RAW celebrated its 25th anniversary this week and Sunsport was lucky enough to get behind the scenes of the groundbreaking event at New York's Barclays Center.
Here are seven things we learnt from getting up close and personal with some of WWE’s greatest – and most legendary – superstars at Raw 25.
The day before Raw, I sat down for a lunch with wrestling legends Ric Flair and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
Flair ordered eight egg whites (a strange looking lunch to us Brits) and chicken salad.
But he barely touched them, because once Ric started chin-wagging about his old days in the business he was as animated as you’d imagine the Nature Boy to be.
Talking to him is fascinating. It’s easy to forget that he’s not only the Greatest of all Time, he also has a vast knowledge and deep understanding of the business.
Here are some other things we learnt about Ric: he still hates the mess that WCW was in during the 1990s – and wants to see Charlotte v Asuka at WrestleMania.
During lunch, DiBiase was repeatedly asked to do his trademark line – “Everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man” – and laugh. He happily obliged every single time.
I talked with DiBiase about the first major Raw angle – him and tag partner IRS trying to break Brutus Beefcake’s reconstructed face, with brought the Hulkster back to WWE.
But most interesting was our casual post-lunch chat about his life since leaving wrestling.
Now a travelling minister, DiBiase talked about his infidelities and partying during his days on the road in the 1980s and how his faith saved him.
He says he now has the greatest tag team partner – Jesus Christ. Certainly better than IRS.
He also said that’s he acted as minister to marry several couples. So if you’re a die hard wrestling fan and want to be married by an absolute legend, DiBiase will do the honours.
For a price presumably. Because everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man.
The day of Raw 25 I accompanied Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss to the New York Stock Exchange for the opening bell ceremony.
The foursome stood on a balcony and rang the bell to big cheers from across the Stock Exchange floor – they were treated as huge stars by the traders and staff (Especially the master of ceremonies, who admitted he was a huge Ric Flair fan and was excited to have Charlotte there).
Being in the presence of Roman Reigns is staggering though – he radiates the “it factor”. Up close, there’s no question about why he’s WWE’s chosen heir apparent.
He’s effortlessly charismatic and everyone wants to shake his hand of get a photo (myself included, I’m not ashamed to admit.)
Roman stopped for about a dozen selfies and was polite and friendly with everyone. It takes a special sort of person to reach and also deal with that level of WWE stardom.
After the Stock Exchange, I headed to the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square (the one-time WWE New York restaurant) to attend a special Make-A- Wish event.
There are some in the fan community who are cynical about WWE’s charity work – especially as a tool of marketing for the company.
But experiencing it up close, it’s hugely affecting – heartbreaking and not cynical at all.
WWE granted nine wishes to critically ill children, who all wanted to meet their favourite WWE superstars.
When the wrestlers came out, the kids bolted across the stage to hug them – it was genuinely moving to see how the superstars meant to the kids.
It wasn’t just a duty. The superstars were amazing with the kids too, chatting and playing with them afterwards.
They reveal that WWE has worked with Make-A- Wish for 30 years – and John Cena has granted a record-breaking 500 wishes.
I can’t deny trying – and failing – to fight back a few tears.
Seeing The Undertaker in his normal clothes is just as jaw-dropping as experiencing his entrance.
As part of Make-A- Wish, Undertaker made his first official appearance since WrestleMania 33.
He strolled out in casual clothes – though still mostly clad in black – and actually stood next to Roman Reigns, the man who (supposedly) retired him at Mania.
The pair were totally out of character and exchanged a few words
Even in his civvies, there’s something imposing about Taker – an aura that builds into his near-mythical character.
Before Raw 25 started, I went for a tour of the Manhattan Center – Monday Night Raw’s original venue.
A relatively small orchestral hall, standing in there was a blast of nostalgic brilliance.
But WWE was hugely protective about what was inside: the ring and set that was a near- exact replica of the first ever Raw from January 1993.
It was a tightly guarded secret. No photos and no tweeting any details.
Of course, fans would turn on the show later that night due to paying high tickets prices for what ended up being a poorly planned simulcast.
But being there while they set up the ring and dressed the set was wrestling geek heaven.
Notable spots included: longtime but scantly seen producer Kevin Dunn giving orders.
Jim Ross chatting to Bray Wyatt, IRS (Wyatt’s real-life father), and the Road Dogg.
Undertaker talking with Shawn Michaels, while X-Pac walked around with a tiny dog tucked into what looked like a baby sling.
And Jerry Lawler having a nose at the t-shirts on the merchandise stall in the lobby.
Being around wrestlers backstage is surreal.
Sasha Banks was hanging out with Braun Strowman in the Barclays Center, while Asuka wandered around in full costume.
But the highlight was getting to interview Sheamus and Cesaro – two huge, magnetic personalities.
It’s obvious the pair are close friends – “We’re brothers,” Cesaro told me – and fired non-stop banter back and forth.
Cesaro also now wears teenager-like braces on his teeth now, following his front tooth-
smashing injury at No Mercy.
Sheamus told me that working with Cesaro has stopped him from trying too hard and caring what other people think, consequently, he’s had the best year of his career.
Hilariously, Cesaro kept saying his favourite Raw moment is Sheamus putting US celeb Mark Cuban through a table in 2009.
Which Sheamus says that Cesaro knew nothing about until five minutes ago.
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