No Way Out Review, 2012: Big Johnny Hot-Shotted To the Unemployment Line

Mr. McMahon said those two famous words to John Laurinaitis, but was it all too soon?

Mr. McMahon said those two famous words to John Laurinaitis, but was it all too soon?

This PPV felt a lot like Over the Limit; a versy strong PPV right up until the end, where the ‘bombshell’ wasn’t all that exciting. Usually, I would blame the Big Show, but he’s doing the best job the Big Show can. The problem is the storyline – it is more Cena being vulnerable; something less interesting when he overcomes the apparent threat at the first attempt. But more on that later …

Match 1) Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler to Retain the WWE Championship
The first match of the night is meant to get the crowd pumping, and often that means a Dolph Ziggler match. This match certainly achieved that as the styles of these two gelled perfectly, with Ziggler selling the smashmouth nature of Sheamus’s offense with typical fervour while Sheamus allowed himself to be outwrestled by Ziggler, allowing the resurgent challenger to look like a legitimate challenger at that level. There was, indeed, a lot of equal back and forth as both men played to their strengths and the match built. The match progressed even more nicely when Ziggler seemed to tweek his knee. At that point Ziggler was forced to show more resiliancy than his usual in-ring flair, and it made his continued defiance against Sheamus all the more impressive, and so when he hit the Fame Asser on Sheamus and fist pumped the air mightily, the desperation of  the act completely sold me on the near fall. It’s things like that that make for great drama. Both men where really impressing with expanding movesets, most notably Ziggler with his giant DDT and Sheamus with his swinging neckbreaker. Nothing mindblowing, but still a progression. As expected, Sheamus took the win eventually, but with a good finish to a match which made Ziggler look great even in loss. I’m flogging a dead horse here, but surely Ziggler will only get more and more spotlight now he’s proved – again – that he deserves it.

Match 2) Santino Marella def. Ricardo Rodriguez in a Tuxedo Match
I had high hopes for this meatch. Hopes that only got higher whan Santino came out in his ‘best’ all powder blue tux, but something was missing. Apart from a few funny quips, it was just going through the motions, not helped by the crowd shitting all over it. That’ll kill any match … Its fine that Santino won, but especially with no title seemingly on the line, it would’ve been cool to give Rodriguez a win. Saying all that, the foot Cobra nearly redeemed the whole thing.

Match 3) Christian def. Cody Rhodes to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
Christian and Cody Rhodes should have been one of the best matches of the night, and unsurprisingly, it was. These two had a very even back and forth match that started off very smooth and technical. I really enjoyed Rhodes attacking of Christian’s arm, incorporating the stomping on the bent-back wrist and then something i’ve never seen – a key lock using his legs. It makes him look brilliant and inventive and dangerous while Christian continued his trend of an ever-expanding moveset by incorporating a hurricarana. The match then stepped up in terns of drama with near falls becoming more frequent, including another great one where Rhodes managed to kick out of a Killswitch. I was totally sold on that because babyface finisher should usually equal win over heel, at least in a mid-card match, so when it didn’t put Rhodes away I was shoot shocked and very impressed with Rhodes. This I think was the entire purpose of it. Rhodes was going to lose to move on from the feud, but he needed to show his steele and quality, so that he could go away leaving a strong impression for his surely bigger and better challenges. The finish came after a really cool, smooth back-and-forth sequence too, ending in the Spear, which made the whole thing seem almost down to luck as one would inevitably falter. It was Rhodes, and Christian won to retain the title. WITH MOre defences like that, the title can only be in good hands. As fr Rhodes, surely he’s on his way to bigger title opportunities.

Match 4) The Prime Time Players def. Primo & Epico, Justin Gabriel & Tyson Kidd, and The Usos to Become #1 Contenders for the WWE Tag Team Championships
Refreshing it was to see a major tag team match on a PPV that didn’t even need the (limited) draw of the titles. It also meant we got to see eight talented mid-card guys who barely get TV time in that spotlight. They certainly made the most of their time, including that awesome spot where Tyson Kidd Hurricarana’d Primo in to the other six wrestlers outside the ring! I’ve never seen that, and it really showed off the division’s potential, as well as Kidd’s alone. The main talking point – if that was the main visual memory – was AW’s turning on Primo & Epico. Earlier, during the preshow, we got the curious news that AW had let the former Tag Champs rematch clauses lapse, but that he had got them in to the match. Odd, but ok: a way to shoehorn the booking of this match I thought, but no, it was much better than that! It was all a ploy by AW to get his real team in to ‘prime time’ position. He had decided to side with O’Neill and Young because, as is self-evident, they are the hottest team in town right now. So after removing the current #1 Contenders, he helped them to win by feeding Primo to Young and stopping Epico from intervening. It was brilliant, basic storytelling, that made me care about what would happen in the future. Its a fundamental that’s been missing from the tag team division, and i’m glad its back. Now Primo & Epico are instafaces, and that’s fine because seriously, they’re great and will be easy to get behind – and the champions haven’t had to be involved! It’s all good here.

Match 5) Layla def. Beth Phoenix to Retain the Divas Championship
This was another very strong outing from these two ruined only by the attitude of the crowd, who absolutely made no sound. I don’t blame them after WWE themselves have spent years systematically telling us they aren’t important with 2 minute matches and lack of storyline. Nonetheless, I felt the crowd detracted from a strong divas match. Yes Kharma’s return will be great, but it isn’t the be all and end all of female wrestling. Layla is as good as the best of the lockeroom, and that is quite impressive. She put on a great match with Beth and showed some genuine character other than ‘bitch’ or ‘smile’ with that flapper taunt to get the upper hand over Beth. And I like that after a grueling match, they weren’t afraid to put Layla over strong again. That makes for at least 3 divas we thing are legitimately powerful instead of 2 (Kharma, Beth), and that is a good thing. More of this please.

Match 6) Sin Cara def Hunico w/Camacho
It feels like i’ve written those words a million times, and that’s a problem. I like Sin Cara, I really like Hunico, but their time is up! They’ve fought so much on Smackdown that this just felt like Smackdown, and that’s bad for a PPV you’re asking people to pay a lot of money for. Saying that, I enjoyed the match. I enjoyed Hunico giving Cara a really good run for his money in the match, arguably dominating and being the most impressive of the two. Decent match as you would expect, but nothing special, and certainly nothing PPV quality.

Match 7) CM Punk def. Kane and Daniel Bryan to Retain the WWE Championship
The onus on the match, in a way, was on Kane. After a series of great matches between Bryan and Punk have renewed their great chemistry, and to some, Kane was seen as a bothersome obstacle to greatness. Kane, however, performed as he does at his best, knowing his role and dominating. The clash of styles between him and the others is notable, but that become a laudable aspect of the match and part of its narrative instead of a flaw. The match started out with a bit of an indiriffic spot where Punk and Bryan traded kicks on the Big Red Machine in a test of (kicking) strength – a bit of passive aggression that told a good story about the nature of Bryan and Punk’s rivalry. Triple threats are hard to get right in terms of pacing as there are constant interchanges between three guys, but again, this worked here – partly because Kane is such a behemoth. There was a lot of good back and forth between them all, fighting between each other with great fluidity. This led to a nice triple threat spot where Bryan was left sat on the turnbuckle while Kane and Punk brawled ostensibly for the right to superplex Bryan. With there being no outcome, Bryan was able to recover, and hit a double missile dropkick to the both of them. Another nice triple threat moment came when Punk shouldered Bryan only to walk in to a big boot for a near fall. They were finding the best ways their movesets fit together to create progressions between the three of them that made sense and flowed well. With that in mind, this was followed by an attempted elbow drop, only for Kane to move, and for Bryan to follow up with a flying headbutt. As the match continued, Kane and Punk were left in the ring. After failing to shoulder Kane for the GTS, Kane got the upper hand. It was at this point that the pivotal actor in this story arrived: AJ played a thankfully small role in the action of the match, being knocked off the apron after Punk unknowingly pushed Kane in her direction. This was enough to distract Kane, and he walked in to a GTS with Punk now able to do it and pick up the win. After the match, a concerned and more human every day Kane carried her to the back, revealing a wry smile back at the celebrating Punk. I’ve actually pictured that sort of scenario, and I think AJ played it well. This went against what most people suggested would happen – thinking that AJ would help Bryan. Does this mean that she’s on Punk side? Possibly, but ultimately, I think he’ll reject that sort of help as a good, fighting champion. Nonetheless, I think either Bryan, Kane, or both of them will use it as currency for a future title match. A very entertaining match then that the fans were really in to, booked well and utilising AJ without ruining the match. Very well done all round.

Match 8) Ryback def. Two Jobbers
Not much to say here. Like the Sin Cara match, this was just filler that could just as easily be seen on Smackdown as live on a paid-for PPV. I understand the reason for it; its a palette freshener for the main event. Ryback’s matches are still entertaining, but they are meaningless at this level as their purpose are just as easily served on TV.

Match 9) John Cena def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match; John Laurinaitis Was Fired
I was tired during this match I have to say, but this match was very unremarkable to me. I honestly can’t remember a spot from it, and that’s not a good thing. Stripped down, this was just John Cena vs the Big Show, and that’s not going to be that entertaining. The match only became memorable when the people Big Show has vanquished returned to cost him the match. I liked how different people had varied success; Ryder was knocked out by a WMD through the steel cage, while Kofi Kingston, who seems to be getting pushed subtly, managed to fight his way against Big Show, and actually downing the Giant, sending him back in to the cage, and Brodus Clay managing to deter Show from climbing the cage. All this helped to stop Show from winning. This, I suppose, will be sold as Big Show’s chickens coming home to roost, and that makes sense in a way because it helps protect his reputation, but I think vanquishing him on PPV so soon seems like a bit of a waste given his build and booking as a legitimate giant. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s booked from here on out. There is scope to keep him as a monster, but I don’t know if its preferable. What was definitely hot-shotted was the firing of John Laurinaitis. Since gaining power, he has been building more and more heat, and has been a unique and entertaining figure on WWE. While McMahon shouting the infamous ‘You’re Fired! in his face before being AA’d through the Spanish Announce Table was entertaining, and a sure-fire memorable moment for the year. Cena looking like a suckup by doing it aside, given the success of the John Laurinaitis character, means that firing him is far too soon. He’s been in the post for less than a year, is getting more heat, and is seemingly – after watching RAW – being shelved as a character already before given the chance to develop to his summit of success before then being fired in a moment that would be memorable in history, and not just for this year.

A strong PPV during most of the scheduled matches with the World Title matches again standing out as well as the Intercontinental Championship match and the tag team #1 contendership, but there was a lot of filler in between which is already forgettable. Once again, too, the main event featuring Big Show and John Cena fell flat, the finish aside. Its a feud that doesn’t work, and until its shelved, PPV’s will continue to finish in an underwhelming way.

No Way Out Preview & Predictions, 2012

No Way Out, 17/06/12, from the IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ

No Way Out, 17/06/12, from the IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ

Above is the best PPV poster ever!

Anyway, it’s time for No Way Out (tomorrow)! The main matches have had adequate build, but it seems like No Way Out as an event hasn’t been built that much. It feels like it’s just creeping up on us a little and like it’s just another show. That shouldn’t be a good thing, but in the past it has meant good shows have occurred when least expected and surprised us – it wont translate to a special buyrate though.

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Dolph Ziggler
Despite the fact that this match was seemingly booked on the fly when Alberto Del Rio became concussed, but, if anything, this match is more interesting and anticipated than the original. With the stiffer style Sheamus has been adopting of late, I hope it mixes well with Ziggler’s awesome selling and both men’s ability to put on a good, dramatic match. Everyone expects a good match, and everyone expects a Sheamus win. However, a part of me wouldn’t be surprised to see the change of plans lead to a complete twist and a shocking but also therefore memorable victory for Ziggler. There are still more competitors waiting for Sheamus though, and his reign hasn’t been long enough for someone I think WWE are trying to make in to a blockbuster star. So while i’d like to see the Ziggler moment, I think this match will help build him up to that level without giving him the gold.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 2) United States Championship Match?: Santino Marella (c) vs Ricardo Rodriguez in a Tuxedo Match
Santino and Ricardo are gold-dust together and are providing some of the best comic wrestling i’ve seen in a long time. Genuinely fresh and genuinely entertaining, and with it being something so ridiculous as a tuxedo match, I expect great things. With Del Rio out of the picture, he’s losing some of the heat from the classic heel, and despite being a heel to Santino’s face, is becoming more and more popular. Bear in mind as well then that the prospect of Rodriguez losing isn’t going to ‘put any asses om seats’, and I start to wonder whether this match being booked on PPV might be because Ricardo will pull of the upset win, be it for the United States Championship or not. I can actually see him and Santino bonding over this and maybe even Ricardo Rodriguez turning face, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves shall we? Simply because there was no demand I can see for Santino to beat Ricardo, i’m backing the ring announcer, though obviously by complete accident!

Winner: Ricardo Rodriguez

Match 3) Intercontinental Championship Match: Christian (c) vs Cody Rhodes
Christian and Rhodes are two very good workers who are fighting over a sometimes very prestigious championship. That in itself is a good sell for this match. Their build has been solid if a bit mailed in with the best narrative being about who is better for the prestige of the title. Rhodes has said that Christian undid all his good work when he beat him for the championship at Over the Limit and that now he’s back to restore honour. Quite unique, certainly, but the stops have hardly been pulled out. Lets hope the match speaks for itself. I can’t see Christian dropping the title back to Rhodes after Rhodes only had it for a month, so I see a retention here, and perhaps – hopefully – a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship for Cody Rhodes in his future.

Winner: Christian

Match 4) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Daniel Bryan vs Kane
This is one of the two matches to get most of the attention for tonight’s show, and rightly so, but the attention has been some of the strangest I can remember, featuring as the protagonist WWE Diva AJ Lee. For the most part i’ve enjoyed AJ’s role in that she’s taken Punk and Kane out of their comfort zones and really upset the apple cart as classic PPV build goes. Whatever you think about the portrayal of AJ, which is at times a little troubling, it has made this match feel different, and that’s a good thing. Now the question seems to be, how will AJ pull the strings of this match and who will she help to win or retain the title? The prevailing thinking seems to be for Bryan, and I tend to agree. Punk has had a very long and strongly booked reign, beating the likes of pretty much everybody. He’s running out of challengers and maybe needs the change of pace that chasing the title allows. Not only that, but without the title, he may be able to act as a more edgy, pipebombing character – having the top title around your waist kinda undermines that. Step in Daniel Bryan. He’s been the hottest star of the past few months and could be a great WWE Champion; even better – his matches with Punk have been great, and his win would mean a continuation of that. If it does go this way, it will mean AJ helping Bryan and them becoming the power couple I always wanted them to be; either that, or it will a continuation of the original relationship between Bryan and AJ – of unconditional love and manipulation that I found so interesting originally. Of course, all this means that a spanner will be thrown in the works and Kane might win, but we’ll just have to wait and see about that! Speaking of Kane, he will disturn be natural technical flow of Bryan-Punk, but I don’t doubt that the experienced veteran will help to embelish the match somehow and make it a unique match in their feud.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 5) Divas Championship Match: Layla (c) vs Beth Phoenix
Despite the fact the build this has received is the less significant part of a comedy match and some very brief promos, I am looking forward to this match. At Over the Limit they did a great job, and I expect they will do again. As for the result, that still seemingly pivots on when Kharma returns, which was the same as at Over the Limit. With that in mind, I will literally copy and paste it here, and probably will every PPV until Kharma returns!: The returning Layla has some momentum and fan support behind her, while being a very underrated wrestler. Her smaller size against the also interesting story of Phoenix returning angry from losing her championship could be make for a interestingly and impressively booked match. If given time, this could be an unexpected hit for the PPV. There is a problem though. With Kharma surely to return imminently to feud with Beth, WWE seem to have booked themselves in to a corner. Before Layla returned, most expected Kharma to be first back, take the Divas championship, and call out Beth. Layla as champion obviously throws a spanner in here. If Beth beats her, she loses a lot of credibility, and could fall out of the spotlight which is a shame for a very popular and talented wrestler who has a lot of good will on her side after an injury return. On the other hand, Beth certainly can’t lose to Layla if she’s to be a credible challenge to legitimate monster, Kharma. So neither can win without causing significant damage to the other. The only option, as I see it, is to give them decent time for both to shine, but eventually have Beth seem dominant, and in an aesthetically dominant position (press slam position or similar), about to win the match, when Kharma’s music hits, she comes to the ring and attacks Beth. Beth wins by DQ and Layla keeps her title. The Beth-Kharma feud is exciting enough to not need the title, so it would protect Layla and add more depth to the division with her in championship feuds and Beth-Kharma happening separately.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match 6) Steel Cage Match: John Cena w/ Mr. McMahon vs The Big Show w/ John Laurinaitis
After Over The Limit, the Era of Big Show was a prospect that worried me, but, to his credit, Show has settled in to a strong narrative as the put upon freak show finally rebelling and taking charge. This would be full on antihero babyface had it not been for his abandoning of the WWE Universe along the way because they endorsed his treatment. He has a point – which is best for most heels. Saying that, Show as he is now vs John Cena just can’t interest me much. He’s the right opponent in the sense that he’s the company man, but perhaps that’s also the problem. Without fail, that has been the reasoning behind every single one of Cena’s foes for around 2 years now. Perhaps in Big Show they’ve finally found someone who just isn’t fresh or interesting in that role … That’s not to do down the job he’s been doing – as I say he’s been impressing me – its just its not quite clicked with me. The match itself will live or die on the booking. If they just have a Show-Cena match in a cage it’ll be fine, but not extraordinary. A classic match, and moment, will depend, I think on well thought-out, surprising outside interference from someone that would cause a good cliffhanger. I don’t want it jinx it, but I would suggest Mr. McMahon turn and betray Cena. Yes, it would mean wheeling out McMahon again, which isn’t very progressive, but when mixed with Johnny’s heat, could get a real buzz going. The result doesn’t seem much in doubt; once again, the stipulation has made it obvious because it’s so similar to Over the Limit’s stipulation. If Laurinaitis/Laurinaitis’s Proxy loses, Laurinaitis is fired, Laurinaitis aint getting fired, so Laurinaitis/Laurinaitis’s Proxy will win. The fact that the result is so predictable wont help the enjoyability of the match. It seemed to be suggested on Smackdown after Cena punched Laurinaitis that is Laurinaitis remained GM, then Cena’s job would be in danger. This is an admirable attempt to make the stipulation less revealing, but it isn’t enough i’m afraid because – again without jinxing it hopefully – Cena taking time off is getting more and more realistic. His involvement has become too formulaic: an new and powerful threat appears and beats him and makes him seem more vulnerable. But after Punk, Rock, Brock, and Show, who else could do this? Maybe he would enter in to further matches with Big Show after Show beats him surely with some outside help, but I don’t know how much life there is in that unless Cena has to go up against the potential heel faction of McMahon, Laurinaitis, and Big Show et al. That is all pie in the sky though. There is potential for it to be good, but on the basis of how this story is going since Over the Limit, i’d be pleasantly surprised.

RAW Recall (18/07/2011): Change Continues In the WWE

Triple H delivers the bad news to Mr. McMahon that he has been relieved of his duties as WWE Chairman, and that Hunter, himself, is to replace him

RAW was always going to have a difficult task following Money in the Bank. There were certain things it had to achieve, and for the most part it did, closing on one of the more emotional scenes in WWE history.

The opening followed on well from the PPV in many ways. McMahon was out first, flanked by John Laurinatis, to discuss the state of the WWE. The crowd wanted CM Punk, but it was right that they didn’t get him; if he’d have shown up, it would have undermined the story completely ruined any future pay off. It also made sense that McMahon wanted to remove any mention of his name from the product, just like he would (and has done in the past) with departed stars. The problem with this was that perhaps the spectre of Punk was too absent. The week after his initial shoot, Punk wasn’t at RAW but he was at the forefront of conversation, making him seem like an important force. This week, we had neither Punk, or the mention of Punk, and as a result, perhaps RAW lost some of the sting it should have had coming off MITB. All the while, Punk was working from away from the arena, tweeting dryly about the show, and showing off the WWE Championship, just to reiterate that whatever hapenned, he is the WWE Champion., even tweeting “New champ? How can that be, when the champ is…here” and then posting a picture of him at the Cubs game (and wearing a Satoshi Kojima t-shirt). This was great and just showed how entertaining Punk is, and is a good sign for the gonzo style way people want to see Punk before Summerslam. Another thing that made sense was McMahon setting up a tournament to find a new WWE Champion, trying to cover up his loss of the company’s historic title. While people generally don’t seem to have liked the tournament (I think because of the absence of Punk), I think the drama and importance of it grew nicely, it’s importance being cemented by the fact that it took up the whole show.

The matches were of a consistently high quality and good storytelling. First up was Miz vs Alex Riley. This match was all about Miz’s knee injury from Money in the Bank, and the story around it was excellent, with Riley obviously targeting it with more than submission moves, a half Boston Crab, and the worst Texas Cloverleaf i’ve ever seen (though both names seem to suit his Irish-American schtik). Eventually though, Miz managed to capitalise on some inexperience from Riley taking his eyes off him for a Skull-Crushing Finalé for the clean pin. I’ll tell you what, since Money in the Bank, i’ve noticed Miz behaving more like a face, and surging to a clean win on a bum leg is a sure-fire face characteristic. Perhaps he’ll be turning? It’s too early to really tell, but it could be a counterpoint to Cena turning heel? We can only see …

R-Truth vs Jack Swagger was some awkward booking in the sense that it was difficult to know who to back. It was pretty obvious that the recently heated Truth would go over Swagger, but nonetheless, it was a nice enough match with a cool finish of Truth missing his Bicycle Kick, allowing Swagger to lock in the Ankle Lock, only for Truth to reverse it in to a roll-up for the win. Maybe would have been better with Bourne, as a face, taking on Truth, but then again, that would have hurt Bourne and might not have gone down well in the new Age of Punk, with Bourne being an ex-ROH guy.

Really nice match between Kofi Kingston and Alberto Del Rio in the next match of the tournament, which also saw the return of Ricardo Rodriguez; something that really makes Del Rio better! The match was fast paced and exciting. The finish produced a surprise winner in Kofi as he reversed the Cross Arm-breaker in to another roll-up for the stereotypical underdog victory. This made me almost sure Del Rio would cash in at the end of the night – a prospect I wasn’t happy about, but luckily that didn’t happen. Seen as Kofi beat Del Rio, it made me think he would capitalise and go all the way to the final at least.

Though the matches were all, through necessity, little more than five minutes each, Rey Mysterio vs Dolph Ziggler was a real stand out. The two engaged in a ridiculously fast-paced match around chain-wrestling, and there was an awesome sequence especially where the two were flawlessly chain-wrestling at high speeds, resulting in a missed 619 attempt which Dolph ducked and reversed into a reverse slam for a nice near-fall. Mysterio eventually managed to hit a 619 for the win and advance, much to the crowd’s delight. Indeed, the reaction to Rey was the opposite of the heat he had at MITB, drawing one of the pops of the night after his win and really brought some excitement to the tournament.

I wouldn’t usually talk about the divas match, but it bears repeating that there is just a ridiculous lack of imagination in these entire divas tag matches. I know they were against time, but i’d rather they didn’t book it than waste their time and ours – seriously, it lasted about a minute and not even all the divas got any action. Just give them a story! At least Beth Phoenix won, so maybe she’ll be getting to challenge Kelly Kelly next?

The first semi-final saw The Miz take on Kofi Kingston, and this time Miz’s knee was huting him even more! Kofi looked good again, but Miz managed to hang in and take advantage of Kofi getting in to a bad position with the referee and allowing Miz to take advantage with the Skull Crushing Finalé for another win. Crucially, this wasn’t Miz winning dirty, he just took advantage and survived, making him seem more tough, and a more likely winner. As for Kofi, I was surprised he didn’t make the final after beating Del Rio, which makes me think there was a reason for Del Rio losing, maybe he’ll be feuding with Kofi until Summerslam. That would be a pretty cool, fresh feud for RAW.

‘Silent Rage’ sucks. Boring guy, boring story, boring name.

The second semi was a longer match between Truth and Rey. Nice back-and-forth, but not as exciting as the others (perhaps because the others were more packed in to less time). Rey went over, again to a nice pop. He waited in the ring to wrestle in the final, but instead of Miz’s music, we heard McMahon’s music as he informed Rey that he would have to wait until next week because he had a big announcement and Rey Mysterio, the same as everyone else, is not bigger than WWE. This small nugget I liked as it seemed to fit in with the whole Punk/Cena story of late, it also gave it a more unplanned feel than usual which is stylistically in tune with what could be WWE’s new direction. If people found this RAW  a bit of a downer, which I didn’t really, this final segment redeemed it.

Vince told us that no one, including John Cena, is as big as WWE, and that he had a piece of business he needs to do – a piece of business that was obviously firing Cena – and he called Cena out. Just as he went to fire Cena, Cena launched in to a rant of his own, not in the style of Punk, and not as enrapturing, but with the same candid tone. Cena seemed to accept his firing, but wanted a parting shot at McMahon for trying to do the same to him as he did to Shawn Michaels in 1997 by using him as a stooge to screw Bret Hart and make the title meaningless, that he’s going out with his head held high, and that seen as he loves wrestling so much, he might go to another wrestling organisation, brother (a thinly veiled reference to TNA). He then addressed Punk and thanked him for a great match at MITB before telling Vince that he’s sure he’ll be able to find another star of his calibre to take on The Rock at WrestleMania. After all this, an embarrassed McMahon attempts to progress with the firing of Cena, though it hurts him personally, and in business (though, at the minute, Cena is a slightly edgier face, this close relationship with McMahon may provide the currency for a future heel turn). Just as McMahon is about to fire his top star, Triple H’s music hits! Out comes ‘Corporate HHH’ in a suit, not posturing, and looking rather troubled. McMahon was blissfully unaware of why he was here, and treated him warmly like a son in law (as of course he is and was acknowledged as), but Trips was all business. Hunter acted this quite well; he looked more sheepish and troubled than he ever has, with his head down a lot of the time. Despite wanting to talk to McMahon in private McMahon’s ousting unfolded before our eyes. Hunter informed McMahon that Cena would, in fact, not be fired, and repeating McMahon’s own mantra that noone is bigger than WWE, Hunter told him that the board had decided and ‘the family’ agreed that, in the wake of his reckless judgement with CM Punk which led to the loss of the WWE title, that it was time for him to stand down, and that he, himself, had been nominated to replace him. Like at MITB, McMahon acted this very well, and it did feel like, before our eyes, we were seeing an old man, the man who created sports-entertainment as we know it, losing his empire before us. This had more credence because it is widely reported that Trips is being groomed for exactly that position, continuing the new WWE direction of storylines that blur the lines between reality and work. Though Hunter’s ‘pops’ line went too close to melodrama, it was striking to see these two businessmen standing in this emotional setting while having to mask it in a business shell. The fickle crowd change from ‘na na na na’ chants to ‘Thank You Vince’, which is more appropriate, as a more humble Vince is the last shot of the night.

While this wasn’t explicitly linked to Punk, it will clearly be related, and there is lot to be said, and even more, surely, to be speculated upon. My first comment is that HHH replacing Vince as the authority figure is potentially a genius move; as my title suggests, this is simply a sign that change is continuing, and if this is the dawning of a new era, than a new authority figure makes a lot of sense. Triple H, however, will need a new or tweaked character – the Corporate Hunter is a cool idea, but he’ll need new music etc. But what does this mean for Punk? Well, I think Hunter will be pursuing Punk in a much more aggressive way. It is still the plan that there will be a new WWE Champion crowned next week, and it seems clear to me that Punk will need to show up or do something impactful. His profile will need to be on RAW in some way, but without just turning up and wrestling. There CANNOT be a new champion crowned unless it is noticeably in an unsatisfying way; either the match is interrupted, or when the new champion is crowned, Punk chimes in and talks about being the real champion, and that he is out of WWE’s bubble, before proceeding (if all our dreams come true) defending the title away from the WWE, confident that he wont lose because he’s ‘the best in the world’.  Embarrassed, Triple H, who saved Cena’s job, sends Cena after Punk (which either works because Cena realises the importance of the belt, feels he owed HHH a favour, or is threatened with being fired if he doesn’t). Another option, or possibly related is that HHH himself calls Punk out, saying he’s not as good as the Game, and challenges him to a match at Summerslam personally. Those ideas are admittedly quite thin, but it’s clear that Hunter will probably turn heel at least. Again, like in the past month’s RAWs and the PPV, we were left with more questions than answers, and questions that were exciting and interesting. Facsinating stuff, lets just hope the potential logistical problems with involving Punk and getting him to Summerslam in a believable way don’t hurt this astounding story.

Money in the Bank Review, 2011: CM Punk, Unemployed WWE Champion, Kisses Vince Goodbye

CM Punk shows Mr. McMahon his newly-won title before blowing him a kiss goodbye

Well, I think we’ll all be watching RAW tonight! As happy as I am about what happened last night, there is so much to pore over i’m worried that I wont be able to verbalise it all too well, so i’ll stick to WWEs genius of last night, keep it simple. Indeed, the Punk story drew scores of imaginative fantasy booking from fans around the world. I myself could barely contain myself, posting on here a new idea I had only hours before the event. But instead of going with an overly-complicated scenario, WWE gave us, basically, what we wanted, and in a compelling, dramatic way. The best way to really understand exactly what happened is to watch it, and pay for it. Indeed, i’ll be buying the DVD when it’s released – not  only because of the quality of the PPV, but because the best way to show WWE that we want this sort of honest wrestling, driven by the people is what we want, is with cold hard Dollar.

Match 1) Daniel Bryan Won the Smackdown Money in the Bank Ladder Match
One thing I noticed about the ladder matches last night was that, although there were some nice spots, they were more about sheer brutality and storytelling based upon the sheer amount of people. Early on there was a nice repeated spot involving baseball slides to people using a ladder, only for the previous aggressor to be hit with the same spot. Also, there were lots of sequences where, while backs were turned, a lone competitor tried to climb the ladder. It just got over a bit more of a sophisticated psychology where the competitors realised that stealth may be more helpful than fighting in trying to get the coveted briefcase. The place for stealth is quite limited though, and this was shown in probably the most memorable spot of the match where Sheamus powerbombed Sin Cara through the ladder in what is now a familiar spot. Cara sold this fantastically, staying in a crumpled heap for just longer than you would expect. When he was brought to the back, however, I became convinced that it was just a conceit allowing for Cara to rush the ring at the end and directly affect the finish. Unfortunately, it seems like this was a kayfabe injury angle after Cara failed breached the wellness policy and is now suspended. With him out of the match, rest got on with eliminating each other; Cody Rhodes had a decent period of dominance hitting Cross Rhodes on several people, Barrett performed a great spot hitting Waste Land to Kane (I think) over the top rope, and Justin Gabriel hit a springboard-style 450 Splash from a ladder on the turnbuckle to Kane (again) before they all started to fight for the briefcase more intently. This was a case of survival as wrestlers would climb the ladder, only to be eliminated and another guy join the race. The final two were former NXT/Nexus brethren Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan. With Barrett a favourite at the start, i’m sure the fans were expecting Barrett to dispatch Bryan, but instead, Bryan got the advantage, and got the briefcase! That genuinely was a shock, and a pleasant one! That’ll be very pleasing for the IWC fans, and i’m sure for the many others who can relate to a genuinely likeable and very skilled wrestler and who like him whether they’re a nerd or not. I think people feared Bryan, as a winner, may have been used as a luckless foil for the Punk story, but seen as that was not the case, we are faced with the exciting prospect of Bryan as a future World Champion. Bryan winning is great, not only – obviously – for Bryan, but for Smackdown, where the roster is now re-jigged and has a new top face added to back up Orton and make it less one-dimensional (hopefully), while also maybe speeding Cody Rhodes’ rise to the top by association. Excellent, surprising, refreshing booking!

Match 2) Kelly Kelly w/ Eve Torres def. Brie Bella to Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was a decent divas match and, unfortunately, they suffered from the understandable fatigue audiences suffer from after seeing an intense ladder match. There were some nice moments here, most notably Kelly Kelly taking a faceplant bump to the outside off a reversal of her tarantula-like head-scissors. There were, however, some sloppy moments too. We all knew Kelly would win, and she did so with relative ease, as a top babyface diva should.

Match 3) Mark Henry def. The Big Show
This was the best monster vs monster match I can recall seeing – at least in recent times. It wasn’t a lolling, slow, drudging  affair, but started out intense, with the big guys hitting huge resounding chops against each other and quickly falling out to ringside, where they brawled some more in a well choreographed section. There was a lot of nice back and forth here as one power rallied, only for the other force to produce an equal reaction. I didn’t much like Henry working Show’s knee – that sort of technical wrestling doesn’t fit with the raw dislike the two are meant to have for each other, but that was the only flaw of the match. Eventually, Henry managed to get the win, but it required the World’s Strongest Man to hit the World’s Strongest Slam twice and several splashes, proving the sheer power of Show and the power that was vanquished. It was good that the match was relatively short because it just got over the threat and power of Henry. In case that wasn’t enough, Henry set about the prone Show post-match, with a crunching Vaderbomb to Show’s ankle, which was wrapped around a chair. This seems to be writing Show off TV for a while, which I have nothing against because he is rather stale just now (this last feud really being about Henry). Hopefully when he returns, he’ll be able to make an impact again – for one thing, I think he would make a great challenger for Christian, with Christian being a smaller guy. Because Henry’s a heel, I don’t see him challenging for the title, but he is only going to move up the card. Maybe he could work with Bryan (for the same reason as Christian) trying to force the MITB briefcase away from him. God, he might win too – let’s hope not!

Match 4) Alberto Del Rio Won the RAW Money in the Bank Match
Immediately, I didn’t like that each competitor brought their own ladder to the ring. They all entered and squared up, but it made no sense that they didn’t try and use them. Why wait for more armed competitors to arrive? What can they do, DQ you!? I was also a little unimpressed by the repeated spot (possibly from last year’s event, possibly from Legacy-DX) where one guy is buried under a pile of ladders, but then Rey Mysterio was thrown out of the ring on to the mangled mess of ladders in a horrible (in a good way) bump. Recently, Kofi Kingston has been the king of the MITB match, and last night, one of the first things that really impressed me last night was his spot with Evan Bourne, showing remarkable balance by each climbing a still folded ladder in the middle of the ring! Amazing stuff. This was followed with more … amazing stuff, a plethora of outside dives of various kinds: Alex Riley (yes, A-Ry) with a suicide dive, R-Truth with a somersault plancha, Kofi and Rey with simultaneous cross bodies to the outside, and topped with a Shooting Star Press from Bourne on to everybody. Amazing, heart-in-mouth stuff, well paced and built to a climax. Skipping time a bit, there was another, amazing, perfectly simultaneous pair of hurricanranas from Bourne and Mysterio to Truth and Del Rio. Before the match, I predicted that the Smackdown match would by the high-flying master-class, but this match really took my breath away in that category. More great stuff came with a sequence starting with Kofi using the ladder on the top turnbuckle as a springboard for a Boom Drop before R-Truth was caught with a 619 from Rey, on a ladder, in the middle of the ring! Unbelievable balance! The scramble for the briefcase did a great job of selling how important the ‘golden’ opportunity is to the competitors; with several ladders set up, seven superstars fought atop them, eventually all crashing and burning, with no one up, there was a huge pop for the return of The Miz, who looked to possibly legitimately hurt his knee after falling from the ladder on his feet (he did go on to take a sunset flip, so maybe it’s not too bad, but if he was hurt, major kudos for finishing the match!), and sprint-hopped to the ring and up the ladder. It was Rey that stopped Miz, and as he climbed the ladder there was huge heat as the audience saw that he could win and therefore shows the staleness of Mysterio’s character right now. The one man left, ADR, managed to scale the ladder and swipe Rey’s mask in a clever bit of booking which saw Rey rather cover his face than challenge for the briefcase. In his fever to do this, he knocked Del Rio’s ladder over, but that small botch didn’t affect the end, and Del Rio won the briefcase to hasten his path, you have to think, to the WWE Championship. Now this made me, and i’m sure many others, worry that this only pointed to Del Rio (rather than Punk) leaving Chicago as champion, especially when he promised to prove how great he was later in the night,

Match 5) Christian def. Randy Orton to Become World Heavyweight Champion
This match was excellent in terms of in-ring content, but even better given the intelligent booking of it considering the stip that if Orton was DQ’d, he would lose his title. The first thing Christian did was to leave the ring and hand the famously unstable Orton a chair to hit him with. Even Orton though, was not hot enough yet to contemplate that. This was Christian’s schtik throughout the match, and he continued by shoving Orton. In the early going though, that only made Orton mad enough to dominate in the ring. I was fatigued, as I said is possible, after watching the second MITB match, but as this match went on, I started waking up – no doubt with the help of the red hot Chicago crowd! The match became a great back-and-forth encounter (better than at Capitol Punishment, which was good, but probably their weakest effort), with Christian still looking heelish, but this time more Randy Orton’s equal. This was exemplified when Christian managed to wrestle Orton in to a Killswitch for a great near fall which the audience, and I, went nuts for. This was where the match headed for it’s crescendo, with more and quicker back-and-forth, leading to a vintage hangman DDT from Orton. With Christian backed in to a corner, he led Orton after him before spitting in his face. An understandably furious Orton went after Captain Charisma in a noticeably new and brutal way, eventually hitting a low blow on Christian to hand Christian the match and the championship in the perfect way regarding their storyline. It gives Christian the title in the least honourable way possible, and really reignites the tension between the two. As I write, this is before the Smackdown tapings and I don’t know what will happen with the World Title. The reason I mention this as a factor is that given Christian’s first title reign was so short, and with Daniel Bryan crowned the MITB holder, there is a real possibility that he could cash in on Tuesday to further frustrate Christian. I don’t think Bryan, as a WWE character, is ready for the title. I think he needs a good story to build him up and let us get used to the idea of him as champion.

Match 6) CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship
The empty ring, the canvas, literally, where history was about to unfold. I love it when WWE allow a pause to let the fans’ voice be heard, and it was genuinely spine-tingling hearing the Chicagoans chant ‘CM Punk! CM Punk!’ as loud as they could, only to be validated when his music finally hit to the biggest pop i’ve ever heard! Punk, with a quiet confidence at first, stepped through the curtain in a shirt commemorating the day and himself as the ‘best in the world’, but when he shouted the familiar ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ he became a shaman of the crowd, with them in the palm of his hand. He was literally controlling them at points, telling them how to react and directing them. As a face, he was producing such great pops, and finally, sitting down as his music reached a crescendo and the camera panned out to show the crowd and how Punk is with the crowd, equal to them, a part of them, waiting for the New York Yankees to come out to face him. Punk didn’t say a word, but here, even more than before, he was the voice of the voiceless, the fan’s representative. Again a pause, signalling, as if we didn’t already know, how we should react to Cena, who came out stoic and without his usual Americana-pomp, visibly aware of the power of the crowd that were almost baying for him. Punk played up to this even more by leaving the ring and standing by the guard-rails with the fans, including Colt Cabana. In fact, one minor thing that I thought was missed was the announcers refusing to acknowledge Colt (or perhaps being ignorant of him). Mentioning him would have played well with the story and added yet another fantasy booking red-herring to the mix.

Then there was the match, a match which, even without the context, would stand out as a very good match, but with the context in mind, and with the wall of noise created by the Chicago fans, following the ups and downs of the match, and specifically, of CM Punk. The two started off respectfully of each other’s abilities with some sequences followed by stand-offs, but CM Punk did mock the character of Cena, telling him that he can’t see him, and theatrically directing the ‘You Can’t Wrestle’ chant at Cena, who is unfairly well known for being a bad wrestler for 5 moves (obviously not true). Early on, it was a real collision of forces as there would be regular and even back-and-forth, but the roles played by either man were remarkably different. Cena was all business, almost ignoring the fans while insisting on using all his face taunts – that here seemed to be distinctly aimed at mocking the audience’s support for Punk. Punk, on the other hand, was showing the two-way equal conversation between babyfaces and fans by reacting to them and seemingly letting them direct his own actions. With Cena on the outside, for instance, he gestured to the crowd, obviously suggesting some sort of diving move to the outside, and when they responded rapturously, he went ahead and hit a great Suicide Dive to Cena on the outside before slapping hands with Colt Cabana. The two also traded highly aggressive outer-ring moves; Punk with a brutal guillotine knee to Cena on the apron, and Cena with the first suplex to the outside that i’ve actually seen land correctly. The second half of the match, very interestingly, was booked similarly to a Cena match, but with Punk taking the part of Cena; indeed, by the second half, he was almost completely on the receiving end, hanging on and showing his resolve. He took, and kicked out of, two Attitude Adjustments, while also escaping an STF and reversing one in to the Anaconda Vice. The difference was that, like on the previous RAW, Punk continually frustrated Cena’s usual routines: his shoulder blocks/slam/5 knuckle shuffle/AA progression was constantly interrupted by Punk with ingenious reversals/interventions. It was in the wake of this that the finish came. With Punk finally in control after a GTS to the chest which dropped Cena out of the ring, out came Mr. McMahon and the ‘glad-handing ass kisser’ stooge, John Laurinatis (Johnny Ace) to watch the action. At this point, I became worried that we would get some over-booked whitewash finish putting Cena over, but rather than that, we were given something much better that simply hinted at the possibility of that nightmare ending. Punk stared them down before re-entering the ring, right in to an STF (quite importantly, as I will make clear momentarily), at which point, McMahon started calling for the bell in a red herring for a lame over-used screwjob finish. Laurinatis, who had been sent to ring the bell presumably, was met by the honourable Cena, who floored him, not wanting it to finish that way, and told McMahon the same thing. Re-entering the ring, he walked straight into a GTS. This mirrored Cena taking advantage of Punk’s distraction earlier, and therefore maintains the cleanliness (if you will) of Punk’s victory as he picked up the 3-count as a result. There then followed yet another rapturous pop and for unlike a lot of recent similar announcements, the ‘and NEEEWWWWW WWE Champion’ announcement felt important and historic as the crowd shouted ‘CM Punk’ along with Justin Roberts, and CM Punk could barely contain himself while at the same time maintaining that righteous cockyness that has effectively turned him face of late, posing with the belt, and displaying his new possession to McMahon, who had just, of course, lost it. Vince still had another trick up his sleeve that was also another red herring – and the most believable one – of Del Rio coming to cash in so that Punk could win, but not keep the title and keep it all very tidy. The tidyness of this false finish was interrupted when a prepared Punk hit Del Rio squarely with a roundhouse, realised that he should quit while ahead, and so made the very sensible decision to vacate the arena. Punk climbed the guard-rail and, surrounded by his worshipping fans, blew Vince a knowing, cocky kiss goodbye, before being immersed in the fans. As Punk made this final movement, we saw some wonderfully subtle acting from McMahon, who made a desperate step towards Punk as if trying to will him back, and as Punk left the arena, we saw a broken McMahon with his eyes closed, barely believing the loss he had just suffered.

Finally, the Money in the Bank closing logo appeared, and I knew the integrity of the PPV was safe; we had just, quite possibly witnessed the birth of a new era – one based on some sort of truth/reality embellished with artistic licence and the desires of the fans. The WWE has finally, it seems, committed to giving us a significant change. Yes, i’ve enjoyed WWE from the so-called PG Era very much – loved it a lot of the time, in fact, but never before (or at least for a decade) have I felt this sort of genuine connection to the ‘product’, where I feel there is a wrestler that really represents us. I mean, when was the last time there was a babyface this cool and connected with the fans at a level beyond catchphrases etc? I would argue not even Austin or Rock managed that to this extent. As for the PPV on the whole, it was supremely booked with mostly fantastic action (save for the poor divas!). It was nearly perfection, and we want more!

RAW Recall (11/07/11): CM Punk: The Voice of the Voiceless

Punk, speaking for the people, berates the out of touch Mr. McMahon

Well we’ve been here before, y’know, two weeks ago. I’m forced to try and write cohesively about one of the most compelling broadcasts i’ve ever seen, and thanks to CM Punk; something that was even more impressive given it followed the big bang of his initial shoot.

Punk, in fact, opened the show, his presence alone instantly creating a tangible buzz in the arena, especially  considering how Punk came out with a megaphone – a symbol surely that Punk was going to position himself as a sort of grassroots voice of the people. Once arriving in the ring, he had the megaphone, a microphone, and even a headset to the producer, in to which he warned them not to shut off his mic. Again, there was something about Punk’s hands, full of communication devices, which again, made him seem like the embodiment of a voice, something he explained he equated with power. Indeed, Punk said all he ever wanted was this mic, and now, he’s getting it because he has made the WWE socially relevant. This was again Punk in full ‘truth-teller’ mode, and he told one very poignant truth when he mentioned how WWE – so desperate to be a big part of pop culture – is only ever mentioned on mainstream media when someone dies (think especially of Benoit). But, and this is true, Punk has made a positive pop-culture impact for WWE and professional wrestling more widely, and that makes him the biggest wrestling star in the world. Add this to the freedom that Punk exudes, and which allowed him to treat Vince McMahon – the archetypal heel authority – almost like an equal, or even less. I’ll discuss this later in conjunction with the closing seg, but it was shown when Punk foreshadowed his demeaning of Vince by suggesting he’ll get him to join the CM Punk ‘Kiss My Ass Club’ as part of his contract negotiations. This drew Cena out, to whom Punk responded by shouting through his megaphone by saying ‘Sir, i’m afraid your music is just too loud’ in his usual dry way, but Cena wasn’t dry, he was deadly serious, making a fair point about how some of the greatest wrestlers of recent history (including Kurt Angle!) had all underestimated him, and so, even if Punk thinks he’s the greatest wrestler in the world, he shouldn’t underestimate Cena. Cena managed to hold his own here for sure, and this managed, if anything, to make Cena seem even more beatable because it seemed like he was aware of the sheer momentum behind Punk, while adding to the great personal psychology between the two.

The GM then chimed in and booked Cena in a handicap match against Otunga & McGillicutty of CM Punk’s Nexus. This match was a pretty good because Cena did not simply dominate the tag champs, and indeed, the tag champs seemed like a cohesive unit, taking apart Cena, utilising their new Atomic Drop/Dropkick double-team at one point where they showed complete control over ‘The Champ. Cena eventually went over with a recognisable burst of energy, but at least it wasn’t one that necessarily buried the champs as one received an AA and the other was thrown over the top rope in a way that made sense. Now, usually (on Smackdown at least) if I discuss commentary, it’s in a critical way, but this match was announced superbly! Cole and King weren’t talking about themselves, but the central jeopardy of the MITB: whether or not Punk would leave the WWE with the title, and what that could mean for the company, sounding clearly affected and even panicked as they did. Cole, a pragmatist, was defending McMahon’s worries about placing the symbolic legacy of the company on Cena’s shoulders, while the more simplistic face King asserted that Cena was the perfect candidate as one of the greatest WWE Champions of all time. Again, we were hearing doubt that Cena (colloquially known, remember, as SuperCena) could beat Punk, and not from the mouth of Punk. Like last week, what a great way to get Punk over as a viable winner on Sunday. It was also interesting to hear their reflections on why the GM would put Cena in a handicap match, given the importance of his healthiness on Sunday. Could we finally be about to learn more about the GM?

Good to see Melina in the ring, who had some nice early moves against Kelly, but another nothing match which saw Kelly go over. This is why the Divas title means so little (certainly less than the shamefully defunct Women’s Championship); because no-one really has to work for it. I’m only bothered that Kelly has won the title because here desire to really work and progress in the industry means it genuinely means something to her – it’s certainly not because of her in-ring journey! It doesn’t have to be this way either – watch WWE Superstars and you will see. Love the Bellas. They fluffed their lines a little this time, but usually they are cool, fluent heels, and as I always say, very underrated as wrestlers. Eve Torres making the save is same old same old, but it was at least refreshing to see the Bellas come out best. I think now it would be best to create an actual storyline here. Eve has been defending Kelly, but perhaps it’s time for her to turn? After all, despite all the work she has clearly put in, the WWE Universe chose Kelly for the title opportunity – definitely currency for bitterness there!

Miz is a great talker, and he had to work hard to be heard over that sense of Punk-inspired awe I described earlier, but I think he did an admirable job, talking about himself as the most dominant, experienced competitor in RAW’s MITB match, and the future of the company, which is, of course, all true. Cue Swagger to take issue with Miz, but, bless him, Miz cut him right down with one of the lines of the night: ‘If someone cashes in MITB and no one remembers, did it really happen?’ Don’t get me wrong, I like Swagger generally, but as of right now, he just doesn’t have ‘it’. Anyway, cue everyone bloody else in the match! (To be fair, you can’t complain; it’s the best way to promote it, if a little frustrating when the same thing just happened on Smackdown!) First we had Bourne who it was great to hear from (if he’s going to progress, he needs more mic time) with a no nonsense line about how the past doesn’t matter over what will happen, just before Kofi comes out and literally repeats the sentiment, though to be fair, he goes further getting over the danger involved in ladder matches, using Edge’s premature retirement as his example, which was poignantly met with ‘The Truth Shall Set You Free’. Truth went off on one of his off-the-wall promos about how he hoped there were no spiders on the ladder or in the briefcase because he was frightened of them, and adding that if there was, the grits would hit the pan (great line); but as usual with Truth’s current character, there was a point to this. He was pointing to how the conspiracy against him continued, and how he had, in fact, recently beat John Cena and that that made him a favourite for the match. Riley was next out, and he chased after Miz. This annoyed me – not only because Riley needed to be on the mic, but also because Miz was first out; if Riley wanted Miz so bad, why did he wait for four other superstars to talk before coming out! Finally we had Del Rio, who managed to stand out fantastically, claiming that Cena chose Punk (eventhough he won a #1 contenders match) because he was scared of Del Rio, and that he was right to be. He also seemed to suggest that he had taken out Rey (who was notable by his absence) – perhaps grist for more MITB intrigue. This was followed by a decent and inevitable 6 man tag which saw Riley go over for the faces. Nice build, but real identikit stuff (not that I can think of a better way to build the match!) Following the match however, Del Rio really solidified his position as favourite by storming the ring with a ladder and taking out all participants; not in the same, slightly unbelievable way as Sheamus did, but as a blindside, and looked great doing so.

Earlier on, we saw a slightly strange seg where Dolph Ziggler, Vickie Guererro and Drew McIntyre were speculating about the night’s events and mocking Mr. McMahon (and his breath), before becoming stoic and seeming frightened as he actually turned up to book them in a punishment match against the Big Show. Well, this wasn’t much of a match but a brawl/attempt to survive for Dolph/Drew which ended in a double count-out. With Ziggler hiding, Show went about mauling McIntyre, slamming him in to nthe metal WWE sign at the top of the ramp before motioning to chokeslam him off the stage. This, I think, made a lot of sense; we’ve seen Henry basically mauling people on every show,  so it’s important that we saw Show doing the same thing to make their match seem more like, well, a match. Before he could chokeslam McIntyre, however, he was charged by Henry, apparently with no thought for his own wellbeing, as it sent all three off the side of the stage and McIntyre, unprotected, to the concrete floor. Loved seeing McIntyre on TV, and I hope his sacrifice is rewarded. As for Show and Henry, this was more excellent build – it really does seem like ‘the irresistible force meeting the immovable object’ and, for once, i’m interested in one of these monster vs monster matches!

Next up was our final seg, the unprecedented contract negotiation between McMahon and Punk. I wont detail everything because there was just too much happening, but i’ll discuss the parts that really stood out to me. First off, McMahon came to the ring, trying – deliberately I think – too hard to please the audience, and in full diplomatic executive mode, even shaking hands at ringside statesmanlike. He then invited Punk out, who completely undermined McMahon by imitating his trademark strut. Punk offered his own contract, with his own new provisions, the first of which was to be able to literally push Mr. McMahon. This was one of the most striking moments of the whole angle. People have been comparing Punk to Austin, and that’s a more than fair comparison, and Dave Lagana even suggested on twitter that Punk might, Austin-like, GTS McMahon by the end of the segment. That would have been a little surprising, but not shocking; when Austin first stunned McMahon, it was shocking, it was a physical, brash challenge to McMahon’s authority, but that only works for one man, after that, it loses effect. Last year, Nexus attacked McMahon, and yes, it was noteworthy, but not shocking, and a GTS would fall in to that category. What Punk did was more subtle, but also incredibly effective: he lent down to Vince, and pushed him, not down, but in a demeaning way. The Stunner was powerful, and challenging to McMahon, but it was a move he used on other wrestlers, and hurt Vince’s body, not his pride; Punk pushing Vince was demeaning, and shocking, because no one’s seen that sort of treatment of the behemoth character to date. Fantastic stuff. After this, Punk became almost a union type figure representing the people, confronting this obnoxious, oblivious chairman; he said he wants an apology from Vince for his hypocrisy: running an anti-bullying campaign while being a bully himself and unceremoniously firing talented people like Luke Gallows and Colt Cabana. Here, McMahon’s veil slipped, he retorted angrily that they deserved it, but CM Punk only continued, saying that Vince was out of touch with the fans while he knew exactly what they wanted in 2011: for the WWE not to be embarrassed by pro-wrestling and to embrace it. Vince returned, shouting that he doesn’t care what these people want only for Punk to instantly respond that that’s the problem. By now, Punk was simply a representative of the people, as he said, a voice for the voiceless; he was turning face in front of our own! Eventually, Punk won his grudged apology, and just before Vince could sign Punk’s contract, out came Cena. That in itself could be interesting – think about it – Vince signs that contract and the WWE is saved, but Cena stopped it. Anyway, Cena was out to confront Punk for his own hypocricies (which really are hard to detect at this point) and to go down his own well-trodden babyface path of fighting for the fans etc etc, but Punk completely undermined this, by stopping Cena’s routine and saying that, actually, it is Cena who has lost his way. Cena claims to represent the WWE Universe, but Punk questioned this, after all, Cena now is a dynasty, a ten time champion, the poster-boy. It is Punk who is the wrong size and shape, the underdog, the guy who rode on the side of Cena’s car at WM 22 (for those who don’t know, completely true) as a prop for his entrance, but who dreamed of being in the ring with Cena and defeating him. Cena may love the fans, but he doesn’t understand them as well as Punk, and just as the most successful sports teams in the recent history of US sports, no matter how much he might try to convince himself, he is no longer the underdog, but the New York Yankees. This illicited a punch from Cena which Punk flew from, but this wasn’t an offended punch, this was an overly-defensive punch, like Cena saw truth in what Punk said, and didn’t like it one bit. Again, we were made to believe we were getting another classic ending, with Cena’s music hitting, only for Punk to interrupt it again. Punk said he had something to say that the people wanted to hear, that at Money in the Bank, you can say good to John Cena, the WWE Championship, and CM Punk.

So where does this leave us? Punker is turning face – i’m 99% convinced. Not only because of his populist actions, but because RAW needs a new top face. I was sure that Cena would stay face, simply because RAW needs more than one top face, which it doesn’t have now; but now i’m not so sure. Down to the comment calling Punk, who had such a connection with the fans, a ‘terrorist’, Cena was in full OTT Americana mode – he seemed out of touch, and finally, his character, and complacent routines were challenged. He seemed shook by the realisation of his position as a dynasty. That all in mind, if Punk is a brand new face, will Cena be the heels he works against. Nothing is clear at this point, and I wont speculate beyond this. I also wont speculate more about MITB; i’ll save that forthe daunting task of the preview post!

RAW Recall (04/07/2011): Cena Gets ‘Fired’ Up

Mr. McMahon returns to threaten Cena with termination if Cena doesn't keep the WWE Championship in the WWE

Damn spoilers. I thought i’d avoided most of what happened on last night’s pre-taped RAW, but as it turns out, i’d gotten the gist of it. I didn’t know precisely what was said, however, and therein was a lot of interesting ideas which i’ll discuss later on.

At the start of the show, it was announced that CM Punk had been ‘suspended indefinitely’, but if anything, this made the presence of Punk all the more conspicuous, especially when his Nexus followers came out to his music to face Vladimir Kozlov and Santino Marella. This was no mistake as they usually come out to the ‘We Are One’ song, and I liked how it started a trend for the show, with there being a constant spectre of Punk hanging over the show. The match was fine, and put the champions over which is good to see considering there have been quite a few losses for champions of late. The future of the Nexus tag team could well depend on the future of Punk. If Punk gets pushed as a heel, then they could get pulled along for the ride; if not, then I think they’ll still be fine. I just hope that, whatever happens, they stick together for a while. They may have been thrown together, but they have familiarity now, and if they stay together, they’ll be part of a suddenly burgeoning tag division. Following their victory, Zack Ryder came out alone and performed his catchphrases. I was pleased to see him get a really good pop and have the fans chanting along to the ‘Woo Woo Woo’ chant so vigorously. I’m excited to see Ryder on TV, and though I don’t think it’s the best, most exciting course for him, the most obvious consequnce is that The Major Brothers (Hawkins and Ryder) will reunite to take on Otunga and McGillicutty and further bolster the tag division.

It’s the 4th of July! Wheel out Hogan! Wheel out Dusty! Wheel out Duggan! Wheel out Serge! It was Serge this time. Maybe it’s my conditioning, but the pledge of allegiance in this sort of crowd setting is such prescriptive, surreal chanting that it freaks me out – partly because of the unthinking call and response, and partly because of it being slightly distastefully arrogant, coming as it always does in conjunction with strong nationalist sentiment. NONETHELESS! It was independence day, and I can understand the pride involved there, and it only took a minute or so, so it didn’t infect the broadcast. I liked Swagger wrestling Serge, even if it wasn’t much of a ‘match’. Swagger seems, once again, to be struggling to get over, and WWE seem to be trying to book him against legends as part of some sort of loose storyline. After ‘The Legend Killer’, this seems a bit stale, but if WWE could make a tighter storyline behind it, it could go somewhere. I’d like to see him linked with the more charismatic legends (Piper, Hayes, Dusty,Patterson, Nash, DDP and so on and so on) and/or give him a manager as a mouthpiece because he really needs to get noticed, and giving him a good manager could really help him! Nonetheless, I like that Evan is involved, and if he and Swagger are given opportunities in the ring in the run up to MITB, with a legend in Swagger’s corner as a manager, it could be great.

The biggest match of the night was ostensibly a #1 contender’s match between R-Truth, Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio. This was a pretty good match, but that was all it was. There was some nice triple-threat chemistry, with last moment break-ups of pins, and some nice spots, like the modified Doomsday Device, and especially the Sunset Flip/German Suplex combination. I think the reason it was a little underwhelming to me was that I knew (or at least felt I knew) that it was a meaningless match. Maybe this isn’t the case for a casual fan (and if it’s not, great!), but I knew fine well that this was a red-herring. As a ‘smart’ fan at least, I knew this was just part of a work to get over the Punk angle even more. That in itself isn’t to criticise the match. It worked well complimenting the main feud, but it just took an aspect of importance away from the match and made it less compelling. The finish was pretty nice with Del Rio securing his cross arm breaker on Rey (who really is going no whare at the minute) basically on top of the prone R-Truth. The announcers mentioned after the show that Del Rio would be replaced in the MITB match after earning his spot. This leads to a wealth of possibilities and only promises more of what MITB is so good at: unpredictablity. I’ll talke more about this in conjunction with the final seg.

Miz vs Riley. Cannot be bothered! I feel for Miz, and I still don’t get how Riley is so over – I suppose, however, that his getting over isn’t something to be criticised. The match for the most part more of what we’ve already seen. The finish, however, was more interesting. I liked how Miz was more in control, only  to be rolled up for another loss that avoided Miz seeming weak while providing reason for Miz to get even more frustrated, which he did almost immediately, with a brutal beat-down of Riley. This was great for Miz, especially considering his poor form of late, because it made him look genuinely powerful, as if he might have a whole other lever of violence behind him, for the first time since his run up to WrestleMania with Cena. This will keep this feud fresh, at least until MITB, where I hope they caneach move on to something else.

Next up was the main event segment. Now, going back to the start of the show, we saw Cena come out and, perhaps surprisingly, defend CM Punk. In this opening seg, Cena instantly drew my attention when he too seemed to be keeping up the theme of breaking through the 4th wall as he mentioned the true stories of WWE confiscating signs they didn’t like from the crowd, and the uproar over Daniel Bryan being fired last year for being ‘overly aggressive’ – all things that WWE tried to sweep under the rung. Cena showed a lot of fire while being incredibly serious about Punk’s suspension, the direction of WWE and the industry he is so passionate about, and so he essentially called McMahon out to answer to the charge of tyranny over the industry, the superstars and the fans. At the end of the show, McMahon, who as Punk was so adroit at pointing out, will listen to Cena, indeed showed up initially claiming that he suspended Punk because he could and because Punk deserved it, but with a bit of a righteous prod from Cena, Vinnie eventually admitted that he suspended Punk because he was worried that is Punk won, it would cripple and embarrass the company. This was great because Vinve saying “I’m not sure you can beat him”, while ‘him’ (Punk) wasn’t there only made him seem more powerful, especially seen as Cena himself didn’t seem sure he could beat him. This isn’t SupeCena, this is a vulnerable man, taken out of his comfort zone, but willing to fight for the title and it’s tradition. Instantly, this makes Cena a much more likable, relatable figure, with more ‘edge’, while also making the championship and the symbolic belt seem much more meaningful and prestigious than it has in a long time! This was made even more clear when Cena seemed to hand back the belt to McMahon, not wanting it if he couldn’t defend it against a person who earned his shot (his politics aside). He didn’t have to shout, his (obviously genuine) passion for the business came through. It was the threat of his champion walking out anyway that eventually led McMahon to agree to let Punk challenge for the title. Though McMahon retains his gravitas, he was really on the backseat until he threatened Cena with being fired if he loses the title to Punk and from the company.

It really is hard to gauge what will happen, but we can only expect more genuinely unprdictable twists and turns in the coming weeks. There are so many questions: will Punk even appear on RAW? I don’t think he should, at least in the arena. The effect of him not being there but being constantly the centre of attention is great for his profile, and makes him seem like a huge, terrible force. Saying that, he should perhaps appear, talking; outside the arena, at his home, at ROH, with Colt Cabana, and so on and so on, just stirring up tension and excitement. Another one is  what role, if any, will Alberto Del Rio play in it all? I really hope he has little to no role in the match. Not because he’s not talented or worthy, but because this is working so well without him now, and he could just clutter it. However, as a #1 contender who may be displaced by Punk, he could be a great villain to rail against Cena and Punk, while being a great foil for a heel McMahon if he stays around. Indeed, the more this unfolds, the more it points to a face turn for Punker. He is already garnering support (not least from the top face), and he has now been set up as an antagonist to a heel McMahon, and possibly now Alberto Del Rio. Again, this just goes to show the endlessness of possibilities for this angle.I still hope that Punk takes the title to the indy’s, but if and when he returns to the WWE ring, he could very well be a badass babyface, with the stature of Cena or Orton; something WWE desperately needs right now!

RAW Recall (27/06/2011): CM God

I tweeted earlier in the week (@RTVWOW) that I wouldn’t be writing about RAW this week because I was too  busy to watch live. Well, I somehow manahed to avoid the hoo-haw surrounding Punker and eventually watched RAW last night, and afterwards, obviously, I wanted to add my own two cents. First, however, i’ll warm up by mentioning a few other things from this week’s episode.

It would be remiss to mention Shawn Michaels, whose mark on the show, like everyone else’s, has been overshadowed by Punk. I think he made a good guest host (I guess that’s what he was) and didn’t intrude too much on the action. His interaction with Punk was money, and it is a showdown I think we’d all love to see if HBK wasn’t retired. I liked him superkicking Otunga and McGillicutty but not getting to Punk so he could keep his justifiably confident air he’s carried in recent weeks. What I didn’t like was the part of Michaels’ promo where he said it was impossible to stay away from WWE, and Jerry Lawler suggesting an in-ring return, something completely unfounded, and without any apparent reason other than to confuse the audience. Another thing I didn’t like was his superkick to Drew McIntyre. I was pleased to see McIntyre debut his tweaked schtik to established veterans, Booker T and DDP which came across well, only to be undermined by a superkick by Shawn. After that first seg, Punk was booked in a match with Kane. I was annoyed at that because it’s such a needless use of a Smackdown superstar breaking the brand extension. To be fair though, it shows a problem with the RAW roster – i.e, after Cena, who else could take a dominating babyface spot? Well, nobody really. I loved how Punk sold Kane being a monster though; despite the fact he was doing his job in making Punk look good, Punk helped him out by making him seem a scary prospect again. I liked how Punk walked out of the match because it shows his own confidence and puts over the #1 contender’s status. If he has a spot at the PPV with so much on the line, why is he bothered about wrestling Kane and possibly getting hurt …

Not much needs to be said about Cara-Bourne. It could have been a let-down given all the hype, but it wasn’t. They showcased each other really nicely and Cara showed a great improvement in his in-ring consistency. I hope they give these two a feud-of-respect style thing, eventually turn Bourne heel and give him some mic-time because that’s really what he needs to get over now.

Big Show vs Del Rio in a cage wasn’t a great match in itself, but I did like most of the Mark Henry participation. I was unsure about him ripping the door off, because his botching of that is so well known it didn’t seem that fresh. I liked him busting Show through side of the cage more though. His actions came across as genuinely scary, and at this point, i’m totally sold on Mark Henry as a monster heel. After listening to the fantastic latest podcast from IWantWrestling, I now have a much greater appreciation for Henry as a heel. He’s still not a great worker, but he can be really sadistically mean. They mentioned on the podcast how he once said to Rey Mysterio that he was going to ‘tear off his mask and tear right down to the white meat’, which is a great line, as was one last night when he said to Show, ‘If I charged for air, you’d better pay your bills’. My only problem with this is that it’s another inter-brand feud. It’s saving grace is that Big Show is probably the only person (at least the only babyface) of such a stature to make this so shocking.

Miz has made it as a legitimate main eventer, but, at least with me, he seems to have lost a lot of his fire behind him. Riley seems to be getting over though, so maybe it’s just me (and perhaps Riley will go on to be #2 face). While this was my perception going in to their tag match, and while I thought this week’s booking would be more of the same, I do love tornado tags and this actually became a very good tag match towards the end, with nice storytelling, drama, and a good finish, so I feel Miz, Swaggeer (who I was glad to see was treated seriously), Rey and Riley deserve kudos for that.

The main event, a tables match between John Cena and R-Truth, was ok, but showed how they do slightly lack that explosive chemistry together to make for a great match; as was lacking at Capitol Punishment. The finish to the match was really cool though with CM Punk, wearing a Stone Cold t-shirt moving the table Truth was about to get AA’d through before brawling with Cena and escaping another AA before pushing Cena in front of the table for Truth to spear him through. With a prone Cena, Punk walked up the ramp to the top and entered his familiar sitting down position before delivering one of the most memorable promos in recent history. Indeed, this was the most exciting thing to happen in wrestling since the debut of Nexus, and in terms of the immediate post-show firestorm, it is comparable in terms of the sensation it’s made.

At the start of it, I expected a run of the mill Punk promo (which is actually much better than ‘run of the mill’ anyway), but what we got was truly special, and led to me eventually tweeting that Punk is the greatest professional wrestler in the world right now.

Sitting in a cross-legged, peaceful position, eerily distant from the prone body of John Cena, Punk began spewing righteous hate. One of the first things Punk said was that he didn’t like how Cena got to the top by kissing Vince’s ass, and it was that soon that I knew something special was going on. Still, I thought it would be a limited storyline seed nodding to the cynical fans, but as Punk himself said, he broke straight through the 4th wall, mentioning ‘wrestling’, Hulk Hogan and The Rock (‘Dwayne’) as ass-kissers, Paul Heyman as a good guy instead of a failure, Brock Lesnar, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor (i.e. the competition), Colt Cobana, Triple H and Steph as bad for the future of the company in their official capacities, John Laurinaitis as a yes man and eventually the shortfalls in Vince’s management. By now, if you’re reading this, you’ll have seen it, so I wont go in to the words too much right now, but you should know, WWE definitely planned it – every word was carefully chosen (notice how TNA wasn’t mentioned?), so it makes it even clearer that everything Punk. It wasn’t just his calling out, out of kayfabe, of big names that made this promo, it was also the sheer truth he spoke. About how he has not gotten the right recognition for his talents, despite consistently showing how good he is as well as voicing what so many think are the problems with the company that are not being solved. I’m making this sound clinical when it wasn’t. In fact, it was the most natural promo i’ve seen in a long time. Jim Ross had some very wise words about it, and PG wrestling, on his website:

“The first thing that must be in place for a promo to be great is that it must be natural ala from the heart and not from memory plus the talent must believe in what they are saying and not simply verbally filling time. Every promo must have a reason for taking place much akin to why most matches occur especially on PPV or in TV main events … Punk’s promo was reminiscent of the Attitude Era but it was totally PG. PG can be edgy but it doesn’t need to travel an uncreative, low road to be attitudinal or cool.”

This too was what was great about Punk’s promo, as well as what is good about the best promos. This is one of those that could be shown as a tutorial promo to any young guys or guys in the back who struggle in that area.

Another reason why this has become such a firestorm is because of the sheer possibilities of it. There are spoilers for next week’s RAW out there, but I have so far managed to avoid them, thankfully! Listening to Dave Lagana’s (@Lagana) latest IWantWrestling podcast, there were a lot of interesting points made, mainly regarding the non-WWE entities Punk mentioned: ROH, New Japan, Colt Cabana, Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, while insisting that there wasn’t ONE word of that promo that wasn’t calculated. For instance, the fact that the original ECW invasion was almost 10 years ago to the day. Now I don’t think ther’ll be a ROH or New Japan ‘invasion’, but I can imagine Punk taking the WWE title to indy shows for promotions like the two that were mentioned. Indeed, in that vein, i’d love to see Punk winning the title and ‘leaving’ the WWE, referring to himself as an ‘indpendent wrestler’ and actually going to shows while being filmed by gonzo style WWE cameras and defending the title against popular ROH or New Japan wrestlers like MVP or Eddie Kingston, to name but a few. That might seem a bit far-fetched, but so would have Punk’s shoot, especially given the fact that Punk chose his words so carefully. Then you have people like Heyman and Lesnar, who have worked with WWE and come close to doing so again. With books out to promote, could they return and side with Punk? Could Stone Cold fit in to this? Well, his interactions with Punk have been no mistake, which made me think that, possibly he could take on Stone Cold at probably WrestleMania, or rather – seen as that would book two matches of current stars against former stars – a tag match between Cena and Punk against Rock and Stone Cold. Cena’s possible allignment with Punk may seem to make no sense at this point, but based on the one thing i’ve heard about next week (which I wont share), it could make more sense.

These are but a couple of possibilities, but the possibilities seem endless. Another thing is a potential move away from PG and a return of an ‘attitude era’. As JR says, we don’t need PG to end, and it should be remembered that the Attitude era was very much of its time. What it might show, however, is a shift towards being more edgy and unpredictable, giving more of a voice to the talent and really creating more diverse content, and none of that necessitates a change from PG.
All this from one promo, and it really shows the power of the promo in the hands of the right wrestler. I wont speculate much more for now, after all, it was only about six minutes of action – but the excitement it’s generated can only be a good thing!

Many are calling this Punk’s 3:16 moment, and i’m starting to think they’re right. Are the winds of change finally blowing?