WrestleMania weekend reaches its final destination tonight in the form of Monday Night Raw. With Braun Strowman the new Universal Champion and Drew McIntyre the new WWE Champion, there is certainly a sense of change within WWE at the moment.
It has became a tradition over the last few years to look forward to the post WrestleMania RAW, but some may not realize that historic happenings have been occurring on this unforgettable night for the last two decades. The night after Mania marks a new year in the wrestling world, setting the stage for what's to come in subsequent months. From the debut of a new Superstar and the return of a legend to a shocking title change, there are several things that can shake up the landscape of WWE coming out of the Showcase of the Immortals.
WWE will have to pull out all the stops for this years episode in an effort to make up for the lack of crowd interaction, which has so often been the highlight of the show. Join me as I take a look back at my personal top 10 moments that have happened the night after the Show of Shows.
A Derranged Debut
From Brock Lesnar to Umaga to Rusev, some of WWE's most notable names have debuted in WWE on the Raw after WrestleMania, including the one and only, Mankind.
Coming out of WrestleMania 12, it was a dawning of a new era: Shawn Michaels was the new WWE champion and Diesel was on his way out of the company. It was time for WWE to make new stars and starting building toward the future, and among those fresh faces was Mankind.
Making his debut on the April 1, 1996 edition of Raw, the Mankind character was unlike anything fans had seen before. A one-of-a-kind competitor, he showcased his uniqueness in his first WWE match against Bob Holly, making short work of him to score the victory.
However, that wouldn't be the last we would see of Mankind that evening. Only minutes into the night's main event between the Undertaker and Bradshaw, he reemerged and immediately went after Taker, locking in a Mandible Claw until security pulled him away. If you want to make a memorable first impression, who better to target then the biggest dog in the yard?
The feud that would transpire between Undertaker and Mankind was nothing short of iconic and included their historic Hell in a Cell match at 1998's King of the Ring event. Mankind, aka Mick Foley, had a legendary career in WWE over the next several years that eventually earned him entry into the WWE Hall of Fame
Austin Picks The Hard Way
Few WrestleMania title coronations have felt as meaningful as the one we witnessed in 1998, the year in which Stone Cold Steve Austin formally ushered in the Attitude Era with a Mike Tyson-aided victory over Shawn Michaels.
The following night on RAW is War, Austin reaffirmed his status as a champion for and by the people when he rejected Vince McMahon's pleas for conformity, making clear to everyone watching that he was going to dance to the beat of his own drum.
Offered an olive branch by the WWE chairman, the Texas Rattlesnake responded with a Stone Cold Stunner, an image that we would be seeing a lot of over the next three years, and one that has historically come to encapsulate everything great about the period.
This is exactly how you break in a new face of the company on the night following their inaugural title victory. Too many times since, we've seen the babyface get spat on and downtrodden, when what fans really want to see is their man raising hell and telling the authority where to go. This iconic moment was also the birth of the greatest heel character of all time in the form of Mr McMahon.
The Beast Is Back
After his unceremonious departure in 2004, everyone knew that Brock Lesnar had unfinished business with WWE. Love him or hate him, (I'm firmly in the camp of the former) you cannot deny that Brock is box office. Over the years he has brought many new eyes to the product and should be in the GOAT conversation every time.
So when he announced his retirement from UFC in 2011, fans speculated that The Beast Incarnate was on his way back to WWE. He made his return to a thunderous, goose bump-inducing pop, proving more than ever that WWE fans are extremely fickle. Just to show that he knows how to kick a man when he’s down, Lesnar hit John Cena with an F-5, only 24 hours after Cena had lost to The Rock.
Paige Kicks Off The Revolution
Long before the Four Horsewomen dominated the womens divisions of WWE, a little known girl from Norwich, England named Paige was doing great things for women’s wrestling on NXT. While still NXT Womens Champion she made her surprise debut on the main roster after WrestleMania XXX, and pinned AJ Lee clean to capture the Divas Championship.
With a large number of UK fans in attendance still, there was a huge reaction for Paige’s win. It would prove to be the foundation for WWE's mission to start rebuilding the women’s division after many years of being an afterthought, and turning its divas into bonafide superstars.
Icon Vs. Icon
After The Rock went to Hollywood and became a box office sensation, no one believed he would wrestle again. Even when he returned as the host of WrestleMania XXVII, fans were just happy to have him back on RAW - they didn’t for a second expect him to pull his boots back on.
But after Rocky inexplicably interfered in the main event of Mania, helping The Miz defeat John Cena, there was only one way that this was going to be resolved. On RAW the next night, Cena laid down the challenge - a match between him and The Rock - which the People’s Champion accepted, at WrestleMania the following year. It was strange knowing that the match would happen a full 12 months in advance, and was criticised by many fans and superstars alike (Hello CM Punk). Regardless of the reaction, this moment was iconic simply for two of WWE's most celebrated and loved superstars coming together for an epic battle.
WrestleMania XIX was a big night for The Rock - he finally managed to beat Stone Cold Steve Austin at the Showcase of the Immortals (third time’s a charm).
But the celebrations didn’t last very long. During Rock Appreciation Night on RAW the following night, the Great One was interrupted by Goldberg, who marked his long awaited WWE debut with a devastating spear.
Though Goldberg’s first run with WWE was underwhelming to say the least, topped off with the horrendous WrestleMania 20 match against Lesnar, it was still incredible to see two of the biggest stars from WCW and WWE finally facing each other in the ring.
Goodbye To The Dirtiest Player In The Game
Ric Flair officially retired from styling and profiling at WrestleMania XXIV, after losing his final bout to Shawn Michaels in one of the most emotional matches and moments of all time. Some, myself included, might say that Flair should have hung up his boots years earlier, but in his defence, he managed to pull out one last classic match.
His dedication over almost four decades in the business earned him an emotional farewell the following night on RAW. Never one to hold back the tears, Flair blubbed his way through the entire segment as WWE’s biggest stars came to the ring to pay their respects. Regardless of how you feel about Flair, there is simply no denying his importance to WWE and professional wrestling as a whole.
And Then The Man Who Retired Him...
Only two years after retiring Flair, it was the Heartbreak Kid himself who found himself making a similar retirement speech after losing his epic WrestleMania XXVI match to The Undertaker.
There was a suitably heart-wrenching video package for Michaels, who waved goodbye to a tremendous 22 career in WWE. It was a career that saw him redefine the art and business of pro wrestling several times. HBK changed many peoples perceptions of what was needed to reach the top of the pro wrestling mountain, and helped to shape the superstars of today, with many of them citing Michaels as their inspiration.
The Biggest Pop Of All Time
In 2013 fans were desperately wishing for the super talented Dolph Zigger to get his much deserved push, and it seemed to be coming true when he ascended the ladder to become Mr Money In The Bank. He would go on to cash in the briefcase the night after WrestleMania 29 - snaring the World Heavyweight Championship from the injured Alberto Del Rio.
The place came unglued and just completely erupted. It’s one of the all-time greatest crowd pops that still evokes chills now, but unfortunately, it was the highlight of Ziggler’s career. A concussion forced him to drop the title and he has struggled to get his foot back on the ladder to main event status ever since. A highly decorated career but never quite what it should have been.
The Ultimate Warrior Comes Home
It pains me to be writing about this one, but it was hands down the most iconic and moving Mania Monday moment that I have ever seen. With so much bad blood between the two parties, it seemed far-fetched that The Ultimate Warrior would ever return to WWE. However, after 18 long years, it finally happened over WrestleMania 30 weekend. Those few days were nothing short of magical. He headlined the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014, appeared alongside the rest of the immortalized icons at WrestleMania and returned to RAW on the following Monday night.
In his first appearance on the flagship show in nearly two decades, the former WWE champion channeled in his inner Warrior by donning the painted mask and jacket, thanking his legions of fans for speaking their mind and getting him back into the good graces of WWE. Although his promo was meant to serve as a plug for the WWE Hall of Fame airing on USA Network immediately following the show, you would never think it watching it back. Instead, it was almost an eerie yet emotional message foreshadowing his abrupt and devastating death the very next day.
On April 8, no more than 24 hours removed from his triumphant RAW return, Warrior tragically passed away at the age of 54 after suffering a heart attack on the way back to his car following the show. It was then that his out-of-place promo became much more clear. It'd be absurd to claim that he knew his death was imminent, but it doesn't make his apparent eulogy any less touching:
"No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."