WWE released the "Raw 20th Anniversary Collection" last month with the WWE's flagship show turning 20 years old in 2012. I received a review copy in late November, and finally got a chance to catch up on most of the 12-disc collection (I did skip some matches and segments).
One interesting note is that the DVD contains two matches featuring Chris Benoit. Benoit's entrances are cut, and there is a segment between Benoit and Kurt Angle on the March 2001 episode that is cut as well. Also, the commentary during Benoit's matches is edited.
There are a few other minor edits on the DVD as well, mostly pertaining to ring entrances. For instance, The Undertaker's "Rollin'" theme was dubbed over. Also, it should be noted that there are no episodes from 1994, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006.
The series kicks off with about 30 minutes of fact and figures, hosted by Michel Cole and The Bella Twins. This includes statistics like which cities hosted the show the most, celebrities appearing, title changes, etc. While many of the figures are interesting, it does get old after a bit.
To my surprise, the first episode in the collection is not the very first RAW, but rather the May 17, 1993 show. While the first episode doesn't contain any classic matches, it does feature stars like The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall and Yokozuna. It seems like it would have been good to include the episode as a bonus or something.
Still, the May 17th episode was loaded, and it is a great way to kick off the collection. I vividly remember the angles from the show, which included Marty Jannetty returning and beating Shawn Michaels for the WWF Intercontinental Championship and Sean Waltman upsetting Razor Ramon. However, I had forgotten that both of those memorable angles took place on the same episode.
We fast forward almost 3 and a half years to the next episode, which actually aired on a Friday on September 6, 1996. While there wasn't anything particularly historic about the episode, it does feature a lot of legends, including "Stone Cold" Steve Austin facing Marc Mero with Brian Pillman on commentary, Shawn Michaels defending the WWF Championship against Goldust and Jerry Lawler interviewing a young Mark Henry, who said that he was training but admitted that he wasn't ready to start wrestling yet. Another interesting note is that during a match between Mankind and Alex Porteau, Jim Ross said that Kurt Angle was meeting with WWE officials the day before. It would be another two years before Angle would eventually sign with the WWF. Also during the episode, JR revealed that "Diesel" and "Razor Ramon" were heading back to the WWF, which led to the disastrous angle with Ross bringing in Rick Bognar as the new Razor, and Glenn "Kane" Jacobs as the new Diesel.
Here is a rundown of the rest of the episodes featured:
- February 24, 1997: With much of the talent away on a European tour, this show featured the original ECW invasion. ECW matches included Stevie Richards vs. Little Guido, Taz vs. Mikey Whipwreck, and Tommy Dreamer vs. D-Von Dudley. A Shawn Michaels tribute video aired, The Road Warriors returned and Ken Shamrock made his WWF debut in an interview segment. The main event was The Undertaker vs. Faarooq (Ron Simmons).
- February 26, 1997: The next episode aired just a week after the previous episode on the collection. It featured Triple H defeating Bret Hart by countout, Sid Vicious defending the WWE Championship against Mankind, a great Steve Austin promo via satellite and The Rock defending the Intercontinental Championship against Vader. But the real reason why this episode is featured is because of the classic main event, featuring WWF Tag Team Champion Davey Boy Smith defeating his partner, WWF Tag Team Champion Owen Hart, to win the WWF European Championship.
- July 21, 1997: The next episode, the third from 1997, featured The Hart Foundation (Bret "Hitman" Hart, Owen Hart & The British Bulldog) in Canada, at the peak of the U.S. vs. Canada feud, facing "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Dude Love and their surprise partner, The Undertaker. It also featured the famous clash between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon after it was announced that Shawn Michaels would be the special referee for the SummerSlam main event between Undertaker and Hart. It was an awesome crowd, and a great episode.
- September 22, 1997: A historic episode, as it marked the first RAW from Madison Square Garden. It is the fourth and final episode on the set from 1997. The show featured Ahmed Johnson defeating The Rock in a WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament Quarterfinal match, Owen Hart defeating Brian Pillman via DQ in a WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament Semi-final match, Cactus Jack defeating Triple H in a Street Fight and Bret Hart defeating Goldust. However, the real highlight was one of the most defining moments in WWF history, with Steve Austin jumpstarting the Austin - Vince McMahon feud by delivering his first Stone Cold Stunner to Vince.
- April 13, 1998: Surprisingly, although 1998 was a landmark year for the WWF as they turned the tide in the Monday Night Wars and started to reach new heights with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin on top, this was the only episode from that year. I would have expected the episode featuring the Mike Tyson - Austin confrontation on the set, but it didn't make the cut. This was one of the weaker episodes on the collection, but definitely deserves a post on the set for its historical significance. The episode broke the Monday Nitro ratings streak, and changed the direction of the Monday Night Wars. The event was headlined by a bait-and-switch scheduled WWE title match between Vince McMahon and Steve Austin (with one arm tied behind his back). Before the match could take place, Mick Foley debuted the Dude Love character the attacked Austin.
- January 4, 1999: This is one of the most talked about episodes of RAW in history as it featured Mankind defeating The Rock for the WWF Championship. However, what is probably more remembered than the match is Tony Schiavone spoiling the title win on a live episode of Nitro since RAW was taped. Instead of keeping fans tuned into Nitro, a huge number of viewers changed the channel to RAW. RAW ended up winning the ratings battle that night and would never lose to Nitro again.
- March 22, 1999: The RAW before WrestleMania 15, which featured the infamous "beer truck" incident. Also on the episode, The Rock faced Mankind with the winner refereeing the main event, and Steve Austin faced Paul Wight (The Big Show) just weeks after Wight jumped to WWF from WCW. Another classic that deserved to be included.
- May 10, 1999: The highest rated RAW in history. With Monday Nitro on hiatus due to the NBA finals, RAW scored an insane 8.1 rating. The main event also featured one of the most star studded matches in the show's history, with Steve Austin, The Rock & Vince McMahon defeating The Undertaker, Triple H and Shane McMahon after Austin pinned Shane. Shawn Michaels was the special referee for the bout.
- March 26, 2001: A historic - and surreal - episode, it was the famous RAW And Nitro Simulcast after WWF purchased WCW right before WrestleMania 17. The first of two Chris Benoit matches on the collection is on this episode, with Benoit teaming with the Hardy Boys to face Edge, Christian & Kurt Angle. Despite the star studded main event with The Rock & "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defeating The Undertaker & Kane, the episode will always be most remembered for the closing angle featuring Vince announcing the purchase of WCW, only for Shane McMahon to appear on Nitro and announce that he now the owner.
- November 24, 2003: This was an action packed episode, although it's not as historic as the other shows featured on the set. It did feature the first-ever women's Steel Cage Match in WWE history with Lita vs. Victoria. Also on the episode, Goldberg defeated World Heavyweight Champion Triple H via disqualification, while Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels defeated Ric Flair and Batista after Jericho superkicked Michaels onto Batista, allowing Michaels to get the pin. Batista destroyed Michaels after the match.
- October 3, 2005: We fast forward two years to RAW Homecoming, featuring a classic 30 minute iron man match between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels, which ended in a draw. It was the return of RAW to the USA Network, as well as the first three hour episode which featured stars from both RAW and SmackDown. In the main event, WWE Champion John Cena defeated Eric Bischoff (with Kurt Angle).
- December 10, 2007: Historic, in the sense that it was the 15th anniversary of the show. There was an Evolution reunion with Triple H, Batista & Ric Flair defeating Randy Orton, Edge & Umaga, as well as Hulk Hogan issuing a challenge to Steve Austin, that never went anywhere. Also on the episode, Vince McMahon proclaimed himself to be the greatest WWE Superstar in history. This led to him getting beaten down by Mick Foley, The Undertaker and finally, Steve Austin. Austin then said that the fans were the greatest Superstars in history.
- April 21, 2008: Not as historic as some of the other episodes, this show featured William Regal winning the King of the Ring Tournament with stars from all three brands (RAW, SmackDown & ECW) participating. The reason that this episode made the cut was because it featured promos from President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain about Randy Orton during the 2008 Presidential campaign. It's pretty surreal when you think about it. Also on the show was the monumentally terrible match between "Hillary Clinton" and "Barack Obama," which was bad on all levels. This episode could easily have been replaced, and the promos from Obama, Clinton and McCain could have been kept as a bonus feature.
- June 15, 2009: Another memorable episode, this show featured stars from all three brands (WWE, ECW, SmackDown), as well as all three world titles being defended. This was also the final RAW featuring the ECW brand, and also had Vince McMahon selling "RAW" to Donald Trump, which only lasted a week
- November 16, 2009: Another episode from Madison Square Garden, with Roddy Piper guest hosting. This is another episode which could have been skipped. In the main event, WWE Champion John Cena & World Heavyweight Champion The Undertaker defeated D-X (Triple H & Shawn Michaels) and Unified Tag Team Champions Chris Jericho & Big Show in a non-title bout.
- March 15, 2010: Stone Cold Steve Austin hosted this pre-WrestleMania 26 episode, which featured three big WrestleMania rematches: John Cena vs. The Big Show (WrestleMania 20), Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania 19) and Triple H vs. Randy Orton (WrestleMania 25). The show also featured the official WrestleMania contract signing for Bret Hart vs. Mr. McMahon.
- June 27, 2011: RAW Roulette returns, but this was really a one segment show featuring CM Punk's infamous "Pipebomb" promo.
- April 2, 2012: The RAW after WrestleMania 28 featuring The Rock declaring his intent to once again become WWE Champion. Also, John Cena called out the Rock only for Brock Lesnar to return after a near-eight year absence to take Cena out in the show-closing angle.
Again, outside of a few episodes that I felt could have been replaced, this really is a fantastic collection. While the early years are a little under-represented, there still is enough here for fans of every era of the show. You can purchase the 12-disc collection at Amazon.com by clicking here.
Rating: **** (4/5)