By Chris Daley
"When wrestling is good, it's F*cking great"- Max Landis
My friends and I produce a weekly podcast with a focus on movies, TV and Video games. Each episode is broken down into a segment of our choice. One of the segments we have is called IDAO "I'll do anything once" And on my episode, I decided to make the rest of the crew watch an age-old passion of mine, professional wrestling. You can listen to it here:
I am the only wrestling fan on our podcast and get teased about it often, which is all in good fun! My main objective was the show how wrestling can be an amazing and effective storytelling device. I decided to to a focus of my favorite wrestling match John Cena vs CM Punk at Money In The Bank 2011. Rather than just send a link to the match I wanted to get my friends into wrestling fans head at the time and also know the build-up to the match. I wrote the following for them a few weeks ago:
First things first, Wrestling fans do not think wrestling is real. The realization of that isn't as traumatizing as people would like to believe. Younger wrestling fans believe wrestling is real but that's a different story entirely. Another thing that is important to point out is not every wrestling match is choreographed and memorized beforehand, in fact, 99% of matches are made up on the spot. The better the match ends up being the more likely is it that the 2 wrestlers involved are able to flow, call their shots and improvise in the ring. Some wrestlers, in fact, are much better at doing this than others. One of those wrestlers, in particular, goes by the name of CM Punk. Join me on this journey of explaining my favorite match of all time, CM Punk vs John Cena. Now I could just send you the youtube link to the match and let that be it, but instead, I'm going to tell the story behind that match, the ring psychology involved, and what exactly was going through the head of every wrestling fans mind. Preface; some of you are aware of the Youtube video from Max Landis Wrestling isn't wrestling you don't have to watch this video, its twenty minutes long. But Max Landis does an amazing job of explaining character driven elements in wrestling, Namely Triple H, The ultimate bad guy, The Game, The king of kings. Which brings me to my ultimate reason for liking wrestling in the first place. (don't worry I'll get back to CM Punk in a minute) Wrestling is Comic Books. Wrestlers are comic book characters. I mean, just look at guys like
and John Cena.
Each wrestler has a story and an arc. Each wrestler has a unique move set and finishing maneuver, and of course a unique outfit. Wrestlers weave in and out of rivalries, friendships, and stables with each other...Like the X-men. There is betrayals, twists and turns aplenty. The Wrestler that most exemplifies a superhero is John Cena and the most obvious comparison is Superman. Now if anyone knows me they know how much I absolutely detest Superman. The squeaky clean, goody-two-shoes, boy scout who gets everything handed to him. Those feelings were very much so reflected in John Cena. John Cena represents a movement in WWE. a movement that most lifelong fans rejected. John Cena represented TV-PG. Now when people think of WWE they think of Chair shots to the head, blood, and scantily clad women. That all went out the window when John Cena was given the role previously held by the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan. Some behind the scene business deal with toy companies ensured that the WWE was headed in a more kid-friendly direction. Gone were the days of chair shots to the skull, bloody foreheads, and bikini mud fights. Which retrospectively is actually a good thing. John Cena wins and he wins and he wins...no matter what. He's been World champion a staggering 17 times. He's won every rivalry he has ever been in and the fans definitely know it. In the world of comic books the hero sometimes loses, they face trials and tribulations then they adapt and change and overcome. John Cena had been the same one-note character for years. And in the year 2011 had been the champion for far too long. Around this same time enters a man named CM Punk. (Full Circle)
CM Punk is the Wolverine of WWE. CM Punk built a name for his self before WWE in companies like PWG, TNA and most importantly ROH. CM Punk left indie wrestling to make a name for his self in WWE. CM Punk became an instant fan favorite and no matter what CM Punk did, no matter how much he was cheered, CM Punk was never going to make it to the top of the card. CM Punk wrestled for years in WWE Proving himself to be the best in the ring, on the microphone and best at telling a story. But it was all for naught as John Cena just kept winning and selling T-shirts and selling toys and making appearances on Conan O'Brien. No matter how over (with the fans) CM Punk got it really didn't matter with Cena around. CM Punk was getting frustrated and so were the fans. John Cena's schtick had grown stale with the fans and he was booed relentlessly everywhere he went. usually when a face (good guy) starts to get booed the WWE will turn that character heel (bad guy). That was not the case for John Cena. [Again wrestling fans know that wrestling is fake, the outcome of each match is predetermined. What wrestling fans really want is to be wowed, shocked, surprised, tricked, to never have a storyline go the way they expected it. Wrestling fans want variety and variety was in short supply with Cena on top]
Around 2011 CM Punk had been in WWE for 4 years. He was involved in a white-hot angle where he was the leader of a heel stable called the Straight Edge Society. CM Punk was the most hated heel in WWE, the "big-bad-guy" at the time. Suddenly and quite surprisingly, Dwayne, The Rock Johnson returns. He sets up a match one year in advance with John Cena to main event Wrestlemania, the WWE's Superbowl. The main event that should rightfully belong to Punk. The Dirtsheets (online wrestling gossip pages) were buzzing that CM Punk is going to quit, legitimately leave WWE. He was furious that all his hard work was for nothing and the main attraction match was going to a Hollywood actor who is a part-time wrestler. The Rock hasn't been putting in the work, Punk had. Rumor had it Punk handed in his resignation and was going back to the indies. In a story angle very much designed to write Punk's character off TV and have John Cena beat Punk one more time. Punk decided to grab a microphone and air his grievances. Now This video is a must watch, it's the inciting incident in one of my favorite rivalries of all time. a couple of things you need to understand about this video was how immediately "off" this felt to a wrestling fan. CM Punk is wearing a Stone Cold shirt, no wrestler ever wears another wrestlers shirt. Punk was using a lot of words that are taboo. ironically the word "wrestling" is not supposed to be said because WWE fancies themselves as sports entertainment. Punk mentioned rival companies like ROH and New Japan. and Punk broke the 4th wall and talked directly to other wrestlers not signed on by the WWE. These factors all made this "Promo" one of the most unique and engaging promos ever cut by a professional wrestler. May I present to you the promo that is now referred to as "The Pipebomb".
After this episode of Monday Night Raw rumors spread that CM Punk was fired. Never before had a storyline or an angle felt so real. Longtime fans, fans who know that wrestling is fake, were starting to wonder if this was all real. Did CM Punk hijack raw and say things he was not allowed to say? Did he get fired for it? The line between fiction and reality was starting to blur. This immersive storytelling was an adrenaline filled shot of variety that wrestling desperately needed. The next week on Raw WWE's ratings had spiked. Millions turned in to see what happened to CM Punk, and he wasn't even on the episode. CM Punk was "fired". The episode ended with John Cena doing the right thing (UGH!) and demanding Punk get reinstated so that Punk can have his Championship match in his hometown of Chicago. This is also a memorable episode because the fans in the crowd chanted "CM PUNK, CM PUNK" for 2 straight hours. If any of you have ever been in a high energy filled crowd, which I'm sure you have, you would know just how intoxicating it can be. And the high energy was definitely translating well through the TV. Seemingly through the crowds' pure will CM Punk was reinstated and sent directly to the top of the card as a main eventer. Before the championship match with John Cena, CM Punk had to have some words with the CEO of WWE, Vincent K. McMahon. His on-screen boss but more importantly his off-screen boss as well. optional video In this showdown of words CM Punk eventually had the stubborn tyrant McMahon apologizing to Punk for mistreating him and promises to respect CM Punk as the main eventer he truly is. If Mcmahon did not apologize then CM Punk would win the champion, quit, and leave with the title (yes it's melodramatic). Now to the fans watching we all knew that there is no way CM Punk is going to win this match. We all knew that Punk was halfway out the door anyway, we all knew that Vince McMahon would never give the title to a man threatening to leave, but most importantly we all knew that nobody beats John Cena. In comic books, Wolverine does not get to beat Superman.
Fight night: July 17th, 2011, Allstate Arena, Chicago Illinois. CM Punks hometown. And the culmination of one of the most organic stories WWE has ever done. Watch the match here
watch the quick recap of the entire rivalry. Now that you know the backstory to this rivalry match I would encourage you to watch the match in full. A couple things of note. John Cena and CM Punk have incredible chemistry together. A John Cena match is quite formulaic, he gets his ass kicked for 90% of it then he summons the strength, hits the 5 moves of doom and boom it's over. This match was not a formulaic John Cena match. Another thing of note is the Money in the Bank contract. Whoever holds this briefcase gets to cash it in for a championship match where ever and whenever they choose. Another is the, as punk would say, Douchebag yes men that come to WWE's aid. But the most important thing to note is the fans. CM Punks entrance to this match is by and large considered the most electric crowd reaction to any WWE star ever. Just the entrance alone has over 8 million views on youtube. which is more than the actual match has. That night in that Allstate Arena in Chicago, CM Punk was a god.
Hopefully, by now you have watched the match. In CM Punks dramatic exit he allegedly went straight to his Chicago home and tweeted out this:
The fallout to this match was the stuff of legends. Dave Meltzer, A wrestling reporter who has been reporting on wrestling since 1983, gave this match WWE's first 5-star match since 1997. It's actually a very rare feat. But most importantly the fans had questions. Had CM Punk really quit? Where was he taking the title? Would he show up the following Monday on RAW? Sadly what was to follow for CM Punk would never quite live up to the white-hot angle the internet now calls the Summer of Punk. CM Punk went on the quit a few years later after a lengthy title reign. Bridges were burned and a very real lawsuit happened between CM Punk, WWE, and a podcast host named Colt Cabana, who gave Punk a platform to tell his side of the story. Sadly Punk will most likely never wrestle in a WWE ring again. And to this day when asked if his pipebomb promo was real Punk respond's by saying it was a little of both. Punk's time on top was short lived but the fans remember him fondly as the pipebomb dropping, 4th wall breaking, reality-blurring rebel that WWE needed so desperately at the time. Now, it goes without saying that most of the time wrestling can be pure garbage. But when it's good, It's F*cking great.