John Cena opened Raw on the mic, playing full-on compere and telling us what was ahead. This was a Raw big on promise at the start, giving it all the more to live up to. As per his current feud, Dolph Ziggler and AJ intervened (with Big sillE-name Langston standing there just looking tough).
Dolph revealed he'd be entering the Royal Rumble, with no reference made to the fact that he's still carrying a Money in the Bank briefcase. Cena made a very rude joke, and then Big E killed off a large portion of his mystique by opting to talk as well.
This immediately led into a match between Cena and Ziggler. There's a real flow when two great wrestlers work perfectly together—in recent cases, Cena and CM Punk have it, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have it, Sheamus and The Big Show have it (to my absolute astonishment when I first saw them face off), and Ziggler and Cena have shown beyond a doubt that they have it.
My main criticism of the match is the same as applies to almost every Cena match—that there's clearly no chance of him losing. Here he kicked out of the Zig Zag, a superkick, a big DDT and a Namedropper (you may know it as the Fame-Ass-er, though having looked it up, as Dolph's signature it's called that despite never ever hearing it referred to such by commentary).
SuperCena performances, as we know and loathe them, are anti-wrestling. No matter how good the action was and how well it flowed, there was no chance of Cena losing, and there almost never is. I can accept Cena winning, but I detest him being hit by multiple finishers only to just spring up and hit the Attitude Adjustment.
The Rhodes Scholars defeated Team Hell No, owing to a slightly rarer device used to give the undefeatably strong losses: that of accidental injuries sustained in the match and not by the opponent.
Most recently, it's how Beth Phoenix lost the Divas Championship to Nikki Bella and how Christian lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Miz. What stood out most to me, though, was Michael Cole saying this would put The Rhodes Scholars back in the title hunt. As I recall, they're meant to be the No. 1 contenders after defeating Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara at TLC.
Heath Slater looked reasonably credible against Randy Orton, though not nearly as much as he did against The Miz on the previous SmackDown. It lasted four minutes at least, whereas a year ago you'd expect Slater to last about 10 seconds. You could say he was even deemed special enough to pull double-duty, as 3MB were later squashed by Sheamus, but that might be a stretch. If nothing else, they're the jobbers of choice.
The exceptional Antonio Cesaro defeated The Great Khali, including a fantastic Neutralizer showcasing his amazing strength. Next up for a shot at his US Championship appears to be The Miz, and love The Miz though I do, I'm hoping we're getting near the point where Cesaro becomes a permanent fixture higher up the card.
On the Raw Christmas episode a fortnight previously, Sheamus vs. The Big Show was a bit of a shocker to me, providing a clean main-event level result on TV. I can understand the reluctance to give that kind of thing away on TV too often, but it's rare to the point of being about once a year in the WWE, whereas TNA is better at sprinkling in the occasional one (especially during the yearly Bound for Glory series).
Just happening occasionally would keep a level of unpredictability in the TV shows that's almost always completely absent.
This therefore brings us to the CM Punk vs. Ryback TLC WWE Championship match. It seems from what I know that its occurrence on Raw is a bit of an accident—we were meant to have the match at TLC, but with Punk's injury and The Rock locked in for the Royal Rumble since July, Ryback having his title shot on Raw is the only way to satisfy kayfabe justice.
This particular chain of events therefore gifted us something quite special on Raw, and a few more things like this every so often would raise the excitement and the feeling that anything really could happen on WWE TV by a long way.
Meta circumstance aside, however, the match was absolutely thrilling and pay-per-view quality. The vertical suplex onto a ladder and throw over the ropes through a table made me gasp audibly. The result was in no doubt, even if The Shield's interference didn't mark the complete break with result mitigation I'd have preferred. Judge it by the action, and this match was incredible.
Usually it would be premature to nominate a match of the week at this point, but realistically, the TLC match would likely be unbeatable. The Big Show vs. Kofi Kingston, though, any other week that would have taken it.
Even ahead of the TLC match, the ending promo was the main event, and rightly so. CM Punk's promo, which is so often the single oasis of entertainment on Raws that have been mediocre to downright awful, was here as brilliant as he's ever been.
I've been a lot more philosophical than usual in this recap of Raw, and there'll be ample opportunity in the coming weeks to expound my view on The Rock and his place in the current WWE, so I'll stay brief.
The Rock's schtick is old, but not necessarily in a bad way. Hearing his unique mic skills now is akin to hearing Hulk Hogan's routine complete with "brother" every sentence. The Rock as a wrestler and character aside, his status as a classic figure right up against CM Punk's unbeatable eloquence and crowd manipulation is what made things buzz, at least for me.
At no point was Raw bad or unsuccessful. It was the best episode for as long as I can recall. Of course, with the TLC match and a history-in-the-making promo, what else would you expect?