Tonight, The Rock returns to meet his opponent for the Rumble - CM Punk.  Punk, however, is slated to defend his WWE Championship tonight against Ryback in a TLC match.  Will Ryback take the strap away from Punk, or will Punk hang on one more time to set up the big match with Rock?

The Road to WrestleMania starts tonight with the build to the Royal Rumble!

Show Open:

The show opens with their "Tonight on Raw" video package.  They hype The Rock being on the show, as well as the TLC match between CM Punk and Ryback.  They recap the segment with the doctors clearing Punk for the match tonight.

Cole wishes viewers Happy New Year as the announcers check in on commentary.  Cena's music hits and he gets his normal mixed reaction.  They recap the segment that closed out Raw last year, with AJ and Dolph Ziggler getting crap dumped on them from the rafters.

Cena hypes up the TLC match tonight to decide the WWE Championship between CM Punk and Ryback.  He also hypes up The Rock's return tonight.  He says that we're on the road to WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble is coming up in three weeks.  He talks about his announcement of entering the Rumble.

Dolph Ziggler's music hits and he comes to the stage with AJ and Big E Langston.  Ziggler's sporting an eye issue.  Ziggler puts over the fact that the people came to see him, not anyone else.  AJ gets a mic and says that Cena broke her heart and calls him a petty, small man.  Insert random genitalia joke.

Cena applauds AJ for making her first sixth-grade weiner joke and gets the crowd to do a wave in response.  He returns with his own joke from Andrew Dice Clay but Ziggler cuts him off.  Ziggler says that whenever someone beats Cena, he just tries to laugh it off.

Ziggler says he will be in the Royal Rumble.  He says that he and 28 other men will try to make sure Cena doesn't win.  Cena tells the trio to look up, and fakes another "poop drop" from the rafters.  They fall for it.  Cena challenges Ziggler to a match.

Big E. gets on the mic.  He asks Cena if he thinks Ziggler is his only problem.  "Well, I have your answer for you, and it's on!"  Langston and Ziggler talk amongst themselves as the fans chant for Cena.  The three head to the ring as the show goes to break.  The announcers assume Cena and Ziggler will face off.

Mercy!  That was a terrible start.  I was reaching for the remote for a game I don't care about.  Langston was terrible on the mic.

Match #1 - Dolph Ziggler (w/AJ and Big E Langston) vs. John Cena

Cole tells us that Vickie made the match official in the break.  About 5 minutes in, Ziggler distracts the official by going to his eye and acting like he has something in it.  Langston gets in a cheap shot.  Ziggler gets a two-count out of it as they go to break.

Ziggler stays in control after commercial.  Cole puts Dolph over for showing off - saying it's what he does best.  Cena hits a couple power moves, but AJ sticks her nose in the match.  The distraction opens Ziggler up to hit a drop kick then hits a series of elbow drops.

AJ slaps Cena while Ziggler distracts the official.  The official has enough and sends Langston and AJ to the back.  Cena mounts a comeback, but Ziggler cuts him off.  Ziggler tries repeated covers but Cena kicks out.  Ziggler's controlling the action even though the announcers tried to sell it as "back and forth."

Ziggler hits a cross body but Cena rolls it through and teases the AA.  Ziggler counters and hits a superkick for a near fall.  The announcers talk about Ziggler's partners being sent to the back as Ziggler locks on a sleeper.

Cena fights out of the sleeper, but in the process Ziggler bumps the official.  Cena locks on the STF, but Big E Langston runs back out and hits his finisher on Cena.  He puts Ziggler's arm on Cena and a second official runs out for the count.  It's a near fall.

Cena finishes off Ziggler with the superkick.

Not sure why the second official didn't disqualify Ziggler if he saw Langston come out.  Good opening match with a lot of close near falls, but because of how Cena is pushed it was hard to buy into them.

Eve comes out with a big fake smile and a wave.  She faces Kaitlyn for the Divas Championship next.

Match #2 - Eve (c) vs. Kaitlyn; Divas Championship

Cole tells us RockonRaw is trending, but it wasn't.  Eve points out that Kaitlyn's boot is untied and the official tells her to tie it.  She bends down to tie the laces but Eve kicks her in the head.  Eve insinuates it's not her fault.

Kailtyn hits a series of power moves, including a backbreaker.  Eve tries to run off, but Kaitlyn catches her and throws her back in.  Eve runs out the other side and escapes through the crowd.  Kaitlyn wins by count-out, but Eve is still the champion.

No real heat in this one.  It keeps the chase going, at best.

They hype up next week's 20th anniversary show.  They show footage from the first Raw in 1993.

Backstage:

Santino Marella is talking to Ricky Steamboat and says that his favorite match was Steamboat vs. Savage at WrestleMania 3.  Steamboat calls it a career highlight.  Wade Barrett walks in and says the Intercontinental Championship means something now that Barrett holds it.

He mocks Steamboat for being an old man that blows smoke and calls Marella a 'never was' and walks off.  Steamboat offers to be in Marella's corner for their match tonight.  "He'll find out how much smoke this old man can blow," says Steamboat.

Elsewhere, Matt Striker interviews Randy Orton about the Royal Rumble and other competitors that have entered.  Three Man Band shows up and says they've entered as well.  Orton asks which one is facing him tonight.  Heath tells him to pick his poison from the three men.  Orton tells Slater he'll be playing the harp after tonight's match.

The announcers hype the ticket sale starting Saturday for the WWE Hall of Fame event.

Match #3 - Kane and Daniel Bryan (Team Hell No) vs. Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes (Team Rhodes Scholars)

Kane and Bryan get their entrances before the break.  Sandow and Rhodes are in the ring after the break.  Bryan gets a strong start but ends up selling for the heels.

Kane gets a tag and stumbles with climbing the ropes.  He recovers well though and he and Sandow improvise to get back on track.  Bryan hits a flip off the ropes off the tag.  He grabs his knee, though.  The heels isolate the leg.

The heels keep working Bryan's leg.  Kane attacks Sandow to prevent a kick to Bryan's leg.  Cody kicks Kane, but Bryan rolls up Cody for a near fall.  Rhodes hits Cross Rhodes to get the win.

The announcers put over the importance of the win for getting Rhodes Scholars back in the title picture.

A good match between the two teams.  I think it's time to move the straps off Kane and Bryan, though.  The act seems to have run its course.  I think it'd be fun to see Rhodes Scholars as the champs as well.

The announcers hype up Rock being on the show and recap the Cena vs. Ziggler match early on in the night.  They show Randy Orton heading to the ring for his match with Heath Slater, next.

Match #4 - Randy Orton vs. Heath Slater (w/Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre)

We get a few seconds of the 3MB routine.  Orton gets his full entrance.  Cole says that the Royal Rumble is sold out and hypes up the fan fest.  He talks about the tournament as a part of fan fest with the winner getting a spot in the Rumble.

Slater gets some offense in and hits a neckbreaker.  Slater goes to the ropes, but Orton hits a superplex to cut him off.

Orton fights off an interfering McIntyre and Mahal.  He gets the elevated DDT on Slater and plays to the crowd a little.  He's hearing voices, and hits the RKO to get the win. Afterward, Orton hits the RKO on Mahal and McIntyre for good measure.

3MB has good talent, but the gimmick is terrible.  No one really expected Slater to win, right?

They hype up Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler on Main Event this Wednesday.

Match #5 - Wade Barrett (c) vs. Santino Marella (w/Ricky Steamboat)

No entrance for Wade Barrett?  Anyhow.  Santino teases the Cobra about two minutes in, but Barrett slides out.  He hangs Marella up on the ropes then hits the Bull Hammer Elbow for the win.

Afterward, Ricky checks on Marella.  Barrett teases hitting him with the Bull Hammer, but Steamboat sees him.  They face off but Barrett laughs and leaves without incident.

Is Steamboat going to take Kofi under his wing?

Backstage

Striker interviews Sheamus about the Royal Rumble. He sees 3MB approach and calls them "3MBieber" and makes fun of them.  He says whoever is left standing after the Brogue Kick can sing Danny Boy with him.

Terrible, terrible humor from Sheamus.

Match #6 - Antonio Cesaro vs. Great Khali (w/Natalya and Hornswoggle)

Cesaro waves an American flag as he comes to the ring.  Miz sits in on commentary for this one and plays up a feud with Cesaro.

Cesaro works the knee.  Khali gets a comeback, but Cesaro goes back at the leg.  Cesaro ends up hitting his upper cut and follows with the Neutralizer for the win.

This show has really been a letdown, so far.  Maybe the TLC match and The Rock appearance later will shake things up.  Crowd is flat.  The Neutralizer spot was impressive.

Backstage:

Paul Heyman is on the phone when Brad Maddox comes into frame.  Heyman turns to him and says that he must not have made it clear to Maddox that he doesn't want him in his life.  Maddox says he can be of assistance to Punk and Heyman.

Maddox tells Heyman he brought his official's shirt and he can talk to Vickie about making him the official for tonight's TLC match. Heyman says he doesn't want Maddox talking to anyone and tells him to slither back under the rock he came out from under.

Match #7 - Sheamus vs. Jinder Mahal (w/Heath Slater and Drew McIntyre)

Early in this one Mahal is able to knock down Sheamus with a shoulder block and plays up the 3MB gimmick.  Sheamus plays his own comedy spots by grabbing Jinder by the nose and acting like Jinder grabbed his ass.

The crowd wakes up a little for Sheamus hitting the ten forearm shots on Mahal and McIntyre.  They get a chant going for Sheamus while Mahal scores some offense of his own.

Sheamus hits the Brogue Kick on McIntyre, then Slater when the two men get on the apron respectively.  He hits White Noise on Mahal then serves up the Brogue Kick for the win.

Playful Sheamus in the ring is okay.  It comes off good with the fans.  His comedic promos suck, though.

The announcers hype up the TLC match, showing tables, ladders and chairs around the ring and stage area.  They recap the CM Punk/Ryback story to this point and show the footage from Tout that WWE Doctor Michael Sampson declaring Punk cleared to wrestle.

Match #8 - CM Punk  (c, w/Paul Heyman) vs. Ryback; WWE Championship decided under TLC Rules.

Punk and Heyman come out first.  Punk shows no issues with the knee, and whips a chair down the ramp.  He also walks under a ladder.  He climbs up on the ropes and yells "Best in the world!" and jumps off the ropes.  Lawler points out that is a test of Punk's injured knee.  Ryback makes his entrance next.

Early on, Ryback hits a delayed vertical suplex on a ladder.  Punk comes back and hits repeated chair shots on Ryback's back and jabs him in the leg with it.  Punk hits more chair shots as the show goes to commercial.

After commercial, Cole tells us each man made a ladder play during the break.  Ryback controls the offense, despite a short comeback from Punk.  Ryback hits a hip toss onto the announce table then slams the top of the table on Punk.  They move back into the ring, where Punk clips Ryback from behind.

Cole and Lawler stand while production puts their table back together.  Punk wraps Ryback's leg in a chair and tries a double stomp, but Ryback rolls out of the way.  Punk tweaked his knee though and is holding it.  The announcers play it up.

The fans chant Feed Me More and Ryback hits the Meathook.  He calls for Shellshocked but no one buys it.  Punk slips out and heads out of the ring.  Punk ducks a charge and Ryback eats a table.

Punk teases going after the belt.  Ryback climbs the other side and knocks Punk off the ladder.  Ryback goes after the ladder but Punk shoves the ladder over.  Ryback lands on his feet, then presses Punk and slams him on the ladder.

Punk comes back with a pair of running knees and teases the bulldog.  Ryback catches him and tosses him out of the ring onto a table set up at ringside.  Neat spot.

Ryback goes for a ladder and makes a play for the belt.  He nearly gets there but the lights go out.  When they come back, the Shield has arrived.  Ambrose and Rollins are on the other side of the ladder.  Ryback fights them off but Reigns attacks from behind.  Ryback fights him off and makes another play for the belt.

The Shield regroups and attacks Ryback again. They hit him with the triple powerbomb on a table at ringside with the steps underneath it. 

In the ring, Punk makes his way back to the ladder.  He slowly climbs, smiling at Ryback laying at ringside.  Punk grabs the belt to win and sits on the ladder.  Heyman smiles tearfully and applauds from ringside.

That was a good match.  The Shield getting involved was predictable but Punk played it off well so that the fans gave him heat rather than being disappointed.  Ryback lost nothing in this.

Backstage:

Heyman and Punk celebrate the win.  Matt Striker walks in and Punk assumes he's going to ask about Brad Maddox and The Shield.  Punk says he doesn't know the Shield or Maddox.  He says that before The Rock comes out and entertains the millions, he's going to drop another pipebomb.

They  are dropping the ball not pushing this promo if he follows it through.

Backstage:

Kane and Daniel Bryan start to bicker about who's fault it was for losing the tag match earlier in the night.  Vickie shows up to tell them that there's going to be a four-month evaluation from Dr. Shelby.  Kane and Bryan bicker over whether or not Shelby is a monster or a nerd.

They can't hype a main event for the following week, but they get this?

Cole and Lawler give us some more hype for the 20th anniversary show next week, then hype up Del Rio vs. Big Show on Smackdown.

Match #9 - Kofi Kingston vs. Big Show

Kofi gets his entrance before the break.  This doesn't last long, as Kofi gets tied up with the official and eats the WMD Punch by Show.

This was a really flukey loss for Kingston, so he shouldn't lose too much for even a 20-second match.

They show highlights from Raw 1000 when Punk turned on The Rock. They show Rock's locker room and Lawler hypes that he will be out with his response.

In-Ring Segment:

Punk's music hits and he returns to the stage with Heyman in tow.  Cole points out the title run is up to 414 days and they show highlights from his match earlier with Ryback.  Punk takes the WWE box off the mic as he prepares to speak.  Heyman holds the belt up  behind him.

Punk says it's time to tell the fans something personal.  He says the phrase pipe bomb has been misunderstood. In its truest form, a pipe bomb is truth and honesty is something the fans lack.  He says the perception of him is that he was disgruntled when he sat on the stage in Vegas and that became a pipe bomb.

Punk says the perception is that he got a big head and turned his back on the people.  He calls it a lie and says he meant every word he said, except about ice cream.  He insults the fans saying ice cream is the last thing they need.  He says he made a conscious decision and sold out.

Punk says he sold out to the fans and created an anti-hero rebel that the fans love.  He says the truth about Vegas and WWE is that it doesn't matter if you're the best wrestler, talker or the most entertaining or if you make the two clowns (referencing Cole and Lawler) look like amateur hour.

Punk says there's a glass ceiling in WWE.  He says that's why Cena admits he he's had the worst year of his career yet has countless title shots.  He says that Daniel Bryan has to belittle himself with smiles and catchphrases and Brodus Clay does his shuck and jive routine.

Punk says that Little Jimmy is positioned better on the flagship show of WWE than a workhorse like Tyson Kidd.  He says it's because the fans can't handle anything complicated and can't handle anything interesting.  Punk says "we're all here in a circus to entertain you, and nobody's been able to attain a modicum of success without you. Until now.  Until I showed up."

Punk says he's become the longest reigning champion of the modern era and calls it a T-shirt buzz word.  He puts himself over and says that if he were champion in Bruno's day, he'd have been champion for 30 years.  He says he wrestles demanding matches like TLC matches that his one year equates 30 of theirs.  Punk says he's successful in spite of the fans.

Punk says he's the most honest man in the company.  He says everyone else will come out and say they do it for the fans and "let's hear it for Tampa, Fla."  He says he doesn't care about the people in Tampa.  "There's good guys and bad guys in this world and make no mistake about it, I am a bad man and I freely admit it."

Punk makes fun of Flair for crying his 183-year-old eyes out.  He insults Shawn Michaels and says he can lose his smile and say his career was about acceptance.  He says Edge was forced to retire but misses performing for the people.  Punk says they are either weak or dishonest.  "I am neither weak nor dishonest, I'm the best in the world."

Punk says there's winners and losers and "guess which one you are."  He says the fans are born to pay to see champions like him and he's never done this for the fans.  He says there's superstars and nobodies.  He says he is a superstar and the people are all nobodies.  He says if the superstars are friends of the fans, why don't they come out and share their millions of dollars they earn?

A production guy attempts to interrupt.  Punk says he's being told they have to go to commercial, but they'll go to break when the champion says so.  Punk keeps talking and tells the fans they don't matter.  Cole teases The Rock coming out as Punk goes on.

Punk promises, coming out of break, that he will still be champion on the first Raw of 2014 and he won't let Rock tear down all he's attained.  Punk says he didn't just beat Alberto Del Rio at Madison Square Garden, he beat the system.  He says whenever he's beaten an opponent he's beaten the fans as well, holding them "under my oppressive boot."  Punk says he will do the same thing to Rock.  "He will not win, you will not win.  You are losers, you do not get to win."

The Rock's music hits to a big ovation.  He plays to both sides of the stage as Cole sells he's got goosebumps.

The Rock says he had to hear it all and find out what kind of man he's dealing with at the Royal Rumble.  He calls Punk delusional.  He says Punk's title run is incredible, but the number that's really in Punk's head and making the hair on his 'straight edge scrotum' stand up is 20.  Punk knows in 20 days, time's up.

Rock says Punk wanted change and a revolution.  He says that Punk said he rejected the people, but it was the people that rejected Punk. He says Punk promised ice cream and couldn't even deliver that.  Punk glares at Rock, who says Punk has to listen to the voices.  He says Punk claims to be the voice of the voiceless, but that's garbage because there are no voiceless people in the WWE Universe.

Rock says the fans use their voices every single night.  He says something special is about to happen and the fans will chant something that will follow Punk the rest of his life.  Rock says they won't chant respect or best in the world, but instead chant 'cookie puss."  The fans get going.

Punk eggs them on and calls the fans puppets.  "he's got you chanting about ice cream the same way I did a year and a half ago, congratulations.  They don't get to win, you don't get to win."  Rock says the fans won the moment he got out of bed this morning at 4 a.m.

Rock gets around to his "finally" line and says after 10 years he's back to win the WWE Championship.  He says he's been watching the show and seeing Punk's lies and deceit.  He says he wanted someone to tell Punk they respected him just so Punk would shut up.  He says the man who claims to be straight edge looks like Popeye on crack.

Rock puts Punk over for having a creative and innovative mind but says he fails to use it.  He says Punk became WWE Champion then became one of the biggest jerks the world has ever seen.  Rock tells Punk to never say the people don't matter when he's around. "You're the one that doesn't matter."

Punk says he matters, but Rock cuts him off with "It doesn't matter if you matter!"  Rock says Punk won't stop him from becoming WWE Champion.  Punk puts the belt on the mat between them and says unlike a lot of people Punk is happy Rock is back.  He doesn't care if it's for 16 days, 365 days, or one day.

Punk says whenever Rock graces them with his presence, he will kick his ass.  Punk says Rock can do his tired schtick, but he's going to kick his ass at the Rumble.  Punk says Rock graduated from the kiddie table but bit off more than he can chew.  Punk says Rock is playing little league with his catchphrases but Punk is in the big leagues swinging for the fences.

Punk tells Rock he needs to understand that when he steps in the ring at Royal Rumble that "your arms are just too short to box with God."  Rock says Punk might think Rock is boxing with God, but he knows for a fact that Punk will go one on one with The Great One at Royal Rumble. 

Rock says Punk shouldn't think for a second how tough Punk is, and recalls when Punk attacked him at Raw 1000 and knocked him out.  Rock says Punk hurt him, but in 20 days, time's up.

Rock tells Punk to go home and look in the mirror and strip naked.  He tells him to not concentrate on his cookie puss.  He tells him to focus on his backside and find a space not covered in tattoos.  He tells him to go get tattoos of various candy bars, but not Almond Joys because they have nuts.

Rock says he wants Punk to also get a tattoo of his size 15 shoe so he has a reminder of how Rock will kick his candy ass at the Royal Rumble.  Rock hits the Rock Bottom and Punk rolls out of the ring.  Rock grabs the title and holds it, then throws it at Punk.  Punk stands up and rubs his head and looks at Rock, who motions 20 days with his fingers and puts his hands at his waist indicating he wants the title.

They hype up that Rock will be on Friday's Smackdown for the first time in 10 years this week from Miami.  That's the show.

You can debate all night who "won" or who "lost" that round of the verbal battle.  The best part of this is that Punk says he's going to kick Rock's ass, and Rock didn't back down but still put Punk over while saying he will take the title at the Rumble.  They did what they needed to do, and that was sell the Rumble match.

A tale of two shows tonight.  It opened strong with Cena vs. Dolph, then it got flat for about 90 minutes or so.  The TLC match woke us all up again, then we got the sell in the end for the Rumble title match.  Not WWE's best opening offering for 2013, but not its worst, either.

Next week is the 20th anniversary of Raw.  I will have more to say on tonight's show in Raw Afterthoughts, sometime tomorrow evening.  Thanks for watching along tonight.