Old School Raw set.
As the year quickly comes to a close, wrestling fans look back at the sport during 2013. Of course, you can't consider some of year's most monumental moments without taking into account Monday Night Raw, a show that has played host to many historic happenings throughout the year.
Some would say that 2013 hasn't been the best year for WWE in recent memory, especially in the last few months, but there is no denying that there has been just as much good as there has been bad, if not more.
Some of the year's biggest shockers have occurred on the company's flagship show, which surely made for a number of entertaining episodes over the past 12 months.
Here, I'll power rank the best five Monday Night Raw editions in 2013 in terms of quality, entertainment value, amount of wrestling, pay-per-view hype and more. As of this writing, there is one more episode of Raw remaining in the year, but I don't expect it to crack the list.
On the Nov. 11 edition of Raw, it was announced that the following week's episode would be country-themed. Initially, many fans (myself included) predicted it would be absolute garbage and suggested that WWE focus on producing a quality go-home show for Survivor Series instead of wasting time bringing in county music stars.
Sure, Florida Georgia Line performed on the show, but their musical act was relatively quick and painless. Speaking of musical, the Divas musical chairs was far from painless, but it was a small blemish on what was ultimately a very entertaining episode.
In the night's first match, Big E Langston contended for the Intercontinental Championship against Curtis Axel. With a rabid Nashville crowd in his corner, Langston defeated Axel to score his first major singles title in WWE and has held the title ever since.
A little later on in the show, Ryback and Big Show competed in their first ever one-on-one match against each other. Everyone knew from the get-go Ryback was coming up short against Show, but he didn't go down without a fight, as his Shell Shocked on the World's Largest Athlete was an impressive feat, to say the least.
For months, fans had been clamoring for The Miz to turn heel after his face run had grown stagnant. Well, those same fans got what they wished for on this show, as Miz first showed signs of returning to his villainous roots by bailing on partner Kofi Kingston in a tag match against The Real Americans.
Xavier Woods, who had been down in WWE's developmental territory NXT for over three years, finally made his main-roster debut alongside R-Tuth. He and Truth were successful in tag team action against 3MB.
Last but not least, the night's jam-packed main event match saw CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, The Usos, Cody Rhodes and Goldust battle The Shield and The Wyatt Family in a massive 12-man tag team match. After nearly 20 minutes of in-ring action, Punk and company emerged victorious and built momentum going into that Sunday's Survivor Series pay-per-view.
Mere moments later, The Real Americans jumped the ring and ambushed Punk and Bryan, only for Rey Mysterio to make the save for The Best and The Beard. This marked Mysterio's first appearance in close to nine months.
The main event match held up the wrestling portion of the show, while Miz's heel turn, Ryback's Shell Shocked on Big Show and Mysterio's WWE return certainly accounted for the show's shock value. Although it ended up being a pleasantly surprising episode of Raw, its lack of hype for the Survivor Series event held it back from being placed higher on the list.
In November 2010, WWE aired its first ever Old School-themed episode of Monday Night Raw. The show was so critically acclaimed that it was brought back on the March 4 edition of Raw this past year.
Although all the legends and alumni were advertised in advance, their appearances all still packed a punch. From The Honky Tonk Man returning to WWE to Mae Young celebrating her 90th birthday (which was cut short by a selfish CM Punk), all of the legends meshed well with the Superstars of today.
The New Age Outlaws competed in their first Raw match in over a decade against Primo and Epico. With their win over the former WWE Tag Team champions, they proved that they still have a lot left in the tank.
Ric Flair was also in rare form on this show, standing in the corner of The Miz during his match against Dolph Ziggler. The two Ohio natives had a great match together that concluded with The Awesome One scoring the victory.
After the lackluster build to their premiere match at WrestleMania 28, John Cena and The Rock brought their intensity to an all-new level on this show when they came face to face. It was easily one of the best promos either icon had had in quite some time.
At the start of the program, The Undertaker shockingly returned to WWE, issuing a challenge for any Superstar to face him at WrestleMania 29. A Fatal 4-Way was made for later in the night where the winner would earn the right to challenge 'Taker's storied streak on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
In clean fashion, Punk picked up the win and closed the show by engaging in an epic stare-off with 'Taker.
Old School Raw was not only a ton of fun, but it was successful in furthering many feuds for 'Mania 29. Here's hoping WWE can achieve the same success with the Old School Raw concept when it returns on the first Raw of 2014.
One night removed from one of the best pay-per-views of the year—Money in the Bank—WWE wasted no time in beginning the build for SummerSlam. July has always been a hot month for the WWE every year, both figuratively and literally.
At Money in the Bank, Mark Henry came up short of defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship and showed up on Raw to address the WWE Universe. In the midst of his promo, The Shield made a beeline for the ring, which prompted Henry to retaliate and battle back against the rogue trio, turning face in the process.
Early on in the evening, Dolph Ziggler dumped his girlfriend AJ Lee after she inadvertently cost him the World Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank. Ziggler had another excellent match with Alberto Del Rio on this show but was once again robbed of the win by AJ when she served as a distraction at ringside.
The bleached-blonde Superstar wasn't the only one who was the victim of a backstabbing at the pay-per-view, however, as Paul Heyman also turned on CM Punk and severed all ties with his former friend. Punk and Heyman engaged in a war of the words on this show before the founder of ECW sent Brock Lesnar down to ringside to do his dirty work.
Rob Van Dam returned to Raw on this swarming July night to face Chris Jericho in one-on-one action. The two put forth a strong effort and had one of the best television matches in recent memory.
In the closing segment, then-WWE champion John Cena was given the opportunity to choose his SummerSlam opponent. Much to the crowd's amusement, Cena ultimately chose Daniel Bryan, who had the entire arena chanting "YES!" as Raw went off the air.
WWE had many awesome episodes of Raw over the course of the summer, but this one in particular stands out above the rest for how much it did to set the stage for SummerSlam the following month. It provided nice fallout from Money in the Bank and delivered from an in-ring standpoint as well.
Some of the greatest moments in the history of Raw have happened on the night after WrestleMania. This year was no exception, as a raucous crowd made the entire night much more fun than anyone ever expected it to be.
On the WrestleMania 29 pre-show, The Miz defeated Wade Barrett to win his second Intercontinental Championship. His reign was short-lived, however, as Barrett invoked his rematch clause on this show, contested a great match against Miz and won back his prized possession for the third time in his career.
Less than 24 hours after defeating CM Punk in an amazing matchup at WrestleMania 29, The Undertaker appeared on Raw to honor the late, great Paul Bear one last time. He was soon interrupted by the members of The Shield, who came close to attacking The Phenom before Team Hell No made the save, setting up a six-man tag team match for later that month.
Prior to 'Mania, Fandango was nothing more than a glorified undercard act, but his win over Chris Jericho at The Show of Shows as well as the strong support from the fans in attendance on this show solidified him as a mainstay on Monday nights. The New Jersey crowd gave birth to the Fandango chant, a phenomenon that still lives on to this day.
After overcoming the odds in a 2-on-1 Handicap match against Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter, Alberto Del Rio was forced to defend his World Heavyweight Championship against Dolph Ziggler, who would cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Ziggler was successful in capturing the "Big Gold Belt" and received one of the biggest ovations on Raw in years.
Then-WWE champion John Cena battled Mark Henry in the main event, which would quickly end in a count-out win for Cena. Henry ambushed The Champ following the match, regardless, but was fended off by a raging Ryback.
As Ryback and Cena celebrated with the crowd, Ryback blindsided Cena and laid him out with a Shell Shocked. This would mark the beginning of Ryback's (failed) heel turn and the last time he would ever utter the words "Feed Me More."
Let's face it: This show wouldn't have been as amazing as it was without the live crowd. Take the fans out of the equation and you have yourself an ordinary episode of Raw, which is what cost it from being in the top spot on this list.
There is no denying that WWE had one of its best summer seasons this past year, but what many fans fail to realize is that it all kicked off with this highly underrated episode of Raw.
Wade Barrett was set to receive his rematch for the Intercontinental Championship against Curtis Axel on this show but was put up against a "mystery" opponent instead thanks to Vickie Guerrero. Barrett's mystery opponent was ultimately revealed to be Christian, making his first in-ring appearance in nearly 10 months.
Antonio Cesaro had very little direction as a singles performer after his loss of the United States Championship in April, but that all changed on this night. Following an impressive victory over a returning William Regal, Zeb Colter showed interest in Cesaro and would later recruit him to join The Real Americans.
For weeks, Damien Sandow had been unable to get the better of Sheamus, especially after he had come up short of defeating him on the Payback Kickoff show. In a shocking turn of events, Sandow cleanly pinned The Celtic Warrior in a 2-on-1 Handicap match that also involved Cody Rhodes.
All night long, fans were questioning whether Mark Henry would really retire as he had teased on his Twitter page. Dressed up in a suit and tie, Henry cut a tear-inducing promo about his illustrious run in WWE and how it was time to hang it up.
John Cena, who was standing on the ring apron the entire time, entered the squared circle and raised the hand of Henry. Moments later, Henry shocked the world by delivering a World's Strongest Slam to John Cena and giving one of the best performances in his entire career.
In his first night back on Raw, CM Punk challenged then-World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio to a match in the main event. After winning the bout via count-out, Punk came face to face with a returning Brock Lesnar, who laid him out with an emphatic F-5 to trigger one of the year's most ruthless rivalries.
There have been only a handful of amazing episodes of Raw this year, and I would certainly argue that this show in particular was the best of them all. It was entertaining from start to finish, featured many memorable moments and noteworthy returns and set the stage for what was going to be a spectacular summer in WWE.
Graham Mirmina, a.k.a. Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.