The WWE Universe was promised a fight when Raw rolled into the Lone Star State, and a fight was what they got. It just wasn't exactly the one they were expecting.
With Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman’s much-ballyhooed brawl kicking off the show, things began more or less as expected: The Chairman — still on crutches following hip replacement surgery from a few weeks back — didn’t even bother to shed his suit before coming to the ring and beckoning his longtime nemesis to throw down. Heyman responded with his signature bluster, but even compromised by crutches, Mr. McMahon simply overpowered the mad scientist. Before The Chairman could strike the deciding blow, however, an equalizer arrived in the form of Brock Lesnar.
Looking for a repeat of the assault that maimed The Chairman last month, Lesnar had Mr. McMahon dead to rights when Triple H stormed the ring in retaliation, coming to his father-in-law’s defense and pouncing on The Anomaly in a blind fury. Ramming Lesnar into the ring post, Triple H drew blood from the behemoth (the wound would later require 18 staples) and narrowly escaped decimation at the hands of a chair strike, eventually driving Brock back from the ring. The King of Kings’ quick thinking undoubtedly saved The Chairman's skin. Whether that heroism comes at the expense of Triple H's own safety? Well, that's a matter for speculation at this point.
Given Ryback’s numerous frustrations at the hands of The Shield in the past few weeks, perhaps this Raw was not the ideal time for Dolph Ziggler to challenge the beast in a one-on-one match. But ever the spotlight-seeker, Ziggler challenged Ryback and he paid the price as a result. The Showoff’s famed athleticism kept the beast at bay for the majority of their match, but each time Ziggler attempted a flashy move, Ryback snatched him out of the air and administered the kind of punishment that — as Jerry “The King” Lawler said — “lowers your IQ.” Even after Big E. Langston interfered to even the odds, Ryback withstood an astounding comeback from Ziggler (The Showoff's leaping DDT nearly rattled the rafters of the American Airlines Center) and powered his way to victory, plastering Ziggler with Shell Shocked and picking up the pin as a result. It's not The Shield. But it's a start.
Even without the WWE Championship, CM Punk’s crassness knows no bounds. The deposed former champion took to the ring only hours before a potentially career-altering match against John Cena to proclaim his disdain for the WWE Universe. And even for a man who relishes the opportunity to put himself on a pedestal, Punk’s legend seems to have grown to unprecedented heights in his own mind. “Tonight is about what is more important than The Rock. Tonight is about what is more important than WrestleMania,” Punk said. “Tonight is about me.
“I am not just a Superstar,” Punk continued, fire and brimstone erupting from his microphone as his homily reached a fever pitch. “I am an icon that walks among Superstars. … You are in the presence of greatness on two feet. I am not just a human being. I am immortal … a legend. An icon.
“And in this world that you all inhabit, I … I am God.”
Third time's the charm for Mark Henry, who made a hat trick of his victories over The Great Khali in a Texas grudge match between the two behemoths stemming from Henry's mockery of The Punjabi Playboy's dance the week before. Nobody was in much of a boogying mood when the bell rang, though, as the two monoliths whaled on each other with bone-rattling strikes and chops that echoed throughout the halls of the American Airlines Center. It was Henry who stood tallest of the two, though, when he once again performed the unthinkable and pounded Khali with a World's Strongest Slam to secure himself the victory. That's what he does, WWE Universe.
When a foursome such as Jack Swagger, Zeb Colter, Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez appears on an environment as volatile as “Miz TV,” we the people are bound to be in for something unforgettable, and the first face-to-face encounter between Del Rio and his WrestleMania opponent on Raw certainly lived up to the hype. The xenophobic bile of Swagger and Colter clashed mightily with the suave aloofness of The Pride of Mexico in what played out almost more like a political debate than a prelude to a WrestleMania man event. The provocative Miz fanning the flames didn't help, but The Awesome One still managed to keep a lid on things and stay one step ahead of a potential explosion ... until Colter took things one step too far and Del Rio made to throw hands against the “Real American” then and there. But Swagger and Colter backed away before physicality could erupt with one final comment from the No. 1 contender: “We will see you at WrestleMania. We the people.”
That wasn't it for the "Real American," though, because moments after Colter confronted The Miz about his handling of the show on the WWE App, the No. 1 contender struck with a sneak attack and clotheslined Miz into uncosciousness atop the stage.
After a rough conclusion to 2012, Randy Orton has found his groove again, notching another victory on Raw at the expense of one of his now-signature foes: United States Champion Antonio Cesaro. The Viper and The Swiss Superman know each other about as well as two Superstars can at this point, and they stalked each other with the precision and poise of battle-hardened veterans. It was Orton who proved the better man in this contest, toughing his way through a blitzkrieg of European uppercuts and unleashing an RKO on an airborne Cesaro to spell doom for the stars-and-stripes champion.
Ben Affleck who? If you ask impromptu film critic and Oscar-ologist Sheamus — dressed to the nines in a resplendent tuxedo, no less — the greatest Oscar robbery of 2013 was that Wade Barrett was denied a nomination for his supporting role in “Dead Man Down.” Continuing his casual mockery of the Intercontinental Champion, Sheamus cued up a still of Barrett in the film, marginalizing the brawling Brit's contribution to the gritty crime thriller. But this time, Barrett came prepared, emerging from the locker room and tossing a few insults of his own toward The Celtic Warrior before coming down to the ring and throwing hands against the former World Heavyweight Champion. This particular brawl ended in a stalemate, with Barrett and Sheamus missing a Bull Hammer and a Brogue Kick, respectively, on the other before Barrett made his exit, evidently satisfied for the time being ... until Sheamus decides he's got a few more jokes, that is.
With R-Truth having made his return by jumping Damien Sandow last week, what better way for the former United States Champion to follow up than by mixing it up against Sandow's erstwhile tag team partner, Cody Rhodes? With The Enlightened One perched at the commentary booth, Truth clashed with “The Essence of Mustachioed Magnificence” in the American Airlines Center and put his scattershot dynamism to good use, stunning Rhodes with his signature kicks and spins and absorbing whatever punishment the former Intercontinental Champion doled out. Rhodes, dubbed a “thinking man’s athlete” by Sandow, put a proper hurting on his eccentric opponent, but Truth's fresh legs won out in the end when he sprung a surprise a Lie Detector on Rhodes for the win and beat down an interfering Sandow to boot, bringing the tally of Team Rhodes Scholars he's schooled to a nice, even two.
We’ve often heard the expression used that Superstar A could defeat Superstar B blindfolded or with one hand tied behind his back, right? Well, thanks to the quick thinking of Managing Supervisor Vickie Guerrero and Assistant to the Managing Supervisor Brad Maddox (aka “Team Brickie”), Team Hell No got to put that age-old boast to the test when they faced off against The Prime Time Players with an unusual pair of stipulations: Kane would have one arm tied behind his back and Daniel Bryan would be blindfolded. What followed was a magnificent mess, but the real surprise of the bout wasn't that the bickering champs coexisted, but that they actually won the match. Bryan started things off with a bag over his head against The Prime Time Players, which worked about as well as one might expect (at various points he accidentally punched Kane and nearly put referee Charles Robinson in the “No!” Lock). But Kane managed to guide his teammate back to his corner, where he tagged in and muscled his way to victory via a one-handed Chokeslam of Darren Young. The efficiency of such a strategy is iffy at best, but given the rocky ground the WWE Tag Team Champions have been on for the last month or so, they're probably just happy to get the win together.
With microphone in hand, the trio of NXT invaders casually dismissed the efforts of the six Superstars — Ryback, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, John Cena and Team Hell No — who had thus far tried and failed to stop their reign of terror. The trio then proclaimed themselves alone atop WWE's hierarchy. Sheamus, of course, would not stand for this and The Celtic Warrior arrived onstage to deliver an open challenge to the men in black. Before Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns could take the former World Champion up on his offer, Randy Orton sprung forth from beneath the ring and lashed out with an RKO on an unsuspecting Seth Rollins — who had remained in the ring — fleeing into the crowd before the other two could get to him.
It appears The Shield’s tactics are catching on, but probably not in the way they would like.
So Jack Swagger wouldn’t be able to get his hands on Alberto Del Rio after all. He did, however, get to do battle against the man who put them in the ring together earlier in the evening: The Miz. Apparently none too happy with attack at Swagger’s hands earlier in the evening, The Awesome One wasted no time in taking Swagger to the woodshed in a nasty, brutish opening sequence that seemed like Swagger would be headed to the showers early. Swagger surged back quickly, though, sapping the former WWE Champion of his momentum by simply pummeling him into a defensive game plan. Still, it looked like Miz’s heroics from the previous week would repeat themselves when he mounted a comeback, but fate cruelly turned against The Awesome One when he trapped his leg in the ropes. Swagger capitalized on the timely injury by applying the Patriot Lock, forcing the hobbled former WWE Champion to cry uncle in defeat.
Perhaps calling himself “God” was excessive self-praise for CM Punk. Perhaps The Straight Edge Superstar was resting too much on his laurels, and perhaps Monday in the American Airlines Center simply wasn't his night, because John Cena managed to reverse nearly two years of bad luck against the former WWE Champion and pin CM Punk to punch his ticket to the WrestleMania main event in a bout 10-time WWE Championship had appropriately dubbed the “Thunderdome in Dallas.” The Cenation leader and the onetime “Voice of the Voiceless” have a rivalry that stretches back years, and they brought every moment of that mounting tension to a grueling, nearly half-hour-long contest with the biggest opportunity in sports-entertainment hanging in the balance.
Despite his defeat, let it never be said that Punk laid down and died against the 10-time WWE Champion. The Straight Edge Superstar battled his archrival like his life depended on it, using every hold, strike and aerial maneuver in his extensive arsenal to keep Cena at bay. Cena answered in kind time and again, employing an array of his own technical holds to gain the early momentum, but Punk would not be so easily quelled. The Straight Edge Superstar surged back by raining elbows on the back of Cena's neck and applying a series of submission holds to sap the strength out of the 10-time WWE Champion.
The strategy seemed to work when Punk thwarted Cena's signature shoulder blocks and seemingly regained control for good, but Cena surged back and the two took their fight to the ground, taking each other to the brink by trading their signature submission holds. The back-and-forth nearly sapped the strength from both men but Cena appeared to have the advantage when he plastered Punk with a powerbomb and a top-rope leg drop, but he couldn't seal Punk up even with whiplash-inducing Attitude Adjustment out of nowhere, nor could Punk with a pair of Go to Sleeps or a rare piledriver that left the Cenation leader crumpled on the mat.
Punk's frustration ultimately got the better of him, as The Straight Edge Superstar attempted a series of covers on Cena in a state of disbelief, wasting time that otherwise might have been spent further weakening the Cenation leader. Looking for one final maneuver to put the match away, Punk went up for the flying elbow but Cena dodged the attempt and sent Punk spinning with a hurricanrana. One Attitude Adjustment later to the stunned challenger and CM Punk was on his back, with John Cena headed to WrestleMania once more. And for the first time in a long, long time, CM Punk did not have a single thing to say.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Mr. McMahon vs. Paul Heyman ended in a No-contest.
- Ryback defeated Dolph Ziggler (w/ AJ Lee and Big E. Langston (11;10)
- Mark Henry defeated The Great Khali (1:25)
- Randy Orton defeated Antonio Cesaro (3:00)
- R-Truth defeated Cody Rhodes (2:20)
- Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) defeated The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O'Neil) (3:35)
- Jack Swagger (w/ Zeb Colter) defeated The Miz (7:15)
- John Cena defeated CM Punk in a WWE Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership Match (26:35)
Other on-screen talent