” Kim Chee (a masked Steve "Brooklyn Brawler" Lombardi), and is soon rescued by the real- and reel-life Reverend Slick, thus turning him face.  Kamala cleans house on Kim Chee, then chases the cowardly Wippleman out of the ring.  Harvey Wippleman was awesome – nobody managed gimmicky midcard heels like he did back in the day.

*****

MATCH #4 – The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) vs Damien Demento

And now, we’re down to the main event—the first Monday Night Raw main event ever!  And I also remember who Rob Bartlett is now—an associate of that vile racist radio host Don Imus.  That’s “eye-mus,” not “ee-mus” like my hometown in Cavite.  (As a backgrounder to Imus, he’s the guy who called the predominantly African-American Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” several years ago.)

Anyway, as the match gets underway, McMahon sounds disgusted that Bartlett doesn’t know who Paul Bearer is.  And rightfully so.  I said it once, I’ll say it again, more emphatically—DO YOUR FUCKING RESEARCH!  It seems to take forever for the match to start, and when it does start, we see a surprisingly even match between the gimmicky (though super-over) main eventer and the gimmicky midcarder.  Sounds promising, huh?   But it’s over not long after it starts, as a Tombstone makes quick work of Demento.

Well, that wraps up this week’s Thursday Night Tanders, and till next Thursda…

*****

No!  This show isn’t quite over yet!  Raw takes a commercial break, and when it returns, Vince is interviewing Doink, who cuts a nice little evil clown promo on Crush.  Then we see Crush, threatening Doink and punctuating every other word with “brah” just to remind us that, hey, the WWF has a Hawaiian wrestler!  Crush chases Doink around, and we wrap up with Mooney and Heenan, with the Brain finally being told he can enter the building…now that the first-ever Raw is over.

*****

Overall, this was a solid debut for Monday Night Raw, though it certainly could have been better.  For what wrestling was at that time – mostly jobber squashes on free television – it was interesting to see three midcarders doing the job to upper midcard or main event opponents but mostly showing some fight, instead of nondescript Joe Nobodies with beer-drinking tito physiques getting their asses kicked in one-sided encounters with the big names.

In terms of the wrestlers who appeared on the first episode of Raw, you had realistic-enough guys like arrogant pretty boy Shawn Michaels, All-American amateur wrestlers The Steiner Brothers, and evil sumo wrestler Yokozuna. But a whole lot of wrestlers, especially those in the midcard and below, had weird or outlandish gimmicks that wouldn’t fly in today’s product. Damien Demento and Max Moon are examples from the debut Raw, though you’ll meet more of them in future Thursday Night Tanders articles. Evil Vikings, Samoan wildmen, a Bigfoot knockoff of Hispanic origin, a half-man half-bull hybrid who mooed in the ring—I’m sure you’ll meet ‘em all before the calendar year is over. And since Doink the Clown was one of the WWF’s first “occupational” wrestlers with non-wrestling “day jobs,” I’d call this point in WWF’s history a transitional era between the weird gimmicks and the occupational ones, both staples of what was, at that time, a very kid-oriented product.

One interesting thing younger fans may observe on this Raw and other early ones is that wrestlers needed “assistance” in speaking their minds. They needed someone, may it be Vince McMahon, another announcer, or a talk show segment host, to ask them the questions. That would begin to change, however, in the run-up to the Attitude Era. Sometime around late 1997, we saw less and less of announcers interviewing wrestlers in-ring, and more of The Hart Foundation and D-Generation X cutting their own promos without someone interviewing them. It can also be argued that the New World Order kicked off that trend in late 1996, albeit in WCW, with Eric Bischoff, recently outed as the nWo’s secret leader, usually leading the way.

Then you’ve got the backstage side of things, where the ironically-named Mean Gene Okerlund was joined by Sean Mooney and Todd Pettengill, both younger, dorkier men seemingly born to take abuse from the vicious heels. Would young, attractive, and talented female interviewers like Renee Young and Eden Stiles have had a place in the early days of Raw? I say they should have, but probably wouldn’t have. At this point, McMahon still saw pro wrestling as a sausage party. Women’s wrestling was still seen as a gimmicky sideshow, and it seems like McMahon liked his backstage reporters (save for Mean Gene, who could hold his own verbally with the heels) to be young, male, and pushover-y.

Well, you’ve still got Tom Phillips as Mooney and Pettengill’s spiritual successor, and Byron Saxton gets shouted at a lot when he does backstage interviews, but overall, it’s nice to see some diversity these days as far as backstage reporters go.

What I couldn’t stand, quite obviously, was Rob Bartlett’s commentary.  Though I now get the references I didn’t quite get as a kid, a lot of them didn’t age well with time.  And lots of his commentary, if not dated, is just plain tasteless.  Not surprising, though, if you consider that he’s Don Imus’ protégé.

Till next time, this has been your Throwback Tito, and next week, we’ll be jumping to the 1993 Royal Rumble, an event that set the stage for one of the biggest backstage controversies of the pre-Montreal Screwjob era.

*****

The Throwback Tito is Enzo Tanos, a freelance writer and the drummer/manager for garage rock band The Myopics, where he hopes to debut his masked lucha drummer persona “Sin Verguenza” in future gigs. A wrestling fan since childhood, he’s old enough to remember watching Outback Jack’s pointless vignettes, and One Man Gang’s transformation to Akeem.



PHOTO CREDITS - Raw announce team c/o JayPrimeTown.wordpress.com, Shawn Michaels vs Max Moon c/o Daily DDT

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