Thursday, March 31, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: Raw After WrestleMania Moments.

With WrestleMania out of the way, the focus turns to the night after. The WrestleMania after Raw has become a staple and seems to get bigger each year. Big angles, major debuts, come backs and so much more would go down on the yearly tradition. Recently, the crowds for the show have become more and more rabid. We're going to look at the best moments from the one night a year where you can almost guarantee something big going down. This is being written before the 2016 night after WrestleMania Raw so nothing from that show makes the list.

10. Mankind Debuts

I was torn on the last spot here. I could have gone with Sid turning on Shawn Michaels after WrestleMania XI, which was the first real big angle to take place on the post WrestleMania Raw, since it kick started babyface HBK for the next two years. Instead, I went with what took place one year later. One night after WrestleMania XII saw Michaels win the WWE Championship in an Ironman match against Bret Hart, Mankind made his debut. With the WWE falling behind WCW in the ratings (and about to get crushed), they looked to past stars like Ultimate Warrior and Jake Roberts to help. It didn’t. However, on this faithful night, the former Cactus Jack made his WWF debut and would prove to be a pivotal player in the WWE eventually besting WCW. He beat Bob Holly in a bit of a typical squash but his real impact came later in the night. He managed to not only attack the Undertaker in his debut, but lay him out like few others had done. It kick started a massive career and the first truly great Undertaker feud that I can recall. Before this feud, good Undertaker matches were few and far between but this was the start of some really good and consistent work. Mankind showing up marked the first massive debut on the post-Mania Raw.

9. The Two Man Power Trip

Unlike the Mankind debut, the ramifications of this event didn’t leave a lasting impact. Still, it was one of the coolest things that I remember watching as a kid. Growing up during the Attitude Era, I was a massive “Stone Cold” Steve Austin fan. With an older brother that would cheer for the heels sometimes, I found myself drawn to heels. So when Austin turned heel at the end of WrestleMania X-Seven, I thought it was cool. Looking back, it wasn’t the best move but I digress. Austin aligned himself with Vince McMahon, who helped him beat the Rock. The Rock wanted a rematch and coerced one out of Vince inside of a Steel Cage. Things seemed like they would be fair. They weren’t. Vince again cheated heavily and they beat up the Rock until Triple H showed up. A monster heel at the time, it seemed to some like Triple H, who had beaten Austin in a classic back in February, may turn face. Instead, he attacked the Rock, forming the Two Man Power Trip with Austin. Bitter rivals turned partners, they destroyed the Rock, writing him off to film the Mummy Returns. Austin and Triple H would go on to hold the WWE, Intercontinental and Tag Team Titles at once. One has to wonder if their impact would have greater had Triple H not tore his quad within the first two months of their run.

8. The “Anti-Diva” Arrives

Okay, I’ll admit that there’s a fair amount of bias involved here. This isn’t quite on the level of importance of the other two moments listed so far but I loved it. While AJ Lee held the Divas Championship for 295 days on the main roster, Paige was making waves as the first ever NXT Women’s Champion. The “Anti-Diva” character had loads of potential and, despite being just 21, she felt like the most ready of the NXT prospects at the time, especially since her rival, Emma, was already up. After AJ retained the title at WrestleMania XXX, she came out and cut a promo about being the Divas division all by herself. The now always molten hot post-WrestleMania Raw crowd erupted as Paige made her surprise debut to congratulate AJ. AJ, being the bitch character that she was, didn’t take too kindly to being interrupted and challenged Paige. Arrogance played a big part as she also put her title on the line. Within about two minutes, Paige nailed the Paige Turner and shocked the world to become the youngest Divas Champion ever. It was a great moment in front of the right crowd and I hoped that it would lead to a great feud between the two. Unfortunately, AJ left for a few months and when she returned, she and Paige never clicked in the ring, giving us a disappointing rivalry. I’ll still always have that debut moment though.

7. Who’s Next?

The greatest trilogy of matches in WrestleMania history (okay, there are only two but still) saw Steve Austin and the Rock go to war at WrestleMania 15, 17 and 19. While Austin won the first two, he lost the final encounter to his greatest rival at XIX. It turned out to be Austin’s last match as well. Able to brag that he’d beaten Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin at back to back WrestleManias, the Rock closed out Raw the night after WrestleMania XIX to say that he was done. In his words, there was nobody left to beat. Austin, Hogan, Triple H, Angle, Jericho and many others all fell to the Brahma Bull (though not Shawn Michaels or Brock Lesnar). Rock, already delivering a tremendous Hollywood heel character, basically said he was heading to go make movies. Then, a familiar theme played that fans hadn’t heard in about three years. On the Titantron, Bill Goldberg appeared for the first time in the WWE and shit was about to go down. He made it to the ring, told the Rock that he was next and delivered an awesome spear. The biggest homegrown WCW star of all-time was now in the WWE. Like the last two moments listed though, it ended in disappointment as the crowd completely rooted for the Rock in their feud and Goldberg lasted a lackluster year with the company.

6. A New D-Generation X

Shawn Michaels was the leader of D-Generation X when they originally formed. He, Triple H and Chyna took over many segments and were a massive part of the WWE television in late 1997 and early 1998. After dropping the WWE Title to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV, Shawn was forced to retire due to serious back injuries. That could have left Triple H in limbo. Instead, he took advantage of the opening and set himself on a course to becoming a massive star. How did he do that you ask? There was no way that the red hot DX faction could just die there so Triple H brought back an old buddy to join him. The former 1-2-3 Kid and Syxx, returned as X-Pac and delivered a scathing promo on WCW, Eric Bischoff and even Hulk Hogan. It not only solidified that DX was still going to be a force to be reckoned with, but they had just as much edge without Shawn Michaels. If that wasn’t enough, the duo would go on to add the New Age Outlaws to the faction later in the night, which would go on to become the longest running variation of DX. It shot everyone involved into another tier of superstardom and was a key moment in Attitude Era history.

5. Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels Say Farewell

Retirement speeches in wrestling can be hard to sit through. Not because they’re bad or anything like that, but because we grow emotionally attached to the performers. Watching Edge and, more recently, Daniel Bryan announce their retirements were two of the hardest moments I’ve witnessed in wrestling. The goodbye speeches of Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels came on a bit of a happier note since they both got to choose when they were finished, unlike Edge and Bryan. Still, their goodbyes were certainly emotional. It was Shawn who beat Ric Flair and led to his retirement. The following night, Flair got the greatest sendoff ever as Triple H, who idolized him, showed up to say goodbye. Then, the floodgates opened as guys from Flair’s past all came out to bid him farewell. Ricky Steamboat, the Four Horsemen, Chris Jericho and many others got to say bye to a legend. Shawn Michaels’ was more relaxed as he waved goodbye to the fans after a speech and hugged Triple H atop the stage to close the show. Both of these moments were huge because it was two of the top five wrestlers in history going out on their terms and with their friends by their side.

4. “You Deserve It”

Again, this is more of a personal sentimental pick than one that would be considered historic. Daniel Bryan’s story of overcoming the odds, not only from a storyline perspective, but from a real life perspective, was incredible. He had to get past a lot of obstacles and it took the persistent fans of the WWE, constantly cheering for him, to get the WWE to change their stubborn ways. Daniel Bryan got a spot in the WrestleMania XXX main event and did the unthinkable. He beat Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton in one night to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Yea, he won the belt at SummerSlam and Night of Champions, but this was the culmination of months of frustration for the fans as well as the crowning moment for Bryan. He opened Raw the following night, in front of a jam packed crowd in New Orleans and was treated to a standing ovation. That would have been enough to be special but the sound of the fans chanting “you deserve it” so much that Bryan couldn’t even speak was indescribable. A guy that I watched in Ring of Honor back in 2006 had not only made it to the top, but did so to a point that the fans gave him a moment like this was something I’ll never forget.

3. The Beast is Back

While the post WrestleMania Raw was usually a time for rather big angles (the year prior to this saw the setup for Rock/Cena “Once in a Lifetime”), it was in 2012 that things seemed to pick up. That night featured an absurdly rabid crowd in Miami that popped for everything from Alberto Del Rio’s return to chanting for Daniel Bryan throughout the night following his 18 second loss. John Cena, fresh off of losing a massive match to the Rock, came out to close the show and wanted to speak to the Rock face to face. He called him out but instead, he got Brock Lesnar. Yes, the Brock Lesnar who dominated the WWE for two years and the Brock Lesnar that hadn’t been seen in eight. The reaction for Brock’s return was magic and having him confront Cena of all people was great. In a monumentally bad move, Cena offered a handshake, which led to him getting F5’ed. Brock had not only returned, but he made an immediate impact. His feud with Cena would be great, though the outcome of their first match was poorly handled (Cena winning was a dumb decision). They managed to fix it as Brock would go on to have the most dominant run in WWE history a few years later.

2. Dolph is Money

In present day, Dolph Ziggler is a very uninteresting midcarder with a strange fetish for dressing like he’s stuck in the 80’s. In 2013 though, he was red hot, coming off of a strong 2012 and held the Money in the Bank briefcase. WrestleMania 29 featured one of the lamest World Heavyweight Title matches in history as Alberto Del Rio retained against Jack Swagger. Even though the crowd liked Del Rio, they badly wanted Dolph. The night after Mania, they did another Del Rio/Swagger match. Del Rio retained again but had his ankle really worked on by Swagger. When “Here to Show the World” hit the speakers, the noise was deafening from the Brooklyn crowd. Dolph, AJ Lee and Big E came out as Dolph prepared to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Despite being a heel, the fans were 100% behind him. After a few minutes, Dolph countered the Cross Armbreaker, hit the Zig Zag and became the World Champion to one of the biggest pops I have ever heard. He got a concussion that ruined his title run and his career pretty much went down the tubes over the next few years but for one night, Dolph was the man and it was special.

1. Austin Chooses the Hard Way

For the second time on this list, I go to the 1998 post-WrestleMania Raw. While the formation of the new D-Generation X was huge, nothing topped this moment. The evil Mr. McMahon character was born at Survivor Series 1997 during the Montreal Screwjob and he had admitted, on screen, that he didn’t want Steve Austin as WWE Champion. Austin had even already given him the stunner. However, it was on this fateful night that the most important rivalry in WWE history was truly born. McMahon brought out Austin to present him with the new WWE Title but also to try and remind Austin that he was boss. He threatened him with a classic “easy way or the hard way” situation. Austin being Austin, clearly chose the hard way and delivered a stunner to Vince. It really set the Austin/McMahon feud off and when they were set to actually wrestle a few weeks later, Raw was able to beat Nitro in the ratings war for the first time in almost two years. The WWE never looked back, Austin was on the road to being the biggest star ever and history was forever changed.