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30 Years Of RAW: The Definitive Ranking Of Every Monday Night RAW Set In History
From its no-frills beginnings to the LED-infused spectacle, we take a look at the past 30 years of RAW's set design!
Monday Night RAW has always been more than just WWE Superstars competing against each other in the ring — it’s also been about the storytelling, the debuts, the fans, and above all else, the memories. And as admitted wrestling nerds, we here at USA Insider are going to get about as geeky as fans can get as we take a look at the most iconic sets in RAW history.
(Oh, and if that wasn’t geeky enough — we’ll be ranking them, too!)
As the wrestling world is awaiting RAW XXX this Monday, Jan. 23, we thought it was the perfect time to take a look at the evolution of Monday Night RAW from a presentation standpoint. After all, the show has had some unique looks over the past few decades. And while we didn’t want to get too nitpicky (because some set designs have had minor tweaks here and there), we’ve managed to narrow everything down to eight wholly unique sets, ranked from our least favorite to our most favorite. We’ll be honest, this was a tough ranking for us since we really have fond memories of every set on this list.
Here are the Monday Night RAW sets over the years, ranked:
8. The Move to High-Definition
Historically, WWE programming on television was broadcast in 480p resolution — but that all changed in 2008 when RAW made the jump to HD. The increased resolution brought better lighting, resulting in more details being visible, and of course, a new-and-improved set.
While we were huge fans of the jump to HD, as we look back, the set itself was cluttered and didn’t maintain a cohesive design language. We get it though — the jump to a higher resolution meant jamming as many high-def screens around the entranceway as humanly possible, even if it meant they didn’t necessarily match. Don’t get us wrong, this version of the RAW set needed to happen; it set RAW apart from so many other sports and entertainment shows of that era. We just wished it had a more cohesive look to go along with the innovative technology behind it.
7. The ThunderDome
Ah, the ThunderDome. Here’s what we loved about it: the initial wow factor (we can’t imagine how much building it cost!), the fact that the WWE Universe could participate virtually, and we loved the fact that it was clearly the best-case scenario for presenting a professional wrestling show in 2020.
But still, the ThunderDome itself felt … sterile, in a way. Maybe it was because there were zero physical fans in the building, or maybe it was because all crowd reaction sounds had to be artificially produced, but in our opinion, it didn’t manage to feel like a WWE show — it always felt like it was a placeholder or a stopgap until pandemic-era fan restrictions eased up.
As a sheer spectacle and a set with historical significance, we loved it. But for properly capturing the essence and spirit of WWE, we weren’t crazy about it.
(This seems like the perfect spot to mention the one RAW set that barely missed making this list — it was only left out because it only existed for a few weeks — and that is the empty arena set of the pandemic-era RAWs that happened while the ThunderDome was being built. The less said about this particular set, the better!)
6. TNN's Industrial Look
The USA Network has been home to Monday Night RAW for most of the show’s existence save for a five-year span in the early 2000s when it was found on the fledgling network TNN. RAW’s move to TNN brought with it an updated set design that can be summed up in one word: industrial.
At that point, the Attitude Era set consisting of the giant TitanTron was in desperate need of a refresh — but honestly, was anybody clamoring for so much pseudo-steel trimmings and rivets covering every surface of the stage? Did the management at TNN get really into industrial home renovation and wanted to see it carried over to the Monday Night RAW set?
We did appreciate that the set itself was approximately 12,000 times brighter than the dark, moody Attitude Era set, which was an appropriate transition into the next era of WWE programming.
5. The Bare-Bones Manhattan Center
Monday Night RAW burst onto the wrestling scene in 1993 and its first venue truly was the set itself. The Manhattan Center is almost synonymous with memories of those first RAW telecasts. Only fitting a few thousand people, Manhattan Center RAWs were bare-bones in the best way — and thanks to the venue’s balconies, it almost seemed that the Superstars of the early '90s were performing on stage.
There was no LCD screen, no pyrotechnic displays, just rabid fans and a straightforward presentation — and a handful of well-placed ICOPRO banners, of course.
Fortunately, the WWE Universe was treated to a night of nostalgia just five short years ago, when the 25th anniversary of RAW was partially broadcast from the Manhattan Center, letting Superstars and fans alike experience that unique early-era RAW energy once again.
4. The Attitude Era's Giant TitanTron
Although this setup didn’t top our rankings, it is arguably the most iconic RAW set in history. This set lived and breathed the Attitude Era — which makes sense, as many of the most memorable moments of that time happened around this set. In fact, in many ways, this may be the most crucial set design in WWE storytelling history.
The WWE debut of Chris Jericho perfectly exemplifies what we mean — as wrestling fans and historians, we equate legendary debuts and moments as tied to this particular RAW set whether we actively think about it or not.
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This generation of the RAW set was also historic because it was, at the time, the largest and most garish set design WWE has ever utilized. And since WWE was in the middle of its war with rival World Championship Wrestling at the time, this huge set sent a simple message to the competition: We’re better because our set is bigger.
3. The Iconic 'RAW' Letters Entranceway
Sometimes simplicity is the key to great set and stage design. The show was called “RAW,” so common sense said to simply place three huge letters spelling out “RAW” at the entranceway and call it a night. We have to admit, WWE management was pretty straightforward in 1995.
Back before the days of slickly-produced entrance videos and LED screens, RAW’s focus was always on the Superstars themselves. The intentionally dark lighting in the arenas also helped capture the “anything can happen in the WWE!” theme RAW was known for, as well. This particular set stayed until the giant TitanTron arrived in 1997 to help properly kick off the Attitude Era.
2. The Neon Entranceway
We fully admit, this is just nostalgia talking, but we are still in love with the neon entranceway of post-Manhattan Center, pre-freestanding “RAW” letters times. Absolutely a product of the neon-crazed '90s, it is bizarre, random, and doesn’t really fit in with anything WWE was presenting to its fans at the time (except for maybe the ring attires of Superstars like Crush and Doink the Clown). But we don’t care that it looked out of place or like it was originally hastily assembled for a local town fair — we loved that neon entranceway.
Throughout the annals of RAW history, we really feel like the neon entranceway has gotten lost in history due to the spectacle of the TitanTron, the grandeur of the ThunderDome, and the feel-good memories of the Manhattan Center. Those days are over — because we’re sticking our flag in the ground for the neon entranceway of the mid-'90s RAWs.
(We doubt it will happen, but if the neon set makes an appearance on RAW XXX, we’ll be ecstatic. Fingers crossed over here!)
1. The Present-Day All-Over LED Setup
Our No. 1 spot should be no surprise: It goes to the present-day set RAW utilizes each and every Monday night.
We have to admit, after going back in time and waxing poetic about every major RAW set in its history, we came to the conclusion that the current set is the apex of WWE presentation. It quite simply cannot be topped! What more could a fan possibly want? It’s bright, it’s larger than life, it’s dazzling — it’s a beast of a set that is filled with the latest and greatest technologies meant to immerse the WWE Universe whether they’re in the arena or watching at home.
The set itself, from the entrance ramp to the gigantic LED screens, is more impressive than most WrestleMania sets. When a Superstar’s music hits and he or she steps into the arena, the over-the-top and bombastic set really shines — it makes every single Superstar feel important in their own way, and that’s something that hasn’t been accomplished with any other RAW set in history.
While we’re sure the current-day RAW set will undergo some subtle evolutions at some point, in our mind, it’s absolutely perfect just the way it is.
So there you have it — the definitive ranking of the most iconic Monday Night RAW sets in WWE history.
As we look forward to Monday Night RAW’s next 30 years, we can’t even imagine the set designs that will inevitably be unveiled. Could we be seeing holograms, floating rings, underwater sets, or even RAW live from the moon? We can’t wait to find out. Cheers, RAW — here’s to another 30 years of amazing set design.
Catch up on all things Monday Night RAW on Peacock and catch RAW's 30th-anniversary celebration on Jan. 23 on USA Network.