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The 11 best matches of three-hour Raws

Time flies, huh? This week marks the 52nd episode of Raw since its three-hour expansion at Raw 1,000, meaning it’s been one full year since WWE’s flagship show grew to its current, plus-sized three hours. Though the move was met with controversy at the time (we believe CM Punk referred to it once as “insufferable” in one of his grumpier moments), there’s no denying the quality of competition has increased along with the show’s running time.

Over the past year, the WWE Universe has been treated to a cornucopia of classic matches on Monday nights, from the emergence of The Shield to the return of The Undertaker. So, in celebration of the big one-year anniversary, WWE.com has put our heads together to bring you the 10 11 best matches of the expansion era so far.

No. 11 - Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho (July 15, 2013)

Rob Van Dam returns to action on Raw against Chris Jericho.

Proving that greatness has no expiration date, seasoned veterans Rob Van Dam and Chris Jericho dug deep into their wells for a half-hour slugfest that marked Mr. Monday Night’s return to WWE’s flagship program after nearly a decade of absence. The two hybrid competitors were surprisingly methodical out of the gate, but what seemed to be a tentative start was just a slow burn that led to a barrage of Lionsaults and Rolling Thunders that landed like heavy artillery.

Photos of the action |  One of a kind RVD interview

With Jericho attempting to wear out RVD enough to lock in the Walls of Jericho and Van Dam countering with sky-high kicks that threatened to put Y2J to sleep, it was a split-second kick to the head from RVD that finally put Jericho out. With The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla lying in repose, Van Dam finished the match with a Five-Star Frog Splash that nearly carried Mr. Monday Night up into the rafters.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: RVD’s flashiness gets the better of him when he attempts a standing hurricanrana, and Jericho turns Van Dam’s downward momentum against him to finally lock in the Walls. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

No. 10 - U.S. Champion Antonio Cesaro vs. Intercontinental Champion Kofi Kingston vs. Wade Barrett vs. R-Truth – Fatal 4-Way U.S. Championship Match (Dec. 3, 2012)

After the WWE Universe votes for the United States Championship to be on the line, Antonio Cesaro must defend his U.S. Title against Wade Barrett, R-Truth and Intercontinental Champion Kofi Kingston.

Aside from being the only time in history Teddy Long has ever unmade a Tag Team Match, this eye-popping tussle was a marquee moment for four competitors on the verge of superstardom and they treated it as such. When the WWE Universe voted to put Cesaro’s star-spangled title up for grabs, a mad dash ensued for the Über-American’s mantle and, if not for some quick thinking on the champion’s part, the night may have ended in a title change.

Photos: Fatal 4-Way fracas | Relive Cesaro's U.S. Ttile reign

With both rivals and friends mixing it up, Cesaro displayed the instincts of a veteran and chose to lie in wait, resurfacing only to bulldoze whichever Superstar held the advantage at the time. The damage that ensued resembled less of a wrestling match than a train wreck, but Kofi seemingly had the win in hand when he struck Barrett with Trouble in Paradise … that is, until Cesaro unleashed his famous strength by deadlifting The Dreadlocked Dynamo off the Englishman’s prone body and transferring seamlessly into The Neutralizer, keeping Old Glory all to himself.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: While Barrett prepares to unleash a top-rope superplex on R-Truth, Kofi sprints to the turnbuckle and powerbombs the Brit at the same time Truth goes airborne, resulting in a brutal powerbomb-superplex combo that leaves all three Superstars prone. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

No. 9 - Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes (April 29, 2013)

The Viper squares off with his former partner in Legacy, Cody Rhodes.

On the April 29, 2013, edition of Raw, Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton brought their A-games for an off-the-wall bout that nearly ended in a shocking upset on WWE’s Apex Predator. Once partners with Ted DiBiase in the group known as Legacy, the son of a Cowboy and the grandson of a plumber squared off in an exciting match that showed the two veterans at their very best.

The duo’s history was apparent throughout the entire match; it almost seemed as though one knew what the other would do next. Countering standard and signature maneuvers alike, the former teammates went shot-for-shot with each other until the very end.

Photos:  Cody nearly steals one

The mustachioed marvel struck with a surprise Cross Rhodes that left the WWE Universe gasping in shock, but the maneuver wasn’t enough to put The Viper away. A miscalculated, frustration-fueled Disaster Kick turned into an unforeseen RKO and a highly impressive victory for Orton. Although he came up short, Rhodes’ intense showing as the underdog surprised fans in attendance and the millions watching at home.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: Cody brilliantly dodges Orton’s RKO and wrenches The Viper into the Cross Rhodes, nearly getting a huge upset over the former WWE Champion. – CHRIS BUTERA

No. 8 - The Miz vs. Wade Barrett – Intercontinental Championship Match (April 8, 2013)

The Miz defends his newly won Intercontinental Championship against Wade Barrett the night after winning it at WrestleMania 29.

The Miz’s second Intercontinental Championship reign may have only lasted one day, but at least he has a Raw classic to show for it. Taking on Wade Barrett in a rematch from WrestleMania 29 the night before, The Awesome One warred in hostile territory, with Barrett receiving loud support from his fellow Europeans in attendance for the last event of ’Mania Week.

Watch: Miz notches Triple Crown at WrestleMania |  Photos of Barrett's retaliation

He didn’t disappoint, either, dropping The Miz with an innovative — and painful-looking — neckbreaker on the ring apron in the early goings of the contest. Later, when The Awesome One was floored ringside, Barrett emulated WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley, shouting “Bang, bang!” and pantomiming a two-gun salute before leaping off the ring apron with an elbow drop reminiscent of Cactus Jack. Although The Miz put up a commendable fight, he was ultimately downed by a scary-stiff Bull Hammer that punched the clock on his 24-hour reign to the unmitigated delight of the IZOD Center.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: Barrett channels Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy and drops a big elbow off the apron. The Englishman’s tribute to The Hardcore Legend, whose first book inspired Barrett to pursue a career in WWE, didn’t go unnoticed, with Foley tweeting his props later that night: “May have been #BullHammer that got the win, but that #CactusElbow was NICE!” – JOHN CLAPP

No. 7 - Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler (Sept. 24, 2012)

Kofi Kingston & Dolph Ziggler go one-on-one.

There are few Superstars who have battled more times in recent memory than Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler (The Showoff has joked on Twitter that he and Kofi are in the middle of a best-of-1,000 series), so why do we never get tired of seeing them mix it up? Nearly three years after their first televised singles encounter, The Showoff and the gravity-defying Dreadlocked Dynamo went head-to-head on the Sept. 24, 2012, edition of Raw in a clash that rivaled Wimbledon in terms of back-and-forth action.

Full Match:  Kofi and Dolph steal the show

Evenly matched in nearly every way, Ziggler and Kingston collided full-force in a bout that created a palpable “big fight” atmosphere. As The Spring-Loaded Superstar attempted to finish off his platinum-haired opponent with Trouble in Paradise, The Showoff ultimately took control of the match, dazed his high-flying adversary by slinging him into the turnbuckle and picked up the victory with the Zig Zag. Although Ziggler was hardly a fan-favorite at the time, the crowd roared and applauded when the bout was over — a sincere show of appreciation for both of these exciting competitors.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: Following an incredible series of reversals, Kingston shows up The Showoff with an expertly executed high cross body. – JAMES WORTMAN

No. 6 - Daniel Bryan vs. Antonio Cesaro (July 22, 2013)

Daniel Bryan squares off with Antonio Cesaro in the second round of the Gauntlet Match.

Looks like we spoke too soon. 52 episodes to the day after Raw went 3 hours, Daniel Bryan was subjected to a Gauntlet Match to prove his worth to Raw General Manager Brad Maddox (and possibly someone else), but the highlight of the submission master’s three-pronged tour of hell was undoubtedly his mighty collision with Antonio Cesaro.

Photos: Technicians clash on Raw |  Watch Bryan run the gauntlet 

Cesaro employed his full range of sinisterly innovative maneuvers while he attempted to dispatch Bryan. From the Very European Uppercut to the "Swiss Blade" slam to a Giant Swing that bounced Bryan off the barricade like a ping-pong ball, the “Yes!” man was shown no quarter by the strongman who was battling like he had something of his own to prove. Bryan hung tough with every five-megaton blow that Cesaro landed on him, though, and eventually surprised the onetime U.S. Champion by rolling him up from above as Cesaro attempted a second Very European Uppercut. Forget a wrestling match; this was a straight-up fight, and one of the better ones the WWE Universe will ever see. More, please.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: Cesaro, fed up with Bryan’s resistance, pulverizes the grappler with a series of European uppercuts so numerous the WWE Universe loses count and so stiff that Bryan’s legs turn to jelly. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

No. 5 - Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk (Feb. 4, 2013)

Chris Jericho wins the WWE Active poll and earns the right to face CM Punk on Raw.

One week after making a surprise return at Royal Rumble, Chris Jericho battled old rival CM Punk in hard-hitting back-and-forth encounter that showed why each man has claimed to be “the best in the world.”

Photos of Y2J's return | Full-match playlist: Jericho vs. Punk 

In what was Punk’s first match since losing the WWE Championship to The Rock, fans had the ability to select his opponent via the WWE App. When Jericho scored 57% of the vote, it rekindled a rivalry that defined much of 2012. But this time, the tables had turned. Now, Punk was the delusional villain with Jericho a returning hero. Both veterans were familiar with their opponent’s repertoire, resulting in each competitor being prepared for the other’s signature maneuvers and several impressive reversals.

Full Match:  Jericho and Punk create an instant classic

The Phillips Arena fans didn’t know what to make of the contest, first chanting “overrated” and then “this is awesome,” leading Punk to berate the bipolar crowd. In the end, “The Voice of the Voiceless” was victorious, and yes, Atlanta, it was, indeed, awesome.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: In a dizzying sequence, Jericho attempts a Lionsault, but before Y2J can springboard off the ropes, Punk gets him in position for the GTS. The Fozzy front man counters and slides his rival into The Walls of Jericho, but Punk captures his opponent with an inside cradle, which Jericho also reverses into a two-count of his own. – ZACH LINDER

No. 4 - The Undertaker & WWE Tag Team Champions Team Hell No vs. The Shield (April 22, 2013)

Undertaker returns to compete on Raw with Team Hell No to face The Shield in a Six-Man Tag Team Match.

The atmosphere was electric from start to finish on the April 22 edition of Raw in London, England. But it was the main event of the night that took the O2 Arena crowd's excitement to a whole different level. Competing in his first Raw match in three years, The Undertaker teamed up with Kane & Daniel Bryan to take on the seemingly unstoppable trio known as The Shield.

Watch:  The Shield fells The Phenom on SmackDown |  Most vicious Triple Powerbombs

The action was fast and frenetic as veteran WWE Legends Undertaker and Kane used their sheer power to try to crack The Shield. But every time The Brothers of Destruction and Bryan appeared to have the advantage, a Shield member would slip out of harm's way, make the quick tag and use their strength in numbers, as well as their artillery-like quickness, to launch a counterattack for the emphatic victory.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: The Deadman was ready to deliver a hellish double chokeslam on Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, but instead was drilled out of nowhere by Roman Reigns' Spear. The skewering brought out a collective "OHHH" from the crowd before Reigns covered for the pin, then was utterly shocked when The Phenom kicked out and quickly found his second wind with a leaping clothesline. – TOM HERRERA

No. 3 - Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton – Street Fight (June 24, 2013)

Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton square off in a Street Fight during the main event of Raw.

A failed stint as a tag team and a pair of controversial  match stoppages led to this hellacious 20-minute Street Fight between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton that included everything but the kitchen sink.

Photos: Bryan gets his win | Playlist:  Bryan's double duty

Orton unleashed his animosity by T-bone suplexing Bryan through a table and blocking the bearded one’s suicide dive with a ruthless chair strike. Bryan one-upped The Apex Predator with a powerbomb through a table, then dodged the RKO before grabbing a Singapore cane and hacking away at Orton with kicks and sticks before putting him in the “Yes!” Lock.

Orton attempted to slither out of Bryan’s hold, but it was to no avail as the submission specialist sealed The Apex Predator’s fate by grabbing the Kendo stick and using it in combination with the dreaded lock, forcing the third-generation Superstar to tap. After the match, Orton respectfully shook Bryan’s hand before leaving him to celebrate his hard-fought win.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: The entire match was a must-see moment, but if there had to be one, it’s the innovative, Kendo stick “Yes!" Lock that ensured Bryan his victory. – CHRIS BUTERA

No. 2 - John Cena vs. CM Punk – WWE Championship No. 1 Contender's Match (Feb, 24, 2013)

John Cena and CM Punk square off in the main event of Raw for the right to face WWE Champion The Rock at WrestleMania 29.

At this point, nothing less than magic is expected when John Cena and CM Punk step into the ring together. Happily, the most recent match, a No. 1 contender’s contest between the longtime enemies, delivered just that and then some. With a main event spot at WrestleMania hanging in the balance, the Cenation leader got the fight of his life from the Superstar who has grown to be his greatest rival.

Instant Classic:  Cena and Punk collide again | Punk & Cena's furious rivalry

An increasingly manic Punk pulled out all the stops in a bid to punch his first ticket to the main event of The Show of Shows, blasting Cena with the Go to Sleep and Anaconda Vise in a wild attempt to send his heroic foil home empty-handed. Yet The Straight Edge Superstar’s rabid game plan soon led to desperation, and Cena took advantage of a poorly advised top-rope attack from The Straight Edge Superstar to finally claim the win in a contest that, frankly, could have been a WrestleMania main event in and of itself.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: Cena dodges a flying elbow and catches some air of his own with a hurricanrana that leaves Punk loopy, then follows up with a match-ending Attitude Adjustment. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

No. 1 - Team Hell No & Kofi Kingston vs. U.S. & Tag Team Champions The Shield

The action never stops in the Six-Man Tag Team Match pitting Team Hell No & Kofi Kingston against The Shield.

With their Tag Team and U.S. Championships lost to The Shield at Extreme Rules the night before and nothing left but their pride on the line, the trio of fan favorites took it to the “Hounds of Justice” with everything they had. The effort brought The Shield as close as they’d ever come at that point to a clean defeat and left the WWE Universe on the edge of their seats. Refusing to give ground to the men in black’s infamous “numbers game,” Kingston, Bryan & Kane worked as seamlessly as their rough-and-tumble opponents, combining styles and movesets and never letting The Shield build so much momentum they couldn’t get it back.

Photos of the classic match |  The Shield reign at Extreme Rules

The strategy ultimately failed when, after dispatching Kofi and Bryan on the outside, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose sacrificed themselves to a surging Kane so Roman Reigns could finish the job, but the result hardly even mattered: The match was a master class in tag-team and individual wrestling, with six performers of various tenure all competing at the peak of their powers and truly leaving it all on the mat. “This is awesome” is the typical reaction for a match like this, but in the brief history of three-hour Raws, that’s certainly in the running for biggest understatement.

MUST-SEE MOMENT: In the first instance of a sequence the WWE Universe has come to know well, Bryan enters the match and goes ballistic, clotheslining Rollins into a full flip and repaying a jeering Ambrose with a kick that fells the Cincinnati madman like a tree. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

Honorable Mentions

The Brothers of Destruction reunite on the 1,000th episode of Raw to fight off their attackers.

Confession: We’re only human. And it’s pretty tough to keep a list like this confined and not acknowledge some of the great wrestling that occurred this past year. Here are some matches we loved, but had to heartbreakingly cut from the top 10.

Undertaker & Kane reunite (Raw 1,000): Although not a match per se, this was truly a memorable moment as The Brothers of Destruction reformed at Raw 1,000 to dispatch an array of Superstars led by Jinder Mahal, delivering not just double chokeslams but double Tombstones as well. The WWE Universe was right: “That was awesome.” – CHRIS BUTERA

World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow (Oct. 1, 2012): The WWE Universe knew Sandow could talk a good game, but his first donnybrook on Raw with The Celtic Warrior was nothing short of a revelation. The fighting Irishman ultimately conquered, but even in defeat, the “Duke of Decency” showed his true, ruthless colors. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

Mr. McMahon vs. WWE Champion CM Punk (Oct. 8, 2012): The bell never officially rang in this rumble, but that didn’t stop The Chairman and The Straight Edge Superstar from whaling on each other with Kendo sticks in this vicious fracas between executive and employee. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

CM Punk vs. Ryback – WWE Championship Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match (Jan. 7, 2013): The only thing more shocking than the brutality with which Ryback challenged for Punk’s WWE Title in this long-delayed match was the manner in which Punk ultimately prevailed. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

Wade Barrett vs. Chris Jericho vs. The Miz – Triple Threat Intercontinental Championship Match (March 18, 2013): Chris Jericho pulled out all the stops in this Triple Threat attempt to add a historic 10th Intercontinental Championship to his resume. Y2J came close several times over the course of the fast and furious bout, but couldn’t get the job done as Wade Barrett retained his title with a roll-up pin of The Miz. – CHRIS BUTERA

The Funkadactyls vs. The Bella Twins (April 1, 2013): Anyone who doubts the moxie of the Divas division is encouraged to watch this exciting tussle on the eve of WrestleMania 29. Between the vicious Bellas and the freewheeling Funkadactyls, it’s girl power at its finest. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler (April 1, 2013): One week before Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston challenged Team Hell No for the WWE Tag Team Title at WrestleMania 29, Ziggler and Bryan battled in a dynamic clinic on Raw. After Langston took out Kane at ringside, Ziggler managed to roll up his opponent for the victory, but he and Langston were unable to pick up the titles at MetLife Stadium. – ZACH LINDER

Chris Jericho vs. World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio (June 24, 2013): The Essence of Excellence put his rediscovered mean streak to the test against Chris Jericho and was met in kind by Y2J’s resistance. If not for an attack by Dolph Ziggler, this fight could have gone on for hours … not that anyone would have minded. – ANTHONY BENIGNO

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