Ranking the 13 Most Memorable Moments of 2013

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

Ranking the 13 Most Memorable Moments of 2013

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The year 2013 has been a rather eventful one for World Wrestling Entertainment. 

    Several top stars have made returns to the company, including Brock Lesnar, The Rock and The Undertaker.

    Daniel Bryan rose to the main event scene, only to be smacked back down by Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Randy Orton.

    CM Punk had Match of the Year candidates against John Cena, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar and pulled the thorn known as Paul Heyman from his side.

    Trios dominated the year as the Wyatt Family made their debut and The Shield dominated stars from all parts of the roster.

    Kane went from comedy act to monster to corporate, mask-less stooge. Big Show, conversely, went from strongly booked giant to afterthought to main eventer and, finally, to smiling midcard babyface.

    The Authority has taken control of World Wrestling Entertainment, and Randy Orton has risen to the occasion, becoming the first unified heavyweight champion in 11 years.

    As 2014 approaches, all of the above Superstars figure to play key roles in WWE programming. With the New Year just a few days away, here is a look back at the top moments from WWE programming in 2013.

    Feel free to leave your most memorable moments of 2013 in the comments section below.

13. Goldust vs. Randy Orton

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    When it was announced that Goldust would be returning to WWE to face Randy Orton in an attempt to win his brother Cody's job back, fans rejoiced at the return of one of the greatest characters in WWE history.

    Few could have imagined that the Goldust who returned to the ring that week would be the outstanding worker that he has proven to be over the course of the last four months.

    He was in the best shape of his career and moved with a speed and agility that he did earlier in his career as Dustin Rhodes in WCW. There was clearly motivation on his part to prove that he could still hang with the younger Superstars that make up today's landscape, and he did just that, taking WWE champion Randy Orton to the limit in one of the better, more smartly wrestled matches on free TV this year.

    Goldust would capitalize on the opportunity given to him, and as a result, he was offered a deal with the company.

    By the end of October, he and Cody would capture the WWE Tag Team Championships and set out to rejuvenate the tag team division, which they have done to great success as 2013 nears its end.

12. Damien Sandow Cashes In...and Loses

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    Any time John Cena is involved in anything, controversy is sure to follow.

    October 28 was no different. Cena was fresh off of winning the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio and was addressing the WWE Universe for the first time in months when Damien Sandow made his way to the ring and confronted the man he would cash in his guaranteed title shot on just moments later.

    Sandow violently assaulted Cena, targeting his previously injured triceps.

    Unfortunately, he misjudged Cena's will to win and his championship spirit.

    Cena withstood the beating of the very game Sandow and finished him with the Attitude Adjustment.

    Anti-Cena fans spewed venom and pointed at the "overcoming the odds" booking that always followed the face of WWE around. While doing that, they missed the fact that Sandow came out of the match looking far better than he did going in. Losing to Cena in the fashion he did, by coming up just short of recognizing his dream, he was better off than he would have been coming off a long losing streak and suddenly being expected to carry the ball as a heavyweight champion.

    Of course, the crack creative team failed to capitalize on the rub Sandow got from working with Cena, as it had so many Superstars in the past.

    Most recently, the former Mr. Money in the Bank was seen competing as the "Bad Santa" on the Christmas edition of Raw.


11. WWE Executes a Double-Turn at Payback

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    Heading into the Payback pay-per-view on June 16, Dolph Ziggler was the arrogant, cocky villain who only won the World Heavyweight Championship by cashing in on a prone Alberto Del Rio the night after WrestleMania. Del Rio was the honorable champion whose change in attitude netted him great success early in the year.

    Midway through the clash between the two over the coveted No. 2 title, Del Rio began to ruthlessly and aggressively target the head of Ziggler. A concussion had put WWE's resident showoff on the shelf for nearly two months, and Del Rio had no problem exploiting that injury to his advantage.

    Ziggler fought valiantly, despite barely being able to stand, and earned himself the adulation of the fans.

    More interesting is the way in which the Chicago crowd turned on Del Rio, who really did nothing wrong or outside of the rules.

    The vicious manner in which he assaulted the sympathetic Ziggler simply made him detestable and gave the double turn the company was hoping to execute the so-called "juice" it needed to really succeed.

    Del Rio won the title in dominant fashion, the crowd booing the title switch, while Ziggler came off as the likable and resilient hero figure who fought until he could not fight anymore. 

    It was a bit of brilliant booking that has been somewhat lost in the shuffle by questionable and, at times, terrible storytelling late in the year.

    Not to mention the fact that the creative team fumbled Ziggler's heel turn.

10. The Rock and CM Punk Talk the WWE Championship

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    "Your arms are just too short to box with God."

    With that one line on the January 7 episode of Raw, CM Punk had the WWE audience in the palm of his hands and ready to hand over their hard-earned money to see his upcoming WWE Championship defense against the returning Great One, The Rock.

    Speaking of The Rock, he stepped outside of his comfort zone, left most of his trademark-yet-tired catchphrases at home and focused on putting over his quest for the title and making the match against Punk as big as it could be.

    Their verbal back-and-forth and the seriousness with which each performer approached the promo really helped create a different dynamic not seen elsewhere on the shows. Rather than the campy comedy segments and heavy focus on social media, it was two wrestling-minded guys cutting a wrestling promo about a wrestling match, and it immediately elevated the importance of the bout.

    The Rock would defeat Punk and end his 434-day title reign at the Royal Rumble on January 27.

9. Big Show Knocks Triple H out

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    The rise of Big Show back to the main event scene in World Wrestling Entertainment may have been at the expense of Daniel Bryan and may have resulted in a lackluster Survivor Series main event against Randy Orton and an even worse buyrate for that show. But it did give fans one of the most satisfying moments of the year and one of the biggest pops, as well.

    After weeks of suffering humiliation, degradation and manipulation at the hands of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, Big Show delivered the knockout blow heard around the world when he knocked the COO unconscious on the October 7 episode of Raw.

    The crowd erupted into a huge ovation as Show made his way up the ramp and Bryan slid into the ring to stand tall over his boss and main tormentor.

    It was one of the rare occasions where the babyface got over on the Authority throughout the story that began in August and remains the centerpiece of the main event picture to this day.

8. A Tribute to Paul Bearer

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    On March 2, professional wrestling lost one of its greatest managers when William Moody passed away.

    He was known to most wrestling fans as Paul Bearer, the ghastly manager of The Undertaker for nearly a decade. It only made sense for the Phenom to pay tribute to his longtime friend, travel partner, manager and confidant on Monday Night Raw.

    After a classy video package paying tribute to his contributions to the company, the lights dimmed, and Undertaker stalked towards the ring. With an urn in the center of the ring, the most respected Superstar in WWE history knelt down, as he had done so many times throughout his career, in memory of the man that guided him to the squared circle.

    It was an emotional moment and one that allowed Undertaker to maintain his persona while closing the book on one of the greatest partnerships in World Wrestling Entertainment's long and illustrious history.

7. Rhodes to Redemption...and the Tag Team Championships

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    On the September 2 episode of Raw, Cody Rhodes was unceremoniously fired by Triple H following a loss to Randy Orton. A weekly later, his brother Goldust attempted to get him rehired by taking on Orton. He fell short.

    The Rhodes family patriarch, "American Dream" Dusty, attempted to intervene on behalf of both of his sons but found himself knocked unconscious by a hesitant Big Show.

    Cody and Goldust were given one last shot at regaining employment in WWE. To do so, they would have to defeat the dominant WWE Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns on October 6 at Battleground.

    They did just that, defeating the Shield and celebrating the win with Dusty in an emotional moment.

    One week later, on the October 14 episode of Raw, Rhodes and Goldust not only had one of the best matches in 2013 against Reigns and Rollins, but they also captured the WWE Tag Team Championships in a No Disqualification match, thanks in part to interference from Big Show.

    The moment was great redemption for Goldust, who had returned and climbed back to the mountaintop. Cody had seen his babyface turn back in July pay off in spades as the fans openly accepted the new champions, popping huge for their title win.

6. The Wyatt Family Debuts

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    "We're here."

    With that warning, the lights in the Baltimore Arena dimmed, and a handheld lantern led Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to the ring for the first time in their WWE careers.

    Wyatt blew out the lantern, the arena stayed dark, and when the lights finally rose, Harper and Rowan were inside the ring attacking Kane.

    Their assault spilled to the outside, where Harper and Rowan smashed the Big Red Monster's face with the steel ring steps. Wyatt stalked around the ring and posed over Kane's fallen carcass to end a memorable debut.

    Since that night, the cult-like Wyatt Family has terrorized World Wrestling Entertainment, targeting top Superstars such as Daniel Bryan and CM Punk.

    Recently, rumors suggest that Wyatt himself may be involved in a very high-profile match at WrestleMania XXX this coming spring, per Daniel Pena of Wrestling Inc.

5. Chris Jericho Returns in the Royal Rumble

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    With Dolph Ziggler drawing No. 1 and patiently waiting to see who he would lock up with to start the 2013 Royal Rumble match, the US Airways Center in Phoenix went pitch black, and pyro exploded at the top of the entrance ramp.

    The fans erupted as Chris Jericho made his surprise return to WWE television.

    At a time when the Internet has made it nearly impossible to conceal a secret without a hint leaking to the so-called "dirt sheets," Jericho's entry into the Rumble match was a truly shocking moment that no one saw coming. 

    Jericho would make the most of the unexpected return, lasting nearly 48 minutes before being eliminated by the man he started the match with, Ziggler.

    The future Hall of Famer would spend the majority of his time back with the company putting over young stars but never seeing his popularity wane in the eyes of the fans.

    That's something the creative team would be wise to take note of when it comes to some of its other top Superstars.

4. John Cena vs. CM Punk, No. 1 Contender's Match

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    Take John Cena and put him in the ring with CM Punk, and nine times out of 10, the match will not only live up to the hype, but it will also produce a Match of the Year candidate.

    The main event of the February 25 episode of Raw featured one of their best matches as they clashed for the right to challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29.

    The stipulation was a major one, and Cena and Punk did an excellent job backing its importance up with a take-no-prisoners match that saw them throw everything they had in their arsenal at one another.

    They traded finishing maneuvers, resulting in dramatic near-falls and an incredibly hot crowd. Having wrestled one another as many times as they have in the past, they knew what to expect from one another, which is what made the finish that much more brilliant.

    CM Punk climbed the turnbuckles for his top-rope elbow drop, but Cena rolled out of the way.

    Then it happened.

    Cena broke out a hurricanrana, stunning Punk before delivering the Attitude Adjustment for the pin-fall win.

    It was a brilliant match wrestled on free television for the world to see.

3. Bryan Wins the WWE Championship, and Orton Cashes In

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    The main event of August 18's SummerSlam pay-per-view featured the biggest star in pro wrestling, John Cena, taking on the man who is, arguably, the best wrestler in World Wrestling Entertainment, Daniel Bryan.

    The match was billed as Bryan's opportunity to step up to the plate, defeat Cena for the top prize in the sport and establish himself as a top star in the company, rather than a critically acclaimed midcard guy.

    Bryan lived up to the hype, met expectations and worked an excellent Match of the Year candidate with Cena.

    The Superstars traded their signature moves until Bryan caught Cena off-guard with a running knee to the face and pinned his shoulders to the mat for a three count.

    Special referee and WWE COO Triple H handed Bryan the title and raised his arm in victory. Cena congratulated the new champion and allowed him to take center stage.

    It should have been the defining moment of Bryan's blossoming career. It was the thing that fairy tales are made of. The underdog from Aberdeen making it to WWE, slaying the top star in the main event of the second-biggest show of the year and celebrating as streamers fall from the ceiling and pyro explodes at the top of the entrance ramp.

    Randy Orton's arrival with the Money in the Bank briefcase and Triple H's shocking, unexpected Pedigree to Bryan ruined the moment and set in motion the Authority angle that would ultimately affect Bryan's push in a far more negative fashion than anyone could have foreseen.

2. Dolph Ziggler Cashes in Money in the Bank...and Wins

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    Despite a less-than-stellar win-loss record, Dolph Ziggler has been one of the best, most entertaining and dynamic in-ring talents in WWE over the last three years. He has been one of the workhorses for WWE during that period of time and has amassed a number of midcard championships to help pad his resume.

    The one thing missing was a legitimate run with either the World Heavyweight or WWE Championship.

    Sure, he held the former for a few seconds back in 2011, but it was more of a plot device than a true title run.

    When he won the Money in the Bank match in 2012 and earned the opportunity to challenge for the World title anytime over the following year, hardcore fans rejoiced at the idea that one of the hardest-working men in wrestling would finally earn a heavyweight title.

    Then weeks passed. Then months and still, no cash-in from Ziggler.

    The patience of the WWE Universe paid off on April 8 when, in front of a stellar crowd in East Rutherford, Ziggler cashed in on a prone Del Rio and captured the World Heavyweight Championship.

    The win was the culmination of nearly a decade of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. While the followup was understandably disappointing thanks to an ill-time concussion and WWE's poor job of executing his push, it felt very much like a moment that fans who had supported Ziggler throughout his career could celebrate with him.

    It was a win for them as much as it was for the Superstar himself.

1. Mark Henry Retires...or Does He?

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    In the hours prior to the June 17 episode of Monday Night Raw, WWE Superstars took to Twitter to congratulate Mark Henry on his career. This created a great deal of speculation that the World's Strongest Man would be hanging up his boots.

    Commentator Michael Cole heavily put over a huge announcement from Henry during that week's broadcast, backing up the pre-show hype.

    As Henry took to the ring in his watermelon-colored suit, he looked every bit a man prepared to call it a career. His face was wrought with emotion, and there was a noticeable buzz in the air as he stepped through the ropes for what may have been the final time.

    Tears poured down the face of one of WWE's most dominant forces as he discussed his career, played to the crowd's chants of "Mae Young" and told his daughter that her father was coming home.

    It was a great moment that would have remained that way had it ended there.

    But it did not.

    WWE champion John Cena raised Henry's arm high in the air...then found himself on the receiving end of the World's Strongest Slam. The crowd audibly gasped, and Henry stood knelt over the fallen body of the biggest star in professional wrestling.

    He exited the ring, telling the camera and, thus, millions of fans across the country, "That's what I do."

    The performance from Henry was one of the best acting performances in World Wrestling Entertainment. He was so convincing and so believable that when the bottom fell out and he slammed Cena to the mat, even the harshest of critics were shocked by what they had seen.

    Henry would go on to challenge Cena for the WWE title at Money in the Bank but would be unsuccessful in his attempt to wrest the title away from the leader of the Cenation.