Best of WWE Raw: January's Top Promos, Matches and More
WWE Raw has been professional wrestling's flagship television program since its launch way back in January 1993. And while many things have changed in the wrestling world since those quaint days in the Manhattan Center, one thing remains constant—it's still must-watch programming for fans around the world.
Traditionally, January is a great month for Raw. Not only is the WWE promoting the Royal Rumble, one of the year's biggest pay-per-views, but it is also beginning the run up to Wrestlemania. The most creative ideas are unleashed and the biggest stars emerge to take part in the festivities, including The Rock and Brock Lesnar this year.
I've been grading each segment on Raw all year in order, and to be honest, I was afraid it was going to end up being a thankless chore, the cataloging of intellectually bankrupt ideas and ineffectual wrestlers. Instead it's been a pure pleasure, one that has left me in perfect position to share with you the best of the best segments that lit up Monday night.
Have a favorite I missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments.
Jon Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler (1/7/2013)
A lot of our readership was upset at just how easily Cena dispatched with Ziggler here. Even with interference by "Big E" Langston, Dolph never looked close to winning.
The WWE has pushed Cena even further towards "Hulkamania 2.0," and he often appears invulnerable in his matches.
Pointing that out is certainly valid criticism. But it shouldn't completely rack focus from what was a pretty well-worked wrestling match.
Team Hell No Graduates from Anger Management (1/21/2013)
Isn't there enough hate in the world already? Who doesn't need a little love in their lives? Any segment that could convince not just Daniel Bryan and Kane, but also Jerry "The King" Lawler and Michael Cole, to relax their tough guy posturing and hug it out is all right by me.
Key Quote: "Daniel, when we first started you were a tightly wound little man child. You would snap whenever anyone said something about your goat face or told you your beard looked like a nest of rats." —Dr. Shelby on Daniel Bryan. Daniel was not amused.
Antonio Cesaro vs. Randy Orton (Miz Special Guest Ref, 1/28/2013)
I'm really, really high on Antonio Cesaro's potential. He's got that "Indy star" stigma and has to prove that he can work the big rooms and work WWE style. That's his challenge and it's one he's meeting head on.
He hung in with Randy Orton and delivered a really good professional wrestling match. Of course the Miz, as special guest referee, eventually impacts the match—but in a good way. It allows Cesaro to lose without losing face, while also propelling the Miz-Cesaro feud into the next pay-per-view and likely all the way to Wrestlemania as well.
MIZ TV W/ Ric Flair and Antonio Cesaro (1/14/2013)
Miz and Ric Flair get into a woo-off, a strut-off and then proceed to wreck Antonio Cesaro and Flair's suit jacket. Classic trainwreck television. I may have been the only person on the planet who loved this segment, but I am sticking to my guns. Here's what I said immediately after the show:
Miz is no Flair. He couldn't even pretend to be. Of course, that's what made the segment so funny. We got a Miz fail, a Cesaro win, and Flair dropping bows on an inanimate object. I don't need much more than that in life.
This was a segment that kept on giving. The idea of Miz inheriting the Figure Four leglock from Flair was already ludicrous to the extreme. It's an honor he surely doesn't deserve, and better still, we later found out couldn't even perform properly.
That's right: The man honored to inherit one of wrestling history's most iconic finishing holds can't even execute it properly.
The Rock Concert (1/14/2013)
This was well on its way to being one of the most disappointing final segments in Raw's history. It was built up throughout the night as something special, a memory in the making, but once the Rock hit the ring, everything just fell flat. His jokes weren't working, his pitch was putrid and it was looking like a massive, massive fail.
And then CM Punk hit the stage and all was forgiven. Eventually the two men charged and not even four security guards could hold them back. It was intense—if anything sold the Rumble to fans on the bubble, it was this segment.
Key Quotes: "Fact, that man beside you, your manager, has Twinkie tits."—The Rock on Paul Heyman.
"You ain't God. But as God is my witness, in 13 days I will beat you for the WWE title."—Rock to CM Punk.
CM Punk's Final Interview Before the Rumble (1/21/2013)
In some ways the feud between the Rock and CM Punk was paced all wrong. The very best back and forth between the two should have been saved for the final Raw before the Royal Rumble. Instead, they used all their best material on the first Raw of January.
What was left to drive home the must-buy nature of this pay per view show was not, by any means, second rate. It was just second best.
Key Quotes: "What I have here I hold more dear to my heart than most men hold their families. This is my life's work and for 428 days I have proven I'm the man. But 428 days is just a fraction of the time it's taken me to get to this point. I've worked half my life to get here, holding one of the WWE's most prestigious titles. And I won't let the Rock, or any man, take this." —CM Punk on his championship belt.
"The Rock is proud to be the people's champion. Almost as proud as I am to be a real champion." —CM Punk.
The Rock Fires Back at CM Punk (1/7/2013)
I scored the first verbal confrontation between the Rock and CM Punk for the Paul Heyman guy. That doesn't mean Rock failed to light up our televisions like only he can.
Yes, it was schlock, the comfortable patter of a wrestling star working his catchphrases and the crowd like a master. It is exactly the kind of material that Punk mocks so effectively. It's just that the Rock is so darned good at it that it transcends mere wrestling TV and becomes something more.
As good as Rock was, Punk stole the show with a line that will be etched in wrestling history. "Your arms are just too short," he told the WWE legend, "to box with God."
Key Quotes: "The real number that haunts your dreams is 20. Twenty excuses running around your mind right now. Twenty 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
CM Punk vs. Ryback (Table, Ladders and Chairs WWE Title Match, 1/7/2013)
This was an amazing free television match. Normally my squeamish stomach doesn't allow me to completely relax and enjoy these kinds of matches. I've heard veterans of the match discuss the toll it took on their bodies and I'm not 100 percent comfortable asking them to do that for my entertainment.
On pay-per-view it would have been infuriating to see the Shield come down and interfere in the match. We pay to see winners and loser darn it. If there is going to be an angle in the way of that, it better be a good one.
This was on Raw though—and somehow that makes it all OK. Best match of the month by far.
CM Punk Shoots (1/7/2013)
The Rock and CM Punk has featured some of the most intriguing dueling promos in recent wrestling history. The two are perfectly made for each other. Punk hates the trappings of modern wrestling—and no wrestler better represents the Attitude Era and beyond better than the Rock.
Punk laid all the groundwork for the feud that simmered all month with this single, brutal, genius promo on the first Raw of the year, taking on the WWE's sacred cows like Ric Flair and even Shawn Michaels in one of the best in-ring interviews of his career.
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
Brock Lesnar Lays out Vince McMahon (1/28/2013)
As soon as Vince McMahon announced he would be conducting a public performance review of manager Paul Heyman, I hoped it meant the return of Brock Lesnar. The moment McMahon CM Punk had been tossed from the building, I knew it was really happening, and it more than met expectations.
Vince McMahon covered a lot of ground in this segment, revealing that Heyman was indeed behind recent interference from the Shield that helped Punk retain his title. Heyman was hilarious here, alternating between being defiant and obsequious. He denied his own culpability despite compelling video evidence like the scoundrel that he is.
McMahon, finally, had heard enough. He was getting riled up for a classic McMahon firing, one the crowd was amped for. And then Lesnar's music hit.
Remember, when you watch replays of what happened next that McMahon is 68 years old. He's a man with hundreds of millions of dollars. He's a man who doesn't need to hit the ring and get tossed around like a bag of feed by one of the world's scariest men.
He does it anyway. That's why he's Vince McMahon—and it's why he's here, in business and thriving, when all of his competitors have gone the way of the dodo.
Key Quotes: "I have lied every day of my stinking life. Because I am a promoter. And that's what promoters do."—Paul Heyman