The 10 most brutal Raw matches of 2013 (so far)
If pain is weakness leaving the body, then the Superstars in these 10 matches should consider themselves purged of any and all deficiencies. Sometimes, in fact, a “match” isn’t quite enough to describe what happens when emotions run high, stipulations remove inhibitions, or two Superstars are just so evenly matched that they have no choice but to abandon wrestling entirely and flat-out fight. Brawny, bombastic and above all, brutal, these are the 10 matches that took the most out of their competitors in 2013 … so far.
John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler - Steel Cage Match (Jan. 14)
Anniversaries are always cause for something special, and Raw rang in its 20thbirthday with a barnburning main event contested between John Cena and Dolph Ziggler in the confines of a Steel Cage. Bringing their bitter rivalry to a head between the iron links, the two Superstars took each other to the woodshed in an all-out battle between WWE’s longest-tenured standard bearer and one of its most talented rising stars. The Showoff kept the tilt on an even keel and never let Cena get too far ahead, though the menacing presence of Big E Langston at ringside certainly helped save Ziggler from defeat on more than one occasion.
Prowling outside the cage, Ziggler’s then-gal pal AJ Lee’s emotions eventually got the better of her and she attempted to scale the chain-link barrier, distracting both referees from the action at hand. The ensuing fracas Langston the opening to storm the steel and hand Ziggler his Money in the Bank briefcase, but Cena was ready for the dirty play and simply dodged The Showoff’s attack, leaving Langston to take the case straight to the dome while the Cenation leader dispatched Ziggler with an Attitude Adjustment. Happy birthday, Raw!
The Miz vs. Antonio Cesaro - No Disqualification Match (Feb. 18)
Two variables no Superstar wants to hear in their match are “Antonio Cesaro” and “No Disqualification,” but that’s exactly what The Miz got at one point throughout the course of his long, grueling rivalry with the mighty United States Champion one night after a controversial conclusion to their match at Elimination Chamber. Indeed, The Awesome One was reduced to little more than a plaything for a good part of the match, with Cesaro taking advantage of Miz’s bum shoulder to run roughshod over the former WWE Champion in a contest that crammed a main-event's worth of viciousness into a relatively short amount of time. Still, give Miz credit for gutsiness: The “Cleveland Screamer” was nearly broken by steel chairs when he saved the bout with a last-ditch effort, booting Cesaro in the face and quickly applying the Figure-Four Leglock to force his foe to tap. Whew! That was a close one.
Kane vs. CM Punk - No Disqualification Match (March 11)
Paul Bearer’s untimely death left a shadow over the first Raw following his passing, and CM Punk certainly didn’t help alleviate the mood when he interrupted The Undertaker’s tribute to his former guardian, gaudily hemming and hawing about his challenge to The Phenom’s streak at WrestleMania. The former WWE Champion’s brazen actions earned him a No Disqualification Match against Bearer’s son, Kane, who had been rendered all but catatonic by the loss of his father.
Yet Kane’s state of shock only lasted until Punk’s cheap-shot to start the match, at which point the proverbial monster found his fire once again. Fighting with emotion that radiated throughout the entire arena, and aided by a stipulation that allowed him to dish out whatever punishment he deemed appropriate, The Devil’s Favorite Demon battled for his family’s honor. The Straight Edge Sociopath, meanwhile, put in a feral effort to show he wasn’t merely made of talk in the wake of losing his WWE Championship. Punk came close, yet – with a late-game assist from The Undertaker – The Big Red Monster ultimately prevailed, dispatching his insolent adversary with a Chokeslam that put Punk down for the three. Ohhhh, yeeeessssss.
Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins (June 10)
Ever since he and Kane lost their beloved Tag Team Championships to The Shield at Extreme Rules, Daniel Bryan’s had a particular bee in his bonnet when it comes to The Shield. The submission expert’s tussled with each Hound of Justice in singles action (and sometimes all three at once), but the one opponent who gave him the most hell was undeniably Seth Rollins in their first solo tilt on Raw in June, in a match voted on via the WWE App.
Even as Bryan’s rage built to a fever pitch, Rollins – long the resident madman of The Shield – matched the “Yes!” man at every turn, absorbing all of Bryan’s punishment and rallying to deliver it in kind. Thanks to an assist from – oh, the irony – Randy Orton, Rollins’ Shield-mates were neutralized at ringside and a battered Bryan was able to pick up the win with a small package, snatching victory from the jaws of the defeat by the hairs of his famous beard.
John Cena vs. Ryback - Tables Match (July 29)
It’s very rare that John Cena wins a match and it can be called a lucky victory, but that’s pretty much what went down when the then-WWE Champion found himself battling Ryback in a late July Tables Match and escaped with the win by the skin of his jorts. Clearly having learned from their first two encounters, Ryback came in like a (Human) wrecking ball and mercilessly pressed Cena into the defensive early on. He even showed a surprising amount of strategic awareness by destroying tables he himself had erected when The Champ got a little too close for comfort, causing Cena to start from scratch again.
“The Big Guy’s” cockiness got the better of him in the end, though, and the introduction of steel steps into the proceedings proved to be ill-advised in hindsight when Cena dropped Ryback back-first onto the steel and administered a Five-Knuckle Shuffle that zapped the Human Wrecking Ball of his momentum. One Attitude Adjustment through the table left and it was goodnight, nurse, although the fact that Cena all but collapsed after the win says something about how hard he had to work for it.
John Cena vs. CM Punk (Feb. 24)
How far would you go for a WrestleMania main-event match? For CM Punk, the answer was clearly to hell and back, as he followed up his WWE Title loss to The Rock (and equally unsuccessful rematch) by challenging Royal Rumble Match winner John Cena to put his No. 1 contendership on the line in a contest on Raw that would send the winner straight to The Grandest Stage of Them All. Never one to turn down a challenge, Cena accepted, and boy, did he get a battle in response. Scraping and clawing to realize his lifelong dream of closing out The Show of Shows, Punk dug deep into his extensive playbook over the course of the nearly half-hour slugfest that would decide the fate of the biggest WrestleMania of all time.
The Second City Saint pushed the limits and bent the rules in pursuit of the "W," but the Cenation leader’s indomitable resolve won out and Punk’s dream was ultimately denied. Cena would go on to win the WWE Championship from The Great One at WrestleMania, but for anyone who believes he stands alone among WWE Superstars, this match should serve as proof positive Cena will always have at least one foe that stands neck-and-neck with him.
The Miz vs. Randy Orton (Sept. 16)
Can a match be considered brutal if the match itself never happens? Indeed it can, as The Miz’s would-be glorious return to his hometown of Cleveland was spoiled fast thanks to the ruthlessness of Randy Orton, who had been challenged earlier by Stephanie McMahon to rediscover his long-dormant vicious side.
To put it lightly, Orton did, pulverizing The Awesome One to the brink of oblivion before the eyes of Miz’s horrified parents. Despite some hearty resistance from Miz, The Apex Predator dropped the former WWE Champion with a hanging DDT off the barricade, then locked Miz’s head in the crux of a steel chair before executing a knee drop that didn’t send his opponent so much to the showers as the emergency room. Not since “The Decision” has a native Clevelander been left so demolished.
Daniel Bryan vs. Antonio Cesaro (July 22)
Now this, WWE Universe, was a fight. In the second of three consecutive matches Daniel Bryan was forced to compete in on the same night, these two warriors took each other to the woodshed in what was easily one of the most grueling, breathtaking exhibitions in Raw history. For each five-megaton punch thrown by Antonio Cesaro, Bryan responded with a bone-rattling kick that would have put a lesser man in the hospital. Every time the “Yes!” man would build up a head of steam, Cesaro used his famous power to stop Bryan in his tracks, at one point Very European Uppercutting Bryan into near-unconsciousness.
It got so rough for both men that, toward the end, they abandoned wrestling maneuvers entirely and simply unloaded on each other with tit-for-tat uppercuts, with Cesaro leaving Bryan so battered the only thing missing was a flock of cartoon birds circling his head. That the submission master won the match with a small package was a testament to just how close it was. The match earned a hearty “THIS IS AWE-SOME” chant from the WWE Universe, but we humbly propose another one: “RE-MATCH! RE-MATCH! RE-MATCH!”
CM Punk vs. Ryback - WWE Championship Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match (Jan. 7)
Knee surgery kept CM Punk from defending his WWE Championship against Ryback at the Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view in 2012, but the first Raw of 2013 saw The Second City Saint medically cleared and unable to put off his promised bout with the Human Wrecking Ball any further. Punk’s defiant stroll beneath several ladders lining the ramp to the ring showcased his brazen confidence in facing Ryback, but The Straight Edge Superstar’s surgically repaired body nearly betrayed him when his monstrous challenger utilized the punishing stipulation to the fullest extent.
Showcasing his inhuman power, Ryback tossed Punk to and fro like a ragdoll, dropping the WWE Champion in T-bone fashion against the broad side of a ladder and sending him tumbling through the announce table in what amounted to something of a one-sided railroading. It wasn’t providence that saved Punk’s title but interference, as The Shield struck Ryback just as he was about to seize the gold for himself. Overpowering the mighty Ryback with their 3-on-1 advantage, the trio of newcomers Triple Powerbombed the titan through a table and allowed Punk to seal what would be his final – and most inhuman – defense of the WWE Championship.
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton - Street Fight (June 24)
Given recent events, it seems like a lifetime ago that Daniel Bryan battled a self-imposed perception of being a “weak link,” but there Bryan was in the summer of 2013, picking a fight with anyone who looked at him the wrong way, especially – in an eerie bit of foreshadowing – Randy Orton. With his first two tilts with The Apex Predator having ended either controversially or indecisively, Bryan and The Viper collided in a Street Fight rubber match with bragging rights on the line, and the “Yes!” man rose rather magnificently to his latest and greatest challenge.
Orton has long been touted as the more vicious of these two competitors, yet Bryan certainly didn’t shy from embracing the gritty stipulation. The introduction of a steel chair proved costly for both men in more ways than one, yet for every attack Orton unleashed, the former WWE Tag Team Champion responded immediately in kind. In the end, Bryan won the way he always promised he would, locking The Viper in a Kendo stick-assisted “Yes!” Lock to force Orton into a rare submission victory. The effort was enough to earn Bryan a handshake from The Apex Predator that showed respect for the beard, respect the fight, and – as is only appropriate after a match like this – respect for the victor.