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.