Ranking July's 5 Best Matches on WWE Television
The first anniversary of WWE Raw's move to a three-hour format came and went a few weeks ago. While we can argue back and forth about whether or not it has hurt Raw overall, it has increased the number of long matches on WWE TV each week.
Between Raw, SmackDown (usually "the wrestling show" to Raw's "storyline show") and the featured match on Main Event (designed to be a long showcase), there's plenty of room for great matches nowadays.
So what were the best from this past month? Let's take a look.
5. Rob Van Dam vs Chris Jericho (Raw 7/15/13)
I may be more partial to this match because I saw it live, but what can you do?
It's the most flawed match on this list, slowing down a little too much when they were working holds and getting a little sloppy in spots.
Regardless, it was the right match for Rob Van Dam to have in his first singles match back, which was also his first free TV match back and happened to be in a former major ECW town that was going nuts for him.
The wrestlers went back and forth for over 20 minutes, one of the longest matches on Raw in recent memory. Both men pulled out all of the stops, with Jericho even hitting his rarely used dead lift powerbomb while RVD tried some new tricks like a MMA-style triangle choke.
It was essentially the type of match you'd have expected from them 10 years ago, just with some added "dream match" flourishes, all performed in front of the hottest crowd they could hope for.
4. Daniel Bryan vs Sheamus (Raw 7/8/13)
Sheamus beating Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds for the World Heavyweight Championship at last year's WrestleMania got Bryan on the path to where he is now.
The next night on Raw, fans who had travelled from around the world revolted by chanting "YES!" throughout the entire show and it was soon clear that the curse of the short loss had actually set up Bryan to be one of the most over babyfaces in WWE.
They feuded a little while longer, with Sheamus retaining the title in a 2-out-of-3 Falls match at Extreme Rules that was one of the best PPV matches of 2012.
Since then, they hadn't really crossed paths until a month ago.
This time in a babyface match (instead of Bryan working heel), they picked up where they left off with an excellent match that opened Raw. These two have had great chemistry for a few years (two years ago, there was a smaller uproar when they were bumped off WrestleMania during a U.S. Title feud) but never had enough matches together, so it was really nice to see them tearing it up again.
They beat the hell out of each other in what turned into an obvious showcase for Bryan.
While in Sheamus's Cloverleaf submission hold, the two set up what has seemingly turned into a pattern for most of Bryan's major matches for the rest of the month: He escaped and won with a small package roll up.
If I had to guess, I'd say that with Bryan not having a non-submission finisher or enough time to establish one, WWE is using these flash pins to establish him as the superior wrestler who can defeat John Cena out of nowhere at SummerSlam.
I'd absolutely bet on at least one of the big near-falls being a small package counter of the STF or Attitude Adjustment.
3. Randy Orton vs Christian (SmackDown 7/5/13)
These two always have great matches with each other, and this was no exception. Any match between these two that gets time is always going to be among the best matches of the month.
What was especially cool about this one was the finish. There have been plenty of matches where Orton's opponent goes for a flying move and Orton catches him in the RKO for the pin. It always looks spectacular, but it doesn't always work as well as it should.
While countering Evan Bourne's shooting star press with the RKO was a great, surprising finish, CM Punk slowly setting up his springboard clothesline to meet the same fate was telegraphed enough to lessen the awesomeness a little.
This time out, Christian and Orton played with the fans' expectations.
Christian went to the top rope late enough in the match to make you wonder and then teased jumping off long enough to make you think he was about to get RKOed. He jumped off and Orton tried the RKO, but Christian jumped over his head and landed behind him.
So Orton just RKOed him when he turned around.
A great, clever finish to their usual smooth, exciting match.
2. Alberto Del Rio vs Dolph Ziggler (Raw 7/15/13)
Again, I saw this one live, so I may like it more than others do.
Like Orton and Christian, these two historically have great chemistry. Both are former high-level amateur wrestlers with very athletic styles and they've gotten into a nice groove together. There's not a ton of variety in their matches, but they're always very good.
I felt the Raw match was a better bout than their effort at Money in the Bank the previous night, and it had a more satisfying finish.
At MITB, the match ended when Ziggler was disqualified because AJ Lee interfered at the worst possible moment for him. Before the Raw match, Ziggler broke up with Lee, who snuck to ringside and rang the bell to distract Ziggler and make him easy prey for Del Rio.
It set up the post-match angle with Big E. Langston attacking Ziggler really well, too.
Being there live gave it a boost for me as well. The crowd was really hot for Ziggler, so the near-falls had an extra oomph and the post-match angle felt even more effective than it did on TV.
1. Daniel Bryan vs Antonio Cesaro (Raw 7/22/13)
A couple weeks ago, Daniel Bryan got to wrestle for the better part of the last hour of Raw.
No, you're not stuck in a Ring of Honor fan's dream from 2006. Brad Maddox put Bryan in a gauntlet series to test him. After dispatching Jack Swagger, Bryan got to take on the other half of the Real Americans, Antonio Cesaro.
The result was the best match on WWE television in July and arguably Cesaro's best WWE match to date. Moreover, it may have even been better than anything on the Money in the Bank PPV.
I really hope Cesaro can pick up some momentum soon, because as underutilized as a lot of hardcore fans' favorites have been over the years, none were as good as he is now.
The match itself was everything you'd hope for. Great chain wrestling, violent elbow smashes, impressive feats of strength and so on all leading up to a ton of great near-falls with a super-hot crowd.
The finish was fantastic, with Cesaro throwing Bryan into the air for the bolo forearm only for Bryan to small package him (see what I said earlier?) on the way down for the pin.