Monday, July 22, 2024

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A Londoner’s Eye: Paying Homage to the Divas of Raw

Tonight, WWE celebrates its 1,000th episode of Raw. Since 1993, that Monday night factory has been chugging and spurning out match after match, segment after segment, and all the rest in between.

Of course, with the good (and there’s been plenty of that) there’s the not so good (there’s been a whole lot of that, too!), but as we approach tonight’s 1,000th episode, I wanted to take a look back at some of the Divas I felt helped shape Raw and its Divas division over the course of 999 episodes.

Though Alundra Blayze was part of Raw’s early years, she is perhaps better known for what she did on Raw’s rival show, WCW Nitro, on that infamous December night in 1995. Indeed, though she’d had matches on Raw, it was her dropping the WWF Women’s Championship in a trash can live on Nitro that was perhaps her biggest contribution to Monday night wrestling. This moment was thought to be the catalyst for the ‘Monday Night Wars’, as WWE and WCW would become bitter ratings rivals for many years to come.

The next Diva, then, to make an impact was Sunny. Hailed as the “original Diva” (a title contested by a lot of fans), Sunny’s sex appeal and managerial skills were a hit with WWE audiences at the time. Sunny, and her successor (more on that in a minute), certainly helped usher in the Divas we see today; beautiful, slender women with perfect hair and French manicures. While Sunny was popular, the popularity over her successor to the Diva throne is perhaps underestimated today — Sable was not only one the top female of her time, but was one of the top WWE stars, period. The crowd responses to the blonde bombshell were unlike what we’d seen before, and would even be alien for today’s Divas. Sable took the ball and ran, scoring mainstream publicity (including Playboy) and transitioning from valet to in-ring competitor herself. True, Sable was never the best wrestler but hey, neither was Hulk Hogan. Based on her appeal and the fact that she always had a solid storyline (something we don’t see too often these days) with jealous/abusive boyfriend Marc Mero and his new girlfriend Jacqueline, and later Tori, the fans got behind Sable. Proof that good storylines can trump all. As far as those early Attitude Era days go, Sable was a defining part of Monday Night Raw and her role in its history shouldn’t be forgotten. In fact, it was the feud between Sable and Jackie that got this writer first interested in WWE for the long haul (having previously watched a show here or there). Sadly, Jackie, arguably one of the toughest women in the business, is largely overlooked by WWE today for her contributions to the company; she was, after all, the first ever African-American Women’s Champion and had a strong role in bringing hard-hitting female matches to fans on Monday nights. Jackie’s talents are not forgotten by us, however.

During this period, there was another woman who was not quite in the women’s division but made history in her own right — Chyna. As a member of D-Generation X, Chyna was a boundary breaker for the WWE. No one could have predicted that the stacked bodyguard of Triple H would ultimately become one of the Attitude Era’s biggest crossover stars with stints on talk shows, acting gigs on Third Rock from the Sun and more. Chyna was also given more than her fair share in WWE, considered one of the top stars — male or female — and entered into the Royal Rumble match, the King of the Ring tournament, and crowned Intercontinental Champion (back when the title meant a hell of a lot more than it seems to today). Along with Triple H, Mankind, The Rock, and of course, Stone Cold Steve Austin, I’d say Sable and Chyna also had something of a hand in helping Raw turn the tide as the Attitude Era finally helped Raw crush Nitro in the ratings.

Part of Raw’s success against Nitro and this turning of the tide was the storyline between Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin, a storyline that every blue collar viewer could relate to. After all, who wouldn’t want to knock the crap out of their boss? Perhaps egotistical of the McMahons to take up a chunk of Raw’s two hour slot, there’s no denying that the Billion Dollar Princess, and current WWE executive, Stephanie McMahon, like her father, was an enigmatic character that added an extra dimension to Raw. The McMahon-Helmsley Era was appointment viewing for myself, and her work with Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and more? Incredible. McMahon also mixed it up with the females, taking part in feuds with our next two names on the list and with one, instantly created magic.

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