It's the final Raw of 2013. If you followed along for the Christmas week coverage, you know that there wasn't too much in the way of storyline advancement. Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt got a little rub, as did Rowan and Harper vs. Goldust and Cody Rhodes, but that was about it. The rest was buried among Christmas silliness.
The Royal Rumble is in late January - so there's plenty of time to build to that event. Blockbuster announcements are also being rumored.
Show Open, Live from Richmond, VA
Cole welcomes us to the show and we get CM Punk's entrance right off the bat. Cole introduces the other announcers as Punk comes to the ring. JBL says he wants to get rid of 240lbs of unwanted fat and motions to Cole. Punk gets a strong chant from the live crowd.
He says he's fired up to be there and be in Richmond. He says it's the last Raw of the year and he's excited. He says 2013 saw a lot of good stuff and bad stuff happened to CM Punk. He says he started the year as the longest running WWE Champion of the last 25 years. He says he went one on one with the great one, faced the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. He talks about making friends and losing friends, then beating said friend with a kendo stick in reference to Paul Heyman. He says he can't claim 2013 as the "year of Punk"
He says that there are three men that can lay claim to it being their year. He puts over The Shield and poses that it has been their year. Punk says the three of them have been unstoppable and talks about their accomplishments. He says he has a challenge for them tonight, and at some point when their paths cross, he will pose it. The Shield's music hits and JBL says we won't have to wait. The Shield makes their entrance through the crowd.
Ambrose gets a mic and asks what the challenge will be, and says it better be good or he will end Punk now. Punk waits out a chant then says he wants to face the best and wants to know which one of them is the best. Ambrose tells Punk that he's looking at the best and he will take Punk out now. Reigns has a curious look, as does Rollins. Punk laughs him off and says that he was talking about Rollins and Reigns. Ambrose yells "Do you think I'm a joke?"
Punk calls Ambrose the weak link and wants to know who the best of the Sheild is. Reigns tries to calm Ambrose down, and Punk calls him out. "Look at me when I'm talking to you." Punk asks Reigns if he's the best, then Rollins steps up and asserts himself as the best and he'll take the fight. Reigns questions him, Ambrose paces, and Punk keeps stirring the pot. Rollins tells Reigns he wants to prove himself, so Reigns backs off and tells him to step up.
Brad Maddox comes out. He says that on behalf of the Authority, he wishes everyone a happy new year. He diffuses the situation and books CM Punk vs. Seth Rollins, and that match will start next.
Match #1 - Seth Rollins (The Shield, w/Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns) vs. CM Punk
Punk charges and teases an early attack, but backs off. He tries to get Rollins up into the GTS but Rollins bails to ringside. He confers with the Shield, and says he has it as they go to break. Out of break, Cole confirms this is the first time Punk and Rollins have faced off.
The announcers bicker back and forth amongst themselves about the issues within the Shield. In the ring, Punk and Rollins battle back and forth. Rollins catches Punk on the top rope and shoves him from the top rope to the floor going to commercial again.
Rollins goes top rope but gets countered. Punk goes up and tries a superplex but gets countered, and Rollins hits a cross body. Punk rolls it through to the Anaconda Vice. Ambrose gets on the apron and runs a distraction, so Punk breaks it to give chase. Rollins tries to load his finisher, but Punk counters and tries to load the GTS.
Ambrose and Reigns get involved again, and Rollins hits his finisher. With the distraction, Rollins only gets a near fall. He throws Punk to the ropes, but Punk holds on, then dumps him onto his teammates. Punk tries a suicide dive, but takes a shot from Rollins. Rollins tries a springboard move, but Punk counters by loading to the GTS. He hits it and picks up the win. Punk ducks out as Reigns hits the ring. Ambrose sells frustration at ringside while Punk celebrates on the ramp.
I think it's too soon to split up The Shield, but it's a good build. A sound opening match and it was really good.
They zoom in on a glass-encased Kane mask. He turns to the official and tells him that the Intercontinental Championship match is one that people can be proud of. In walks Triple H and Stephanie. After exchanging greetings, Maddox says it's time that he take a step forward.
Daniel Bryan enters the picture and says he doesn't want 2013 to end without getting his hands on Bray Wyatt. Maddox suggests he earn it, and proposes that Maddox face Harper, and if he wins face Rowan, then if he wins face Wyatt. Bryan agrees and walks off.
Why they didn't have Bryan give a stronger response than just simply "okay" seemed weak, but perhaps they'll address this later.
Stephanie says she's impressed, but tells Maddox to watch and learn as she goes to announce the main event of the Royal Rumble. She kisses Hunter and leaves.
Royal Rumble Main Event Announcement:
Stephanie's music plays and she comes to the stage. She, on behalf of the McMahon family, wishes the fans a happy new year. She poses the question as to what they would have done differently, and she says they would do nothing different. She says that it's time to look forward to what the future will be and puts over Randy Orton as the face of the company and WWE World Heavyweight Champion. She feeds it to a video package highlighting his career.
Coming back, Stephanie applauds and says Orton deserves every accolade afforded him. She says that he will defend the title at the Royal Rumble in a traditional match, one fall to a finish, no stipulations, against John Cena. She leaves to as little of a reaction as she came out to.
If this keeps Cena from winning the Rumble, I'm okay with that. Being in it and getting eliminated, or keeping him out of it are both better options than having him win again.
Cole feeds it to a recap of the story between Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan. They hype up the gauntlet that Bryan has to run to get to Wyatt. King highlights the Intercontinental Championship match between Fandango and Big E. Langston.
Another promo video for the return of Batista on January 20.
Stephanie greets Hunter and asks how she did. Hunter says we'll know who the real man, and real champion is. He says 2014 will be an epic year and as good as that was, "wait til you see what I have to say."
Match #2 - Curtis Axel vs Dolph Ziggler.
In a "picture in picture" promo, he says that 2013 was great but 2014 will be even more perfect, and it starts with beating Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler offers some resolutions of his own, and says he will steal the show tonight and come out on top again.
Axel takes charge in the early going, throwing Ziggler hard to the outside. Cole talks about how Ziggler tried to take the fight to Orton on Smackdown but got served instead. Cole tells that we can vote for Damien Sandow's opponent on the App, and more information is coming later.
Axel tries to whip Ziggler to the corner, but Ziggler counters and Axel takes a hard hit in the corner. Ziggler unloads corner punches. Axel tries a roll-up moments later but Ziggler rolls it through. Axel tries to use a press slam but Ziggler lands on his feet, so he follows with a neckbreaker. A bit later, Axel takes a bit too long to gloat and Ziggler explodes with the Zig Zag to get the win.
Cole gives us a tutorial on downloading the App, as if we didn't know how by now. He tells us we'll get to pick Damien Sandow's opponents and voting is open now. You can pick from Great Khali, Miz, or Kofi Kingston.
Why do I feel like Great Khali will win...?
They show split screen shots of Big E. Langston and Fandango walking toward the ring. The Intercontinental Championship is next.
We get some hype for Old School Raw, live next week here on Raw.
Match #3 - Big E. Langston vs. Fandango (w/Summer Rae); WWE Intercontinental Championship
As Big E. comes to the ring, the announcers hype up the #ICTitle hashtag. Summer Rae dances her way out as Cole says that it's Fandango's first shot at a singles title. They recap his win in the "Present on a Pole" match. Old school introductions from Justin Roberts for this one.
Langston with some early control as he mat wrestles Fandango. The announcers put over his rise as "meteoric" and talk about his powerlifting background. Langston eats a boot on a corner charge and takes a spinning heel kick from Fandango for two. Fandango keeps the offense up with clubbing blows. Langston comes back with a clothesline then big spears in each corner. He picks Fandango up for another move but Fandango bails.
Langston goes out after Fandango. He hits a wicked clothesline then throws him back in the ring. Langston tries a splash but Fandango moves to cause Langston to hit his face on his knee, then works on Langston's leg. He locks on a hold that resembles an Indian Death lock to put pressure on the leg, but Langston clubs his way out of it.
Langston tries a spear in the corner off of that, but Fandango moves out of the way. Langston crashes to the post and out to the floor as we go to break. Fandango continues to control the offense coming out of commercial, working the leg then hitting some strikes in the corner. He goes back to that Indian Death Lock looking hold again.
Langston powers up and backs Fandango to the corner to open the offense. He tries a belly to belly that Fandango counters, so Langston throws him over the ropes. Langston follows with a belly to belly, then tries for his splash but Fandango cuts his legs out. A bit later, Fandango hits a Tornado DDT then follows with the top rope leg drop, but Langston rolls out of the ring.
Fandango takes things outside and throws Big E back in but takes a belly to back suplex coming in. Third time's a charm for the big splash and he hits it, and yanks down the straps. Big Ending connects, and Langston retains his title. 3 ain't enough man, I need five. Summer Rae sells shock as the announcers recap it.
The live crowd didn't seem to react much at times, but this was a good match. It did more for Fandango than Langston, but it was good to see Fandango work rather than dance around. Langston does need a little help selling, as his leg was focused on but he ran the ropes so easily.
We get some hype for Bryan vs. the Wyatts, and a recap of some of their history.
Booker T's music hits and he comes out with a number of other stars. He says that 2013 was a great year. He proposes a New Year's Spinaroonie if you can dig that, sucka. Bad News Barrett interrupts with his gavel. He asks for decorum but gets booed.
He tells Booker that the year won't end with a spinaroonie. He says that 2014 won't suddenly bring the end to government corruption and natural disasters. It will bring us one step closer to the apocalypse though. He tells them that they will stab each other in the back to get money. People will poison the environment and ask for handouts when they destroy it. They will also follow the trends rather than acknowledge the death, destruction, and poverty around them. Barrett says he will be there every week to remind them of that. Happy new year!
Renee Young welcomes Damien Sandow. She mentions the App vote for his opponent but he pauses her. He says he has been disrespected, whether it was the Santa gimmick, being danced around at Tribute to the Troops, or this vote. He says he doesn't care, because if he doesn't win he will quit. King shills the poll again heading to break.
After commercial, they show LeSean McCoy sporting a World Heavyweight Championship, then Lebron James pining for one. Rock delivered.
Match #4 - Great Khali vs. Damien Sandow.
Sandow gets his entrance, then King reveals the winner of the poll. Khali won with 39%. Really? You are kidding me, right? Khali starts with his clubbing, plodding offense with slaps to the chest. Sandow gets a shot on Khali's leg and takes him down. He focuses his offense on the leg from there.
Sandow hits his Elbow of Disdain, but Khali slaps him wildly. Khali goes on a flurry and tries to load his finisher. The fans chant for Khali - really. Khali locks on the Khali Vice, but Sandow uses his momentum to pull Khali into the turnbuckle and a roll-up to get the win. Khali argues that his shoulder might have been out and Cole says his beef might be legitimate. The recap shows that to be correct but Sandow survived.
39% of wrestling fans trolled the app, because surely no one wanted to see this match, right? I hope this is a launching point for something better for Sandow, who is talented.
Another recap of the story between Bryan and the Wyatts. Cole says that Bryan will have to run the gauntlet against the Wyatts later to get his hands on Bray.
They show R-Truth, Xavier Woods, and the Funkadactyls walking backstage. Truth gets Brodus Clay, next.
Match #5 - R-Truth (w/Xavier Woods) vs. Brodus Clay
All Clay in the early going. Woods is on commentary and can't understand why Clay got so upset for him copying his entrance. He says that he shared a dance school with Woods. Clay hits a nice T-bone suplex. Woods says that Truth got Clay's permission to use his music. Woods cheers Truth on as he continues to take abuse from Clay. He uses a torture rack then drops an elbow for two.
A pair of corner splashes from Clay, then Woods gets up on the announce table and calls for the girls. The distraction allows R-Truth to hit a DDT to get the win. More dancing from the four in the ring after Clay gets dispatched.
Rather than let Clay get established as a badass, they have Woods play the distraction card and ensue the silliness with the women. Eh. It wasn't a good moment.
After, King says the Funkadactyls aren't done and hypes a 10-diva tag match between the Total Divas and Non-Total Divas. They show Triple H walking toward the ring and his big announcement is up next.
We get hype for Old School Raw next Monday night.
Triple H says that 2014 will be unlike anything ever seen before. He says "please help me welcome this man back to WWE" and looks up the ramp. Here comes Brock Lesnar. The place pops for him. Lesnar walks out to the stage, with Paul Heyman in tow. Cole points out the history between Lesnar and Triple H, pointing out the two broken arms that Lesnar caused and saying we haven't seen him since SummerSlam.
Heyman and Triple H shake hands and Hunter gives the mic over. Hunter and Lesnar stare at each other, then they shake hands. Hunter exits and Heyman starts his promo. He says as we can clearly see, the beast is back.
Heyman says his client has authorized him to give his mission statement in WWE. He says Lesnar is not there to settle old scores. He says "you fight Lesnar, you lose to Lesnar, Lesnar forgets about you." He also says Lesnar is not there to fight for Heyman and settle his scores. He says it's not about him, but it's about Lesnar.
"Here it is, why is Lesnar back in WWE?" He says that Lesnar declares his desire to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. "And what that means for John Cena and Randy Orton, the winner is ultimately the loser because the champion will have to face the challenge of the self-declared #1 Contender, Brock Lesnar."
Lesnar takes the mic and says he doesn't care if it's Orton or Cena. As far as he's concerned, there's no one in the building, or the company, that can stop him. He doesn't have to win the Rumble or stand in a line to deserve a title shot. He says the line starts behind him, and he dares anyone to come out and try to do something about it.
Heyman says that he might as well say good night now because no one will take that challenge. He adds that whatever Lesnar wants he takes, and what's for the taking is the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Mark Henry's music hits.
Henry stops at the top of the ramp, takes his shirt off, then walks to the ring. Lesnar strikes a pose, and Henry goes to get in the ring. Lesnar jumps him and knocks him to the floor, but Henry throws him into the fans. Lesnar spears Henry through the barrier then hits him with the F5 out on the floor. Heyman stops him from going any further.
Trainers tend to Henry as Heyman and Lesnar admire their handywork. Cole hypes him up as the "self-appointed number one contender" as we go to break.
We get a recap of the action we just saw between Lesnar and Henry. Cole tells us we'll get updates on Henry's injuries later.
Match #6 - Total Divas (The Bella Twins, the Funkadactyls, and Eva Marie) vs. Kaitlyn, Aksana, Rosa Mendes, Summer Rae, and Alicia Fox
Eva Marie is on the face team but getting booed. She elbows Kaitlyn and blows kisses to the crowd. Some dissention among the ladies, with contentious tags for both sides. Cameron hits a nice leg scissor take down but eats the mat when she tries it in the opposite corner. No one in the live crowd cares. Quick tags between the "non-Total Divas"
Nikki gets a hot tag and goes on a run. She loads Aksana in the torture rack and things all break down. All ten women get involved. Nikki goes to the top rope and Rosa tries to get involved but Nikki hits her with an elbow. Aksana drags her off the ropes and drapes her across the top rope, then hits her with a finish to get the win for the non-Total Divas team.
A first! Bigger than Lesnar's return! The Non-Total Divas got a win! No one cares!
More recap of the Bryan vs. Wyatts story, concluding with him being tossed off a loading dock. Cole sells the "gauntlet" match that Bryan faces for later.
Another hype package for the return of Batista on January 20. Out of commercial, Cole tells us we're a few days away from Tribute to the Troops. They feed it to a video package for the second airing of Tribute to the Troops.
After that, the announcers talk about the incident with Mark Henry, and say that he may be taken to a local hospital for evaluation. They hype up the main event announcement for the Royal Rumble, with Randy Orton defending the title against John Cena.
I get a sick feeling, with Lesnar wanting the champion, that Cena will win in Pittsburgh. Orton isn't known for wanting to work Lesnar's physical style.
Brad Maddox walks in to see Triple H and Stephanie and says that he dealt with the official who messed up in the Sandow/Khali match already. Stephanie says she's been impressed by him and wonders about Old School Raw for next week. Maddox says he has things under control and has her favorites lined up. She asks "what about Hunter?" and he admits to having his lined up too. He does a "WOO!", indicating we may see Flair next week. Hunter tells him to not do that, but Maddox does it again.
Daniel Bryan's music hits, and he's on his way to the ring for this main event gauntlet with the Wyatts.
Match #7 - Daniel Bryan vs. The Wyatt Family, gauntlet rules
Out of break, the Wyatts start their entrance. JBL says it will take a miracle for him to win this one. Wyatt takes a seat in his rocking chair and Harper is in the ring. Harper overpowers Bryan to start but Bryan unleashes kicks and strikes and a sliding kick. Bryan works the leg. A bit later, Bryan manages to get Harper into a modified surfboard.
Harper throws one right hand and takes control. He mauls Bryan, then hits him with a slingshot in the ropes. Harper follows up with a gator roll then locks on a headlock to control Bryan. Bryan gets a hope spot with a running knee, but takes a slam from Harper for two.
Bryan gets some life going. He knocks Harper out then hits him with two suicide dives. Back in the ring he hits a missile drop kick. Wyatt is worried and Bryan opens up a series of kicks to the chest then the big wind-up to the head for a near fall.
More kicks, then Bryan tries a huracanrana. Harper blocks it and hits a big powerbomb for a good near fall. Harper looks for Bray to get advice, and Bryan tries to mount a comeback. Harper hits an overhead suplex. Good sequence there.
Harper gets caught. Bryan locks in the "Yes! Lock but Harper bites him to get out of it. Harper gets a move in but Bryan comes back and hits the running knee in order to grab the first win. Rowan hits the ring and attacks, but the official stops him at first.
Bryan is ready to go but Rowan is all business. He throws Bryan out of the ring, then into the stairs. He picks up Bryan and tosses him across the announce table as we go to commercial.
Rowan is still in charge out of break. Cole tells us he rag-tagged Bryan all around the ring during the break. Bryan manages to roll up Rowan to get the win. Rowan attacks him, but Harper intervenes and pulls him away. Wyatt throws his hat and takes off his shirt and approaches the ring, asking Bryan if this is what he wants.
The bell rings. Wyatt was hanging upside down, then he charges but stops short. He turns his back to Bryan as the bell rings. Bryan goes for an attack but Harper and Rowan attack him. They rag-tag Bryan all over the place then hit a double choke slam.
Wyatt gets a mic and sings a song that talks about walking with the reapers to leave the world behind. He tells him that things could have been different. Bryan says "you're right" and Wyatt demands he say it again. Wyatt laughs.
Bryan says Wyatt was always right. No matter how many matches he won, no matter how loud the people cheered, Wyatt was always right. The machine would never let him win. The people chanted yes in every building, and they didn't care. Bryan submits himself to the Family and he asks to join.
Bryan crawls to Wyatt, and after the crucifix pose Wyatt hits him with the Sister Abigail. Wyatt says "this is forever" then has Harper and Rowan drag Bryan from the ring and help him out. They hobble up the ramp, and there's a pause as the fans chant "no." Bryan surveys the situation as Wyatt tells him the world is awaiting them.
Bryan looks down, takes a series of deep breaths, and takes in the chants of the fans again. He looks down and shakes his head no. He turns, looking downward, and walks off with the Wyatts as the show ends.
Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. *looking around...I see no hands...* That came straight out of left field. I never pictured Bryan joining up with the Wyatts. Now, the question is, is this just a short term thing to "get inside" and do away with them that way, or is this a long term turn? In either event, it's a good hook going forward at least to the Rumble. I like it.
We have a hot return in Brock Lesnar, who destroyed Mark Henry in an impressive feat of strength. We have this hot angle at the end of the show. So much for "throwaway" New Years Eve silliness. I think the return of Lesnar signals a Cena win at the Rumble, because Orton has a history of not wanting to work Lesnar's stiff style. That could just be me though.
I call this a solid close to the 2013 Raw calendar. I'll have more to say on this show tomorrow night in a special New Year's Eve edition of Raw Afterthoughts, and we'll be back next Monday with Old School Raw right here on Ring-Rap.com. Be sure to join in the conversation on Twitter also!
One final thought: I think I speak for all of us here on staff in wishing you the very best for 2014. Have a safe and happy New Year's celebration, wherever you are. Thank you for a great 2013 here on the site.