What can you say about the first WWE Raw of the year?
The ratings competition was fierce, as the nation's attention was focused on the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. But that didn't stop a collection of the WWE's greatest superstars from demanding your attention—and earning it with one of the best Raw episodes in years.
As a complete package, this show was amazing. But how did each individual segment stand up to scrutiny? Who deserves the credit for the runaway success?
Click on to find out.
John Cena kicks off the New Year by replaying last year's final...um, craptastic segment. He then goes on to set up the show, repeating pretty much everything we saw in the show's opener. This is not interesting at all, though at least Cena has a pulse, unlike the generic announcer who opened the show.
Of course, because this is wrestling, he is interrupted by Dolph Ziggler. Yes, the same Dolph Ziggler who he dropped crap on last week. His smoking hot lady-friend AJ Lee calls him Ziggy, so I will too. She makes it clear that Cena is a "small man." Cena tries to shrug it off, calling it a "sixth-grade wiener joke."
But inside, let me tell you, it hurts. Or so I am told.
Cena starts the wave, but then responds in kind, or at least begins to, quoting the famous poet Andrew Dice Clay before being rudely interrupted. Lots of jibber-jabber, but at the end of the day it's revealed that Ziggler will also be in the Royal Rumble with the sole goal of eliminating Cena.
Big John is tired of talking and wanted to fight. He challenges Ziggler to a match and the heel, being a heel, doesn't want any piece of him. They try to get Big E to step in for him, telling him "It's not your place to talk." That's racist!
Key Quote: "I'm done talking. Let's fight and fight right now." — John Cena
Grade: B+. I enjoyed the interplay between all the characters. A Rumble participant not looking to win, instead just to eliminate another guy, is a good gimmick. We'll see if they continue to build that angle in the next few weeks.
Segment 2: John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler (w/ AJ Lee and Big E Langston)
The crowd chants for Cena while Ziggler tells the camera "I'm not ready for this match." Really good back-and-forth action between the two. Cena controls early, but Ziggler takes control when Big E gets involved. What a weird thing, huh? A long wrestling match on WWE Raw? Who would have expected it?
I'm not going to do a full play-by-play. Instead, some notes:
1. Ziggler has a great dropkick.
2. The official sends Ziggler's crew to the back. Uh oh, Ziggler.
3. "What does it take to beat this guy," Jerry Lawler says, aping the thoughts of Dolph Ziggler. Lots of great action from Ziggler, garnering four two-counts, but Cena is the toughest man in the WWE since Hulk Hogan in his heyday. Cena is getting smashed, even losing his shoe at some point. That was wacky!
4. Ref bump! Here comes Big E. He takes Cena out, but by the time a new ref makes it down, Cena is able to kick out. "What a match!" Cole exclaims. "Who is going to win this match?" King asks. Well, it's John Cena, winning with a nice looking AA.
Key Quote: "That chick is just plain weird." — Michael Cole.
Grade: A. What a fantastic match.
Segment 3: Eve Torres vs. Kaitlyn—Diva's Title
Divas champion Eve Torres comes out with a weird look on her face. Does she think she's too good for us wrestling fans? What a true diva this Eve Torres is! She works on Kaitlyn's injured ankle. That, friends, is called ring psychology.
The ref stops the action to make Kaitlyn "tie her shoelaces." I think this is a first in wrestling history. Of course Eve takes advantage. Shoddy officiating. Kaitlyn is getting the better of things and Eve has had enough. She bails out through the crowd.
Kaitlyn wins, but via countout. And, as Cole reminds us "Championships can't change due to countouts." Stupid technicalities.
Key Quote: "She's like the Duchess of Cambridge." — Michael Cole on Eve
Tweet Tweet: #RockonRaw
Grade: C. Well, that was a thing that happened. Next!
Segment 4: Santino Marella in a skit with Ricky Steamboat.
They discuss Steamboat's classic match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania III. Wade Barrett interrupts to call Steamboat a has-been and an old man. Uh, oh Barrett—now Steamboat is promising to be in Santino's corner tonight.
They cut to Randy Orton doing an interview with Matt Stryker. 3MB interrupts and when it is all over, Orton ends up with a match against Heath Slater.
Key Quote: "You'll find out how much smoke this old man can blow." — Ricky Steamboat
Grade: C. Steamboat was never a decent actor when he was on top of the wrestling world. That hasn't changed.
Segment 5: Team Hell No (Kane and Daniel Bryan) vs. Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes and Damian Sandow)—non-title match
Bryan may have a great hobo beard, but it doesn't compare to Rhodes' great mustache. Great action in the ring with Bryan on the attack, but Cole is busy discussing Bryan's "the Dazzler" Twitter persona. That was Schiavone-esque, Cole.
Rhodes, mustache still epic five minutes in, calls Bryan "goat face." I don't see it myself, but whatever works to get Bryan to lose his composure. In high-level athletics, the smallest edge can make all the difference.
Nice back-and-forth action until Bryan "injures his knee" coming off the top rope. Rhodes takes advantage and pins Bryan with the Cross Rhodes to end a solid match. Will this get them back in the title picture? I suspect so.
Key Quote: "A self proclaimed beacon of light in a sea of inequity, Damian Sandow just had his boat sunk." — Michael Cole.
Tweet Tweet: #RockonRAW
Grade: B. Perfectly solid match. I enjoyed it.
Segment 6: Randy Orton vs. Heath Slater
The Three Man Band? Not the best name for a stable. I prefer names that better reflect reality. How about "Ridiculous Comedy Jobbers?" Randy Orton eventually hits all three with the RKO.
Key Quote: "It's amazing, the recuperative powers of these WWE Superstars." — Jerry Lawler. Right back at you, King.
Grade: C-. This felt like a bit of a time-killer. Best part of this segment was the King's insistence that 3MB is most influenced not by ZZ Top, but by Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Segment 7: Wade Barrett vs. Santino (w/Ricky Steamboat)—Intercontinental title match
The champion is already in the ring when Santino makes his entrance. That's just not right. Get the little details together WWE.
Steamboat tries to give Santino direction, but there's only so much you can fix, stupid. Santino pulls out the "Cobra." Is it too soon to so blatantly rip off Mick Foley? Barrett wins the match easily with the Bull Hammer.
Key Quote: "Ricky Steamboat didn't get a chance to become much of a factor." — Jerry Lawler
Tweet Tweet: None
Grade: D. Not into Steamboat as a TV character, and this match wasn't compelling in the least.
Segment 8: Sheamus interview
Sheamus assures us he can win the Rumble again. Maybe not, he worries, in just 18 seconds. Good to know. 3MB comes back out and Sheamus mocks them a bit.
Key Quote: "Who wants to be a soprano?" Sheamus to 3MB.
Grade: D. More 3MB? Because no one demanded it!
Segment 9: Antonio Cesaro vs. Khali—U.S. title match.
Cesaro is working an anti-American gimmick. Miz is ringside and takes exception to Cesaro's claim that he is the man who made the title. Then it happens: Miz compares himself to Harley Race. Even Michael Cole couldn't help but snicker.
Note: Cesaro nails a European uppercut off the second rope. Pretty slick.
Key Quote: "Now we have to pay to watch this weenie in the ring." — Miz on Cesaro
Grade: C. Mostly for Miz comparing himself to the greats.
Segment 10: Brad Maddox and Paul Heyman interview/Sheamus v. Jinder Mahal
Are Maddox and the Shield involved with Heyman and Punk? Stay tuned!
This segment is followed by another squash. WWE needs more jobbers. Sheamus with the Brogue Kick for the win.
Key Quote: "Crawl back underneath that rock you slithered out from," Paul Heyman to Maddox.
Grade: C. Filler.
Segment 11: CM Punk vs. Ryback—Table, Ladders and Chairs WWE title match
The WWE title hangs over the ring, as a true PPV main event is about to go down for free on Raw. As Punk climbs the turnbuckles, it's starting to look like his knee injury was just a big ruse. If so, I'm not impressed with his integrity. Ryback comes out, still the best Goldberg ever, and we are off and running.
Cole and King set this up as a battle of brains versus brawn. Maybe. To me, it just looks like carnage. Sometimes these matches are hard to watch. You know the effect it is having on each man's body, in truth just a collection of meat and water, so it's hard not to cringe at the most violent spots.
My personal preferences aside, this was a great match. Punk, as foreshadowed by the announcers, does indeed use his noggin, suckering Ryback into bad situations and using the tools of the TLC match to his advantage.
For Ryback, it continues to be all about physicality. He's a monster, and when you have that kind of raw strength, who needs a plan?
Just when it looks like Ryback is about to take the title and earn a match with the Rock at Royal Rumble, the lights go out. When they come back on, of course, The Shield is there. Did they beat the heck out of Ryback? You bet. Did Punk take advantage to retain the title? You guessed it.
Key Quote: "For Punk it's about respect. Because he believes, despite 414 days as champion, no one has believed in him." — Michael Cole
Grade: A. Tremendous action. I wouldn't have cared for the screwjob finish on PPV, but on Raw it works. Loved this match.
Segment 12: Punk interview/Bryan and Kane interview/Vickie segment
Punk still claiming he has nothing to do with The Shield. Doth he protest too much? Since this is wrestling, pointing the finger so clearly at Punk means The Shield is really in someone else's employ. Nothing is ever what it appears to be.
Punk promises to drop a pipe bomb on the Rock's interview.
Cut to Bryan and Kane arguing about whose fault it was that they lost to Cross Rhodes. Vickie comes out and tells them they will both need to be reevaluated by Dr. Shelby. And then she laughs maniacally.
Key Quote: "I don't even know The Shield. We're not working in collusion." — CM Punk
Grade: C. Bryan and Kane lay it on awfully thick huh?
Segment 13: The Big Show vs. Kofi Kingston
Big Show wins a match designed to get over his KO punch.
Key Quote: "That's what Alberto Del Rio has to look forward to on SmackDown." — Michael Cole
Grade: C. Too short to be either good or bad. It just was.
Segment 14: CM Punk Promo
Punk goes after everyone in one of his best promos of all time. Just amazing work by the best in the world.
He starts by pulling the WWE flag off of the mic—uh oh! Shoot! True words are about to be uttered. Punk attacks all the WWE's sacred cows, from Ric Flair to Bruno Sammartino to Shawn Michaels, even taking on the fans as they continue to cheer him.
Key Quotes: "Here's the truth about the WWE. It doesn't matter if you're the best wrestler. It doesn't matter if you are the best talker. It doesn't matter if you are the best overall performer....there is a glass ceiling and nobody is allowed to break it."
"In your face, jerks. I have beaten you...you are losers. You do not get to win." — Punk to the fans
Grade: A+. A classic Punk promo to kick off the new year.
Segment 15: Rock Promo
The Rock comes out and does what Punk called his "tired lame-ass schtick." To be honest,I thought CM Punk was going to blow him out of the water. Punk is on a different level right now and the Rock needs to raise his game to keep up. I don't think he has it in him.
I'm wrong. Boy does the Rock bring it. He's the anti-Punk here, playing to the fans in just the way Punk had mocked in the previous segment. He brings his best, ending a string of insults with a Rock Bottom to close the show.
This is a battle of world views. A battle of philosophies. A battle of wills. Two of the best wrestlers of all time in a war of wits. I can't wait for the Royal Rumble.
Key Quotes: "The real number that haunts your dreams is 20. Twenty excuses running around your mind right now. 20 hairs standing up on your straight-edge scrotum. Because you know in 20 days you're going to be defending that WWE Championship against the Rock...in 20 days, time's up." — Rock to CM Punk
"Your arms are just too short to box with God." — Punk to Rock
Grade: A. Super promo. But so far it's Punk 1, Rock 0.