The New Year's edition of Monday Night Raw in Richmond, VA ended up as one of the more unique shows of 2013. With a rare Monday house show in Toronto, a major market, closing out the lucrative post-Christmas tour, a lot of the top talent on the roster wasn't at TV. John Cena, Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Big Show, Kane, Antonio Cesaro, Zeb Colter, Alberto Del Rio, Sin Cara, AJ Lee, Natalya and Ryback were all in Toronto and almost all of them have been on Raw weekly as of late.
Not so surprisingly, with the roster split for the night, Raw featured a lot of long matches with Daniel Bryan getting the most time of anyone. The main event of the show was Bryan against the Wyatt family in a gauntlet match (Harper, Rowan and then Wyatt) so he could "earn" the right to beat up Wyatt. Bryan got through Harper and Rowan, but they immediately ran back in for the disqualification when he got to wrestle Wyatt.
And then Bryan decided to join the Wyatt family because his current path is failing him. While it wasn't completely out of the blue, as Wyatt's promos have been going in this direction, it wasn't exactly satisfying.
More on that in a bit. Let's get down to business.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
The only man to hold both the WWE Championship and UFC Heavyweight Championship returned after over four months off and looked as scary as ever. After being introduced by former victim Triple H because his return is "best for business," Lesnar (joined by the also returning Paul Heyman) declared himself number one contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, challenged anyone to come out, Mark Henry answered and it was awesome.
Lesnar cheapshotted him, but Henry quickly took over until he was speared/double legged through the barricade. Then Lesnar gave him the F5. On the floor. It looked incredible.
It was a great way to bring back Lesnar, and he made it even better by deciding to emit guttural screams throughout. It was completely horrifying and a great addition to his character to make him seem that much more unhinged. The segment was a great way to put him back on the board.
Loser: Daniel Bryan. Maybe. I'm really not sure.
When Raw ended, a friend of mine sent me a Facebook message: "Why can I never figure out if WWE likes Daniel Bryan and wants him to be over or not? Sometimes I think they're just f***ing with us and 'burying' him to keep him over. Sometimes I think they're just burying him period." That's kind of how I feel about how Raw ended last night.
Obviously this builds towards Bryan never really outright turning heel and eventually abandoning the Wyatt Family, but is it really a good idea? How long will it last? The ideal scenario is Wyatt putting Bryan on a pedestal, ordering Harper and Rowan to protect him in the Royal Rumble and Bryan eliminating them to win. I doubt that's happening, though, as Batista is the reported favorite to win the Rumble according to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio.
With SmackDown already in the can and Bryan not on the show, WWE likely isn't showing their hand until Old School Raw next Monday. Hopefully it's closer to the optimistic version of the scenario, that Bryan is being booked in a way to make sympathetic fans think they're rebelling against WWE by cheering him.
Winner: Roman Reigns
He didn't wrestle on the show, but WWE advanced the story of The Shield breakup/Reigns' babyface turn a lot, and it was obvious that the fans in Richmond were very into it. CM Punk demanded to face the best member of The Shield, they all volunteered, and then he taunted them by saying all he's hearing about is Reigns. The fans started chanting loudly for Reigns, so right now he's exactly where WWE wants him.
Loser: Nikki Bella
She's probably relatively bulletproof as long as she's with John Cena, but she was pinned by Aksana of all people in a 10-woman tag team match. Yes, Aksana, who hasn't won a match in a year and is one of the very worst all-around performers on the roster. Sure, it was actually designed to build to something (they had a singles match at the SmackDown taping), but even in the Divas' division, they are far apart on the depth chart. While Nikki's sister has lapped her, she's still a heck of a lot better than Aksana. This was just odd.
Winner: Big Show and the WWE Universe
Thankfully Big Show as the world's largest new year's baby was limited to the promo that aired last week. Since WWE was hyping the gimmick as something we'd actually see last night, I guess this means nobody remembered to tape skits with him at the tapings two weeks ago, since he was in Toronto instead of at Raw.
Loser: Big Show and the WWE Universe
Big Show had to dress up as a baby for no good reason. We had to see him dressed up as a baby for no good reason. This man headlined Survivor Series last month, but it feels like it was years ago.