The first Raw of 2013 saw WWE (finally) head down the road to WrestleMania, or at least the on-ramp toward WrestleMania. Michael Cole kicked off the broadcast by assuring the audience that “historically, the first Raw of the year has been explosive.” The show promised two big attractions — an appearance by The Rock, and a TLC match between Ryback and CM Punk — and delivered on both promises. The TLC match was entertaining and the verbal showdown between Punk and Rock was worth the wait, it would be a stretch to call the show explosive otherwise.
Match of the Night: Although the show-opening match, John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler, was a solid (if somewhat predictable) bout, the hands-down best match was the much-hyped TLC showdown between CM Punk and Ryback. Considering that Punk is coming back from an injury, and working with a big green oaf in Ryback, he pulled off an impressive showing. It was somewhat surprising how many risky spots Punk absorbed with a major pay-per-view match (against a major star) just around the corner. Ryback, for his part, went through yet another table thanks to The Shield.
Number of Minutes Into Raw Until Any Actual Wrestling Happened: 14, after a full segment of talk and a commercial break, which is pretty speedy for Raw.
Commentary Line of the Night: “What does Daniel Bryan say when he’s getting his picture taken? Goat cheese!” — Jerry Lawler. Also qualifies as the corniest, stupidest commentary line of the night, depending on your tolerance for bad jokes.
Botch of the Night: The botches were mostly verbal, including Michael Cole getting the year wrong, and Paul Heyman mispronouncing “Brad Maddox” roughly as “Braid Mandogs.” Considering that Raw is a live, three-hour program, that’s a pretty impressive feat of botchlessness. Unless you count Great Khali’s awkward lumbering as a botch.
Tweet of the Night: @HacksawJDuggan (parody account): “I can’t wait to see Don “The Rock” Muraco on #RAW tonight? HooOooOoo! USA! USA! USA!”
Biggest Storyline Advancement: By winning the TLC match, CM Punk landed a match against the Rock at Royal Rumble,which led to a rousing conclusion to Raw. Punk unleashed one of his best heel promos on the crowd, and then was berated by a typical Rock promo full of ass and scrotum references. It made for some entertaining television, and ensured plenty more jaw-jacking to come in the weeks ahead.
Jobber(s) of the Night: The 3MB, each of whom suffered an RKO after what was basically a three-on-one handicap match against Randy Orton. Although Orton has been mired in mediocrity lately, there was no way he was going to lose to Heath Slater, or even the whole band. Not long afterward, Sheamus took care of Jinder Mahal with similar ease.
WTF Moment of the Night: John Cena made jokes about poop and wieners within the first five minutes of Raw. He stopped short of finishing the limerick “There once was a man from Nantucket….” At the end of the show, The Rock mentioned CM Punk’s scrotum, ass, and something called the Cookiepuss (instant Twitter trend). While such language is hardly the stuff of the Attitude Era, it probably appealed to 11-year-old boys everywhere.
Logic Fail of the Night: The referee got knocked out of the ring during the John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler match, allowing Big E Langston to run to the ring and attack Cena. Then a second referee dashed down to ringside to count Ziggler’s pin on Cena. But if the new referee was able to see (on a backstage monitor, presumably) that his services were needed in the ring, why wasn’t he also able to see that Langston had just blatantly cheated on Ziggler’s behalf?
Holy Sh** Moment of the Night: A suplex onto a steel ladder has to hurt. A press slam onto a ladder, ribs first, has to hurt even more. Punk absorbed plenty of nasty-looking moves during his main event match (and later a Rock Bottom for good measure). Runner-up: Antonio Cesaro demonstrated some practically superhuman strength by hoisting the Great Khali into the Neutralizer, which elicited a much-deserved pop from the Tampa crowd.
Surprise Cameo of the Night: Ricky Steamboat appeared in Santino Marella’s corner after being insulted by Wade Barrett, promising to prove “how much smoke this old man can blow.” He didn’t breathe fire, but he did take off his jacket in a threatening manner, forcing Barrett to retreat. Odd, but interesting.
Worst Match of the Night: Eve vs Kaitlyn, even though it had a somewhat original spot in which the referee urged Kaitlin to tie her boot laces, allowing Eve to kick her in the noggin. Even so, the Tampa audience was chanting “borrr-ing” from the opening bell.
Best Sign at Ringside: “AJ is Like a Doorknob — Everyone Gets a Turn” was quite good, but it’s hard to top the giant photo of grumpy cat someone held up at ringside.
Dud of the Night: The Tampa audience. Perhaps they’re just jaded to wrestling because Tampa is home to more wrestlers per capita than just about any other city in the world, but this was a largely dead crowd. They pepped up for the arrival of the Rock and for much of the main event, but they were practically asleep for long stretches of the show.
Overall highlights: A tantalizing war of words between The Rock and CM Punk that promised an excellent Royal Rumble clash; an exciting TLC match with some impressive spills (nearly all by Punk); the tangible excitement of big events getting nearer.
Overall lowlights: Long stretches of filler, The Rock instantly reverted to scrotum jokes, and the broadcast went way overtime (three hours is long enough without the spillover).