When discussing the greatest WWE Raw moments/matches of all-time, you always get the same answers.
The Stone Cold Beer Truck incident in 1999 is mentioned right away.
The Jeff Hardy vs. The Undertaker ladder match for the Undisputed Title in July 2002 is brought up.
Mankind winning his first WWE Championship is listed.
Vince McMahon being revealed as the higher power is a hot topic.
John Cena being drafted to RAW in June 2005 is a popular choice.
The return of Triple H in January 2002 is amazing.
The Nexus or even the ECW invasions are oftentimes written about.
Heck, I could go on and on here. The CM Punk pipebomb promo from summer 2011 is awesome. A lot of folks loved Bret Hart returning to WWE after over a decade away. There is the infamous segment with Mankind presenting “This Is Your Life” to The Rock. As mentioned, these are always listed. Every single time the big moments from RAW’s history are counted down, it’s the same stuff.
Well, what if I told you one of the greatest matches in Raw history took place 17 years ago today? Not only the main event itself but one of the most excited endings of all-time as well, yet nobody seems to remember it? It’s true. Back on December 29th, 2003, we had a World Heavyweight Championship match – Triple H defending against the hometown boy Shawn Michaels in San Antonio, Texas, and it was epic.
For those that don’t know, the feud between HHH and HBK had been going on for the previous 16 months. Since Shawn Michaels returned to the ring at Summerslam 2002 (versus HHH of course), it had been one thing after another. It didn’t matter what the stipulations were or what story line was happening. They would always somehow find each other back in the ring together. One on one, usually for a title. This time, it was Triple H back on top as World Champ, and HBK had been on a little bit of a roll, recently defeating Batista on pay-per-view.
It only made sense to have HHH vs. HBK on the final Raw of 2003. In San Antonio, Shawn Michaels Country, creating an even more passionate live crowd than usual.
Now to further set the stage for you, this was right after Stone Cold Steve Austin had been removed as RAW Co-General Manager, due to his team losing at Survivor Series. You see, that left Eric Bischoff running Raw on his own again. Obviously as a menace and a pest. Linda McMahon, the board of directors and even Mick Foley had been trying to get Stone Cold back in the fold in the meantime. Over a month had passed since he was removed from power…but we were supposed to have an answer by the end of the night. To be continued…
…also during Raw, there were videos that ran showing the best moments from HBK. A little biased if you ask me but clearly setting the stage for the big World Title main event being in HBK’s home town of San Antonio. I love when WWE adds in these little touches throughout the show. Makes the main event that much more important. No doubt the entire viewing audience at home and those in the arena that night were rooting for a new champ. HHH had been World Champion on RAW for the vast majority of 2003. Minus a few months, he was on top for the entire year. No better way to end 2003 than him finally getting his comeuppances.
It was almost ‘go time!’ The main event was right around the corner. We did have a quick update on Stone Cold. He was shown arriving to the building in his trademark black truck. It’s Texas! Of course, he’d be nearby. What’s funny is he was offered the Co-General Manager spot via telephone call, except he turned it down! He said to take the job and shove and then drove off right before the main event! Ouch. He only wanted to return under his own terms, not the old terms.
Interestingly enough, we also got a big pep talk from Eric Bischoff backstage towards all the WWE referees about knowing all the rules, respecting authority, correcting calling matches, etc. Hmmm, not the Eric Bischoff we had grown to hate. He was being fair and just here. Maybe turning over a new leaf? Obviously a little bit of foreshadowing here.
Bell time! Great entrances as usual. Great announcing. Great job by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler calling the action. Everything about this presentation screamed “big fight heel” for wrestling fans. Very few times do you get that during the holidays, as WWE tends to take it easy and not do much big. Obviously, not in 2003. We were all jacked here. A long standing rivalry battling it out for the top title belt on the red brand, just before the new year. A lively crowd was the icing on the cake.
Not enough can be said for the actual match. Perhaps the greatest match in RAW history. It’s Shawn Michaels. It’s Triple H. It’s the World Title. It’s the main event. It’s happening in the beloved challenger’s home town. You can not ask for a better atmosphere for a sports fan. Wrestling, MMA, NFL – who cares? This had all the makings of a classic finish, and we certainly got that.
The full match is posted below but for 35 minutes, these two proved why they were in the main event so much in 2002, 2003, 2004, and even parts of 2005. Nobody could question the ability of HHH and HBK after this match. It was excellent on every level, and you could tell by the roar of the crowd and J.R. beginning the fire up that business was about to pick up! Sadly, for referee Earl Hebnar, he got in the way of a Triple H clothesline and was taken out. Dang! Just after that big pep talk from Eric Bischoff about being fair and balanced referees!
With no referee in sight, things were at a stand still as HHH took a title belt cheap shot to the head of HBK. Hebnar got up just enough to count the three count, but Shawn kicked out just in time! He was still alive.What made this moment so good was this was about the time the entire arena full of fans started standing. In recent years, security has been much more strict on fans standing because WWE doesn’t want to miss any camera cuts. No missed shots by production, thus security keeps fans sitting during the match. Not here. They were standing baby! Just after this great kickout by HBK, poor ol’ Earl Hebnar was accidentally knocked out again. This time, for good.
With no authority in sight, guess who came running down to save the day?
Oh boy, that dirty rat. Bischoff had talked about respecting officials earlier, and here he was putting his money where his mouth was as he ran in the ring to make a count! HBK had HHH covered, and Bischoff actually went into the squared circle to make the pinfall. Triple H kicked out but hey, Bischoff was doing the right thing here and acting as the referee. Not what we usually get from him. The match continued, as near fall after near fall was getting closer and closer. Jim Ross on commentary was at his absolute best here, revving up for a new World Champion to be crowned in San Antonio dangit!
One reversal, Shawn Michaels hit the Sweet Chin Music and just collapses on Triple H. Eric Bischoff rolls over to the cover, and counts one, two, THREE!!!!! The live crowd erupts, JR starts yelling “Yes! Yes! Yes” and even busts out the “Don’t you believe in miracles?” line. When I tell you the live crowd went nuts, I mean. Again, the video is below. San Antonio cheered on their hometown boy all night long and got their big moment. It was such a grand 30 seconds of celebration…then came the official announcement from Bischoff.
“Your winner and STILL World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H!”
What? What just happened? The fans booed. Their faces immediately turned to disgust. You could see them in the background in confusion. Shawn Michaels was stunned and wanted an explanation. Bischoff explained to him that when there was a tie, the title stays with the champion. A tie?!?! Huh?!?! Bischoff had the footage of what just happened, and yep – HHH was down but so was HBK. Remember when I said Shawn Michaels collapsed on top of Triple H? Yeah, his shoulders were down also. We had all just got so wrapped up in the moment we didn’t actually notice that minor, tiny, little detail.
Quite the bummer. After Bischoff mocked Shawn for the blunder, he got punched for his troubles. HBK also delivered his usual Sweet Chin Music to Ric Flair, who had been ringside rooting on Triple H. Shawn left in disgust, but the show wasn’t over yet! Bischoff grabbed the microphone and reiterated his previous statements about respecting authority, so happy new year! Shawn Michaels was fired! In his hometown, he was fired!!!
Just as Bischoff was done saying that, the music of Stone Cold Steve Austin hit! Another massive ‘pop’ for the live crowd. The Rattlesnake was back. He was back under his own terms, his own conditions, and Shawn Michaels was re-hired and deserves a rematch! Austin says there’s a new sheriff in town and gives Bischoff a Stunner as Jim Ross yells “What a night!” over and over as the show ends.
What a night indeed.
Completely bonkers. The final five minutes of RAW had so many twists and turns, not even counting the freakin’ 35 minute classic World Title main event. While I may have been a little long winded and explained a lot of crap in excruciating detail, the fact remains: Raw on December 29th, 2003 had one of the greatest matches of all-time, one of the loudest crowd reactions of all-time, one of the best JR calls of all-time, and one of the craziest endings of all-time. Now, I feel old as I still remember sitting in my living room watching that.
Geez, 17 years ago…unreal…
By Justin Watry (Twitter: @JustinWatry)