Browsing YouTube and I come across Mankind’s first WWF title win. I had to watch it 5 times. So good. Everything about it. Everyone was on fire from the book to the performers to the performance to the crowd… Unbelievable. I dare say that it is the best segment that ever took place on Raw. Some might argue, so I’m going to dig into it and make my case. I’m going to go deep into this, so bare with me. To truly appreciate the moment, you have to know the backstory. And honestly it’s really hard to appreciate the moment to its fullest if you were not watching it live, along with the previous few months of programming leading into it. I want to dig into the video, but I’ll give a brief rundown of the lead-in for the uninitiated. Skip if you want. ~~~~~ Since WrestleMania in March the epic Austin/McMahon feud has been white hot. Vince does not want Stone Cold Steve Austin as his world champion, but Austin is at the top of his game. Vince manages to get the belt off of him in June, but Austin regains it the following night on Raw. In September Vince finally gets what he wants when Undertaker and Kane pin Austin simultaneously in a title match. We can’t have two champions, so the belt is vacated. A tournament is held to crown a new champion. At this point The Rock is starting to get over as a babyface while Mankind, who is also over because of his tenure, his personality and his unbelievable street cred that reached it’s pinnacle earlier in the year when he took the biggest bump in the company to date off the Hell in a Cell. However Mankind was sort of a goofy heel at this moment, looking at McMahon as a father figure and doing the bidding of the chairman. So in the finals of the “Deadly Games” tournament we have The Rock vs Mankind. An insurgent baby face against Vince McMahons errand boy… only The Rock is turned heel here when the McMahons “screw” Mankind over and assist The Rock to victory. Now Vince has the champion that he wants. The young, athletic, good looking third generation superstar. Mankind, the pear shaped, mask wearing “freak”, a guy that could NEVER be imagined as the WWF champion is left with all of the sympathy. It’s the double turn that no one ever talks about. In the following weeks after Survivor Series Mankind pleads his case that he should have his rematch for the title, which is met with laughter. Finally Mankind gets his shot at the December PPV. In the finish Mankind grabs The Rock with the Mandible Claw, making The Rock pass out unconscious. However Vince McMahon, the corrupt chairman of the WWF, reverses the title change stating that The Rock never gave up so the title would not change hands. More sympathy for Mankind. After campaigning for a rematch for a couple of weeks following the PPV, Mankind is finally granted one last WWF title match. Never again will he have a shot at the title if he loses. This sets the stage for The Rock © vs Mankind for the WWF Championship. In order to pivot the odds in their Champions favor, McMahon makes this match a no disqualification match so that his heel stable, The Corporation can be ringside as an insurance policy. Mankind counters by bringing DX to ringside with him. The odds are evened up. Now let’s go to the video, which starts at the matches finish… ~~~~~ We start off with Mankind applying the mandible claw. 0:15 - Ken Shamrock, a member of The Corporation, enters the ring and hits Mankind with a steel chair. As a fan you already start to smell another screw job finish. If you were like me and you were flipping between both Raw and Nitro for the entire MNW, WCW had you trained to not expect a clean finish to a main event on TV, or even a finish at all. This looked like more of the same. 0:18 - Billy Gunn, a member of DX hits the ring and knocks Shamrock out of the ring for the hope spot/save. 0:22 – Now we have a DX/Corporation brawl taking place outside of the ring. Like gang warfare. It’s chaos. As a fan you’re not sure where this will lead. Both groups were over, both groups had heat on their own, even without this World Title storyline, so this brawl could be very satisfying. 0:28 It’s old fable now, and they since tried to copy this sort of thing again and again, so it’s not the same today as it was when you were watching live when that glass broke and that Rage Against The Machine inspired theme music hit. Like I said, both of those stables had heat, this angle had heat, no one was looking for Austin to come out. The crowd was not chanting Austin! Austin! Austin! No. An entire arena was completely invested in exactly what was going down at that moment in the ring and at ringside. The surprise pop is EPIC. Austin walks out and down the ramp with that swagger that only he could tap into. That swagger that made it clear that he was coming out to beat someone’s ass. The Bad Mother Fucker Walk. Imagine being there in the arena with your seats facing the Titan Tron… What an epic sight as the entire arena is going absolutely insane and Stone Cold is walking to the ring like a sentinel. Goosebumps. 0:42 – Austin hits the ring and picks up the chair left behind by Shamrock. (Don’t you miss Pat Patterson booking these nuanced finishes? WOW!) As Austin turns around wielding the steel chair, The Rock stands up and masterfully feeds into Austin, who proceeds to hit him in the head with a chair shot that I’m sure Rocky remembers to this day. 0:48 – Austin pulls Mankind over on The Rock for the cover. Could this be the finish? No way. For one, WCW had us conditioned to know that you can’t really expect to get some great payoff at the end of a Monday night. But even more importantly, it’s the WWF Championship. Bruno Summartino. Hulk Hogan. Bret Hart. Shawn Michaels. These were the types of guys that wore the WWF title belt as babyfaces. It was absolutely inconceivable that Mankind could be the WWF Champion. He was the ultimate underdog. 0:53 – A loud, decisive, and to Earl Hebner’s credit, masterful ONE….. TWO….. THREE! AHHHHHHHHH!!! Unbelievable feel good moment in the MNW and a superb payoff to a white hot storyline. As you watch the rest of the video, look at the sell job by Vince. Like I said, everyone played their part to absolutely perfection here. This is why I say it’s the best segment in Raw history. It was easily the biggest payoff of the Attitude era in the WWF and because of Hulk Hogan’s sabotage at Starcade 1997, it was the biggest payoff of the MNW as well. The pop that starts when Billy first hits Shamrock sustains for the rest of the video! If you were a young teen or preteen like me at the time, that same pop was going off in your living room. It was a surreal moment for the invested wrestling fan. This is what happens when you get heat, sustain the heat, and pay it off properly. And it makes you think about how much more they got out of this moving forward. Two HUGE PPV matches and a Super Bowl halftime main event match between The Rock and Mankind while Austin fought with McMahon. All culminating in Mankind being out there to make the 3 count at WrestleMania. Last but not least… Meanwhile on Nitro, we have a Bill Goldberg stalking accusation storyline with Miss Elizabeth (One night after his first loss ever, which ended in interference and controversy) and the Finger Poke of Doom where Hulk Hogan takes the belt back in street clothes. It’s hard to conceive of how bad a booking decision that was. Bobby Heenan hit the nail in the head on commentary for that one “This Stinks”.