While TLC might be viewed as a bridge to WrestleMania season, Sunday's pay-per-view was important for several reasons and produced some of the best moments of 2012. Now, with TLC in the rear-view mirror, the WWE must build on the momentum it created with a strong episode of Raw.
There is plenty that needs to be addressed on Monday, including A.J.'s interference in the ladder match between John Cena and Dolph Ziggler, The Shield's next step after decisively beating Ryback and Team Hell No and who will enter the World Heavyweight Championship scene following Big Show's win over Sheamus.
Although many fans haven't been overly happy with Raw's three-hour format, tonight's show is one that should be able to use every single minute effectively. There are still six weeks until Royal Rumble, so there is plenty of time to build toward it, but the creative team will want to get off on the right foot with a strong Raw.
Here are the top five things to keep an eye on while watching this week's edition of Monday Night Raw.
Despite the fact that John Cena is the face of the WWE, most fans expected Dolph Ziggler to defeat him and retain the Money in the Bank contract at TLC. Also, it was fairly clear that Dolph would need some help in order to accomplish that feat. He received the help from a somewhat predictable source, as A.J. Lee turned on Cena and pushed the ladder over as he was going for the win.
Cena fell into a super kick from Ziggler, and The Show Off scaled the ladder to keep the briefcase. It's possible that A.J. has been working with Ziggler all along, but Dolph seemed confused by what transpired and they didn't embrace afterward, so there figures to be more to the situation than that.
The problems started last week on Raw, as Cena appeared to be extremely standoffish. He was embarrassed when A.J. went into the men's locker room, and he had a look of horror on his face when he was trying to console A.J. after her loss to Vickie Guerrero. Also, Cena refused to let her accompany him to the ring for his match with Big Show, and A.J. likely felt slighted.
It could very well be revealed that Ziggler and A.J. are together down the line, but I anticipate A.J. talking about how Cena didn't care about her feelings and using that as her motive on Raw. There is likely more to the story, though, and I doubt that we have heard the last of A.J. as a factor in the main event scene.
After several attacks on some of the WWE's top stars, including Ryback, Team Hell No, Randy Orton, The Miz and John Cena, The Shield finally had its first official WWE match at TLC. They defeated Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan in spectacular fashion, as they came out on top in the first ever tables, ladders and chairs match to be decided by pinfall or submission.
There was definitely some doubt about whether The Shield would win due to the fact that Ryback had lost at two consecutive pay-per-views prior to TLC, but the WWE made the right decision by further strengthening Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. They looked incredibly strong in the match, which was one of the best in WWE all year, and they are definite threats moving forward.
It remains to be seen where The Shield goes from here, though. They maintain that their main concern is preserving justice within the WWE, but they have been very helpful to the likes of CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler as well, so perhaps they will ultimately join them in a stable. Until that comes to fruition, however, The Shield needs to remain relevant.
Until Punk is fully healed from his knee injury, I have to assume that The Shield will remain focused on Ryback. The Shield has gone after him more than anyone, and he will need something to do as well until the Royal Rumble. Whatever the group does, though, it is likely to be the most interesting thing in the WWE for the foreseeable future.
WWE Champion CM Punk has been out of commission for the past couple weeks due to surgery to repair a meniscal tear in his knee, but with each passing day, he gets closer to returning to action. Punk did not compete at TLC, but he was present and cut a promo from his private box. Although Punk is definitely at his best when he's performing in the ring, he can remain visible on the mic and figures to continue doing so over the next few weeks.
Now that TLC is in the past, the focus will soon shift to Punk's encounter with The Rock at Royal Rumble. Prior to that, though, Punk will probably have to defend his title against Ryback. He was scheduled to do so at TLC, but the injury made that impossible. The prevailing thought is that the match will happen on the 20th anniversary of Raw in a few weeks, and once he vanquishes Ryback, the build toward The Rock will be in full swing.
There isn't a ton that Punk can do in the meantime, though, especially when it comes to having a presence without getting involved physically. While The Rock isn't scheduled to appear on Raw for a couple weeks, Punk will ideally poke and prod The Great One tonight and on future editions of Raw in order to keep the match fresh in the minds of the fans.
I would love to see Punk cut a promo in which he badmouths both The Rock and Ryback, only for Ryback to come to the ring in an effort to take out Punk for good. Perhaps then The Shield can intervene on his behalf in order to keep them looking strong. There are a few options, but Punk needs to be utilized in some capacity so that the WWE Championship remains in the spotlight.
After defeating Sheamus convincingly to retain his World Heavyweight Championship at TLC, it appears as though Big Show is ready to move on to the next phase of his title reign. He already beat Sheamus at Hell in a Cell and lost via disqualification at Survivor Series even though he initially pinned Sheamus. Big Show has basically dominated the feud from an in-ring perspective, so I have to believe that it has come to an end.
The issue with that, however, is that there aren't exactly tons of suitable challengers lining up to take him on. The main event scene is fairly scarce when it comes to faces, especially since Sheamus isn't an option, John Cena is occupied with other things and Randy Orton is injured. With all of that said, the best choice to challenge Big Show would likely be The Miz.
He is fresh off a face turn and could use a big feud in order to solidify his face status, so he would be the perfect challenger for Big Show. Also, he hasn't been in the main event scene in over a year, so his presence in the biggest feud on SmackDown would be welcome. Also, if the goal is for Dolph Ziggler to become champion soon, Miz is the guy who can drop it to him when he cashes in rather than Big Show.
I suppose that it's possible the WWE could stick with the Big Show vs. Sheamus feud, but it has gotten stale aside from their matches, and the blue brand needs a bit of excitement. The Miz is a guy who can carry Big Show on the mic, and he has worked with Big Show in the past as a tag-team partner, so the chemistry is there. Hopefully, the seeds for this feud are planted on Raw.
Dolph Ziggler finally got his signature win on Sunday night, as he defeated John Cena in a ladder match to retain the Money in the Bank contract. Ziggler needed help, as A.J. interfered and pushed Cena off the ladder, but it was a win nonetheless over the face of the WWE, and it closed TLC to boot, so Ziggler has a lot going for him at the moment.
Ziggler hadn't been handled particularly well after winning Money in the Bank with pay-per-view losses to Chris Jericho and Randy Orton and multiple losses on Raw and SmackDown, but the writers have been building him up as of late. His win at Survivor Series was definitely a step in the right direction; however, defeating Cena is what should truly catapult him to the next level.
The WWE did Ziggler right by having him beat Cena, but it's important not to squander that momentum. It would be very easy for the creative team to have Ziggler lose on Raw, but he needs to put the losing ways behind him until he cashes in his Money in the Bank contract. Ziggler finally looks like a legitimate world champion, and he has to continue to look that way.
Some people are miffed that Ziggler needed help to beat Cena, but a win over Cena of any kind should be looked at as a positive. Having Ziggler win that match means that the WWE is committed to Ziggler and believes in him, and the last thing that the WWE needs to do is ruin that.