As a sixth grader at McCall Middle School in Winchester, Mass., Kofi Sarkodie-Mensahcite couldn’t wait for Dec. 25 and Jan. 11.
For obvious reasons Dec. 25 but Jan. 11.
It wasn’t his birthday but rather the birth of his favorite TV program, Raw (Jan. 11, 1993), and now 20 years later, a grown-up Sarkodie-Mensahcite, better known as Kofi Kingston, is actually one of the top WWE superstars on the show.
WWE RAW celebrates its 20th anniversary live on the USA Network beginning at 8 p.m. EST Monday, Jan. 14 from the Toyota Center in Houston.
“It’s really crazy,” Kingston said. “You talk about a milestone. We are the longest running episodic television show in the history of anything. You think about all the great TV shows -- ‘M*A*S*H,’ ‘Happy Days,’ ‘The Simpsons.’ We blow them all out of the water.”
RAW also has been on the air longer than shows like “ER,” “Dallas,” “Law & Order,” “Cheers” and “Seinfeld.”
The difficulty of maintaining an audience is a challenge, but WWE developed a formula to build new stars and attract new fans, outlasting all other episodic programming. Some fans continue to watch no matter what. Others grow tired of it. Some of those return later. Some don’t. New fans emerge. The process -- from Hulk-A-Mania to the Cartoon era to Small Ball to the Attitude era to PG; from Hulk Hogan to Sgt. Slaughter to Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to DX, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to John Cena -- has worked, bringing WWE Raw to year 20.
“We’ve just consistently had great programming and great entertainment,” Kingston said. “If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t have been able to reach this milestone. It’s pretty incredible to be a part of it. I’m really excited for the show [on Monday]. There’s always a lot of big surprises, and I’m looking forward to them as much as the next person. It’s going to be an excellent show.”
Breaking new ground in televised pro wrestling, Raw debuted Monday, Jan. 11, 1993 as a one-hour live show on the USA Network from the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios, a small New York City theater which later housed ECW, Ring of Honor and NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
“That first Raw was at such a unique looking place with that balcony and the terraces,” Kingston said. “Any time you saw a Raw match from that place, you knew exactly where it was. The environment, it was completely sold-out and everybody with their signs. I think a lot of people wanted a show like that for a long time. You fast forward 20 years, and you still see people in the crowd with their signs. It’s cool.”
Yokozuna with Mr. Fuji, Shawn Michaels, The Steiner Brothers, Razor Ramon, Koko B. Ware, Doink the Clown, Max Moon, Damian Demento and The Undertaker appeared on the inaugural Raw show.
Undertaker is still involved with WWE, wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania 28 last year at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens and will probably compete at WrestleMania 29 on April 7 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“It’s a testament to how tough that man is,” Kingston said. “I’ve been with WWE since 2008, and my body’s pretty banged up. So I can only imagine a guy like The Undertaker who’s been with WWE for 20-plus years, let alone wrestling before that, other places, too, and to still be able to do that, it’s crazy. Every time he does have a match it’s always lights out. It’s awesome.
“It’s not like he comes out, and he’s hobbling around. It’s incredible, and you forget he’s been doing it for so long by the way he moves.”
Some of your other Raw favorites from the show’s beginnings?
“Definitely, Shawn Michaels. To me, he is the greatest of all-time,” Kingston said. “I’ve never seen him have a match that wasn’t great. He does it every single time. That is the measuring stick for me. When I look at the superstars, who do I want to try to emulate? Who do I want to be like? I put Shawn Michaels up in that category.
“There was so many characters back then, it was awesome. Yokozuna, a big sumo wrestler with Mr. Fuji. What a great combination. It’s awesome to see the evolution of WWE and sports entertainment.”
If he could compete against anyone from Raw’s past on Raw 20, Kingston would love to live a childhood dream and wrestle Shawn Michaels.
Vince McMahon, Rob Bartlett and Macho Man Randy Savage were the announcers for the inaugural Raw show.
Which Mr. McMahon would Kingston like to appear at Raw 20? Mr. McMahon the announcer, the evil boss or the appreciate owner?
“Definitely the evil boss, without a doubt, because he comes out with his facials and his voices and just how into it he gets,” Kingston said. “You wouldn’t get into WWE as an owner, if you didn’t want to be a wrestler at some point. I think each time he steps into the ring it’s a grown man living out a childhood dream – talking trash and even getting involved in matches. As a kid how would you not want to do that. I think he’s at his best when he’s the evil and diabolical jerk of a boss who throws his weight around. So I hope we see some of that on the 20th anniversary.”
Who would Kingston like to return for RAW 20?
“Ahmed Johnson. I haven’t seen him in a long time,” Kingston said, “and I was a big fan of his. The Pearl River Plunge. I think it would be great to see him comeback for that night, but I have no idea who’s going to be there.
“Well, I know The Rock is going to be there for sure. So that will be great. It always is when he comes back.”
Raw housed several reoccurring talk shows including The Brother Love Show, Carilito’s Cabana, The Cutting Edge, The Heartbreak Hotel, The Highlight Reel, The King’s Court, The Love Shack, The MVP Lounge, Piper’s Pit and currently Miz TV.
For Raw 20, Kingston would enjoy seeing “Piper’s Pit. Rowdy Roddy Piper had so many good guests, and the infamous smashing of the coconut over Superfly Jimmy Snuka’s head was kind of heartbreaking because Superfly Jimmy Snuka was one of my idols, but now looking back as a student of the game, Piper just being Piper and going off the edge on being a loose cannon, I think Piper’s Pit is the strongest talk segment they’ve had.”
Kingston recalled one of his greatest Raw moments.
“The program I had with Randy Orton a few years back. There were so many elements of it. We’re in Madison Square Garden. Randy was talking trash to Roddy Piper, about to beat him up, and I came out and saved Roddy Piper.
“It was amazing to do that, being a wrestling fan my entire life, and then Randy and I fought through Madison Square Garden, which was crazy, because there’s so much history in that building, and I ended up putting him through the table. I think it’s a moment that a lot of people remember and definitely I do because it was MSG. That’s the pinnacle, the heart and soul of WWE. That’s where it all started. So that’s my favorite.”
Kingston relayed his favorite Raw moments sans himself.
“There are so many. The first one that comes into my mind is Val Venis and the ‘choppy choppy pee pee’ with Kaientai and the Samurai sword. Mae Young giving birth to a hand. Just so many ridiculous antics on Raw.
“On the 1,000 Raw episode last year, DX reunited, and all these past superstars were there. It was great. Now they’re going to find a way to top that on Monday [Jan. 14], and I’m waiting to see how they’re going to do it.”
• In RAWe of its success
Raw evolved from day one, growing into a highly successful program, a leader in weekly cable TV ratings.
Raw is the company’s flagship program because of its prolific history, high ratings, weekly three-hour live format, and emphasis on pay-per-views.
Raw opened before hundreds filling the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center Studios to thousands and even 10s of thousands at arenas around the world.
Raw has been broadcast live from 197 different arenas in 165 cities and towns in nine different nations (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Afghanistan in 2005, Iraq in 2006 and 2007 for specials Tribute to the Troops, Germany in 1997, Japan in 2005, Italy in 2007, and Mexico in 2011).
Raw grew from one hour to two and now three live hours each Monday night.
Unlike other weekly TV programming, Raw does not broadcast re-runs. Raw is a new show every week (52 weeks a year). For any weekly episodic program, that is unheard of, past or present.
“When I was a sixth grader in middle school, I remember being really happy that there was another day of wrestling on TV [with the debut of Raw on Monday, Jan. 11, 1993],” Kingston said. “I always used to watch Superstars on Saturday mornings. I could never afford the pay-per-views. So the fact there was another day of quality wrestling on TV was awesome for me, because I’m sure there were a lot of people in my situation who loved to watch wrestling. I could watch wrestling seven days a week.
“It was great, but who knew it would be the start of something so long and amazing.”
• Miz See TV
WWE superstar The Miz discusses Miz TV, catch phrases and Raw 20.
• 1993: Good year leads to good things
Nine days after Raw debuted, Bill Clinton succeeded George Bush as U.S. President.
Jesse Ventura, a former Raw guest host and WWE Hall of Famer, later became Governor of Minnesota.
On Jan. 1, 1993, Florida State University football beat Nebraska to win the NCAA national title.
He was not part of that team, but Ron Simmons, a former Raw superstar who is an FSU and WWE Hall of Famer, is royalty in Tallahassee.
On Jan. 31, 1993, the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl, beating the Buffalo Bills.
Jim the Anvil Neidhart, a former Raw superstar, tried out for the Cowboys, before pursuing pro wrestling.
On April 5, 1993, the Florida Marlins made their debut with 45-year-old knuckle baller Charlie Hough on the mound.
Former wrestler Dale (The Demon) Torborg, whose father, Jeff, is a former Marlins manager, was trained by The Warlord and Neidhart, a former Raw superstar.
On April 5, 1993, North Carolina men’s basketball beat Michigan for the NCAA national title.
WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, a former Raw superstar and authority figure, is royalty in North Carolina.
On June 20, 1993, the Chicago Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns in the NBA finals.
Dennis Rodman, who later played for the Bulls, also teamed with the nWo’s Hollywood Hulk Hogan, a former Raw superstar, in WCW.
On Oct. 23, 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Edge, a former Raw superstar, proud Canadian and WWE Hall of Famer, later threw out the first pitch at a Blue Jays game.
• Kofi King of the hill
In five years (plus) in WWE, Kingston is a four-time Intercontinental champ, two-time U.S. champ and three-time tag team champ (CM Punk, Evan Bourne, R-Truth).
• Screaming Eagles
Kingston graduated from Boston College with a degree in Communication, concentrating on advertising, marketing and public relations.
Alabama or Notre Dame?
“I could never ever root for Notre Dame because I went to BC,” Kingston said. “So many years later, I have nothing against Notre Dame. I wrestled in Indiana a few times, and they have great fans there, but I’m an Eagle at heart, and we don’t root for Notre Dame.
“I’m sure the people in Alabama are still partying it up. Congratulations.”
• Boston Soldier
“Confrontation” by Damian Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley.
Kofi Kingston’s theme music with Deep South Wrestling, a former feeder group to WWE in Georgia.
The late Bob Marley performed at the Manhattan Center, home to the debuting Raw.
• Kofi Kingston Social Media
• McCall Middle School: http://www.edline.net/pages/McCall_Middle_School
Boston College: http://www.bc.edu/
• The WWE Royal Rumble is live 8 p.m. EST on pay-per-view on Sunday, Jan. 27. The Rock will be in the main event against WWE champ CM Punk (with Paul Heyman).
The Royal Rumble is the kick off to the Road to WrestleMania 29, which is April 7 from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
• Go to http://www.wwe.com/.