"Ladder match" highlights RAW's Manchester debut

by Elliot Olshansky | 6/28/02 5:00am

One of the most successful programs in the history of cable television will make its Manchester debut when World Wrestling Entertainment brings WWE RAW to the Verizon Wireless Arena this coming Monday.

RAW, which debuted on the USA Network in 1993 and now airs every Monday from 9-11 p.m. on The National Network, has long been the flagship program for WWE (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation).

Over the course of RAW's broadcast run, the face of sports entertainment has changed immensely. Where RAW's broadcast debut featured cartoonish characters such as Doink the Clown, Max Moon, and Damien Demento, the WWE now embraces a rougher, more in-your-face style of programming. The newer style, which tends to emphasize storylines and characters over wrestling matches, has helped RAW maintain a constant place among the top-rated shows on cable, with a particularly strong rating among males aged 18-24 (one of the demographic groups most coveted by advertisers).

However, while storylines are the cornerstone of WWE's programming formula, it is an in-ring match that is the advertised highlight of Monday's RAW telecast. The promotion's Undisputed Champion, the Undertaker, will defend his title against Jeff Hardy in a ladder match.

In this match, the Undertaker's title belt will be suspended from the ceiling, and both wrestlers will attempt to reach the belt using a ladder. Along the way, fans can expect to see many "spots" (sequences of moves) where the ladder is used as a weapon, as such sequences make the ladder match what many consider one of the most entertaining exhibitions that sports entertainment has to offer.

Hardy, one of WWE's premier daredevils, is no stranger to ladder matches. Jeff and his older brother Matt, who wrestle together as the "Hardy Boyz," have been stealing the show with their ladder match performances since October 1999. At the "No Mercy" pay-per-view event, the Hardys' ladder match with the team of Edge and Christian drew a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd in Cleveland, Ohio.

Since that event, the Hardys have taken part in other memorable ladder matches, including two death-defying performances at WWE's premier pay-per-view event, Wrestlemania. Monday night, Hardy and the Undertaker will look to bring a little bit of Wrestlemania to New Hampshire, with the Undisputed Title hanging high above the ring.

The Undertaker, WWE's current standard-bearer, is quite familiar with high-profile spectacles in his own right. A WWE performer since 1990, the 6'10" Undertaker took part in one of the most talked-about matches in wrestling history when he wrestled Mankind (a.k.a. Mick Foley) in a "Hell in the Cell" match in June 1998. That match saw Mankind thrown sixteen feet from the top of a steel cage, through an announcer's table at ringside. Both wrestlers' reputations will precede them heading into Monday night's show in Manchester.

Fans of Dartmouth athletics might see a familiar face when they attend WWE RAW in Manchester. Chris Nowinski, who graduated from Harvard University in 2000 after four years as a defensive tackle on the Crimson football team, recently made his WWE debut, and is fast becoming one of the more hated villains on the RAW program.

Nowinski, who won an Ivy League title with Harvard in 1997, trained with wrestling legend Walter "Killer" Kowalski before competing for a WWE contract on the first season of MTV's reality series "Tough Enough." While Nowinski lost that competition, he was signed by WWE earlier this year.

Portraying the stereotyped image of a spoiled, stuck-up Ivy League student, and teaming with the snobbish British star William Regal, Nowinski has been greeted with chants of "Harvard sucks!" at many recent WWE events.

In addition to The Undertaker, Nowinski, Regal, and the Hardys, WWE RAW features a wide variety of performers, including high-flying superstar Rob Van Dam (the WWE Intercontinental Champion), former NCAA heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (winner of last weekend's "King of the Ring" tournament), the 7', 500 pound "Big Show" Paul Wight, and 5'8", 158-pound underdog Spike Dudley.

With the recent departure of longtime main attraction "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the door is wide open for these and other wrestlers to establish themselves as top stars for WWE. According to wrestling fan Jorge Montalvo '02, "Right now, WWE is looking to build new characters, to create a fresh look. This week's Raw in Manchester may be a time." With young wrestlers trying to prove themselves, and with the ladder match as a classic in the making, WWE's first RAW in Manchester looks to be a memorable one.