Now that the holiday season has officially come to an end, the WWE has focused its attention toward preparing for the Royal Rumble and the road to WrestleMania. With just three weeks remaining until one of the company's signature events, there have been plenty of happenings in recent days.
It was announced a couple weeks ago that WWE Champion CM Punk would have to defend his WWE Championship against Ryback on the Jan. 7 episode of Raw, but it was unclear if his knee would be healed in time. Apparently, it appears to be healed, as the WWE is now saying that Punk's match with Ryback will go on as scheduled.
Also, The Rock's return is almost upon us, as he is being advertised for the Jan. 7 episode of Raw. In addition to that, he is scheduled to appear on the Jan. 14 episode of Raw as well, which is the 20th anniversary of the company's flagship show.
As if that isn't enough, a new champion was crowned on the most recent edition of Raw, a high-flying superstar is nearing his return from injury and Chris Jericho is at it again after he engaged in a war of words with one of the WWE's up-and-coming stars on Twitter.
Here is my analysis on all of that and more as I break down the latest news and rumors involving the WWE for the week beginning on Dec. 30.
With WWE Champion CM Punk still on crutches and a TLC match against Ryback scheduled for the Jan. 7 episode of Raw, it was quite unclear if Punk would actually be cleared to compete. According to WWE.com and WWE physician Dr. Michael Sampson, Punk is back to 100 percent and will be able to defend his title against Ryback.
It's obviously possible that Punk was only cleared from a storyline perspective, but we have to take this report at face value until we see something different on Raw. It does seem a bit far-fetched that Punk could be on crutches one day and be deemed healed in a matter of days, so the WWE could have something up its sleeve. But right now, we have to assume that the match will happen.
Even though it's obvious that Punk is going to beat Ryback if the match does happen, I'd still like to see it take place. It isn't often that you get to see a TLC match, especially on Raw, so the match itself promises to be quite good. Also, there are a ton of moving parts that could lead to something big in the future. I fully expect The Rock to be on commentary or at ringside, and it's quite possible that he could play a role in the match.
Also, The Shield and Brad Maddox are wildcards, as they have helped Punk in the past. An even bigger possibility to consider is the return of Brock Lesnar, who could take out Ryback and form an alliance with Punk and Paul Heyman. Lesnar returning would boost ratings for the following Raw. It would also allow the WWE to advertise him for the Royal Rumble, and it could result in a potential Lesnar vs. Ryback match at WrestleMania, which would help put Ryback over as a legitimate star.
By now, most wrestling fans are aware that The Rock will be making his first WWE appearance since Raw 1,000 on the Jan. 7 episode of Raw. The WWE has been promoting his return tirelessly, and it's no coincidence that it is happening in lockstep with a WWE Championship match between CM Punk and Ryback. One thing that was uncertain until recently, however, was The Rock's status for the following week.
That is no longer the case, as WrestlingNewsWorld.com is reporting that The Rock will appear on the Jan. 14 edition of Raw that will be held in Houston. Not only will that be an important Raw due to the fact that it is a mere two weeks ahead of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, but it is also the 20th anniversary edition of the show, so we could be in for several surprises and memorable moments.
The Rock equals ratings, so any time he is scheduled to appear on WWE programming, it's a major coup for Vince McMahon. It's also great for the fans since it's obvious that the creative team is going to put its best foot forward when it comes to booking a show with The Rock involved. The 20th anniversary episode of Raw hasn't gotten nearly as much publicity as the 1,000th episode, which happened this past summer, but I have an inkling that it could rival that show in terms of quality.
Not only will we see The Rock and the fallout from what happened the week before in the CM Punk vs. Ryback WWE Championship match, but there is some potential for even more returns. According to WrestlingInc.com, the WWE wants to make this particular Raw a big deal, so appearances from Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin are possible. All of them are native Texans, so it certainly seems plausible that the 20th anniversary Raw will be a star-studded affair.
It had been quite some time since a title change of any kind happened in the WWE, but Wade Barrett ended the drought on this week's episode of Raw after he defeated Kofi Kingston for the Intercontinental Championship in a TLC rematch. Barrett fell short in his quest for the gold at the most recent pay-per-view, but he goaded Kofi into giving him another shot on Monday.
Kingston obliged, but he fell short in what was a back-and-forth battle. This marks the second time that Barrett has taken the Intercontinental Championship from Kofi, as he beat him for the strap back when he was the leader of the ill-advised Corre stable. However, the big question now is: where do Barrett and Kingston go from here, respectively?
The IC title may not be anywhere near as prestigious as it once was, but there is no question that Barrett is in a better position now that he has it. Prior to beating Kofi for the belt, Barrett was on a bit of a cold streak, as he lost a few matches in a row and seemed to be falling out of favor. Winning the Intercontinental Championship means that Barrett will receive a push of some kind, though, and perhaps that will eventually lead to a well-deserved main event run.
Things aren't quite as clear for Kofi. He has been a mid-carder for his entire career and he is almost always in possession of a title, whether it's the Intercontinental, United States or Tag Team Championship. Without a belt, it's very easy for Kingston to fade into obscurity. He's a high-quality worker in the ring and he receives a good crowd reaction, but his mic skills need a lot of work. There are times when dropping a mid-card title means that a main event push is on the way. But I don't see that being the case with Kofi.
Sin Cara has been out of action for a couple weeks due to a procedure on his knee, but it appears as though he is closing in on an in-ring return. According to WrestlingNewsWorld.com, Sin Cara was backstage at the Raw taping in Washington D.C. on Dec. 29, and although he wasn't utilized on the show, that is a sign that he's likely not far away from full health.
Sin Cara was written off television on an episode of SmackDown where he was attacked by The Shield. The group had also taken out Sin Cara's tag-team partner, Rey Mysterio, as they were in possession of his mask. Neither Sin Cara nor Mysterio have been on WWE programming since the incident, but I fully expect them to seek revenge in the near future.
If Sin Cara is on the verge of returning, then my suspicions regarding his injury were correct. There was a lot of concern that Sin Cara could be out long-term, especially since he had a significant patellar tendon injury earlier in his WWE tenure, but he should be fine. It's more than likely that Sin Cara had an injury similar to CM Punk's that required a minor arthroscopic procedure to correct. Wear and tear is normal in professional wrestling, so nobody should read into this injury too much.
The WWE should be cautious when it comes to the injury, though. Sin Cara is obviously more prone to a knee injury now than he would normally be, so he needs to be at 100 percent—or at least close to it—before he returns. Since Sin Cara and Mysterio aren't currently in the Tag Team Championship hunt and the Royal Rumble is still three weeks away, the WWE can afford to take its time with Sin Cara. Like him or not, Sin Cara has improved over the past year and has the potential to change the tag division alongside Mysterio.
Chris Jericho hasn't appeared in a WWE ring since the night after SummerSlam when he lost a match to Dolph Ziggler, but he still has a penchant for remaining in the headlines.
There has been a ton of speculation regarding the Fozzy lead man's WWE future as of late, with some believing that he could potentially return for a brief program and match at WrestleMania XXIX. Jericho has played things close to the vest, as always, but he has been a bit more vocal as of late.
According to WrestlingNewsWorld.com, Jericho and Shield member Seth Rollins exchanged some words on Twitter this week. Jericho responded to a kayfabe tweet from Rollins and it led to an entertaining back-and-forth battle. Jericho put an exclamation point on the conversation by calling The Shield a "wannabe nWo."
It's impossible to tell what Jericho's motives are since he likes to toy with the fans, but it's fair to say that most would love to see a Jericho vs. Rollins match in the future. Jericho is one of the best in-ring workers of all-time, and Rollins is one of the best currently, so it would obviously make a ton of sense. Also, Jericho has said on numerous occasions that he loves to put over younger stars, so a rivalry with Jericho would be huge for Rollins.
Whether or not Jericho's rant is foreshadowing what will happen at WrestleMania is anyone's guess. If the plan is for each of The Shield's members to have singles matches, then Rollins vs. Jericho would obviously work. Even a six-man tag with Jericho on the other side could be great. Even if Jericho only returns in order to put Rollins and The Shield over, I want to seem him back in the WWE. Some were disappointed by his last run, but Jericho is as unselfish as they come and simply seeing him perform in the ring is enough for me, regardless of wins and losses.
Jericho and Rollins Tussle on Twitter (via Wrestlenewz.com)