WWE Monday Night Raw: Looking Back at the Highest-Rated Episode Ever
On May 10, 1999, WWE broadcast an episode of Raw that achieved an 8.1 rating, the show's highest ever. With the low ratings the show has gotten in recent years, 8.1 seems like a faraway dream of a number.
What got so many fans to watch? And how can we recreate that today?
Raw rocked the Orlando Arena and the world with big names, enthralling feuds and intense wrestling.
The episode had fans gearing up for Over the Edge. There was a bubbling energy throughout the company.
With Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler at the announcers table and Stone Cold and The Rock in the building, let's try to figure out what made the highest-rated episode tick.
Kane vs. Billy Gunn
Fireworks and a screaming Orlando crowd kicked things off ,and soon darkness hit. Kane's music came on, and the Big Red Machine received a huge pop.
As Billy Gunn approached the ring, a crazy fan jumped over the railing to hug him. Distracted, Gunn soon got clocked courtesy of Kane.
The majority of this match is Kane delivering an ass-whupping. It's a story of revenge, and Gunn plays the weasel heel who gets what coming to him.
The brawl, which entertained in parts, came to a chaotic close when a shoeless Road Dogg, X-Pac, D-Lo Brown and Mark Henry got involved.
This is a trademark of the Attitude Era, overlapping feuds. Kane has issues with Gunn that are mostly resolved here, but Kane and X-Pac have a rivalry going with Brown and Henry. Meanwhile, the New Age Outlaws had recently split, and Gunn and Road Dogg were at each other's throats.
The match itself couldn't bring in a whole host of viewers on its own, but it was simply a single part of a bigger picture, one battle in a long war.
The stable Union, which consisted of Big Show, Test, Mick Foley, Vince McMahon and Ken Shamrock, stomped their way into the ring wielding 2x4s.
Vince called out Shane, who promptly showed up with the Corporate Ministry. For those who don't remember, that particular group boasted a line-up of the Undertaker, Paul Bearer, Shane McMahon, Big Boss Man, Triple H and Chyna, among others.
Here's another key to Raw's success at this time: the large stable.
These small army-like groups helped provide feuds with staying power and allowed versatility in the matches between them. There was a real sense of hate between these groups as evidenced by this showdown.
Commissioner Shawn Michaels then appeared via video feed and proceeded to make the crowd laugh while goofing off and announcing matches for the rest of the show. This is a simple way to have viewers stick around.
They now know which of their favorite wrestlers are appearing and can get geared up about the exciting six-man tag team main event with Shane, Triple H and the Undertaker vs. The Rock, Steve Austin and Vince.
Big Show vs. Paul Bearer
Fans had to know that this wouldn't end up being a real match. How many bumps was Paul Bearer really going to take?
But the thought of a weasel heel getting whipped on national TV had to be enticing, regardless of how unlikely it was to actually go down.
Two moves in, the Undertaker made his entrance. The whole thing quickly disintegrated into a brawl.
There was an unsatisfying sense to this encounter as Bearer got away mostly unscathed. It's that feeling that was harnessed so well during this era, one that left the fans wanting more
Debra vs. Sable
Though the WWF Women's Championship was being contested, this wasn't anything close to resembling a wrestling match. An Evening Gown Match between two athletically challenged and well-endowed females was meant only to titillate the young male demographic.
How many fans were tuning in just hoping that one of these women's bras would get ripped off and the fans chanting "We want puppies" would get their wish?
With a slew of innuendos from the announce table, the match was over quickly thanks in part to Val Venis distracting Debra.
A busted guitar over Venis' head courtesy of Jeff Jarrett followed.
Debra was the first to get her gown ripped off, but Commissioner Michaels awarded the winner anyway. This was evidence that anything could indeed happen on Raw. Even the rules were subject to change.
Big Bossman vs. Test
The nightstick on a pole stipulation smelled terribly of Vince Russo. One of the worst matches of the night probably didn't contribute much to the night's high rating.
Still the fans were into it at points, even when the action consisted mostly of slam and then climb, slam and then climb.
The reason that a clunky midcard match like this could generate interest was that it was part of a larger scale feud. Test and Bossman alone isn't intriguing much of anyone, but as part of The Union vs. The Corporate Ministry, it had a lot more drawing power.
Cactus Jack vs. Mideon and Viscera
At this point Mick Foley played Mankind most of the time, and Cactus only came out for the most hardcore of situations. Here he took on both Mideon and Viscera in an entertainingly brutal match.
Viscera brought a sledgehammer to the ring. Cactus Jack brought a pair of basketballs.
A sick chair shot and some trashcan smashing later, Cactus picked up the win.
Faarooq vs. Bradshaw
Shawn Michaels booked this lumberjack match despite the two men involved being tag team partners. Faarooq and Bradshaw were more than that, though. They were drinking buddies and brothers in arms.
The Union served as the lumberjacks, interfering whenever given a chance.
This is one of the highlights of the episode. The existence of the match itself was surprising, and both wrestlers used the stipulation well, carving out an entertaining battle.
The Ministry eventually came out to stop The Union's interference and the two groups converge, continuing the energy of the feud. Not only did the shock of match excite fans, but WWE tied it into their bigger story.
The match starts at 10:50 in the video. See the conclusion here.
Mean Street Posse vs. the Stooges
This was certainly an odd choice to be featured on the Best of Raw 15 year anniversary DVD, but fun to watch in the midst of the episode.
The Mean Street Posse would lose to the pair of old-timers and have to leave the WWE forever.
The crowd remained energetic regardless of how badly the wrestlers stunk up the place. After a pair of submissions, a shirtless Patterson mimicked Hulk Hogan's victory celebration.
Sandwiched between more serious matches, fans could appreciate the goofiness of this. Today's Raw often relies too heavily on the silly factor, making it the centerpiece rather than the sideshow.
Jeff Jarrett vs. Val Venis
If a new fan were to look up old footage to see why the Attitude Era was so great, this would not be the match to watch.
Both Jeff Jarrett and Val Venis seem to have little energy and go through the motions for most of this. The punch-happy brawl plays up the revenge story well, but the action is often stale.
The fans seemed more interested in Debra’s chest as evidenced by the "We want puppies" chant.
Debra used said puppies to distract Venis, and Jarrett cracked him in the head with the women's title belt for the tainted victory.
Ken Shamrock vs. Chyna
Like the Paul Bearer and Big Show match, most fans knew in the back of their head that this wouldn't be a full-fledged fight. The entertainment is instead drawn from anticipation.
As Chyna continued to mock Shamrock and he grew angrier, the emotions of the showdown swelled and fans stayed glued to the screen, wondering how this would end.
WWE did a great job of building up Chyna here without sacrificing Shamrock's image.
Shamrock's theatrics were masterful, and both he and Chyna churned up the crowd with just a few slaps and a single suplex.
Six Man Tag Team Main Event
Steve Austin, The Rock and Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon, Triple H and The Undertaker.
It's hard to pack a six-man tag with more star power. Fans would have sat through garbage to get to this clash.
Shawn Michaels, donning a pair of short shorts, added to the mix as the special guest referee.
What happened in the ring wouldn't make anybody's five-star list, but it was heart-pulsing entertainment. This was a fiery war between men who hated each other.
The individual rivalries (e.g Austin and Taker) provided plenty of spark on their own, but paired with the stable vs. stable feud, this was an emotional powder keg. WWE had constructed such a great buildup that the payoff felt monumental.
The greatness of this episode is not necessarily about the quality of the matches but the energy and momentum of the stories.
Every match had a purpose, and many of them fed into the bigger picture, a feud with great depth and various parts. It was a particularly hot night during a hot era.
What can WWE learn from their most successful ratings grabbing Raw?
Feuds have to be more complex than Wrestler A is angry with Wrestler B. They should overlap, be multi-dimensional and involve several big names.
Unpredictability can be gold.
The midcard has to be valued and given ample air time. Announcing a long list of matches beforehand can entice fans to stick around for the whole show.
But as much as WWE can adjust a few things to borrow from this episode and this era, you can't recreate the adoration fans had for The Rock, Undertaker and Austin.
Their music elicited explosive reactions every time. Stars of that magnitude may never come around again, or maybe they're on their way now.