Carols are in the air, snow is falling and Clark Griswold is conducting some cockamamie scheme with his Christmas lights in that new commercial, so you know what that means: The holiday season is officially upon us. And appropriately enough, Raw kicked off in North Carolina with a bona fide Christmas miracle ... Team Hell No agreed on something!
And no, it wasn't their favorite brand of eggnog, what decorations to put on their tree or even which WWE Brawlin' Buddy they wanted as a stocking stuffer this year. What finally brought the demented duo together in holiday harmony was their mutual hatred of the trio called The Shield. So when Kane and Daniel Bryan took to the ring in Greensboro, it was grave tidings all around when they called out Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns following the triumvirate's beatdown of the Tag Team Champions last Monday on Raw.
"You claim to fight against injustice," Kane roared, taunting The Shield from their perch in a skybox. "Well why don't you come down here right now and we'll give you something to fight about?"
But Christmas didn't come early for the bickering bros, because what they got instead was The Prime Time Players, who strutted their way down the ramp for a tag team contest against the champions. The bout was incredibly one-sided in the beginning, with Team Hell No operating like a well-oiled machine and leaving no breathing room for the beleaguered Prime Time Players. Even as The Shield, one by one, began to leave their post in the skybox and take up positions in the crowd, the champions remained perfectly in sync.
The challengers managed to create some separation, but as Ambrose and Reigns began to creep closer and closer toward the ring, Kane & Bryan's momentum began to stall ever so slightly as they searched frantically for a sign of Rollins' whereabouts in between bursts of offense against The Prime Time Players. Titus O'Neil capitalized, surging back against Kane and leaving The Devil's Favorite Demon reeling in the wake of his power strikes.
The Big Red Monster had enough left in the tank to tag in Daniel Bryan, who nearly sealed the contest by trapping Darren Young in the "No!" Lock until O'Neil broke up the hold and The Shield finally materialized around the ring. While the interlopers closed in, "Mr. No Days Off" struck once more, throwing Bryan into Kane and rolling up the submission technician, but Bryan reversed the roll-up into one of his own to secure the win.
Now, ordinarily, this would be the moment when Team Hell No crumbled into chaos and some kind of horrifying fight broke out between the Tag Team Champions. But they didn't even get the chance to do so because The Shield attacked immediately. The trio trapped Kane's arm in the crook of the steel steps and executed the triple powerbomb on an overwhelmed Bryan, disappearing from whence they came while Kane came to his fallen partner's aid.
Call it the Diva David and Goliath: AJ Lee has defeated Tamina Snuka.
Following Tamina's sneak attack of the former Raw General Manager at Survivor Series, the incomparable Miss Lee pulled off a showstopping upset in the Greenboro Coliseum, tapping into her inner hellion and withstanding Tamina's powerful offense with the stamina of a veteran. Tamina showed AJ no quarter, manhandling her for minutes on end until AJ struck, rolling Tamina up while she prepared for the Superfly Splash. The win left Vickie Guerrero's seemingly self-appointed muscle stewing in the ring, but AJ didn't stick around to see what came next, retreating up the ramp with her health intact and a win under her belt.
And so we enter day 379 of CM Punk's WWE Championship reign, and to emphasize his point of the week, The Second City Saint went to the books to highlight the WWE Universe's egregious disrespect of his accomplishments. Specifically, Punk and Paul Heyman pried open the new WWE Encyclopedia and brought Punk's latest accomplishment as champion to light: As of midnight, Punk will surpass John Cena as the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the past 25 years.
"Now you're gonna have to agree with me when I say to you that CM Punk is not only your champion, not only The Best in the World, but there is no argument that CM Punk shouldn't be front and center on WWE's version of Mt. Rushmore," Heyman sneered before Punk took the mic for himself.
Despite surpassing the WWE's resident Superman on the championship chart, Punk claimed he was still unfairly persecuted and unjustly denied the proper reverence as WWE Champion, including an apparently measly entry in the encyclopedia itself. The latest injustice perpetrated upon him — being forced to defend his title against Ryback in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match — was just a testament to how high the deck has been stacked against him by the likes of the WWE Universe. They were the ones, Punk spewed, who turned their back on him at the drop of a hat and continue to vilify him at every turn, causing WWE management to place Punk in insurmountable situations that endangered his reigns.
"The truth," Punk said, "is if it wasn't for me, none of you would be here today ... if it wasn't for me, you people would have nothing to look forward to on these dismal, three-hour Monday Night Raws."
But just as Punk was daring the assembled crowd to leave the arena if they couldn't accept his truths, he found his tirade cut off by the most awesome of gatecrashers.
Mic in hand and resplendent in his suit, The Miz emerged from backstage and gave the Greensboro faithful an alternative: "Sit down and enjoy yourselves." And then, he went on the attack.
"Everyone knows that Brad Maddox was in your back pocket at Hell in a Cell. Everyone knows The Shield bailed you out at Survivor Series. And last week, if The Shield didn't bail you out again, Ryback would've fed himself some Punk."
Having challenged Punk's credibility but unwilling to scuff his top-dollar kicks, The Miz presented Punk with a unique challenge: to defend his reputation not in the ring, but on "Miz TV" courtesy of a lie detector test (co-signed by the county sheriff's department) that would determine whether Punk truly had any association with The Shield or rogue referee Maddox. The Voice of the Voiceless balked at the idea at first, but as always, Miz wasn't about to allow anyone get the last word in over him.
"That is exactly what I want," Miz roared. "You with a live mic ... me with a live mic. Bring your best pipe bomb! I am giving you exactly what you want: a chance to clear your name, to cement your legacy ... or maybe you'd rather walk around with an asterisk next to every single one of your accomplishments, including your 379 day title reign."
Needless to say, that did the trick. Sufficiently goaded, Punk agreed to take the test, with one final catch: after he passes and proves himself to be The Best in the World, Miz, along with the world, would have to admit it.
There are big tag team matches, and then there are big tag team matches. It's fair to say the marquee tag contest that unfolded in Greensboro fell in the latter category when John Cena & Sheamus joined forces against the formidable duo of Dolph Ziggler & World Heavyweight Champion Big Show.
Stemming from their four-way brawl last Friday on SmackDown, the Superstars picked right up where they left off and didn't hold back from the get-go. Sheamus and Ziggler started the contest off, with The Celtic Warrior unleashing a barrage of shoulders and kicks, and Ziggler using his agility to counter and create breathing room. Cena tagged in quickly, though, and locked The Showoff up in a headlock to continue his budding rivalry with Mr. Money in the Bank.
After a brief reversal, Cena began to mount momentum against The Showoff, sending Ziggler airborne with a series of hiptosses until Ziggler countered and summoned Big Show from his post on the apron. Given his history with Cena, the giant was all too happy to oblige his partner.
Cena attempted to take Big Show down with his flying shoulderblocks, but he might as well have been trying to take down a brick wall. Show withstood Cena's attacks without so much as a flinch and proceeded to manhandle the 10-time WWE Champion, scoring a near-fall after Cena's attempt at a powerslam went sour.
The Showoff tagged back in with Cena down and laced into his opponent's prone torso with a barrage of elbows, but the Cenation leader was able to dodge Ziggler's flying forearm and tag in a fresh Sheamus from the corner. Ziggler reached Big Show at the same time, and what unfolded next was something out of a 1950s monster movie.
Sheamus rampaged into the match with untamed fury, felling Big Show with power strikes and even knocking the giant off his feet. The World's Largest Athlete retaliated quickly, though, cutting the battering ram off mid-leap with a spear. After tenderizing The Celtic Warrior, Show called for Ziggler, and The Showoff went to work against Sheamus, looking to put The Celtic Warrior away with a headlock. Sheamus replied with an Irish Curse and, sensing the time was right, called Cena back in from the corner.
Cena's onslaught was swift and merciless, unleashing a wave of offense before hoisting Ziggler up for the Attitude Adjustment. Before Cena could put Ziggler away, Big Show broke up the maneuver by kicking the Cenation leader in his injured knee. Sheamus stormed back at this sign of trouble, heaving Big Show up for White Noise while Cena caught Ziggler again and executed the AA, scoring the deciding pinfall on Mr. Money in the Bank to bring the epic contest to an end.
With enough brains in his head to match the intellect of the three wise men, Damien Sandow's crusade of enlightenment brought him to the bowels of the Greensboro Coliseum, where "The Duke of Decency" expanded his search net in the hunt for his very own apprentice. "For what has felt like eternity, I have attempted to help all of you — an attempt that has proven itself to be futile," Sandow lamented. "However, as your intellectual savior, I cannot and will not abandon you."
And so it was that Sandow reached into the unwashed masses and hand-selected yet another provincial member of the WWE Universe who may yet prove a worthy student. And so it was that, yet again, the prospective pupil faltered in the face of Sandow's tricky third question ("Which English Romantic poet wrote the opening line, 'Much have I traveled in the land of gold'?").
The poor guy hadn't brushed up on his John Keats, sadly, and was summarily dismissed by The Enlightened One, with a "You're welcome" for good measure.
But while Sandow's search for an acolyte continues, Sandow had no problem finding himself a foe for the evening after Santino Marella emerged and tossed some insults of his own toward "The Emperor of Enlightenment." The two exchanged a brief back-and-forth before Sandow hit The Italian Stallion with a cheap shot and a contest began in earnest.
While Sandow may have disparaged the former U.S. Champion's mental prowess, he certainly underestimated The Milan Miracle's in-ring prowess. Santino left Sandow disheveled and worn down in his opening surge, but The Enlightened One struck back with the Elbow of Disdain. Sandow found himself in a tight spot when The Italian Stallion surged back and brought forth the Cobra, but mat awareness enabled Sandow to rob Santino of his signature weapon. After dodging a last-ditch flying headbutt from The Milan Miracle, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses dismissed Santino with Terminus, ending his night on a hard-fought high note.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Sin Cara is the gift that keeps on giving, WWE Universe. The Essence of Excellence clashed once again with his mystifying foil in a renewal of their high-octane bouts that saw the opulent Del Rio stand tall in victory this time around.
As always with Sin Cara, though, there were plenty of thrills and close calls along the way for The Mexican Aristocrat. After an early opening surge from Del Rio, Sin Cara bounced back with a pair of hiptosses that segued seamlessly into an armbar from The International Sensation. Del Rio rallied with ferocity, leveling Sin Cara with a series of shoulders to the masked man's gut, but lost his momentum when Sin Cara responded with his eccentric, unpredictable offense.
The two Mexican icons stood neck and neck as the contest progressed, as Sin Cara countered Del Rio's power strikes with whirling lucha attacks, including a hurricanrana off the apron that sent Del Rio flying into the barricade.
Del Rio turned the tide when he swatted Sin Cara out of the air and sent him flying into the barricade, repaying the masked man's attack from earlier and leaving Sin Cara stewing in the ring. The Essence of Excellence attempted to add insult to injury when he nearly unmasked Sin Cara, following up with a belly-to-back suplex that still wasn't enough to put the tag team standout away. Sin Cara followed up with a thudding tornado DDT and a soaring crossbody that kept The Mexican Aristocrat down for a two count.
Signaling for victory, Sin Cara prepared to put The Essence of Excellence down, but Del Rio countered with the Cross Armbreaker and forced his dynamic opponent to tap immediately.
Advantage: Del Rio, but let no one say he walked away with it.
Mr. McMahon was in no mood for beating around the bush when he summoned Vickie Guerrero to the ring for a meeting in which The Chairman of the Board took his Managing Supervisor to task over the way Raw's been run for the last couple of weeks ... and instigated some interesting stipulations going forward.
Vickie pushed for John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler at WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, but Mr. McMahon wouldn't have it. Showing no patience for excuses or shortcuts, Mr. McMahon floated a unique "request" toward Vickie: What would happen if John Cena and Dolph Ziggler fought at TLC in a Ladder Match? And what, exactly, would happen if the prize at stake in that Ladder Match was none other than Ziggler's Money in the Bank contract for the World Heavyweight Championship?
Vickie balked somewhat at this sudden endangerment of her former client's prized possession, saying, "Cena could gain everything and Ziggler could lose anything. It's not fair."
But The Chairman wasn't buying it, calling the stipulation punishment for Vickie and Dolph's pursuance of the "AJ scandal." "Don't you think you owe them something more than just an apology? Like making this match official."
But wait, there was one more stipulation announced, this time for CM Punk's lie detector test on "Miz TV": If Punk failed the test, he was lying all along. And in that case, Punk's de facto mouthpiece and the architect of all the chaos that ensued, Paul Heyman, would have to face Ryback next week on Raw.
He has spoken.
Guess who's back?
Like the proverbial bad penny, Brad Maddox has returned to WWE, cameraman in tow and a must-see proposal for Managing Supervisor Vickie Guerrero. Having starred in his own acclaimed reality show, "The Brad Maddox Experience" on YouTube, the rogue referee came back to Raw spoiling for a fight and looking to put some butts in the seats. Pitching himself as a must-see Monday night attraction, Maddox convinced Vickie to give him another opportunity at a WWE contract, provided he could defeat whomever Vickie picked out as his opponent.
He should have probably negotiated that last part a bit better.
Randy Orton was Vickie's Superstar of choice to face Maddox, and the upstart's effort bore about as much fruit as his bout against Ryback a couple of weeks ago on Raw. Maddox did get one shot in, but that just served to irritate the already surly Orton. The Viper was relentless in his dismantling of Maddox, striking immediately with the hanging DDT before unleashing the RKO to dash Maddox's hopes for the second time.
It was ultimately The Shield who got the last word in, though, hopping the barricade and swarming The Apex Predator before leaving Orton writhing from the force of their three-pronged attack and disappearing.
Now, for the good news: Maddox didn't end up in an ambulance this time. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
Rough day at the office, huh?
Vickie Guerrero had a tough enough couple of minutes when Mr. McMahon forced her to put Dolph Ziggler's Money in the Bank contract on the line at WWE TLC. But that was nothing compared to what happened after The Shield's beatdown of Randy Orton.
First, Dolph Ziggler stormed into the Managing Supervisor's office and seethed that Vickie was, yet again, putting his career in danger for the sake of making the show unpredictable and exciting. "You're becoming just like [AJ Lee]," The Showoff seethed.
Next up was Paul Heyman, who didn't have a single thing to say to Vickie. Instead, the two stared each other down for what felt like an eternity. Neither broke their stare, nor the tension, but Vickie did break the silence. "For your sake, I hope CM Punk is telling the truth."
Heyman exited with a smirk while John Cena walked in.
The Cenation leader was positively beaming at the stipulation that had been added to his match at TLC, but Vickie had a retort ready for the 10-time WWE Champion. After having the production assistants clean out the Divas' locker room last week, she found something interesting: a pair of hair bows with Cena's picture in them ... not unlike ones AJ might wear.
"You just can't leave well enough alone," Cena said of the discovery.
Vickie had a retort for that one, too. Bringing up AJ's past relationships and the obsession that came with them, the Managing Supervisor laid an ominous warning at the Cenation leader's feet: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."
We're baffled. We're stupefied. We're stunned and almost literally at a loss for words. On a Raw where career trajectories were potentially altered and the WWE Championship was put up for grabs, something came to pass that we never thought we'd ever see on WWE programming:
Teddy Long unmade a tag team match.
Wipe your tears away, though, WWE Universe: the indomitable Teddy actually had something much more formidable on his mind than a simple two-on-two contest when he took what was set to be a high-octane bout between Kofi Kingston & R-Truth and Antonio Cesaro & Wade Barrett and turned it into a RAWactive Fatal 4-Way. The stipulation up for vote? Whether Kofi's Intercontinental Title or Cesaro's U.S. Title would be on the line.
Despite the unconventional circumstances, Teddy's instincts were on the money: The U.S. Title won in a landslide, and what unfolded was a fast, furious Fatal 4-Way that saw the four current and former champions take each other to the brink in pursuit of the esteemed title.
The biggest drama came toward the beginning of the contest, when Kofi and Truth, former Tag Team Champions, found themselves facing off one-on-one. The two kept it sportsmanlike, but Kofi seemed as though he'd gotten the best of his old buddy before Barrett and Cesaro re-entered the contest. It didn't take too long for the bout to spill to the outside, but Cesaro stayed strong when he decked Kofi with the very European uppercut when The Boom Squad General went for a flying attack off the steel steps.
Cesaro continued his manhandling of the Intercontinental Champion, spinning Kofi around by his leg before attempting a submission maneuver that Truth had to break up to prevent a tapout. Truth barely had a chance to mount an offensive attack against Cesaro before Barrett interrupted, sending Truth flying and exchanging thunderous blows with his fellow European brawler.
Kofi re-entered the fray next, nearly pinning Cesaro until Barrett broke up the count, slamming Kofi with the Winds of Change and attempting the deciding pinfall. Truth stormed in, though, stopping the pin and removing Barrett from the match before soon finding himself at the mercy of Cesaro. Kofi came to the rescue, though, planting both Barrett and Truth.
Cesaro was next to rejoin the fracas, hitting Kofi with the Alpamare Waterslide before Truth sent him tumbling over the ropes. With Kofi and Barrett alone in the ring, The Boom Squad General took the fight to his European rival. But before Kofi could unleash Trouble in Paradise, Cesaro and Truth stormed back. Barrett acted quickly, felling Truth with the Bull Hammer elbow, falling moments later to Trouble in Paradise. But while Kofi made the cover, Cesaro unleashed his trademark strength, lifting Kofi off Barrett's prone body, wrenching him into the Neutralizer and driving the champion down to retain his Stars-and-Stripes title.
If the truth will not set you free, perhaps The Shield will.
In any case, that seemed to be the prevailing lesson of CM Punk's highly hyped lie detector test, conducted under the bright lights of "Miz TV" in a highly controversial Q-and-A that would see Punk's mentor Paul Heyman placed into a match with Ryback should Punk prove a liar. The Second City Saint looked appropriately surly as The Awesome One strapped Punk to the polygraph and conducted a few "test" questions to establish a base for the test.
The interrogation began innocuously enough: "Is your name CM Punk?" (It is.) "Have you held the WWE Title for 379 days?" (He has.)
"Did Rey Mysterio shave your head bald at Over the Limit 2010?"
Things degenerated quickly from there (though, for the record: Yes, Mysterio shaved Punk bald at Over the Limit 2010), with Miz challenging his inner Lt. Daniel Kaffee and moving from the innocent to the provocative in a matter of minutes. Punk's responses to the million-dollar question — is he involved with The Shield and/or Brad Maddox? — apparently weren't up to snuff, as Miz's administrator decreed The Voice of the Voiceless might be lying.
But before any kind of resolution could unfold, The Shield made their presence known yet again. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns mobbed the ring and dismantled the "Miz TV" set, attacking the host in the process and once again bailing Punk from his predicament. With The Miz at their mercy, The Shield looked to once again close Raw out standing tall over a fallen foe ... but then who should come to the rescue but the Tag Team Champions Team Hell No. Kane & Daniel Bryan wasted no time in joining the fracas, but things looked to be going sour all the same ... until Ryback's music hit.
Wasting no time, the beast rushed in and attacked the triumvirate alongside the Tag Team Champions. The threesome managed to turn the tide against The Shield, driving Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns away and leaving Punk to gloat over the beaten and battered Miz.
As it turns out, though, Ryback wasn't done.
While Punk stood over his smarmy tormentor, the human wrecking machine stormed back into the ring and had his way with the WWE Champion, leaving Punk Shell Shocked and producing a ladder and a chair from beneath the ring. Ryback battered Punk with both before bringing a table into play and pummeling Punk through it, closing a tumultuous Raw.
"Miz TV": come for the jokes, stay for the unmitigated destruction.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) defeated The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O'Neil) (11:30)
- AJ Lee defeated Tamina (3:20)
- John Cena & Sheamus defeated Dolph Ziggler & The Big Show (12:00)
- Damien Sandow defeated Santino Marella (2:30)
- Alberto Del Rio (w/ Ricardo Rodriguez) defeated Sin Cara (12:35)
- Randy Orton defeated Brad Maddox (1:15)
- Antonio Cesaro (c) defeated Kofi Kingston and R-Truth and Wade Barrett in a Fatal Four Way Match to retain the WWE United States Championship (12:30)
Other on-screen talent