The Bummer of Punk series looks back on the 2011 Summer of Punk in WWE. Catch up on Part One here.
Everything was going so well. The Money in the Bank match between CM Punk and John Cena was one of the most acclaimed matches in company history. It was the first WWE match to receive a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer since Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at Badd Blood 1997. Business-wise, the pay-per-view bucked the trend of underperforming B-tier shows, doubling the number of buys from Capital Punishment the month before. But could they stick the landing? Could they keep the momentum going? How did the WWE follow through with this red-hot story with a red-hot new star?
…how about some McMahon family drama?
One of the stipulations of the Money in the Bank match was that if John Cena lost, Vince McMahon would fire him. Considering this was less than a year after John Cena was fired from WWE by the Nexus, yet never missed a Raw, no one bought it. They shouldn’t have either because Vince never got the chance to fire Cena.
Instead, Triple “Paul Levesque” H returned to TV and announced that the Board of Directors decided the Punk situation was the last straw. Vince McMahon was voted out of his seat as Chairman of the Board, with Hunter filling his seat.
WWE believed that putting Triple H in a phantom position of power, while feigning that Vince McMahon was out of the picture, would result in business success.
Could you imagine that?
Meanwhile, John Cena won the WWE Title again.
Before he was ousted, Vince McMahon’s solution to the CM Punk problem was to pretend it didn’t happen. They would do a one-night tournament to crown a new WWE Champion and move on from there. After Vince bumped the finals of the tournament he booked to the next week, Rey Mysterio would come out of it as champion after beating The Miz in the finals.
Triple H would announce shortly after that Mysterio would give Cena his rematch for the title that same night, a match Cena would win. Eight days after losing the title at Money in the Bank in a match where his job was at stake, John Cena was the WWE Champion again.
Hurricane Punk passed, and water found its level again in the WWE Universe.
Never mind, Punk is back!
Eight days after leaving the WWE with their title, martyring himself to change the status quo, Punk returned as soon as everything returned to normal. Punk said that he made the call to come back because he needed to be in the company to make sure that the changes he wanted came to fruition. While many fans questioned the logic of Punk returning so soon after Money in the Bank, they certainly would have accepted this outcome over the original idea.
“(Punk’s) elevation wasn’t shut down as it would have been in the original booking concept, where he was to return at the end of the show, get beaten up by HHH, left laying with a pedigree and Alberto Del Rio would come down, cash in his briefcase, beat him to win the title, and Del Rio would go to SummerSlam and defend against Cena.”
Jesus Dave, too many commas. WWE wanted to accomplish several goals with their Raw main event scene. They wanted to have Punk as the anti-authority badass babyface. They wanted Cena to remain in the mix at the top, as business wasn’t strong enough to survive him to be cycled down. There was also the case of Alberto Del Rio, who had been penciled in to win a World Title four different times by August 2011, yet still never held the belt.
Their solution was simple. SummerSlam would see John Cena vs. CM Punk II, this time with Triple H as the referee. Why would Triple H need to be the guest referee when the issue at Money in the Bank wasn’t related to the ref? Because intrigue! Triple H quickly made it clear that he didn’t like Punk but was trying to give the fans what they wanted despite it. It was the same dynamic of the early Vince McMahon/Steve Austin feud from 1998, where the rowdy star wrestler saw through the stodgy corporate B.S. and knew the office hated him being on top. It made sense, they just had to stick the landing.
AUGUST 14, 2011
GUEST REFEREE: TRIPLE H
CM PUNK DEF. JOHN CENA – ALBERTO DEL RIO CASHED IN MONEY IN THE BANK
It is a shame that this match is mostly remembered for the calamitous booking decisions that followed it because this match is fantastic. The work is on the level of the Money in the Bank match, with a split crowd in LA instead of the firmly pro-Punk crowd in Chicago. They kept the guest referee shenanigans to a minimum, with Triple H’s only spot before the finish being stopping a double countout to throw both men back in the ring.
This was counter-wrestling at its best, with spots evolving out of big spots from the first encounter. The work was smoother than it was in the Chicago match, with these two fully working out even the most minor of kinks from the first one. Sometimes when a big spectacle match happens, it’s lightning in a bottle. The attempts to recapture it just fall short, whether it be due to the chemistry being off or weaker crowd dynamics. Punk and Cena proved here that their chemistry was no fluke. These two were made to wrestle each other, and they just so happened to figure it out at the peak of their powers.
Unfortunately, there was the finish. Punk pinned Cena after the second Go To Sleep of the match, but Cena’s foot was on the rope at one. Guest referee Hunter blew the finish, with the announcers making it clear on commentary. There is a nice through-line of the McMahon family costing Cena the title on two straight occasions, one that I don’t believe saw any follow-through. But even though it was by design, it did take some air out of the Punk win. ****3/4
If only that was where this ended.
Punk took a literal victory lap around the ring before begrudgingly letting Triple H raise his hand. Triple H left the ring, leaving Punk to celebrate on the second turnbuckle. But wait…who was that coming through the crowd? Who is that big man in the ring?
That’s right, folks. Fresh off of a surprise appearance in the Royal Rumble, Kevin Nash arrived and dropped Punk with the Jackknife powerbomb. Alberto Del Rio then came in with a referee and did what he couldn’t do at Money in the Bank. Del Rio hit an enzuigiri on Punk and pinned him, winning the WWE Title in five seconds.
The next night on Raw, Triple H admitted to his blown call on the main event. He also said that he left tickets for Nash at will call, at Nash’s request. Triple H said he didn’t know anything else but told Nash – via text – that he could come to Raw and explain himself.
Nash’s version of events saw him get a text just before the main event, asking him to “stick the winner for me.” He then outright told Triple H to get his story straight, implicating him as the mystery texter. What is it with Kevin Nash and mystery angles? Between the White Hummer in WCW, 10/10/10 in TNA, and this, he may as well have Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang back him up.
Anyway, Punk decided to try and get his title back in the meantime. To do that, he would have to beat John Cena for the third time in as many tries.
AUGUST 22, 2011
#1 CONTENDER’S MATCH
JOHN CENA DEF. CM PUNK
This was as good of a match as you would get from these two on television, at least in the usual WWE main event slot. As Punk had a feud going, Cena needed his spot. He got it here when Kevin Nash distracted Punk, allowing Cena to hit the Attitude Adjustment and win. Triple H had thrown Nash out of the building earlier on. Triple H left the building after John Laurinaitis told him that Nash was in a car accident. They never said what car hit him, so I will assume it was a White Hummer again. Anyway, someone was lying about that.
We are 36 days removed from Money in the Bank 2011, a historically great show with an ending that left the world wondering what would happen with CM Punk and the WWE Title. The focus of the company was squarely on him.
We went from that to “Punk’s Back!” in eight days. Much sooner than I would have done it, but fine, it sets up a massive SummerSlam main event that capitalizes on the buzz of the prior PPV. Reasonable minds can disagree, but it’s a reasonable decision.
After SummerSlam, the focus is not on CM Punk. The focus is not on John Cena. The focus is not on new WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio. The question on everyone’s mind following the third biggest pay-per-view of the year was…who texted Kevin Nash?
It is an atrocious point of emphasis, but to play devil’s advocate, Kevin Nash still had a bit of a name in 2011. He was coming off of a TNA run that was fun at points, so it’s not like they dragged him completely out of mothballs. And while it’s an odd diversion for Punk, he can beat Nash at Night of Champions and get back to the important stuff soon afterward.
…Punk is going to beat Kevin Nash, right?