20 Today! - Episode 1: Intelligence, Integrity, & Infidelity

It was twenty years ago today ...

Janet stood atop the charts with Doesn't Really Matter, Bring It On was the #1 film at the box office, and a 9 year old me kicked off his final week of summer vacation, eagerly anticipating WWF RAW and the fallout from SummerSlam the night before.

NJPW G1 Climax 31 Updated Standings

What follows is a rundown of the episode, along with my show notes/observations.

  • Monday Night RAW begins with a prologue that sets the stage for all the nights major events and angles. Commissioner Foley - sitting backstage in a penalty box adorned with red and green lights - announces four title matches, including The Rock defending his WWF Championship versus Kane. Quickly, the camera cuts to the parking lot where a nervously pacing Triple H awaits his wife, whom he hasn't seen in nearly 24 hours. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler comment that the rumor mill has been swirling as to her whereabouts. "WHERE IS STEPHANIE?"

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Write a show that you're confident in, lay your cards out on the table, and hopefully people stick around until the end. I'd love for the WWE to do this more often, but they can't seem to get out of their own way when it comes to storytelling or developing new stars.

  • Theme/Pyro/Welcome to Greensboro, N.C./Check-In at WWF New York

Thorn In Your Eye is still the best RAW intro song, ever. I wanted to use it as the video link above, but WWE doesn't have it anywhere on their YouTube page. According to them, We're All Together Now was used from 1997-2002, which is definitely wrong. Whatever, just another reason to dust off my copy of Full Metal: The Album. Now, where did I leave my CD player?

6-Man Tag Team Match: Chris Jericho and The Acolytes defeated Chris Benoit and T&A

  • Jericho attacks Benoit on the ramp while the two teams brawl inside the ring. The two Chris' work well together. Every move is quick, crisp, and fluid. There is no waiting around for your opponent. The intensity in the ring helps you believe that the animosity between their characters is real.

Lilian Garcia flubbed on Benoit's entrance and introduced him as from Winnipeg. I wouldn't care if I hadn't grown up in Edmonton.

  • Commentary spends a decent chunk of time relaying medical updates. According to them, Kurt Angle has been released from a local medical facility after sustaining a concussion last night. He is not scheduled to appear this evening. The prognosis for Shane is more severe, as he is expected to be out several weeks.

I don't mind hearing medical updates in the middle of matches because it can be passed off as breaking news. I took exception when the not-so-shocking revelation of Shane being able to walk was used as a segue to talk about Stephanie. There was plenty of time to advance that narrative and keep people engaged. This wasn't the time to do it. Besides, it was weird how excited Jerry Lawler sounded at the prospect of an extramarital affair.

  • Near the end of the match, Bradshaw tagged in Faarooq, but it was Jericho who jumped into the ring. The referee knew who the legal man was supposed to be, but didn't bother enforcing the rules. This made zero sense. Why not remedy the error by making another quick tag?
  • As it happens, mayhem breaks out at ringside leaving Jericho and Albert alone in the ring. Trish jumps onto the apron to cause a distraction, but it backfires when Bradshaw breaks up a military press, allowing Jericho to hit a lionsault for the victory.

I thought this was a fine match to kick-off the night. Everyone got a chance to get involved and hit a few big moves. It's nothing you'd ever need to go out of your way to see, but I prefer it when the show runs at a quicker pace, so the fact that it didn't overstay its welcome works perfectly for me.

You can tell by the crowd reactions that they're far more invested in the story beats - as well as the entrances and finishes of matches - than the in-ring action.

  • Triple H is still in the parking lot. He is joined by X-Pac, who jokes that the last time he saw Stephanie "she was in good hands." Hunter is upset and tells his friend to get lost. X-Pac laughs and tells him to lighten up. Just then, Angle's music hits and Triple H makes a beeline to the ring.

For me, a character is born from their purpose and defined by the tactics they use to overcome whatever stands in their way. Triple H brooding backstage instead of actively going out and looking for his wife teaches us quite a bit about him.

  • Kurt talks about taking a pedigree through the Spanish announce table, and laments the fact that he likely won't be able to regale his grandchildren with tales of SummerSlam 2000. Instead, they'll have to settle for stories from the Olympics and his various other accomplishments in the World Wrestling Federation.
  • As far as Stephanie goes, Kurt remembers bringing her to the medics, but nothing more. He proceeds to run down Triple H, calling him a shady character, a borderline criminal, and a worse husband than he was WWF Champion.

Angle is just over one year into his wrestling career at this point, and he's already a great promo. He delivers every line with a smirky naivete that makes your skin crawl. At this point in time, he was one of those guys that I loved to hate. The comedy and charisma made me a fan, but at the same time I wanted to see him get punched in the face.

  • Triple H comes to the ring. He brags about giving Angle a concussion. Calmly, he explains that all he wants to know is where his wife is, and then not so calmly threatens to do some unmistakably criminal things to Kurt if he doesn't comply.
  • Kurt questions if Stephanie hasn't called because she's scared. Maybe she doesn't trust Hunter anymore. Or perhaps, after he punched her in the head last night, she finally sees him for what he truly is, a bastard.
  • Triple H pushes Kurt through the ropes. Countless officials swarm to the outside of the ring and hold them apart.

My Time is my favorite Triple H entrance theme.

No other notes, really. I'm curious to find out what happens. Hunter doesn't work particularly well as a face, given his behavior in the weeks and months prior, but I think the story is even more problematic if he's presented as without flaw. Regardless the eventual outcome, you can't help but feel like Stephanie could do better.

  • Eddie Guerrero and Chyna are talking backstage about what just took place in the ring. Chyna admits that she feels bad for Triple H, but Eddie doesn't believe he knows how to properly treat a woman.

Intercontinental Championship Match: Chyna (c) defeated Val Venis

  • Val blames Trish for costing him the title last night and decides to come out alone. She eventually appears at the top of the stage, and is shown on camera every 30 seconds.
  • Venis dominates the majority of the match, with Chyna's offense being limited to a ddt, back elbow, and low blow.
  • With Val going to the top rope for the money shot, a confident and relieved looking Trish starts making her way to ringside. Noticing this, Venis inexplicably jumps down and starts admonishing her, demanding she go backstage. Chyna takes advantage of this and rolls him up for the 1-2-3, retaining her championship.
  • Val Venis is irate, screaming and chasing after Trish.

Val really took that whole "your character is you, just turned up to 11" thing to heart. My lord, he's insufferable. Trish needs to cut ties with him, now.

I don't love all the distraction finishes, especially when they make the wrestlers look like complete buffoons. Unfortunately, they were used liberally during this era, so we're probably going to see very few clean finishes unless it's a PPV.

  • Michael Cole is in the locker room with Kurt Angle. He asks the Olympian if we are to believe that he remembers nothing from the night before, to which Kurt is quick to regurgitate his concussion story. After a brief moment of contemplation, however, he does recall being in the hotel lobby and Stephanie being present. He continues on, saying that room 814 belonged to Stephanie. Kurt smirks and walks away.

One of the things that I loved about the Attitude Era is that it was part of the cultural conversation. It spoke specifically to the post-Nirvana, nihilistic, gen-x'ers. Sure, it had and continues to have its detractors, but it's hard to deny that people connected with the product. Whether it was Bret Hart spotlighting societal issues in the United States or Stone Cold Steve Austin fighting his tyrannical boss, there was a conversation to be had. Here, in August 2000, the writing has noticeably devolved and feels lewd for the sake of being lewd.

  • Steven Richards comes out for a match with Rikishi, and decides to cut a promo. He talks about Rikishi's thong and scantily clad women, and a bunch of other things that I definitely heard and didn't zone out during.
  • Rikishi is accompanied to the ring by Too Cool and two of the Godfather's former, uh, associates.
  • Richards tries to attack Rikishi before the match, but gets superkicked and nearly stink-faced. He is saved by Bull Buchanan and slinks off to the back. Too Cool celebrate with a dance.

20 years later and RTC still makes me want to turn off the show.

  • Chyna goes and talks to Triple H in his locker room.She tells him that she knows he and Stephanie will work through their issues and that trust is the most important thing in a relationship. He thanks her and gives her a hug. Eddie storms into the room and pushes him away. Chyna and Eddie leave the room arguing as Hunter questions if everyone in the company has lost their damn minds.

Much like Triple H earlier, this was an interesting reaction from Guerrero. You can't help but wonder why he would react so strongly, especially when he can see everything that happened on the TV.

This must have been a tough segment for Chyna to film. I regret not appreciating her more as a kid because she is one hell of a performer.

  • Edge and Christian come out and feign respect for the Hardy's and Dudley's after their TLC match, but instead bring out two pairs of little people to mock them with.
  • Matt and Jeff come out and attack the tag team champions.

All the things that are wrong with the segment are too obvious to point out.

The second biggest pop of the night happened when Jeff took his shirt off.

  • Angle continues to stir the pot backstage, telling Eddie to fight for Chyna by fighting Triple H. He says that guys like Hunter need to be taught a lesson.

Hardcore Championship Match: Steve Blackman (c) defeated Tazz

  • Tazz cuts a pre-match promo where he threatens Jerry Lawler and calls Jim Ross a "leather-faced bastard." He also says that he is thug life born, thug life bred, and eventually thug life dead.
  • Nothing of note happens until Tazz cracks Lawler over the head with a trash can lid. The King fights back and gets a helping hand from J.R., who snuck up from behind and hit Tazz with that same lid. Blackman proceeded to hit a flying double-knee attack from the apron that earned him the pinfall.
  • Tazz tries to attack the commentary team again, but is held back by officials. Jim Ross can be heard shouting, "Thug. My ass!"

All I could think of during this match is how Steve Blackman is essentially what Mac from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia sees himself as. Otherwise, a continuing Tazz and Lawler feud doesn't get me excited.

Singles Match: Lita defeated Jacqueline

  • The women worked a quick but entertaining match. Jacqueline's kicks to the ribs looked devastating. She also delivered a beautiful ddt and flying crossbody.
  • Lita wins with a three-move sequence that included a reverse ddt, modified twist of fate, and top rope moonsault.
  • Edge and Christian attack Lita after the bell. The Hardy's come out to save her but get beat up. Edge spears Lita, who is then stomped on by Christian and Jacqueline.

It was only a few minutes long, but aside from the main event it was the best wrestling match on the show.

  • Michael Cole speaks with Kane and asks how he will focus on tonight's title match given everything that is happening with his brother, The Undertaker. He skirts the first part of the question, but goes on to say that the people never accepted him, so he doesn't accept them either. He wants to give them something to fear. He wants to beat The Rock so that a monster will represent the people.

I found this to be a very effective piece of character work that gave us a peek into the psyche of Kane.

Triple H defeated Eddie Guerrero via Disqualification

  • Commentary talks about Chyna and Triple H's former relationship.
  • So many punches, and one suplex from Hunter.
  • After Eddie misses on a frog splash, Triple H sets up for the pedigree, but Kurt Angle hits the ring with a chair and cracks both men over the head.
  • Chyna comes out with a chair of her own and chases Kurt off. She is caught between both men, attempting to tend to both.

This isn't my favorite storyline, but it has provided some interesting character work. We've seen the tender and loving side of Chyna, the passive yet aggressive tendencies of Triple H, the smarmy, two-faced nature of Kurt, and the unexpected insecurities within Latino Heat.

Perry Saturn and Terri Runnels defeated Al Snow and The Kat

  • Terri delivers two of the worst knee strikes I've ever seen. She followed it up with a fisherman's suplex that made me wince in discomfort it looked so dangerous.
  • Al Snow and Perry Saturn each hit a variety of beautifully executed suplex's.
  • Mideon slides into the ring wearing nearly nothing. It disrupts the flow of action, but doesn't sway the momentum in either mans favor, so I'm not entirely sure what the point of him "streaking" was.
  • Al Snow lands a stunning moonsault from the top rope to halfway across the ring.
  • Snow is pushed into his corner where he accidentally tags The Kat into the match. After he falls to the outside, Saturn quickly applies his signature submission, the rings of saturn, and makes her tap out.

I forgot how good Al Snow and Perry Saturn were in the ring. Watching them go at it was a far more similar experience to what you would see on WWE TV nowadays.

  • Kevin Kelly is interviewing The Rock backstage. Before Rock even says a word, he wait a good 30 seconds. The crowd gets louder with each passing moment. They erupt when he turns his head from left to right. They are putty in his hands.
  • Kelly asks Rock about being mentally and physically prepared to defend his title. The response: "“Are you physically as well as mentally prepared to tickle the anus of a monkey? Why do you ask The Rock stupid questions? Why are you an ugly hermaphrodite? Nobody knows, Kevin Kelly."
  • The Rock promises to kick Kane's burnt candy ass all over Greensboro before delivering his iconic closing catchphrase.

WWF Championship Match: The Rock (c) defeated Kane

  • The Rock's side russian leg sweep and float over ddt are two of my all time favorite looking moves.
  • Kane tosses Rock into the corner and inadvertently knocks out the referee. Rock lands the people's elbow - which literally brings the audience to its feet - but there is no one there to count.
  • A chokeslam and rock bottom each earn 2.999999 counts. Both were great near-falls.
  • Rock and Kane fight out into the crowd. Undertaker's music hits and he rides out on his motorcycle. Kane leaves Rock behind to confront his brother. The crowd is going wild. It's a concert like atmosphere. They're loving the chaos!
  • Taker hits an incredible chokeslam on Kane in the middle of the ring. The Rock comes back to pin him, but he kicks out at two. I have no clue how this wasn't ruled a disqualification.
  • One final rock bottom seals the deal.

This was a fun match. It was wild from start to finish, but the energy of the competitors and crowd elevated it beyond what it otherwise would have been.

  • RAW goes off the air with the whereabouts of Staphanie McMahon still unknown, and a turnaround stare setting up a potential title program between The Rock and The Undertaker.

***

All in all, this was a fairly pedestrian episode of Monday Night RAW. The main event was a hoot, but all the other matches were forgettable. The main story thread was weaved throughout the show, which I always appreciate, but it's lacking a great protagonist to get me completely invested.

***

The next installment of this series will be released on Monday, August 31st, where we'll be talking SmackDown!

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