The Chrononaut Chronicles: WWF Raw Is War – December 22, 1997

Celebrate Christmas, WWF Attitude style! This classic holiday episode of Raw is War features the Rock meeting the Undertaker, the New Age Outlaws searching for Mankind, and Shawn Michaels forced to defend the European Championship against fellow D-Generation X member Triple H in a match THAT WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN!

The Chrononaut Chronicles: WWF Raw Is War – Monday, December 22, 1997

– Raw begins with a video package narrated by Michael Cole putting over the Legion of Doom as the most dominant tag team of all time, but since this was before Vince owned virtually every American wrestling video library, the only video evidence they have to show is LOD beating the Nasty Boys at SummerSlam ’91. The reign of the Road Warriors ended last week when the New Age Outlaws and D-Generation X joined forces to destroy Hawk & Animal, shaving half of Hawk’s head and putting Animal through the Spanish announce table. Cole teases dissension between DX and the Outlaws by noting that both sides are claiming credit for the assault, and we go to that awesome Raw opening with guys fighting in a ring while flames roar around them. Perfectly suited to the emerging Attitude era.

– Jim Ross, Michael Cole, and Kevin Kelly do a voiceover to introduce the show as snowflakes fall in the arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is decorated for Christmas. This was one of my favorite venues on TV because it seemed like a more intimate setting, similar to the Manhattan Center.

– Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley come out to the ring, wrapped in white bathrobes, as Chyna follows with the Heartbreak Kid’s WWF Championship and European Title belts draped over her broad shoulders. HBK promises a special gift for all the “good little boys and girls” from DX later and hands the mic to HHH, who brags about ending the Road Warriors’ 15-year career last week and likens the New Age Outlaws to a pair of vultures picking the bones from their kill as he advises the Road Dogg & Billy Gunn to stay out of DX’s business. HHH prompts an “Owen” chant when he calls Owen Hart a “nugget” and promises to send him packing where he belongs (meaning WCW since Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith all headed south after the infamous 1997 Survivor Series screwjob), but offers his penis as a pacifier if Owen wants to cry about it. I guess DX was pretty gay back then, too. Cole reminds us that Shawn will face the Undertaker in a Casket Match at the 1998 Royal Rumble (which is where Shawn took a bad bump on the casket and really fucked up his back, leading to his four-year retirement after WrestleMania XIV) as HBK claims that he beat the Dead Man like a red-headed stepchild in the first-ever Hell in a Cell and refuses to Rest In Peace.

Now it’s time for the special present for the WWF fans from DX, as HBK & HHH remove their robes to reveal Christmas boxer shorts before bending over and yanking the shorts down to reveal g-strings, but special DX “CENSORED” circles cover them so we can’t see anything naughty. Nine years later, Vince McMahon’s uncensored bare ass would have a recurring role as a Raw main-eventer and even get its own animated series on the company’s website. My, how times changed. WWF Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter marches out to spoil the fun, as Shawn points out Sarge has been in boot camp a long time and suggests to Hunter that they put their robes back on and not drop the soap. HHH holds some mistletoe over Slaughter’s head and HBK moves in for a kiss, but Slaughter no-sells it and notes that Michaels hasn’t defended the European Championship in over 60 days. Shawn claims that he’s been busy because he’s the WWF Champion, but in the Christmas spirit Slaughter threatens to strip him of the Euro belt unless HBK defends tonight against an opponent of Sarge’s choosing. HBK responds that he doesn’t give up a belt for anyone (unless he loses his smile, I guess) and agrees to defend against “anybody, anywhere, anytime,” so Slaughter announces that his challenger will be none other than HHH. DX protests the decision and they huddle up before HHH accuses Slaughter of trying to ruin HBK’s Christmas by having HHH kick his ass, but Shawn interrupts and states that he doesn’t lay down for anyone. The DX theme cranks up as Chyna holds HBK & HHH apart. Great opening segment with DX at their best, and I always thought Slaughter did a solid job as the hardass Commissioner.

– Headbanger Thrasher (w/Headbanger Mosh) vs. Henry Godwinn (w/Phineas Godwinn)

Footage from Shotgun Saturday Night of Henry accidentally plastering Phineas with the slop bucket is shown, as the Headbangers come out wearing Santa hats and sucking lollipops. The Headbangers had so much potential, but Vince ruined them by trying to turn them into a heavy-metal version of the Bushwhackers. This is during the Godwinns’ heel run when they were sweaty, nasty, backwoods inbred rednecks wrapped in the Confederate flag with a Deliverance-knockoff entrance theme… and I loved them. There, I said it. I liked them in WCW as Shanghai Pierce & Tex Slazenger and absolutely hated them as square-dancing babyfaces in the WWF with Hillbilly Jim, so the heel turn was a welcome change and they played the roles perfectly. Anyway, Michael Cole interviews the Godwinns in the aisle as Henry promises that revenge will be ugly for the Headbangers and warns the New Age Outlaws that they’re still owed a title shot while Phineas spits tobacco in a Coke cup and they head to the ring. The bell rings as Thrasher starts off with an early standing armbar, but Phineas trips him from ringside and Henry levels him with a big clothesline. Thrasher fights back and squashes Henry in the corner with a running buttbump before soaring off the top turnbuckle with a flying bodypress, but Phineas runs in for the disqualification at 1:13 and stomps away on Thrasher. 1/2* Mosh tries to make the save, but Henry plants him with the Slop Drop and the Godwinns mercilessly whip the Headbangers with leather straps as Cole declares that they are “the Kings of the Country Whipping Match”. Gotta love the mean, nasty, dirty old heel Godwinns.

– A video package recaps Dude Love’s problems with the New Age Outlaws, which began two weeks ago when he beat Billy Gunn via the Sweet Shin Music (I forgot about that!) and double-arm DDT; afterwards, the Road Dogg waffled the Dude with a chair and placed the WWF Tag Team Title belts on his face as Billy dove off the top turnbuckle with a legdrop. Last week, the Outlaws tossed Dude off the stage and Kevin Kelly wonders if revenge will be served tonight.

– “Somewhere in the bowels of the building,” WWF cameras have found Mankind. They actually acknowledge the camera is there, which pleases me. Mankind suggests that everybody must be wondering why he’s jumping to Dude Love’s defense, but explains the “interesting phenomena” that occurs when Dude gets hurt and so does Mankind. Mankind is in the Christmas spirit as he just wants to “make the Yuletide gay” and believes that it’s better to give than to receive, so he plans to give the Outlaws the beating of a lifetime and refers to it as the “Fight Before Christmas”. Good promo, as always. I loved the multiple-personality gimmick because Mick was so damn good at it until he turned into a human muppet.

– We see the infamous footage of Stone Cold Steve Austin launching the Rock’s Intercontinental Title belt into the river last week before we are treated to an exclusive segment that was taped after Raw went off the air last week. JR and Jim Cornette were on commentary as Santa Claus was in the ring expecting Sable to come out, but she doesn’t, so a kid sits on Santa’s lap instead and Santa is disappointed. The kid claims he’s not “the real Santa” so Claus kicks him out of the ring (not literally, although that would have been cool) and THE GLASS SHATTERS as Stone Cold marches down and advises Santa that he shouldn’t have kicked the kid out. Austin tests Santa to see if he’s the real deal by inquiring what he asked for when he was just a little SOB, but Santa fails as he guesses “Barbie dolls and tiddlywinks” and receives a Stone Cold Stunner. Austin then drops the Fuck You elbow off the middle turnbuckle and dumps the Santa impersonator to the floor. It warms my heart with holiday cheer to see that again.

– A camera is outside DX’s dressing room as we can hear HHH and HBK arguing inside before Shawn storms out and shoves the camera out of his way. Looking like a really buff mother hen trying to keep her chicks together, Chyna follows Shawn as he heads down a hallway.

– Next up: that awesome video piece to get over the top WWF superstars as legitimate athletes by having them recount their past sports achievements and all the injuries they’ve suffered. It made me a bit sad to see this at the time it aired on WWE 24/7 in 2006 because the Observer had just reported that WWE officially decided to scout wrestlers based on their look, rather than any actual athletic credentials or ability to work, so we’ll probably never see another video like this.

– Non-Title: “The Rock” Rocky Maivia (w/Faarooq & Kama Mustafa & D-Lo Brown) vs. The Undertaker

The Rock is accompanied by his fellow Nation of Domination members and receives the “Rocky Sucks” chants when he does some brief prematch micwork introducing himself as “the new Undisputed Intercontinental Champion,” but doesn’t have the belt since Stone Cold threw it into the river last week. Seeing the Undertaker’s entrance while Christmas lights blink in the background is kinda strange. Rock stands at ringside during the entrance and blindsides Undertaker in the ring when D-Lo hops up on the apron to distract the Dead Man, but Taker comes back with a clothesline as the commentators inform us that the New Age Outlaws have a camera crew with them and are searching for Mankind backstage. Big boot and legdrop earn Taker a two-count as he works over Rock’s arm and walks the top rope for the Old School, but Paul Bearer appears in the aisle rubbing his fat little hands together and distracts Taker long enough for Kama to lowblow the Dead Man and he collapses out to the apron as we go to break. When we come back, Faarooq has the referee distracted while Kama & D-Lo assault Undertaker at ringside and throw him back in for more punishment from Rocky. Undertaker battles back with punches, but Rock stops him by raking the face and bodyslamming him before dropping the unnamed People’s Elbow for two. It’s so weird seeing the People’s Elbow while the crowd silently sits on their hands.

Maivia pounds away at Taker’s shoulder and applies the dreaded trapezius nervehold as the crowd rallies Taker to his feet by chanting “Rest In Peace” (reverse psychology?), but Rock clotheslines him down and punches him in the tombstones while D-Lo distracts the ref. Back to the nervehold as the “Rest In Peace” chants resume and the Undertaker fights out of the Pinch of Doom, but runs into a back-elbow when he charges in the corner. Rock whips him to the opposite corner and sets for a back-bodydrop, but Taker counters with a Famouser for two as D-Lo hops up on the apron and Taker knocks him off. This gives Rock the opportunity to attack from behind again, but Undertaker ducks a clothesline and chokeslams Rock before planting the Intercontinental Champion with the Tombstone. However, the lights go out before he can score the pin and an eerie red glow engulfs the arena as Paul Bearer leads Kane down to the ring and the Nation seems to have disappeared, so I guess it’s a no-contest in 10:15. **1/2 Paul claims that the Undertaker is a shell of his former self and accuses him of running rather than facing Kane last week, but Cole explains that Taker just doesn’t want to fight his brother. Bearer continues to berate the Dead Man and notes that his poor parents are spending Christmas with the worms and maggots. That proves to be too much as Taker grips Bearer by the throat and Kane attacks his brother, but Taker goozles Kane and decides not to hit him, so Kane takes advantage by slugging and stomping away in the corner while the “Rest In Peace” chants resume. The Undertaker is left laying as Paul declares that 1998 will be the “Year of Kane” and exits with the Big Red Machine to close the first hour of the show.

– The second hour of the show (known as the “War Zone” so that Vince could claim they were two different programs and thus get double the ad money) is hosted by JR and Jim Cornette and they begin by recapping the Undertaker/Kane angle and the DX situation before we go to the War Zone opening, which looks suspiciously similar to the Raw opening.

– WWF European Title: Shawn Michaels © vs. “Triple H” Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Chyna comes out first by herself carrying both the WWF World and European Championship belts and Shawn enters next, but when HHH walks out, Owen Hart rushes out from behind and attacks him in the aisle. Sgt. Slaughter pulls Owen off and smiles as the Heartbreak Kid claims that Slaughter and Owen are involved in a conspiracy against DX, but the replay is inconclusive as to whether or not Slaughter knew Owen would run out. Several referees and Gerald Brisco argue with HBK as JR promises that this match will definitely happen tonight.

– The cameras are backstage with the New Age Outlaws, wearing coalminer’s helmets as they search the “bowels of the building” for Mankind and attack somebody, but when they turn on the lights they realize it’s not Mankind and quickly flee the scene. I miss the days when these guys were truly funny.

– “Marvelous” Marc Mero (w/Sable) vs. Scott Taylor

Mero comes out alone and does some mic work talking about Christmas as he introduces Sable, who walks out wearing a Rudolph costume to cover her entire body and head since Mero was in full Randy Savage heel mode and didn’t want anybody looking at his “property”. Mero compliments Sable’s antlers and wonders if they’re real as he reminds her that things are going to be done his way and sends her out to ringside after she removes his robe. Taylor is, of course, the future Scotty 2 Hotty and displays his agility with a flying clothesline off the top turnbuckle for a two-count after Sable distracts Marc by removing her reindeer head. JR and Cornette mention Mero’s feuds with Butterbean and Tom Brandi as the Marvelous One regains the advantage and stomps away, but the “Take It Off” chants distract the boxer/wrestler and he yells at Sable, allowing Taylor to roll him up for two. Taylor lands a sweet somersault kick off the ropes to the back of the head for a near-fall, but Mero reverses an Irish-whip and drops him with the TKO for the three-count at 2:16. * Afterwards, Mero lowblows Taylor just for fun and sets up another TKO, but Tom Brandi (formerly known as Salvatore Sincere in the WWF and Johnny Gunn in WCW) makes the save and injures Mero’s knee. Ever the opportunist, Sable decides now would be a good time to remove the Rudolph costume and reveal her sexy Santa outfit as she wishes the fans a very Merry Christmas.

– HHH is in the locker room with Chyna as the disembodied voice of JR reminds him that his match with Shawn Michaels is in less than an hour, but HHH is ready and Chyna whispers something in his ear. HHH replies that he does have something to prove as she whispers in his ear again and he confirms that the “Chyna Syndrome” t-shirt he’s wearing is indeed his lucky shirt. I fondly recall the days before we knew what Chyna’s voice sounded like.

– 8-Ball vs. Kurrgan (w/The Jackyl)

8-Ball is one of the Harris Twins doing the Disciples Of Apocalypse biker-gang gimmick and Kurrgan is a caucasian version of the Great Khali in every sense, for those of you who weren’t around at the time. The Jackyl (Don “Cyrus The Virus” Callis in an awesome cult-leader gimmick) introduces Kurrgan as a “genetic mutation” and continues to do his excellent Raven-like mic work at ringside during the match as 8-Ball pounds away at Kurrgan’s leg, but Kurrgan executes an inverted atomic drop and decks 8-Ball with a double-thrust to the throat. 8-Ball battles back and hammers away in the corner, but the Jackyl hops up on the apron and 8-Ball goes out after him. Kurrgan blindsides the DOA member with a double-axhandle off the apron and throws him back in the ring. Kurrgan does the old Nash Choke in the corner and whips him across the ring, but 8-Ball catches him with a pair of boots to the face and tries to chop down the big redwood with a series of clotheslines. However, Jackyl trips him up from ringside and Kurrgan sideslams 8-Ball for the 1-2-3 at 2:00. -* Afterwards, 8-Ball attacks the Jackyl, but Kurrgan rescues his manager as the other members of Jackyl’s Truth Commission (Recon & Sniper, one of whom would go on to become Bull Buchanan) run in and put the boots to 8-Ball until Skull (the other Harris Twin) makes the save with a 2×4. I always liked the Jackyl and thought he did a great job with the gimmick, but for whatever reason it never went anywhere and Kurrgan was turned from frightening monster to loveable oddity by the next year.

– The New Age Outlaws are still searching in the dark for Mankind as Cornette notes that this building sure has a lot of bowels, but they get scared by some noises when Billy accidentally knocks something over.

– D-Lo Brown (w/Faarooq & Kama Mustafa) vs. Ken Shamrock

Faarooq and Kama are with D-Lo as Cornette suggests that the Rock is probably still “Tombstone-drunk” backstage, while JR notes that Ken’s brother Frank Shamrock won the UFC Middleweight Championship over the weekend. Ah, the days when UFC needed promotion on WWF TV and not vice-versa. Shamrock starts off with a couple of kicks to the thigh and legdrags D-Lo into a legbar, but D-Lo grabs the rope to break and Cornette explains Shamrock’s strategy of targeting the joints. They go to lock up and D-Lo knees Shamrock in the midsection before twisting his arm, but Shamrock counters with a fireman’s carry and wraps up D-Lo in a nice majistral cradle for a two-count. JR predicts that Ken will win the WWF Title in 1998 and Cornette adds that’s why Shamrock was the first man to sign up for the ’98 Rumble. Brown and Shamrock do some mat-wrestling before Shamrock slams D-Lo with the belly-to-belly suplex and hooks the anklelock for the quick tapout at 2:22, just when it was getting good. *1/2 Afterwards, Shamrock strikes a defensive pose as Faarooq and Kama step in, but Rocky appears in the aisle with a mic and claims that the Nation could chew Shamrock up with a snap of the Rock’s fingers. Rock decides not to give his opinion on the Gulf crisis and rips on the UFC as he offers Shamrock a Christmas present: a shot at the Rock’s Intercontinental Title at the Royal Rumble, which flabbergasts JR and Cornette. Rock calls off the Nation and Faarooq hesitates before following the Rock, teasing the split that would happen about six months later.

– Shawn Michaels is in the locker room with Chyna as JR notes that things are getting ugly with DX, but HBK states that the ugliest thing about DX is HHH and Chyna whispers something in his ear. Shawn responds that he has nothing to prove, but HHH needs to be taught a lesson and Chyna whispers in his ear again. Shawn confirms that the “Chyna Syndrome” t-shirt he’s wearing is indeed his lucky shirt, but he still needs to smack HHH around tonight.

– The New Age Outlaws finally find Mankind in the bowels of the building, but Mankind assaults both of them while singing “The Christmas Song” before succumbing to the numbers game as the Road Dogg & Billy Gunn lock him in a walk-in freezer.

– The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust walks out to the ring dressed like a Christmas tree along with Luna, who is wearing a black Santa hat and carrying a gift as Cornette quips that’s what happened to Mrs. Claus when they built a nuclear plant at the North Pole. TAFKAG recites “The Night Before Christmas” in a really gay voice until the real Santa Claus interrupts by coming out and throwing candy into the crowd as it starts to snow in the arena. TAFKAG tries to continue, but Santa blasts him from behind with his sack and flattens TAFKAG with a Vader-like standing splash as Santa removes his hat and beard to reveal that he is indeed Vader. Wow, Vader goes from squashing Sting to dressing like Santa in five years – next time someone tries to tell you what a genius Vince is, remember this.

– WWF European Title: “Triple H” Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Shawn Michaels ©

Chyna enters first with both belts as JR and Cornette discuss all the wacky things we’ve seen on this most unusual Christmas special and Cornette suggests that they may need more time from USA Network tonight because this match could go a while. They circle each other to start and finally lock up, but HBK takes an exaggerated flatback bump from a shove and lays motionless while HHH mockingly runs the ropes several times and the commentators realize we’ve all been DUPED. Finally, Hunter stops running the ropes and covers Shawn for the pinfall to win the WWF European Championship in 1:17. Afterwards, HBK pounds the mat and pretends to cry as Chyna consoles him and Cornette notes that Michaels cries every time he comes to this town, since this was where Shawn lost his smile and vacated the WWF Title almost a year earlier. Shawn pretends to cry on the mic and lists off all the different matches he’s been in as he claims that this was the most physically draining match of his life and hugs HHH, who notes that this is the biggest moment of his life other than his kid being born, but realizes that he doesn’t have any kids that he knows of. You do now! Together again, DX celebrates in the ring and taunts Sgt. Slaughter, who stands in the aisle and announces off-mic that Helmsley will be defending the European Title against Owen Hart next week, but DX can’t hear him, so they continue to celebrate as if they one-upped the Commissioner to end the show.

Afterthoughts: This is still one of my favorite shows ever, not only due to the holiday theme, but also because it was a great example of the transition the WWF had been undergoing throughout 1997 as the Attitude Era would officially begin in ’98. The “shades of grey” booking was beginning to show here, with DX having issues with the New Age Outlaws even though they were all heels. Other than Rock/Undertaker, the matches barely made it past the two-minute mark and none were particularly good, as the show was all about promos, backstage segments, and angle advancement. Sound familiar? Despite the lack of actual wrestling, everything clicked and came together to produce a very memorable Christmas special and would lead to arguably the company’s biggest year ever, as 1998 saw Mike Tyson in a heavily publicized role at WrestleMania XIV and the beginning of the huge Austin/McMahon feud after Stone Cold won the WWF Championship.

As the year winds down, I’d like to say thanks for the positive feedback I’ve received so far on the ol’ Blog of Doom. Glad you’re enjoying reading these reviews, and have yourselves a Merry Christmas! Until next week, join me on my time travels and check out my other reviews on The Chrononaut Chronicles.