The last time we looked back at CM Punk’s 2011, he had just lost a confusing and overbooked mess of a match to Triple H at Night of Champions before being rewarded with a WWE Title match at Hell In A Cell just two weeks later. Jesus, putting that on paper makes it look so much worse. Anyway, Punk would have a preview of that title match when he went one-on-one with Alberto Del Rio.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2011

WWE Champion John Cena was on commentary, having had his match earlier in the night interrupted by Del Rio, who had been on commentary. Huh, I wonder how this will end.

Alberto Del Rio came up in an interesting time and place in WWE history. Fans were so desperate for a new name that Del Rio became a guy some fans rallied around to be in the mix, even though I’m not sure he was ever that good. He had a great look, a great gimmick, and had a superstar rollout. The company’s inability to ever go with him fully as a top name hurt him, as he had his main event push constantly pushed back. He was supposed to be World Champion at WrestleMania after winning the 2011 Royal Rumble, but that was pushed back due to Edge’s retirement. He was supposed to win the WWE Title at some point, but the Punk deal pushed that back. Then, once he finally won the WWE Title at Summerslam, he dropped it a month later to John Cena.

And then he lost this match clean, despite having the setup for the non-finish right there. Even worse, he didn’t even lose to one of Punk’s finishers. Punk beat him with a kick to the head like he was prime Mirko Cro Cop. They must have been running short on time or something because that is a nonsensical finish. After the match, the Cell came down. Cena and Punk beat up Ricardo Rodriguez – Del Rio’s personal ring announcer – for no real reason before Del Rio laid both guys out with a chair. Del Rio loses the match but stands tall over everyone anyway to end the show. God help me, WHO IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK GOOD HERE?

That brings us to New Orleans, and Hell In A Cell 2011. A bad show that a 14-year-old Suit was in attendance for that 26-year-old Suit has very little recollection of.

OCTOBER 2, 2011

This was the first, and to date, last ever Triple Threat Hell in a Cell match. This was the height of WWE’s “gimmick match of the month” era, one that saw such PPV spectaculars as Extreme Rules – a show full of no-DQ matches, Breaking Point – a show full of submission matches, and Fatal 4-Way – I’ll let you guess the hook of that one. Gimmick matches were less about being appropriate for the feud and more about it being that time on the calendar. The video package recapped the recent history and hot-potatoing of the WWE Championship since Punk won it, leaving out both the Rey Mysterio and second Cena reign. Punk won it in Chicago, Del Rio won it at Summerslam, and Cena won it two weeks ago at Night of Champions, bringing this messy story to a head inside the Cell here.

The match had the typical tropey WWE triple threat spots, but it was better than I expected it to be, although it had no need to be in the Cell. Del Rio bumped a hell of a lot more than I remember him doing, even trying to take the Hamrick bump from the ring to the cage. Punk took some gnarly bumps into the cage, getting scraped up across his back for some accidental blood. The commentary here is still terrible, as Michael Cole, Jim Ross, and Booker T talked over each other the entire time to make sure they got their shit in.

They all went back and forth in segments before the finish came. Del Rio put Punk through Chekov’s table by the apron before Cena put Del Rio in the STF. On the outside, Ricardo Rodriguez bumped the referee and took the key to break it up and get Del Rio a pipe. Cena took Rodriguez to the outside, but Del Rio hit him with the pipe and threw him outside before locking him out of the cell. Punk and Del Rio wrestled a couple more minutes as Cena tried to get back in the cage. Del Rio hit Punk with the pipe a couple times before getting the pin. ***1/2

Seconds later, none of this mattered. The cell rose so Cena could try to get his heat back, but before he could, The Miz & R-Truth snuck out from under the ring to jump everybody. Triple H had fired them both for their interference in the Night of Champions main event. The cage came back down, and with the key having been thrown under the ring by Del Rio earlier, nobody could get into the cage as Miz & R-Truth gave a house show level beatdown to these guys. This wasn’t exactly Ole Anderson trapping Dusty Rhodes in the cage, they just laid in some punches. But they were fired, so now this tepid brawl is a major offense. To his credit, JR gave it some gusto and really sold the angle as a despicable, cowardly act.

Eventually, a stagehand got some bolt cutters and unlocked the door so the cops could arrest Miz and Truth. Knowing the NOPD, they probably found a way to get six figures out of this deal. Knowing the NOPD, they definitely made sure to report much less. Anyway, Miz and Truth surrendered as the announcers talked about how they were getting off easy and wanting street justice. Triple H flew in and beat them both up as they were in handcuffs, having to get pulled off of them by road agents as the show faded out.

The main angle coming out of Money in the Bank 2011 continues to be about Triple H as the boss, now fighting those rascals R-Truth and The Miz. And not that you’re expected to care, but CM Punk got pinned for the third PPV in a row. I’m gonna take you guys behind the curtain a little bit here. A lot of these videos are coming from a YouTube playlist I found called CM Punk: Pipe Bomb Central, which has a lot of the Raw segments from the time, saving me some time on searching for all of this stuff. Seeing these videos go from electric segments featuring CM Punk and John Cena to Paul Levesque’s boring business dealings is depressing.

Truth and Miz threatened to sue for wrongful termination, and in an insufferably long segment where Hunter whined about people not wanting to shut up and do their jobs, the wrestlers gave a public vote of no confidence and walked out on Raw. This led to the start of the October 10th Raw, where all the wrestlers went on strike.

That’s right folks. In the span of three months, CM Punk went from the rebel looking to tear down the system in the name of building something better to scabbing out alongside John Cena and Sheamus to stand up for poor ol’ Hunter. After twenty minutes, Vince McMahon came back, shuffled the wrestlers to the back, and told Hunter that Johnny Ace was taking his job.

Here’s the thing about this: even if John Laurinaitis was a dynamic promo or on-screen presence, this would suck. But John Laurinaitis isn’t a dynamic promo. He’s not a good talker. He’s not a solid talker. He’s not even a middling talker. John Laurinaitis fucking sucks.

He conveys no emotion. He has nothing that pops or gets your attention as an on-screen character. The mail room clerk at Titan Towers could’ve gotten this spot and done just as good of a job. He is as unfit for an on-screen role as the current NXT General Manager Ava, who I’ve gone on record as saying is one of the most useless pro wrestling acts I’ve ever seen in a big-time role. Laurinaitis is a complete stiff, and the fact that the incredible angles with Punk and Vince and Cena led to him getting an on-screen role makes every decision that led to it all the more infuriating.

Ace brought back Miz & R-Truth. They beat up Punk, Hunter ran them off, and Ace booked a tag team match between the four of them for Vengeance.

OCTOBER 23, 2011

This was exactly the kind of tepid house show match that inspired the Awesome Truth nostalgia run 13 years later, peaking with a tag team title win at WrestleMania. This was a Triple H match. This was Triple H’s feud against Triple H’s opponents, while CM Punk was just Hunter’s little buddy in his corner. Other than Punk getting visibly annoyed at the Miz being late on a spot during his hot tag, absolutely nothing of interest or note happened in the first 15 minutes of this 15:24 match. Hunter was fighting Truth by the timekeeper’s area when Kevin Nash re-emerged to lay him out. Punk got distracted by this in the ring, and Miz and Truth hit their finish on him.

Three months ago, CM Punk was the center of the wrestling world, walking out of WWE with their World Title. Three months later, he’s being pinned by The Miz on PPV in a tag team match fourth from the top as background noise to a Kevin Nash/Triple H feud. **

Nash laid out Hunter with the Jackknife, leaving Hunter laid out longer than he was laid out at WrestleMania 19 before he rolled over to pin Booker T. We got four replays of the Jackknife Powerbomb as Hunter tried to garner sympathy from the crowd.

I got upset watching that match. Seeing an incredible performer like CM Punk, who had what should have been a megastar-making moment in Chicago three months prior to this, attached to glory hogs like Hunter and Nash and absolute zeroes in Truth & Miz is depressing. They had an A-level star in their hands, the Batman to Cena’s Superman. Someone who, with the right build and feuds after Chicago, could have been a genuine counterpart to Cena and another high-level business mover. Instead of putting their full promotional support behind building that new star, they took that support and put it behind Triple H, forgoing the attempt to make a new star to placate egos and hide behind the safety blanket of nostalgia.

Yet despite the absolute bungling of his push post-Money in the Bank, Punk became everything he was supposed to be despite it. That is the level of talent he had, where even high-level incompetence or deliberate sabotage couldn’t stop him from reaching his potential. Some way, somehow, CM Punk still had a date with the WWE Championship ahead of him.