One week later, and it looks like Dolph Ziggler's still stewing over the suspect slop that was dumped on him from above on New Year's Eve, bringing his 2012 to a messy end and humiliating The Showoff just days after his biggest victory over John Cena to date.
Still, Mr. Money in the Bank wasn't quite so riled up that he was willing to buy into Cena's continued jabs, standing firm in the face of the Cenation leader's opening address when Raw descended upon the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. While Cena rained insults down upon The Showoff, Ziggler stuck to his guns and tossed a few barbs of his own in the direction of the 10-time WWE Champion, ultimately declaring for the Royal Rumble and promising to do whatever it took to keep Cena from winning. When it came time to answer Cena's challenge for a one-on-one bout in Tampa, though, The Showoff drew the line and turned the Cenation leader down outright.
Somewhat unfortunately for Dolph, though, Big E Langston took that exact opportunity to break his silence and accept Cena's challenge on behalf of his boss. We’ve got to hand it to the big guy: He's a man of few words, but he sure does make them count.
Dolph Ziggler's sour mood looks like it's going to extend into 2013 after The Showoff fell short in his attempt to avenge the embarrassment he suffered at John Cena's hands in a No Holds Barred Match. Ziggler stormed into the contest early, looking for some payback against the Cenation leader for dousing him with doo-doo on New Year's Eve. But Cena stood firm in the face of The Showoff's speedy onslaught and eventually claimed revenge of his own after AJ Lee's interference forced the referee to expel her and Big E Langston from ringside. With The Showoff isolated, Cena surged forth and swung the momentum back his way, kicking out of nearly every move in Ziggler's arsenal. Cena seemed on the verge of finally paying The Showoff back for his ill-gotten victory at WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs.
An unfortunate incident nearly derailed the contest for Cena, though, after he inadvertently knocked out the referee by tossing Ziggler into him while powering out of the sleeper hold. With the official incapacitated, Langston stormed the ring and dropped Cena once again. But the attack by Ziggler's monstrous lieutenant wasn't enough to keep Cena down. The Cenation leader ultimately powered out at the count of two when a replacement ref arrived, unleashing a final Attitude Adjustment on Mr. Money in the Bank to bring Raw's first match of 2013 to its close.
Kaitlyn's pursuit of the Divas Championship continues to come up short, as the beautiful bruiser once again challenged Eve for the butterfly-emblazoned title and once again walked away with a technical victory that notched her the “W,” but not the championship. In this case, it was Eve who willingly called off the contest despite dominating early on with her ground game and technical expertise. Once Kaitlyn rallied back, though, the Gracie-trained jiu-jitsu expert clearly wanted no part of her persistent challenger and vacated the ring after just a few minutes of action. Eve's departure awarded Kaitlyn the victory via a count-out, but stopped the title from changing hands all the same.
One championship pursuit that seemed to turn a corner was Team Rhodes Scholars’ endless chase of the WWE Tag Team Championships, as the brainy bros knocked off Team Hell No in a non-title match in Tampa. The tandem of Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow has long pursued Kane & Daniel Bryan's twin titles, and while they've typically come up just short of Team Hell No, the Scholars pulled off the tag upset in the Sunshine State. Kane & Bryan took control of the bout early on, isolating Sandow in a mirror of the Rhodes Scholars’ own divide-and-conquer strategy, but the intellectually gifted grapplers proved that patience is indeed a virtue and turned the tide after Bryan tweaked his knee. Capitalizing on the submission expert's injury, Rhodes quickly tagged in and went to work. Rhodes escaped Bryan's last-ditch attempt at a small package and pounding the “No!” man with Cross Rhodes for the win.
Heath Slater's 3MB may be hard at work in the studio, but it was Randy Orton who racked up the hits against the band's frontman Heath Slater in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Slater made a name for himself in 2012 as a Superstar who wasn't afraid to take on some of WWE's Legends, but Slater felt the wrath of the original Legend Killer in Florida as Orton attacked him early and often in the short, physical contest. Slater took it to Orton as best he could by targeting the former WWE Champion's recently separated shoulder, but The Viper would not be denied in his unmanning of Slater. Toughing it out through Slater's strategy, The Apex Predator shook off the red-haired rocker's offense (and the interference of 3MB) before lashing out with an RKO to bring Slater's evening to an unceremonious end. No encores necessary.
The Barrett Barrage rolled through its Italian opposition in the Tampa Bay Times Forum when Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett collided with Santino Marella in a grudge match that had come about following an unceremonious interaction between the two earlier in the locker room. Santino was fighting for the honor of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who Barrett had the temerity to insult backstage, but The Milan Miracle's noble gesture ultimately fell short in the face of Barrett's onslaught. With the WWE Hall of Famer at ringside, Santino seemed poised to pull off the upset for a brief period, but the champion rallied by dodging The Cobra and unleashing the Bull Hammer on an unsuspecting Santino. The strike put The Italian Stallion down for the count but Barrett stopped short of mixing it up with Steamboat himself, snidely exiting the ring and displaying his championship in victory.
Lightning struck twice for the mighty United States Champion when Antonio Cesaro battled The Great Khali in a reprise of their physical title bout on last week's WWE Main Event. The Swiss Superman's mantle was not up for grabs this time, but The Punjabi Giant was out for retribution all the same. Khali went to his time-honored strategy of crippling chops and power moves in his attempt to unman the U.S. Champion, but Cesaro stood firm and once again rallied for the victory. In the bout's final minutes, Cesaro went to work on Khali's knee and hit an airborne variation of the Very European Uppercut, throwing the big man off balance before executing the Neutralizer on the towering former World Champion to bring the bout to an emphatic close.
Not to be outdone by his friendly rival Randy Orton, Sheamus got his own licks in on a member of 3MB only a few days after he and The Viper butted heads on SmackDown. Whereas Orton faced Heath Slater in a match, however, The Celtic Warrior stepped into the ring against Jinder Mahal. Regardless of the bandmate, though, the result was ultimately the same. Mahal was game for his bout and hardly withered in the face of the former World Heavyweight Champion. But Sheamus never truly allowed Mahal to find his rhythm, shaking off 3MB's attempt to swing the match. He ultimately cut Mahal down with a thundering Brogue Kick. The victory elevated The Celtic Warrior to victory and put 3MB at 0-2 for the evening. Your move, Randy.
It was a long time coming, but WWE Champion CM Punk finally faced feeding time in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, battling Ryback one-on-one in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match for Punk's WWE Title that was originally slated to go down at WWE TLC in December. Punk's unexpected trip under the knife delayed the contest for a full month, but with The Straight Edge Superstar cleared by WWE medical officials, the champion's brief reprieve from his ravenous challenger was finally at an end.
And make no mistake, Ryback was nothing if not very, very hungry when he finally stepped into the ring against Punk. Ryback literally came out swinging against the champion, tenderizing Punk with body shots and vicious blows from the steel steps, but Punk took advantage of the unique stipulation to fortify his counterattacks. Punk battered Ryback with chair strikes to soften him up for his signature kicks, but Ryback had a similar strategy. He matched Punk shot-for-shot with his own chair and, at one point, delivered a bone-crunching suplex to Punk that drove the champion, back-first, onto a prone ladder.
Punk rallied from the brutal assault to set up a ladder in the center of the ring, but Ryback seemed to irrevocably take control of the bout when he slammed Punk atop the ladder and then dropped him through a table, leaving the champion incapacitated and the title within reach. But right when the beast scaled the ladder, the arena lights cut out. When the lights returned, they revealed The Shield, who stormed the ring. The trio unleashed a beating on Ryback, executing the triple powerbomb and allowing Punk to scale the ladder unscathed. Against all odds, the WWE Champion survives, extending his historic reign by yet another day. Next stop: the Royal Rumble.
Big Show's reign of terror rolled into 2013 when the World Heavyweight Champion followed up his shellacking of poor Ricardo Rodriguez with a resounding win over Kofi Kingston, the recently dethroned former Intercontinental Champion. Looking for a rebound win one week after losing his title to Wade Barrett, Kingston couldn't catch a break when he squared off against The World's Largest Champion. “The Wildcat” didn't even have a minute to get going before Show leveled him with an immediate KO Punch, cutting Kingston down and kicking off his own 2013 on a high note.
Finally, it's come down to this: WWE Champion CM Punk and The Rock, in the ring one-on-one. And while the first 2013 encounter between the two (and their first faceoff since Raw 1,000 back in July) was only a verbal one, the atmosphere was still pulsating with electricity and animosity as their WWE Title bout at the Royal Rumble drew ever nearer.
Before The Rock could address the people, however, CM Punk took the opportunity to drop another “pipe bomb.” In his own words, the term has been misinterpreted since that fateful 2011 night in Las Vegas. “Pipe bomb” has taken on the meaning of a tell-all missive, but to the champion, it is simply the truth. And the truth is, despite his efforts, Punk found that life in WWE had not changed much, and claimed that talented Superstars such as himself were still subject to the whims of an audience he believed to be fickle and ill-informed. In that vein, Punk snarled that he did not succeed because of “the people” who suddenly rallied to his side: He succeeded despite the “system” that had been established to keep him and his ilk down, and the fans who supported it in the first place.
“I have beaten you,” Punk said to the Universe, the establishment, to anyone and everyone his words could reach. “I have stomped you out under my oppressive boot and I’m gonna do the same to The Rock because I don’t care if he’s back. You do not get to win.”
At that point, The Rock had enough. The Brahma Bull's music hit and for the first time since July, The Great One stalked down to the ring and wasted little time in addressing the champion's comments. “Twenty days,” The Rock said, addressing the number of days Punk has until the fateful WWE Title Match between the two at the Royal Rumble. “Twenty days. Time’s up.”
What followed was a proverbial clash of the titans on the microphone, as Punk's bilious rhetoric clashed with Rock's patented braggadocio. After a tense back-and-forth, The Rock laid his own personal truth bare. His own “pipe bomb,” if you will. “The Rock is back to entertain them, The Rock is back to stop you, and after 10 long years, The Rock is back to win that,” he said.
Punk countered with a response that had no shortage of malice, but The Great One would not be deterred. “Twenty days,” Rock warned again. “Time’s up.” And before Punk could reply, The Brahma Bull struck with a Rock Bottom, leaving the WWE Champion in a heap on the canvas and sending an unmistakable message to The Straight Edge Superstar.
Welcome to 2013, WWE Universe. It's gonna be quite the year. Twenty days.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- John Cena defeated Dolph Ziggler (w/ AJ Lee & Big E. Langston) (17:15)
- Kaitlyn defeated Eve Torres (c) by Count Out to retain the WWE Diva's Championship (4:40)
- Team Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow) defeated Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) (7:10)
- Randy Orton defeated Heath Slater (w/ Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal) (4:30)
- Wade Barrett defeated Santino Marella (w/ Ricky Steamboat) (2:20)
- Antonio Cesaro defeated The Great Khali (w/ Hornswoggle & Natalya) (3:25)
- Sheamus defeated Jinder Mahal (w/ Drew McIntyre & Heath Slater) (5:45)
- CM Punk (w/ Paul Heyman) (c) defeated Ryback in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match to retain the WWE Championship (18:55)
- The Big Show defeated Kofi Kingston (0:25)
Other on-screen talent