July 23, 2012
Koko B. Ware was in first Raw match
By BLAINE VAN DER GRIEND - SLAM! Wrestling
"I was just so glad that I helped make history," Ware said. "I wrestled on the very first Raw and I was against Yokozuna. I was just glad that I was a part of it."
The matchup between Koko B. Ware and Yokozuna was actually the first match in Raw history. The WWE always had the reputation for pushing larger-than-life athletes, but the main difference between Yokozuna and those who preceded him was that he didn't have a Hulk Hogan standing in his way, and therefore had a more than decent run with the title. So Ware fully understood his role in this match.
Ware says that the Rodney Anoa'i (Yokozuna's real name) he knew backstage was more of a gentle giant. But other than that, he adds that there were a lot of similarities between Yokozuna's backstage persona and his in-ring persona.
"He wasn't really too much different off camera. He just didn't walk around with his diaper behind the scenes. If you didn't know him, you missed getting to know a great guy," said Koko, whose real name is real name James Ware. "He was just like everybody, where if you made him mad, he would show another side of him that nobody had ever seen. But I'm sure everybody's got a different side of them. God bless his soul. He was just fantastic."
Anoa'i died on October 22, 2000 of a pulmonary edema in his Liverpool, England, hotel room, while in town for an indepedent show.
Prior to the debut of Monday Night Raw, the WWE had done countless shows in New York City, but those usually took place in the world's most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. So for a lot of Superstars, this may have been their first exposure to the Manhattan Centre, which is where Raw started out.
"I thought at first, it reminded me of like an old theatre. I was looking for the big screen and all that stuff," Ware said. "This is where they used to do all these acts and shows and stuff like that."
Before the first episode hit the air, there was clearly a lot at stake and all kinds of emotions were running wild backstage, as nobody could have predicted that Raw would be as big as it became. A lot of the wrestlers had families and they just had to believe that this was a good business decision. Fortunately, it was.
"It was kind of like getting ready for WrestleMania," Ware said. "We had to go out there and be the very best that we could be. By the time 8 o'clock came around, we were live, whether it be right there in New York City, or off in another country. We never did think it was going to take off like it has."
As the weeks turned into months, and the months into years, the Superstars could finally breathe sighs of relief, as they all realized they were a part of wrestling history. At the time of the first airing of Monday Night Raw, Ware was part of a tag team called High Energy with the late Owen Hart, who ended up becoming a huge Raw star in the years that followed. Ware describes that partnership as one of his best."
History will be made once again tonight from St. Louis, as the WWE presents its 1000th episode of Raw. It's amazing to think that it's already been over 19 years since the first Raw, but Ware wishes both the show and the entire WWE roster continued success.
"God bless those guys. We pioneered it, and the young generation is taking it to another level," Ware said. "God bless Vince McMahon and the whole WWE. More power to them."
Blaine van der Griend is wondering what the first match on the 1000th episode of Raw will be ...