Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw is War: On last week’s eventful episode we got to know “Mickey Foley,” met Goldust’s adorable daughter Dakota, got Triple H back into the King of the Ring tournament via logistical loophole and watched Jerry Lawler go all-in on Alabama.
If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.
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And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Raw is War for May 26, 1997.
Best/Worst: Can They oe⭐️is✝
Last week, Owen Hart and the British Bulldog challenged Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels to a Tag Team Championship match, counting on them not being able to coexist. This is based on the fact that despite their personalities, they keep coexisting long enough to fight off the Hart Foundation in group brawls. So Austin and Michaels, convinced they can’t coexist, spend the entirety of Raw looking for substitute tag partners. Michaels finds Ken Shamrock, with whom he can coexist, and Austin finds Harvey Wippleman, who can coexist by standing on the apron and watching him whip some of the aforementioned ass. At the end of the night, Gorilla Monsoon announces that Michaels and Austin will be forced to team together, further pushing the limits of coexistence. Did we mention that they’d have to coexist?
There isn’t a word in the English language that makes Vince McMahon harder than “coexist.” Maybe “thigh muscles,” but that’s technically two words. WWE LOVES a good “can they coexist” story, and they love a bad one even more. This week’s episode opens with Michaels and Austin in the ring again, with Jim Ross asking, “HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY COEXIST?” SOMEBODY TELL ME, I’M ABOUT TO BURST.
Michaels is like, “shut up, Steve! We can coexist!” and Austin just kind of tries to cut a promo independent of Michaels’ interruptions until the Legion of Doom show up, telegraphing the result of the main event by challenging Austin and Michaels for the tag titles “if they get past Owen and the Bulldog.” This isn’t setting up an LOD run-in or foreshadowing anything, they’re just setting up next week’s Raw before this one’s ten minutes old. Vince Russo’s great at making everyone on the show matter and have a goal, but he’s not so great at eyeballing how long a pro wrestling segment should take and when it should happen.
The Road Warriors stick around to take on Hart Foundation Black and White, aka Brian Pillman and Jim Neidhart. I chose this screenshot because of the Calvin Peeing sign, which is as 1990s as you get before the New Age Outlaws show up and everyone starts drawing wrestlers as South Park characters. I love that (1) Calvin is just peeing on the word “Bret” instead of any representation of him, and (2) the pee isn’t actually touching the name. I hope when they go to Canada, somebody has a sign of Calvin praying to Bret.
Anyway, the Legion of Doom have their very standard WWF match where they turn the selling on and off like a light switch, culminating in them setting up Pillman for a Doomsday Device. The rest of the Hart Foundation runs in for the DQ, which of course brings Austin and Michaels to fight them off. Then, of course, Austin and Michaels come to blows themselves, calling into question — say it with me, folks — whether or not they can coexist later tonight. I bet they definitely won’t!
Best: We’re Looking At The Real Deal Now
Up next is the Raw in-ring debut of Nation of Domination CPA turned pro wrestler D’Lo Brown, a thinking man’s Attitude Era favorite. This is before he gets his chest protector and loses a bone in his neck that keeps his head from flopping around. He takes on and cleanly defeats Bob Holly, who I guess is doing jack and shit with his victory over Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart last week. Bob Holly’s a regional Samson. Take him out of Alabama and he gets -5 to all attributes.
Anyway, the highlight of the match (besides fond memories of D’Lo) is the color commentary from Faarooq. He’s continuing to subversively be a babyface by pointing out how racist WWE is, calling Vince McMahon on his bullshit to his face. This exchange is particularly telling:
Faarooq: “Let me just ask you something, and tell me if this is the truth. Was there a civil war in this country?”
Vince: “Yes there was, of course.”
Faarooq: “Was there slavery in this country?”
Vince: “Unfortunately, yes.”
Faarooq: “What color were the slaves?”
Vince: [long pause] “… what is the game you’re trying to play here”
That’s every interaction you can have about race on the Internet. “Factual statement, I agree. Factual statement, yes, I agree. Thing that makes me think deeper about the question? ENOUGH WITH YOUR MACHIAVELLIAN RUSE.” Maybe the game Faarooq is trying to play is realizing you can only say “hey, think about other people” to the old white dudes in charge before you have to start kicking and punching them awake. I am interested in engaging in a discussion about race with other wrestling fans!
Okay, maybe not. Maybe we can talk about sexual orientation instead?
Worst: Know Your Audience
First of all, it’s interesting that WWE had a character with “ass” in his name for the better part of a decade and WWE Network censors “ass” as “–,” but doesn’t bleep “flaming fag” and has the closed captioning type it out uncensored. Also, if you think that’s some kind of PewDiePie-style awkward joke from me, here’s the promo in its entirety:
So, here’s the problem I have. A lot of times I get accused of being a PC Thug or a Social Justice Bard or whatever for my opinions on wrestling, and it’s almost always misconstrued. I don’t want the heels to be neutered, you know? Jerry Lawler’s cutting a brutal heel promo here, and out of context, I like it. Heels should be the worst people in the world. They should also be presented in a way that convinces the live crowds to, you know, boo and hate them for being so backwards and shitty about everything. But there’s a problem in wrestling sometimes where heels end up the funniest and most engaging characters on the show, especially compared to babyfaces, who are increasingly produced for mass consumption without any soul or personality. If Daniel Bryan becomes a face, he loses most of what made people like him and starts jabbing heels with baldly written snaps. Chris Jericho goes face and devolves from “the man of 1,004 holds” or “you just made the list,” to, “you’re STUPID! SHUT UP!” Ideally, in a magical type of wrestling world that trust me, I know does not exist, a heel should be the guy doing things that gets him booed, and the crowd should be enlightened or at least aware enough to follow through with that, and maybe want someone to kick his ass for it.
Instead, here’s what the WWF did. They spent several weeks allowing the audience to get to know the “real” Goldust, Dustin Runnels, and find out that outside of his pansexual gay panic Oscar statue act, he’s a decent but trouble family man who loves his wife and daughter and struggles with trying to make a name for himself in the shadow of his famous father. In his first match back last week, he lost via DQ to Rockabilly. This week, he loses a King of the Ring first round match to Jerry Lawler, an almost 50-year old part-timer and announcer who just slurred the shit out of him, insulted his wife and said he should’ve named his 3-year old daughter “Target” because “everybody had a shot at it.” Oh, and guess where the match takes place? Evansville, Indiana, one of the frequent stops for Lawler’s USWA, meaning he’s over HUGE the entire time and has people thunderously cheering him when he cheats to win. Goldust gets booed for daring to fight The King, and after the match when he gets revenge for the cheating, he gets murmur-booed for it.
And what bums me out is that nothing comes of it. This isn’t the start of a big Lawler vs. Goldust program where the guy has to fight to defend his family from a bigot. Lawler just wins, goes on to compete in the tournament at the pay-per-view and Goldust wrestles … Crush? He also has a two week story between now and then where he wins a #1 contender match for the European Championship somehow and fails to win it. One of those things that probably worked really well on paper, was done with the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and never followed up on.
Worst: Is Anybody Gonna Call A DQ Tonight?
During the Goldust/Lawler match, Goldust gets thrown to the outside and Lawler follows. Marlena is there, and before Lawler can even threaten her or do anything, she slaps him in the face. The referee is right there staring at it, but doesn’t call for a disqualification. Later, Rocky Maivia has a match against Flash Funk where the Head Bangers show up on commentary and get physically involved in the match, but the referee — who, again, is standing right there staring at it, look at him — doesn’t call a DQ. Rocky recovers enough to hit a high cross-body and wins, and then somehow they’re both mad at the Head Bangers again. What’s going on? Did we decide we were ECW this week and not tell anybody?
In an interesting note, the Head Bangers aren’t there to set up a pay-per-view match against Rocky and Flash or anything. They end up wrestling the all-star squadron of Bart Gunn and Jesse Jammes on the pre-show. No, they’re there to shill KING OF THE RING INFLATABLE CHAIRS. How much would one of those run me, you might ask?
Oh, I don’t know, how about SEVENTY DOLLARS.
That’s right, folks, Mt. Morris has an Impact Zone-style warehouse full of King of the Ring custom seating infatables and they’ll let you take one off their hands for the low, low 1997 price of $59.99, plus the eleven dollars it takes to get a flat piece of plastic from the peaks of Illinois to your doorstep. Hell, you could get a Hog Wild denim vest for that kind of scratch.
Anyway, Barron Trump wasn’t alive in 1997 and that’s the only little Richie Rich motherfucker I could imagine getting a $70 pay-per-view specific WWF inflatable through the mail.
Worst: Pre-Generation X
Rockabilly’s incredible non-push continues this week with a loss to Hunter Hearst Helmsley. This is punctuated by Chyna pulling a Jacqueline and body-slamming the Honky Tonk Man on the floor. Honky Tonk is also the victim of Sunny’s Super Soaker search and soak mission this week, so he’s having an especially bad time with the ladies. If Mae Young drags him into a janitor’s closet to make out with her, he’s got a bingo.
So yeah, Hunter Hearst Helmsley defeats Rockabilly. Vince is like, “neither of these men are fan favorites, so to speak!” “So to speak” is becoming my favorite Vince-ism, because it doesn’t mean anything and can mean EVERYTHING. He’s like, “last week Farooq, so to speak, played the race card.” It’s like his “one two THREE HE GOT HIM NEW CHAMPION no he kicked out” as a direct, multipurpose idiom.
Best: Paul Bearer As An Enraged, Blackmailing, Pus-Covered Ginger
If you thought Paul Bearer was scary as a creepy soprano mortician in charge of a zombie mage via mysterious light-filled urn, hold on to your butts for him as a pissed-off ginger southerner with pus all over his face. He’s promising to reveal the Undertaker’s big secret by the “end of tonight’s program,” and here he is checking his watch during a picture-in-picture from Ahmed Johnson vs. Vader. I’m choosing to talk about Paul Bearer’s facial wounds instead of Ahmed Johnson vs. Vader because Vader’s Kuwaiti news shine is starting to wear off and it’s all downhill from here.
Jim Ross and Vince McMahon are on commentary, so nobody calls him “Paul Bearer,” it’s always PAW BEAR. But yeah, Paw Bear is now a changed man thanks to the Undertaker throwing a fireball in his face. His powder skin has melted off, fire somehow gave him natural brows and his hair’s red all of a sudden, because that’s how fire works. And I don’t want to hit it too hard, but man, those beige-yellow pus stains on his bandages are pretty much the grossest special effect WWE’s ever produced outside of, like, Boogeyman performing facial surgery on Jillian Hall by peeling off the plastic gag vomit they Scotch-taped to her cheek.
At the end of the night, Paw Bear shows up to tell Undertaker his time is up, and Taker’s like, “THE CREATURES OF THE NIGHT MUST FORGIVE ME FOR WHAT I MUST DO.” Except, you know, slower and more Bible-y. He chokes Paw at first, but ultimately decides keeping the secret secret for another few weeks is worth the sacrifice, and Undertaker poses to show his allegiance.
Don’t change your mind about this later, Undie. And if you do, make sure you’re wrestling a match inside a cage with a locked door. That will probably protect you from whatever 7-foot fire demons you’ve got in your closet.
Best: Dude Love
We continue the sit-down interview with Mankind this week as we’re introduced to Dude Love, Mick’s Shawn Michaels-esque teenage backyard wrestling character. This becomes important later. These are still super great, aside from the fact that the WWF summed up last week’s interview with, “we learned that Mankind likes to eat worms,” which is kind of the opposite of what that interview was about.
Best: They Can Coexist, And Then They Can’t
The best part of this week’s episode by a mile is the main event, Shawn Michaels returning to the ring after a four-month Loss of Smile to team with Stone Cold Steve Austin against Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. Michaels, Austin and Hart are three of the best to ever do it, and Bulldog is at the top of the list of guys who can be occasionally carried to greatness, so this one’s as good as you could possibly expect a 1997 Raw match to be.
The pace is ridiculously quick, with everyone working overtime to get their shit in. The crowd loves every second of it, because look at the rest of the card they had to sit through tonight, and pop for everything. It’s even refreshing in modern Raw terms, because it’s a great match that doesn’t rely too hard on kickouts to create drama. The Austin/Hart coexistence drama is enough, and they work well enough together that it throws Bulldog and Owen off their gameplan. They rely too much on the expected clashing of egos, and Austin and HBK are able to hold it together long enough to hit a surprise Sweet Chin Music from out of nowhere while the ref’s back is turned and give Austin the pin, and the championships.
After the match, the Hart Foundation jumps Michaels and beats him down. Austin is busy grabbing both tag titles so he doesn’t immediately help, but stops before he leaves and realizes what’s going on. But then, in a great moment of character consistency, the driven-to-nobleness Stone Cold realizes that yeah, he could help out his new tag team partner, but all of the Hart Foundation is in the ring beating him down right now … meaning Bret is by himself at the top of the ramp again. Nothing motivates Austin like Bret Hart standing somewhere alone, so Austin leaves his partner to a stomping to jump and sucker punch Bret a few times. Classic. I appreciate that they always went back to Austin’s psycho-killer obsession with Bret’s existence, and found enough ways to illustrate it and switch everyone’s alignments around it with almost nothing else changing.
Austin flees when the Harts realize what’s happening, and the two men left lying, conveniently enough, are King of the Ring opponents Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.