Daniel Bryan's win on the Dec. 16 edition of WWE Raw wasn't the kind his fanbase was hoping for, but in showing the resiliency of a champion, he left the American Airlines Arena as one of the Superstars who improved their position on Monday.
Joining him on that list is a clown who is beginning to remove his wig and red nose.
Meanwhile, another man is just slipping his clown gear on. A pair of champions failed to win on TV once more. Monday's Raw was not as kind to them as it was to Big E Langston, who extended his recent win streak.
Langston and Bryan were among the episode's biggest winners. Raw's biggest losers suffered defeats beyond the ring, in perception and momentum.
Winner: Brodus Clay
Long a dancing, goofy jester, Clay's character is veering into darkness.
Tons of Funk clashed with Curtis Axel and Ryback. The talk afterward will not be about Ryback pinning Tensai, but instead about Clay turning on his partner. He refused to tag in and attacked "Sweet T" after the bell.
This shift in attitude has given Clay more of the spotlight than he's had in a long while.
Not only does he get to shed his cartoon-like gimmick, he gets the benefit of being in a feud rather than appearing sporadically. Either WWE is going to have Tensai and Clay lock horns or the self-proclaimed "Main Event Playa" will battle Xavier Woods.
Both of those stories are a step up from occupying WWE's lowest rungs.
Clay will be a given a shot at being an intimidating force once more, trying to make the journey Mark Henry took from being known as "Sexual Chocolate" to becoming the founder of the Hall of Pain.
Loser: Cody Rhodes and Goldust
The tag team champions lost again.
Defeating the champs, even in non-title situations, should be a rarer feat. It's now becoming the go-to method to decide who deserves a championship opportunity.
There's no shame in getting knocked out by Big Show, as some of WWE's biggest names have suffered that same fate, but Rhodes and Goldust adding losses to their record isn't wise. With each defeat, they look less and less worthy of carrying the titles.
WWE has done this too often recently with its midcard titles, something that has hurt those belts' prestige.
With as hot as the tag team division and the Rhodes brothers in particular have been, it's a mistake to pin losses like this one on them. One defeat is an upset. Three in such a short span is damaging.
Winner: Big E Langston
In a win against The Real Americans on Monday's Raw, Langston looked like a wrecking ball tearing through a wall.
His partner, Henry, seemed destined for a spin in the air courtesy of Antonio Cesaro. Langston charged in and knocked Cesaro to the mat. As the powerhouse removed his straps, the crowd rose to their feet, roaring.
Langston had one of his best showings so far.
He survived The Real Americans' best shots and then earned one of the night's bigger reactions. The pinfall over Cesaro follows a night where he defeated Damien Sandow in a short match, continuing his recent roll.
Loser: Damien Sandow
In a few months, Sandow has gone from being on the verge of winning the World Heavyweight Championship to being Santa Claus.
WWE advertised a Bad Santa vs. Good Santa battle for next week's Raw, with Sandow and Henry playing opposite sides of the Santa spectrum.
Henry has already had his career highs in the form of world championships and main events. This role isn't as damaging for him.
Sandow, on the other hand, is struggling to get a foothold in the company. There is no way that being a part of segment this silly is going to elevate him.
A man capable of being a top-level villain will be asked to be a buffoon.
It's difficult to climb out of ridiculous territory back to being intimidating, as Great Khali has proved in his journey from monster to laughingstock.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
Before Randy Orton's bruises from his battle at TLC could heal, Bryan was awarded a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Although the gold was snatched away from Bryan's hands once again, he ended the night as a victor. Given the spotlight alongside Orton, Bryan composed a masterpiece to close out Monday's Raw. Had the finish been a more thrilling one, this would have challenged for 2013's best match of the year.
Orton escaped by way of getting himself disqualified.
"The Viper" attacked Bryan's arm, leaving him writhing on the mat. Still, he fought on, inspiring fear in Orton's eyes.
Orton's low blow in front of the referee was proof of his desperation and of Bryan's ability. The bearded warrior was booked to be the better man, the challenger who had the champion resorting to any tactic necessary, including biting Bryan's knee.
Even though it looks as if WWE is going with a John Cena vs. Orton bout in the near future, the company painted Bryan as a worthy foe. The match positions him for a future title shot while also adding to Bryan's growing collection of classics.