There's something to be said for finishing a year off as strong as you started it. And for CM Punk, who began 2013 as WWE Champion with The Brahma Bull himself in his sights, nothing would do for a curtain call than calling out the biggest, baddest dogs in the yard: The Shield. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns – light years beyond the wild newcomers they were 12 months ago – were, of course, all too eager to take out the proverbial thorn in their collective paws. So much so, in fact, that the three Hounds of Justice nearly got into it with each other over who was the unit's strongest link and therefore worthiest to face Punk. Thanks to a timely appearance by Raw GM Brad Maddox, though, The Shield's tumult was quelled and Seth Rollins was selected as the lucky Superstar who would battle The Best in the World.
The heightened expectation of being CM Punk's handpicked opponent certainly didn't slow Seth Rollins down in the former Tag Team Champion's first one-on-one tilt against The Straight Edge Superstar. If anything, getting a crack at The Shield's personal Kryptonite energized the wild man into one of his strongest efforts yet. And yet, even with bragging rights on the line, it wasn't enough to stop the surging Punk from handing The Shield another humiliation.
Punk played fast and loose with Rollins while Ambrose and Reigns prowled the outside, improvising submission holds with the ropes as leverage and attempting a Go to Sleep only seconds into the contest. Rollins took control by throwing Punk into the turnbuckle, but his arms – to borrow a phrase – proved too short to box with God. Capitalizing on Ambrose's distraction of the referee, Punk kicked out of Rollins’ strongest moves, sent the strategist flying into his fellow Shield-mates and finally reversed a springboard strike into a match-ending Go to Sleep.
What a difference a year makes: Dolph Ziggler ended 2012 covered in suspect brown muck, and after a wild, up-and-down 2013 campaign, the former World Heavyweight Champion closed the calendar fresh as a daisy, which is more than can be said for Curtis Axel. “Better Than Perfect” is a solid way to describe Axel's rise up the ranks in 2013, but the former Intercontinental Champion just wasn't ready to hang with Ziggler, who seemed spurred into action by his roller-coaster year to finish on a high note.
Hungry for a win of his own, Axel was determined to rain on The Showoff's parade and used Dolph's momentum to send him tumbling over the ropes. The former Intercontinental Champion chipped away the stupefied Ziggler until Dolph struck back by bouncing Axel's head off the turnbuckle. Clawing his way back into the advantage, The Showoff kicked into high gear and dropped his foe like the New Year's ball, leaping into action with an out-of-nowhere Zig Zag. And there wasn't a bit of slop in sight.
Looks like Big E Langston's famous singlet straps will be tinted gold just a little while longer: Despite the bravado and brawn of a hungry Fandango, the powerlifting champion retained his Intercontinental Title in the final Raw of 2013, ensuring his hot streak will continue across the pages of the calendar. Fandango – who earned the match by winning a Christmas-Present-on-a-Pole tilt – brought his A-game to the bout, no surprise since an untimely concussion took him out of a previous opportunity at the prize earlier in the year.
Between the beloved big man and the dancing sensation who swept the nation, it wasn't clear who would come away with the prestigious title. Fandango used his agility to counter Langston's might as long as he could, eventually hobbling the powerhouse by targeting his knees with an Indian Deathlock. Sadly for the dancer, he couldn't keep it up long enough. Slowly building momentum, Langston huffed, puffed, and toppled Fandango with a Big Ending to cap off one of the grittiest challenges yet to his title.
An addendum to The Sandow Equation, at least for New Year's Raw: Damien Sandow > Whoever the WWE Universe picks as his opponent.
That, at least, was the story of the night when The Intellectual Savior of the Masses dropped an old-school beatdown on The Great Khali, who was selected as his foe for the evening through a WWE App vote. Sandow, who promised to quit if he didn't win the match, seemed headed straight for the unemployment line already after The Punjabi Playboy manhandled him in the opening minutes. Ever the tactical genius, Sandow found his opening by bouncing Khali's head off the ropes and going straight for the big man's legs, staggering the former World Champion and leaving him open roll-up after Sandow slammed his head into the turnbuckle. That the win was somewhat ill-gotten (Khali's shoulder was off the mat, unbeknownst to the ref) didn't matter: Damien Sandow isn't going anywhere anytime soon. You're welcome.
The Funkasaurus is extinct, but the reborn Brodus Clay's march towards his destiny as a “main event playa” got off to a rocky start thanks to R-Truth and a timely assist from his former partners in funkitude. The not-so-jolly-giant got back to his monstrous roots in a big way in his rematch against the former U.S. Champion, mauling a seemingly outmatched Truth from the get-go while a helpless Xavier Woods watched at commentary
It took an act from the funk gods to rescue Truth from defeat when Woods and The Funkadactyls took Brodus’ eye off the ball just long enough for Truth to strike with the Lie Detector. Adding insult to injury for the formerly beloved brute, Woods, Truth and The Funkadactyls danced at the expense of his misfortune, boogieing their way into 2014 while Brodus fumed atop the ramp.
If the WWE Universe ever questioned Triple H's judgment of “best for business,” they were certainly left silent when the COO summoned the man who nearly ended his career (twice), Brock Lesnar, to Raw and allowed The Anomaly to deliver a blockbuster announcement. Flanked, as ever, by the returning Paul Heyman, The Beast Incarnate declared himself the first challenger to whoever wins the John Cena-Randy Orton WWE World Heavyweight Championship rematch at Royal Rumble, and dared any Superstar who didn't like it to say so to his face. The former Undisputed Champion's rhetoric didn't sit too well with Mark Henry, who wasted no time in taking Lesnar up on his offer. The World's Strongest Man didn't get a proper chance at Brock, though, as The Anomaly jumped Henry before he could enter the ring and blasted the former World Heavyweight Champion through the barricade when their brawl spilled into the crowd, following up with a giant F-5 onto the ground.
The Total Divas have run the roost of the women's division in 2013, but the reality stars were duly checked by the long-suffering “True Divas,” who got a much-needed leg up on their red-carpet walking foes on the final Raw of 2013. Eva Marie kicked things off with a strong run against Kaitlyn, but dissension among both teams quickly threw the match into disorder. It was Askana who stepped up when all was said and done, pinning Nikki Bella with an assist from Rosa to send her and her teammates right back-back-back on top of the world.
Daniel Bryan's New Year's resolution was a pretty simple one at the start of Raw: He wanted Bray Wyatt one-on-one. The Authority was all too happy to grant Bryan his request, with the caveat that to get to the Family patriarch, he had to go through Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in succession. With Harper up first, Bryan rose to the challenge and knocked off the depraved hillbilly, though the effort certainly came at a cost to the 2013 Superstar of the Year.
With Bryan firing on all cylinders, Harper merely had to pick his moments and wait for the submission master to tire himself out. With Bray himself barking orders from ringside, Harper did just that, employing his freakish strength at opportune moments and leaving Bryan plastered across the mat. Bryan found daylight with two suicide dives to Harper and things fell into place from there; even though Harper bit Bryan's wrist to break the “Yes!” Lock, the former WWE Champion smashed his foe's face in with a running knee to bring Rowan in for match No. 2.
Having taken out one member of The Wyatt Family, a weakened Daniel Bryan needed something of a miracle to repeat the task against Erick Rowan, who seemed hell-bent on avenging his comrade Luke Harper's defeat at the hands of the former WWE Champion. The sheep-masked giant was anything but gentle with Bryan, whom he tossed like a rag doll into the commentary station just seconds after the bell rang. The punishment continued for what seemed like hours, though Rowan stopped to gloat just long enough for Bryan to bring the sheep to slaughter with a roll-up pin. Next up: Bray Wyatt.
Of all the ways 2013 could have ended for Daniel Bryan, it's hard to believe that this was the way the WWE Universe saw it going. Having battled through The Wyatts to earn a match with Bray Wyatt himself, Bryan was so spent that he surrendered to Bray, apparently opting to join The Wyatt Family instead of fight them – and “the machine” that wouldn't let him win – when the trio ambushed him and ended the match in a DQ.
The surrender of Bryan – a culmination of Wyatt's work the past few months – left The Eater of Worlds as elated as could be. One ceremonial Sister Abigail to his newest son later, Bray's brood grew by one and Bryan left the arena under his own power in their midst. With a last, apologetic glance at the WWE Universe, Bryan bid a sorrowful farewell to 2013. As for those same fans who voted Bryan Superstar of the Year? Their confidence, it turns out, was not entirely misplaced. After a year of topping himself, Bryan once again showed his faithful something they never could have imagined: An act of submission.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- CM Punk defeated Seth Rollins (w/ Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns) (17:42)
- Dolph Ziggler defeated Curtis Axel (4:15)
- Big E. Langston (c) defeated Fandango (w/ Summer Rae) to retain the Intercontinental Championship (13:05)
- Damien Sandow defeated The Great Khali (4:55)
- R-Truth (w/ Xavier Woods) defeated Brodus Clay (4:05)
- Kaitlyn, Rosa Mendes, Aksana, Alicia Fox & Summer Rae defeated Eva Marie, The Bella Twins (Brie Bella & Nikki Bella) & The Funkadactyls (Cameron & Naomi) (5:11)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Luke Harper (w/ Bray Wyatt & Erick Rowan (15:01)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Erick Rowan (w/ Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper) (6:27)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Bray Wyatt (w/ Erick Rowan & Luke Harper) by Disqualification (0:13)
Other on-screen talent