The Summer of Punk 2011:
The Devil’s Greatest Trick
June 2011 saw the rise of the man known as CM Punk to the apex of the WWE. Although Punk was at that time a three World Heavyweight Champion, he was still not quite in the main event. CM Punk is one of the greatest wrestlers we’ve ever seen. The matches this man has had over his career with the likes of Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio will go down in wrestling history as some of the finest matches, but he was still not on top of the card.
A promo he cut on June 27th changed all that. On that Monday Night Raw CM Punk sat down at the top of the ramp and changed the course of WWE for the next two years. This was a massive moment in recent WWE history. It was a watershed moment that represented a change in the way WWE builds up and trusts wrestlers from outside the WWE development system down in Florida. CM Punk started in a very different way than a John Cena or a Randy Orton. Punk was wrestling in his backyard by the time he was 18 and wrestling in armories and high school gyms soon after. He traveled through the independent wrestling circuit and journeyed the world learning new ways to excite and captivate a crowd. The matches he had with the likes of Chris Hero, Raven, Samoa Joe and Austin Aries are some of the very best you can see as a fan of wrestling.
In Punk’s promo on Raw he tore down the fourth wall and threw any vestiges of kayfabe out of the window. He ran down a list of complaints against WWE management, particularly the McMahon’s and John Laurenitis. He even gave a shout out to Colt Cabana! He also revealed that his contract (that he wasn’t going to sign) with WWE would expire the minute his match with John Cena at Money in the Bank for the WWE title ended, and CM Punk would be taking the belt and the 50 plus years of history and tradition that go with it, with him from the arena in Chicago. He’d even maybe go and defend the WWE Championship in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling.
This mirrored the situation from the end of Punk’s ROH career. You see, when Punk had his last match for ROH, he was wrestling Austin Aries for the ROH World Championship. Everyone knew Punk was going to WWE and it was obvious that he would just lose and have a great match to say goodbye. Nope. Punk threw a massive spanner in the works by winning that match and then cutting one of the most incredible promo’s ever seen in a ring. It was a vicious tear down of ROH fans and the company. Punk would be taking the prestigious ROH World Championship with him to WWE. Punk eventually lost the title, but it was a great moment in wrestling history and one that put a lot of eyes on ROH.
From that Monday onwards Punk was the main event of Raw and most PPV’s (when Cena isn’t butting in) for nearly two years continuously in a row. In that time he held the WWE Championship for an unthinkable 434 days, the longest reign in nearly a quarter of a century. In that time he had some of the best matches in WWE history with the likes of John Cena, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan. He faced Triple H, The Rock twice and then had the honor of facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, where he took the Phenom to the absolute limit before being pinned by the Deadman.
From that one promo CM Punk became a guaranteed Hall of Famer. At this point he has had one of the best modern wrestling careers and he still has plenty left in the tank, as he recently showed in yet another Match of the Year contender against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Punk has cemented himself as a top guy. But we’ll come back to that later.
After the promo on Raw, there were three weeks left until Money In the Bank. Punk went on to cut three more absolutely amazing and brutal promo’s against WWE and even with Vince McMahon himself in a contract signing. These promo’s were awesome and brought something to WWE that hadn’t been seen in quite a while: genuine excitement and new ideas.
Then came the match at Money In The Bank. The PPV was in Chicago, Punk’s hometown. Chicago is a classic wrestling crowd, one of the best in the United States, one of the best anywhere in the world. The crowds are smart and they are loud. The perfect crowd for the match. As for the match itself, all I really need to say is that it was the first WWE match to receive 5 stars from Dave Meltzer in quite a while, quite an honor. It started a trend of Punk having amazing matches with whoever was put in front of him. But make no mistakes, John Cena was fully part of that too so if any of you still want to cry about Cena wrestling I suggest you go watch Money In the Bank 2011 and SummerSlam 2012.
Punk won the title and escaped through the crowd, taking the prestigious championship with him. Punk went home and put the championship in the fridge. This was a huge moment in wrestling history, not ever had someone left with the WWE Championship, the last time a situation like that happened resulted in the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
WWE was in chaos and heads had to roll. It ended up that Vince would be the one to take the fall, as he was fired by the board as Chairman of WWE and HHH was put in place as Chief Operating Officer. With the real championship gone, HHH set up a tournament to crown a ‘new’ champion. Over a few Monday Night Raw’s the tournament went on and it ended up with John Cena, the ex-champion, and Rey Mysterio. Cena eventually won. But before he could celebrate some music went off, new music. With Cult of Personality by Living Color blaring through the speakers, the real WWE Champion CM Punk came to the ring with the real championship and held it high. The stage was set for SummerSlam.
Another classic match between Cena and Punk followed, before Punk won the match. Unfortunately for our Straight Edge Savior the Money In the Bank winner decided this was the best time to cash in his contract and won the championship from Punk. Over the next few months Punk would chase the championship, before winning the championship at Tables, Ladders and Chairs in a triple threat TLC match against The Miz and Alberto Del Rio, which he won.
That period of months between Money In The Bank and TLC was one of the most interesting in many years of WWE television. It was fresh, inventive and featured great matches and promo’s. I personally would have held Punk’s return off a while longer, and had Punk win against Triple H but what can you do? The Summer of Punk brought CM Punk to where he should have been from day one: the main event. The fans know it. Punk knows it.
Punk’s reign after TLC was incredible, for over a year we had amazing matches against the likes of Chris Jericho, with who he had an amazing technical match at WrestleMania 28 and then a brutal Chicago Street Fight at Extreme Rules. Daniel Bryan (the two share a similar history and they had two or three Match of the Year contenders in a row. I look forward to many more.) at Over the Limit and Money In The Bank. Great matches all around.
But the Summer of Punk was also a moment that represents a change in how company outsiders are handled by WWE. In the past WWE has a record of not handling wrestlers who came from other promotions well, Goldberg comes to mind. CM Punk was mishandled before June by WWE, in that he wasn’t where he should be and WWE didn’t seem to have any solid plans for the guy. The Summer has changed that and it’s also changed it for other guys. I am of course talking about Daniel Bryan here. Another ex-Ring of Honor champion and alumnus. Bryan has shared a similar career trajectory to Punk, but in a much smaller time frame and has shot to the main event and is now one of two wrestlers (the other of course being Punk) to have held the WWE Championship, the World Heavyweight Championship and the Ring of Honor World Championship. Quite an accomplishment. We can only hope that other ROH and independent stars like Seth Rollins (Tyler Black), Antonio Cesaro (Claudio Castagnoli), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Sami Zayn (El Generico) and Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley) can follow the same career path.
A curious thing to note is that the last two times John Cena has been Champion, he has lost it to former Ring of Honor champions. Who says Cena never puts anyone over?
WWE is now fully willing to push the outsiders, as the benefits highly out way the negatives. Put any of the guys I’ve mentioned in the ring and you’re going to get a great natch. These wrestlers have traveled the world to hone their craft, in the way that Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero did, these are extremely accomplished wrestlers capable of great athleticism and drama. Think of Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins recently on Monday Night Raw, with the German Superplex, something I’ve never seen before anywhere and which was pulled off perfectly. Think of the MMA transitions in the Brock Lesnar match at SummerSlam. Or Bryan’s new Busaiku Kick (taken from Japanese wrestler KENTA) which will hopefully go on to become his Sweet Chin Music.
It’s a good time to be a wrestling fan. Over the next few years the WWE roster will be absolutely stacked with talent from the indies. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles WWE and even TNA have gone on extensive talent raids on Ring of Honor and other companies. ROH has been stripped of a large portion of their most historic wrestlers. Austin Aries, Bryan Danielson, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Tyler Black and El Generico. WWE probably isn’t finished.
With all these wrestlers around we are going to see some amazing matches on television (we’re already seeing those to be fair) and Pay Per View. All of this is possible because of CM Punk. He was the one who kicked down the doors, he’s like The Rock in the way that The Rock was the first wrestler to crossover and become a huge box office draw, Punk has gone from the absolute bottom of the wrestling world, wrestling untrained in his backyard, to the absolute peak of the business, battling The Undertaker in front of 70,000 people in New Jersey at WrestleMania. Through his efforts and achievements in the Summer of Punk and beyond, we get to see Bryan Danielson morphing into a megastar and Tyler Black as the violent end of the New Corporation. All of it is possible because of the Summer of Punk.
Thanks for reading.