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Raw: Title shots at TLC get sorted out in Tampa
By NICK TYLWALK - SLAM! Wrestling


With less than two weeks until the next WWE pay-per-view, WWE Champion CM Punk still doesn't have a challenger lined up. Finding one is certain to be one of the main orders of business tonight as Raw goes live from the St. Pete Time's Forum in Tampa, Florida.

What better way to kick off a show than with John Cena and his patent pending mixed crowd reaction? Cena says last week was interesting, as Rowdy Roddy Piper gave his opinion on said reaction. As usual, Cena thanks the fans who are loyal to him and invites those who want to boo him to bring it on. In any case, he's more concerned with getting a title shot at CM Punk in the hopes of making his WrestleMania bout against The Rock a WWE Championship match. Someone has something to say about that, though, and that someone is Alberto Del Rio. Reminding everyone that John Laurinaitis made a stipulation that if Punk got disqualified he would lose the belt, Del Rio rolls the clip from last week's main event, showing Punk defeating him with the help of an exposed turnbuckle. Oh joy, here comes Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler. And guess what? He feels he should be the number one contender. And after some witty repartee, The Miz decides to join the party as well. Laurinaitis comes to the stage to try to sort all of this out. He tells Del Rio, Ziggler and Miz that they have matches against SmackDown superstars, and if they win, they will get a shot at Punk at TLC – I guess that offer is for all of them. For Cena, Laurinaitis promises a special match that he refers to as a “social experiment.” While we mull that over, Miz is going to have his match first... against Randy Orton.

Match 1 – The Miz vs. Randy Orton

Just when things are looking good for Orton after he hits a scoop slam on the floor, Wade Barrett decides to come down and take a peek. Orton chases Barrett up the ramp, but the referee is making his count. Miz slides back in the ring before the referee gets to 10, and Orton is counted out. That means Miz goes on to face Punk in two weeks, and to add injury to insult, Barrett clobbers Orton from behind.

A video package for the WWE Network promises us live in-ring action, classic programming and a new reality show called Legends House. You got me on the first two, but not the third.

In the back, Zack Ryder gets some bad news about his online petition from Laurinaitis. Cena drops by decked out in full Ryder gear, which is appropriate because Johnny Ace books Cena and Ryder to face each other tonight. Cena says the match doesn't need to happen, but Laurinaitis says it does because there is a juicy stipulation involved: If Cena wins, he's in the WWE Title match in two weeks, and if Ryder wins, he'll get the U.S. Title shot at Ziggler that he craves so much. Hey, that actually is creative. In yet another backstage location, David Otunga informs Kevin Nash that he'll finally get to face Triple H in a ladder match (with a sledgehammer hanging over the ring) at TLC. Nash will also be in action tonight, and he doesn't even care who he's facing. Uh, I guess “action” may be relative at Nash's current age. #twomoves

Match 2 – Alberto Del Rio vs. Daniel Bryan

Michael Cole loves this because Bryan is banged up from his steel cage match with Mark Henry on SmackDown. Needless to say, he's only able to hang for a few minutes before falling into the cross armbreaker and tapping out. Del Rio will also be in the title mix at TLC, meaning it will at least be a three-way dance.

Match 3 – Eve Torres and Kelly Kelly vs. Beth Phoenix and Natalya

The video promo for Pin Up Strong is interrupted by the weird online video for something that will be happening on the second day of 2012. That's going to be the first Raw of the new year. Our clue tonight is “Look within.” That's more interesting than this match, which Kelly wins by surprising Phoenix with a roll-up.

Match 4 – Zack Ryder vs. John Cena

The dueling chants of “Let's go Cena” and “Cena sucks” seem to be supercharged by Ryder's presence in this match. Ziggler watches intently from backstage. And did I just hear something sensible from Cole as he wondered why people embrace The Rock even though he's been gone for seven years while booing Cena who has been the company workhorse during that time? Cena ducks a Rough Ryder attempt and hits his friend with the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Ryder manages to escape the Attitude Adjustment by grabbing the top rope, and he soon has Cena cornered. Unfortunately for Zack, he sees the Rough Ryder countered by the Attitude Adjustment, and he's not getting up from that.

The Slammy Awards are next week as part of a three-hour Raw. That's cool and all, but WWE, you better be paying for my carpal tunnel syndrome treatment.

Cena chases Otunga off so he can confront Laurinaitis about getting Ryder a title shot. The interim GM says Zack can have another shot, but only if Cena gives up his title shot a TLC. Reluctantly, he does it, saying Ryder deserves at least one shot. Ever the devious one, Johnny Ace won't say who Ryder will have to face.

Does “Kane Resurrected” mean he's returning to the mask? Because I could certainly get behind that.

Match 5 – Zack Ryder vs. Mark Henry – No DQ, No Count Out Match

Cole sells this as a good opportunity for Ryder because Henry is injured. He's not faring too well until Cena runs in and nails Henry with an Attitude Adjustment. No DQ, remember? Ryder covers for the three count, and he'll get his shot.

Ziggler isn't happy about Ryder's victory or the fact that he has to face Sheamus in his bout tonight. Jack Swagger tells him he can count on some ringside help, but the #heel declines.

Match 6 – Kevin Nash vs. Santino Marella

Oh boy. This doesn't exactly test Big Sexy's cardio as he disposes of Santino fairly quickly. Jackknife Powerbomb, good night. Nash grabs a sledgehammer and teases using it on poor Santino before stomping menacingly to the back.

Match 7 – Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus

Pretty even action, but just like almost every other match tonight, this one is interrupted by the arrival of Ryder at ringside. Ziggler turns around into a Brogue Kick, and that's all she wrote. Since Ziggler has a dance partner at the pay-per-view anyway, it's hardly surprising. Speaking of Ryder, he nails Ziggler with a Rough Ryder to send a little bit of a message.

Ah, there aren't many wrestling traditions more amusing than the official contract signing. Laurinaitis has everything set up, and Del Rio and Miz are already at the table. CM Punk comes out and gives his own take on the cliché that is the signing. He also wants “Pier Six brawl” to trend, which I endorse. Still desperate to prove that he's a creative force, Laurinaitis says the match will be a Tables, Ladder and Chairs Triple Threat Match in Baltimore. Miz tries to play tough guy, despite Punk's barbs, saying he hurt John Morrison so badly that Laurinaitis had to release him. And by the way, Laurinaitis wishes Morrison all the best in his future endeavors. Miz and Del Rio don't agree on much, but they do agree that Punk won't be leaving TLC with his belt. Everyone signs the contract, and Johnny Ace wants them all to take a picture together. The champ would rather fight, so he clocks Del Rio in the face with a microphone and sets off that brawl he's been wanting. Del Rio eventually ends up getting a bulldog through the contract signing table, while Miz is hit with a Go To Sleep and left slumped on top of Alberto. Cue up Living Colour, as the champ soaks in the cheers in the waning moments of Raw. See you in seven.

Nick Tylwalk is happy that there are plenty of holiday specials to keep his young kids entertained while he recaps Raw. Follow his Twitter feed @Nick_Tylwalk or send him a message about other wrestling-related joys of the holidays at ntylwalk7@yahoo.com.