Before the ball drops and the calendar reads Jan. 1, 2013, the WWE still has a bit of business to take care of. The final Raw of 2012 will air tonight, and although it was actually taped on Saturday to compensate for the New Year, there promises to be a party atmosphere as the WWE rings in 2013.
The Royal Rumble pay-per-view is still a month away, but the build is likely to start on Monday in order to ensure a solid show. There is plenty worth keeping an eye on, but some of the bigger storylines include the Dolph Ziggler and A.J. relationship, the feud between WWE Champion CM Punk and Ryback, The Shield quest for justice and the World Heavyweight Championship rivalry between Big Show and Sheamus.
Although it won't have quite the same feel as a regular Raw due to the fact that it was taped ahead of time, it's almost certain that the New Year's Eve Raw will have a bit more substance than the one we saw on Christmas Eve. The Royal Rumble is drawing closer and The Rock is set to appear next week, so the WWE has plenty of preparation to do for the start of 2013.
Here are the top five things you should watch for while taking in tonight's episode of Raw. Keep in mind that it was taped ahead of time and there are spoilers contained within the slideshow, so if you don't want to know what happens ahead of time, don't go any further.
After turning on John Cena at TLC and helping Dolph Ziggler win a ladder match to retain the Money in the Bank contract. A.J. Lee essentially seduced The Show Off and they're now an item. She has proven to be very beneficial to Ziggler as she has introduced Big E Langston into fold and utilized him as a bodyguard for Dolph. To celebrate their success, Ziggler and A.J. will be performing a New Year's toast tonight.
According to WWE.com, the entire WWE Universe is invited to take part and the special guest of honor will be none other than Cena. A lot of fans can take or leave A.J., but I'm excited about this particular segment. Ziggler has proven to be quite capable on the mic as he has been given more promo time over the past couple months, and I'm sure he'll entertain with his toast.
Also, the involvement of Cena figures to be interesting. I suppose Cena and Ziggler are still technically feuding, but with the Royal Rumble coming up in a month, there isn't much reason for them to continue their rivalry. Both of them will be in the Rumble match itself in all likelihood and feuds don't mean much when it comes to that. Nevertheless, Cena still hasn't gotten closure in this whole situation, so maybe he will on Monday.
There normally isn't a ton of action when it comes to taped episodes of Raw, but the WWE is pulling out all the stops in an effort to get the fans to tune in on New Year's Eve. Rather than having the Intercontinental Championship change hands at TLC, the WWE decided to wait and have Wade Barrett defeat Kofi Kingston for the strap on Raw.
According to WWE.com, the Barrett Barrage picked up steam as Barrett beat Kingston for the title at Saturday's taping in Washington D.C. The WWE very rarely acknowledges things that happened at pre-taped shows before they aired, but the company hasn't been shy about promoting Barrett's title victory and it has everything to do with attempting to entice the fans to watch on a night where they'll likely have plenty of other things going on as well.
The WWE stopped short of saying how Barrett won the title in order to keep some of the mystery intact, but apparently it thinks that revealing the result is good business. I tend to agree since the title change may pique the interest of some fans who didn't plan on watching. In terms of the booking decision itself, giving Barrett the title makes sense since he can hold it and hopefully restore some of its prestige before an inevitable main-event run.
CM Punk has been out of action since before TLC due to a knee injury, but Ryback announced last week that he would face Punk for the WWE Championship on the Jan. 7 edition of Raw in a tables, ladders and chairs match. As of last week, however, Punk was still on crutches and didn't appear to be anywhere close to returning. Punk also continually mocked Ryback and told him that he wouldn't be defending his title against him.
At this point it's difficult to say whether or not there will actually be a match between Ryback and Punk. It makes sense from a storyline perspective since they were supposed to go one-on-one at TLC, but Punk obviously can't wrestle if he isn't healed. The No. 1 priority is Punk's health ahead of the Royal Rumble because he needs to be close to 100 percent in order to main event the show against The Rock.
If that means messing with storyline continuity a bit, then so be it. One possible option is to pretend like Punk is healthy, but stop the match from happening by having The Shield or perhaps even Brock Lesnar attack Ryback beforehand. Whatever the case, we'll likely have a better idea with regards to Punk's health tonight. If he has ditched the crutches, then there might be a chance that his match with Ryback actually happens on Jan. 7.
Since debuting at Survivor Series by attacking Ryback and putting him through the announce table, The Shield has made its presence known in the WWE. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns claim that their goal is to stop injustice in the WWE and they haven't been shy about getting involved as they have taken out John Cena, Randy Orton, The Miz, Team Hell No, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara in addition to Ryback.
They haven't made as big of an impact over the past couple weeks due to the holiday season slowing things down, but they should start to heat up again moving forward. It's unclear if they'll do much of anything on the New Year's Eve edition of Raw, but I have to believe that they'll at least make an appearance. They weren't utilized on Christmas Eve since it was a feel-good episode, but the WWE will likely put forth a more traditional show tonight.
The Shield has been consistent in terms of attacking only faces and furthering its agenda, but it's still unclear what the ultimate goal is. Also, despite his denials, the signs seem to point toward The Shield working with CM Punk in some way. The Shield has quickly become my favorite part of WWE programming and I'm hopeful that they'll make another statement tonight.
While the World Heavyweight Championship is technically a SmackDown title, Big Show has been getting a lot of exposure on Raw as of late and that will likely remain true tonight. Big Show defeated Sheamus for the world title at Hell in a Cell and defended it at both Survivor Series and TLC, but there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to their feud, especially after Sheamus beat Big Show in a Lumberjack Frost match on Raw last week.
Sheamus also stuck his nose in Big Show's business on SmackDown, and although no title match has been announced for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view yet, all signs point toward another encounter between The World's Largest Athlete and The Great White. Nobody else has gotten involved in the title picture since TLC, so I can definitely see the match being announced officially for the Royal Rumble on tonight's show.
Their matches have been good, but the feud has lost a lot of steam as of late and I'd prefer a change, but I can understand why the WWE wants to keep things status quo until after the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. The best-case scenario when it comes to another Big Show vs. Sheamus bout would be a steel cage match since it would signify the end of their rivalry and it would at least add a bit of intrigue. I'm still holding out hope for a shakeup, but I doubt we'll get one.