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!