This coming Monday is the 1,000th episode of WWE's Monday-night Raw,1 an event that WWE has built up with all the subtlety of a Trish Stratus–Stacy Keibler bikini mud wrestling match.2 Almost as soon as last Sunday's Money in the Bank pay-per-view ended, it seemed like a distant memory. In the following night's Raw, WWE reset almost all the story lines, promoting the future while also pimping the higher-profile moments of Raw's history.
WWE has long been obsessed with the success of its flagship show. For years, commercial bumpers would be filled with graphics informing us that Raw is the longest-continually-running live weekly syndicated series ever or something to that effect; from what I could gather, the pertinent information was that Raw was a bigger deal than The Simpsons but not, say, NBC Nightly News. It is a stunning feat to produce 1,000 consecutive Mondays of (usually) two hours of live wrestling. Other wrestling outfits have hardly been able to put on pretaped shows. The now-defunct WCW — which gave WWE its only live-on-Monday competition3 in 1996 and 2001 — put up a challenge by stealing Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall. But after a couple years, WCW fizzled out with all the grace of an old man coming off a bender. Which is to say: Congratulations, WWE. Seriously.
The thousandth episode of Raw, to which I'll refer henceforth as "Raw 1000," has been getting more hype of late than even WrestleMania sometimes does. SummerSlam, the second-most important pay-per-view on the WWE calendar, is only a month away and on Monday's Raw it hardly got a sentence's recognition. This makes sense, since Raw 1000 is stacked with content and the show's ratings have been stagnant in recent years. WWE could use a big rating to legitimize the hype they've committed to themselves.
Monday night's lineup is a bonanza of WWE history. The show will open with a DX Reunion — Degeneration X being the antiestablishmentarian posse of Shawn Michaels and Triple H.4 DX were like an nWo–meets–Andrew Dice Clay routine; their colors were black and neon green, which probably tells you everything you need to know. And yet, they were a seminal faction that expanded dramatically where the nWo could only expand numerically. Their turn in the spotlight is a highlight of wrestling history for wrestling fans older than 25. And though there's something sad about seeing 45-year-olds reunite to slap their crotches, it'll be good to see them back together.
What should you expect? Triple H and Shawn for sure, and probably X-Pac and/or the New Age Outlaws thrown in for posterity.5
That's not the only thing on Triple H's schedule, however. He's also scheduled to get a formal response from Brock Lesnar regarding Triple H's challenge for a match at SummerSlam. In case you forgot, after the Extreme Rules PPV, Triple H hit the ring to address Lesnar's new contract demands and ended up getting his arm broken by Lesnar. Several weeks later, Triple H challenged Lesnar. Paul Heyman, acting as Lesnar's attorney and mouthpiece,6 initially demurred, and Triple H punched him. A week later, Heyman announced that Lesnar would appear on Raw 1000 to answer the challenge.
What should you expect? Lesnar and Triple H will fight at SummerSlam. All the rest is noise. But with Heyman involved, it's grating, wonderful noise.
John Laurinaitis got the boot as Raw's general manager last month, and WWE has filled his spot with interims since then. But on Monday, the new Raw GM will be named by the Illuminati-esque WWE board of directors. According to WWE's official promotional graphic, the options are former Raw and Smackdown GMs Vickie Guerrero and Teddy Long, and a mysterious silhouette. But Vickie is too tied up in managing Dolph Ziggler — winner of the Smackdown Money in the Bank match at Sunday's PPV — to be a real candidate for the Raw job. And sentimentality aside, Teddy's continuing onscreen usage is so bizarre that fans have mostly stopped asking why; regardless, he probably can't be trusted on a live microphone from week to week.7
What should you expect? Bet on the silhouette, but don't expect it to have a new face. Judging by nothing but the chill that graphic gave me, I'm guessing it will somehow end up being Laurinaitis again. Or William Regal, because he's friends with Triple H.
In the show's highest-profile "match" — and I quote from WWE.com — "John Cena will cash in his Money in the Bank contract on WWE Champion CM Punk." Cena won the Raw MITB match Sunday night, meaning he can force a WWE championship match whenever he wants. The way this normally works is the challenger waits until the champ is most vulnerable — after getting beat up, for example — and cashes in the MITB briefcase for a likely victory. Cena, on the other hand, announced on Monday's Raw that he'd be challenging Punk on Raw 1000, thus forfeiting the element of surprise. This turn has been disappointing because Cena, as the biggest wrestler in the company, can have a championship match whenever he wants. All he has to do is challenge Punk to a match; he doesn't need a briefcase. I'm not just talking about backstage politics — Cena has proven time and again that all you have to do is sass-talk a rival to get WWE to lock the two of you in a steel cage. Whatever Cena's plan is with the briefcase, it's about two steps too cute. But wait! See that boldface line up there? Notice that they specifically do not say "John Cena versus CM Punk," which would be a much more, you know, straightforward way of saying the thing if the thing was actually going to happen. Also, recall that Big Show was involved in the Cena-Punk proceedings on Monday when it made sense — after Cena beat him at Over the Limit and then won the MITB match they were both involved in — for his feud with Cena to be shelved.
What should you expect? This won't be what WWE is implying it will be. They sort of need Cena and Punk to wrestle, both because many of the show's other headliners are doing non-wrestling things and because they're halfway promising it. It's also a bad idea to let your fans down on the biggest show of the year. But don't expect a straight-up one-on-one match.
Shawn Michaels won't be the only big name returning for Raw 1000. The Rock is also coming back. Last seen absorbing the crowd's adoration after he beat Cena at WrestleMania, big-time movie star Dwayne Johnson is finally back from whatever movie he was filming, presumably kicking off his run for the WWE championship that he promised back in March. Will he wrestle? Probably not. But he'll give us the impression that he very well might! In February 2011, after he promised to never leave us, he disappeared from April to September. In March, when he said he saw himself winning the WWE championship, he disappeared for four more months.
What should you expect? The Rock will talk a lot, coin a new, hashtaggable catchphrase, and mildly insult-slash-mend-fences with Cena. All this will stoke the flames for a WrestleMania XIX match against whoever is champion at the time.8
As if the card needed further padding, WWE reached into its sturdy old bag of tricks and pulled together a last-minute love story: Daniel Bryan and AJ are getting married. Bryan and AJ were an onscreen item dating back to November. AJ helped Bryan maintain his place atop the card, most famously by getting mauled by Big Show, thus ending his match with Bryan before Show could win. In real-world terms, AJ helped ratchet up Bryan's loathsomeness via his abuse of her. After Bryan dumped AJ, she turned her affection toward CM Punk and a bizarre love quadrangle ensued between AJ, Punk, Bryan, and Kane. Two Mondays ago, AJ, playing an increasingly unhinged character, asked Punk to marry her, but then Bryan interrupted and proposed to AJ himself. On Sunday, Punk defeated Bryan decisively and AJ was oddly uninvolved in the decision. The next night on Raw, Bryan forgave AJ for letting Punk win and proposed again. She said yes. Naturally, they set the wedding date for one week later — on the 1,000th episode of Raw.
The very mention of a wedding angle in wrestling is enough to make most fans anxious. It's a long tradition, and not a particularly proud one. If you delve into the history of WWE weddings, you see that they all follow the same basic script: Party A marries Party B by common will, trickery, or force; then Party C objects and/or physically intervenes, and high jinks ensue.
The first WWF marriage was between Butcher Vachon and Ophelia in 1984. Captain Lou Albano objected on the grounds that Vachon had been married "five or six times before," and because Ophelia was a virgin (although Vachon clarified that she was not, in fact, so pure, and Albano withdrew his objection). Then Dr. D David Schultz body-slammed Vachon; later, at the reception, he gave the bride a pie in the face as Vachon stood there impassively. The best part is Vince McMahon's uncontrollable laughter and the drunken reception where the Samoan contingent force midget wrestler Sky Low Low to sing with them. The 1985 marriage of Uncle Elmer — a Hillbilly Jim hanger-on — and Jackie was even more ridiculous, except that it was an actual wedding, which goes contrary to the very fabric of pro wrestling.
The most famous wedding in WWF history was that of "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. The pair was already married in real life, but because Savage played the heel and — much like Bryan — emotionally abused his ladyfriend, their onscreen union could only be consummated once Savage mended his ways. The WWF decided to play the in-ring ceremony totally straight, without interruption or other rasslin' contrivance — with the exception, of course, of Savage's white-and-gold wedding ring gear and Bobby Heenan's snarky commentary. The reception, however, was famously crashed by Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Undertaker, who hid a cobra in a gift box. My personal favorite moment was the toast by "Mean" Gene Okerlund to "the new bride and groom, mister and missus Macho."
The other weddings run in quick sequence — a matrimonial fever dream. In 1999, Stephanie McMahon was tied to a cross and forced to marry the Undertaker in a sort of pagan ritual, until "Stone Cold" Steve Austin intervened. Later that year, Steph got the wedding of her dreams when she wed Test. Triple H derailed the proceedings when he informed the wedding party that he had married a comatose, post-bachelorette-party Stephanie at a Vegas drive-through chapel. This ceremony, such as it was, was really the high-water mark of the Attitude Era. It had implied kidnapping and rape, large-scale impropriety, and a healthy dose of Triple H's throaty sexual innuendo voice. It turned out that Hunter and Steph were in cahoots all along. They renewed their vows months later in an in-ring ceremony that needed no interference, since Triple H hijacked it himself after learning that Stephanie had faked a pregnancy to keep his affection. "Stephanie," he said, "as I look into your eyes tonight, I see you for what you truly are — a no-good lying bitch." And then he beat up Vince.
There have been many other weddings, all vulgar and nonsensical and wonderfully awful in their own ways: Lita married Kane and then almost Edge, and Edge almost married Vickie Guerrero; Dawn Marie married Torrie Wilson's dad and nobody cared; there was a gay marriage between Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo in 2002 that turned out to be a publicity stunt; the aforementioned Teddy Long got married to Kristal in 2007 but had a Viagra-induced heart attack before the final "I do"; and Goldust married his protégée Aksana not too long ago, which was strange because it was portrayed as a green-card wedding and Goldust has always been implicitly gay, but WWE glossed over those points because, at that point, was anyone paying attention?
But back to Daniel Bryan and AJ. Although their story line seems to be moving away from CM Punk at this point, the WWE writers will still find someone to object to Bryan and AJ's union. The couple's Monday match with The Miz and Eve may provide some foreshadowing.
What should you expect? There will be a wedding ceremony. Someone will intervene.
WWE doesn't always succeed with these non-wrestling, peripheral story lines, but sometimes it strikes gold. The first episode of Raw was structured around Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, who had been a co-host of Raw's predecessor show, trying in vain to get inside the building. (He had been replaced by Imus in the Morning regular Rob Bartlett, whose what-am-I-doing-here shtick lasted all of four months.) And although the in-ring product sometimes seemed like a formality, that first episode of Raw featured matches between Shawn Michaels and a spaceman named Max Moon, as well as The Undertaker and a prehistoric weirdo named Damien Demento. Michaels and Undertaker won. Michaels will be at Raw 1000; there are rumors that Undertaker will be there too. Which would be wonderful: There are some parts of the past that we're always happy to relive.