For the subject material I thought I’d select last year’s Summer of Punk. For anyone who’s unaware of the story here’s a recap: CM Punk, then a heel and the leader of the Nexus faction (of which he was the only genuine star), cut a blistering worked shoot promo at the end of the June 27th RAW. Within a ten minute period he chastised John Cena for his inability to wrestle, lambasted various backstage personalities (including Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and John Laurinaitis), referenced rival companies New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor along with indy star Colt Cabana, and stated that Vince McMahon was a millionaire who should be a billionaire but isn’t because of his own failings.
Punk was set to challenge John Cena for the WWE championship at Money in the Bank on the day his contract expired. Not only that, but the pay-per-view was being held in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. On the pre-Money in the Bank RAW (he’d been written off television for one week after the famous promo because of a taped show that would have killed the angle’s momentum) Punk played a frustrated, sarcastic tweener who wanted to take the WWE championship from the WWE to prove he was the best wrestler in the world. He also wanted to upset Vince McMahon.
It was a simple, easy to follow storyline that intrigued fans of every level because nobody could be entirely sure what was real and what wasn’t. Clearly Punk had been scripted to cut the original promo on June 27th: nothing as spontaneous as that happens in WWE. But how much of what he said had been cleared beforehand? Was his contract really expiring? Most importantly, if Punk won the title in Chicago would he really leave the promotion and take the championship elsewhere?
We’ll never know the answer to most of those questions, and we don’t need to. In July 2011 WWE seemed to have rediscovered the magic of great wrestling television. That’s what was important.
The Money in the Bank main event was tremendous. It was one of the best wrestling matches of the year in any promotion (it placed second in my 2011 Year End Awards). Equally the post-match sequence was expertly laid out. Vince McMahon had dispatched John Laurinaitis to the timekeeper’s table to attempt a Montreal Screwjob Finish™, only for Johnny to be punched out by Cena. ‘The Leader of the Chain Gang’ then confronted McMahon in the aisle and told him he didn’t want to retain the title that way. Sliding back into the ring the champ was met with a Go To Sleep for a CM Punk victory.
Punk celebrated as McMahon raced around to the announce table to address workers backstage via a headset. Selling the desperation of his situation perfectly McMahon called for Alberto Del Rio to come out and cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase he’d won earlier in the evening. ADR raced out to huge heat, unaccompanied by entrance music (which added to the shoot feel the company was striving for), only to be met with a GTS from the new champion. Punk then promptly hopped the barrier and left through the crowd, but not before cheekily blowing a kiss to Vince as he departed.
It was a great sequence that could not have been bettered. Sadly things went sour after Money in the Bank, with cracks beginning to appear on the following evening’s RAW. That’s where my fantasy booking starts.
CM Punk blows a kiss before making his getaway
I would have opened the July 18th RAW with Vince McMahon cutting a promo about the importance of the WWE championship to the company, to the wrestlers on the roster, and to him. The aim would be to get over the importance of the championship as the top prize in the industry. The World Heavyweight title would not have been mentioned.
Vince would reassure fans that the WWE would go on. There have been setbacks to the company before and there will be more in the future. Setbacks are what Vince McMahon thrives on, he would tell us. His way of dealing with this one is simple: he would announce an eight man tournament to crown a new WWE champion.
This is pretty much what happened on RAW, only in reality a new champion was crowned the following week. I would have the tournament last the four weeks until SummerSlam, with the finals being held at that pay-per-view. The actual brackets of the tournament saw Rey Mysterio, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston and The Miz qualify for the second round with wins over Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio and Alex Riley respectively. Miz and Mysterio eventually ended up in the ring ready for the finals, only for Vince to postpone their match until the following week’s show.
I’d keep seven of the eight guys in the tournament, replacing Jack Swagger with John Cena. This isn’t because I’m a huge Cena fan but because it evens up the number of faces and heels and allows for a lead storyline to be set in motion.
The July 18th RAW would see Miz advance over A-Ry and Cena qualify over R-Truth. The July 25th RAW would see Dolph Ziggler and Rey Mysterio join them in the semi-finals with victories over Kofi Kingston and Alberto Del Rio respectively. The August 1st RAW would see Mysterio and Cena heading to the finals with wins over Miz and Ziggler, leaving the August 8th RAW free to host a promo segment in which both finalists talk about their respect for each other and the championship.
There’s no need to go into specifics but the tournament could be used to start fresh feuds for SummerSlam. With eight guys involved across a month of television it seems wasteful to only have one pay-per-view bout set up by the end of the tournament. They would only have been mid-card feuds, but at least there would have been matches happening with some sort of reason when SummerSlam rolled around.
All this time Punk would not have been mentioned by name on WWE television once. Any time WWE had to reference the reason for holding a WWE championship tournament they would do it in the cagey fashion they usually adopt when addressing things not of their liking. Most people would be aware that Punk still having the WWE championship would be some form of storyline, but if WWE kept kayfabe (y’know, that thing Vince destroyed in the nineties?) on their websites and TV shows it would be that much harder for people to decipher what’s real and what’s not.
Wondering what Punk would be doing? Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.
Cena and Mysterio would clash in the main event at SummerSlam. A new championship belt, easily distinguishable from the bling-tacular one that’s been in use since April 2005, would be displayed before the match and would be the new title belt, with the commentary team saying that a new belt had to be created because the previous one is “unavailable.” That would not only remind people of the Punk situation but also handily write off the awful current belt design.
Mysterio would win the match and the title. He and Cena would shake hands after and ‘Mr Fruity Pebbles’ would raise the masked man’s hand. Mysterio would then be left to celebrate alone only for ADR to come through the crowd, rough him up, and cash in his Money in the Bank contract to become the new WWE champion. ‘The Summer Spectacular’ would go off the air with Del Rio celebrating and shouting about having fulfilled his destiny.
The lead feud on RAW from then on would be John Cena versus Alberto Del Rio. I’d try to keep Mysterio around for one more pay-per-view appearance before he took time off for surgery. If that was possible there would be a triple threat WWE championship match at Night of Champions between Cena, Mysterio and defending champion Del Rio. If Mysterio was incapable of this it would be a straight singles match between Cena and the champ. I’d follow up with a second WWE title match between the two, with ADR still holding the gold, at Hell in a Cell.
During all of this I’d have stuck with Vince being written off television in favour of Triple H. Having the younger man play a COO is a good move, it’s just that WWE rushed it last year. I’d take a slower approach and aim to have ‘The Game’ as the company’s highest on-screen authority figure by mid-September. That allows for a more drawn out storyline which could see Vince crumble and make increasingly rash decisions, rather than the hurried version that actually went into the history books.
With all of this happening on WWE television CM Punk would be left free to embark on the “viral” campaign (I use quotation marks because I dislike the term “viral” but cannot think of a better shorthand for easily describing the sort of thing I mean) he should have been a part of in reality. What he actually did was turn up at an independent wrestling show to cut a promo and gate-crash a panel at the San Diego Comic Con to rile up Triple H. Obviously Punk was under contract during all of this (and was when he won the title at MITB too because there’s no way Vince would put the WWE title on a non-contracted performer) but it would still be fascinating and exciting to see. As with wrestling matches, we knew it was staged but we didn’t know what exactly was going to happen. We could suspend our disbelief.
I would have allowed Punk the freedom to book his own schedule, the only insistence being that he begin by getting onto as many talk shows as possible for the first month before switching his focus to independent events. The NJPW tour he mentioned? That would have been a must. The same goes for the proposed return to Ring of Honor. Punk left WWE TV a month before ROH filmed their first shows for the SBG network, which would have provided an intriguing platform to advance WWE’s story. I imagine ROH would have been willing to participate: they would have had CM Punk, the hottest star in wrestling and champion of another company, on their first TV show! That’s too good to pass up.
July into August would have been the peak time for media interest, making it sensible to have Punk concentrate on mainstream media appearances then while the interest was there. His goal would be simple: to increase interest in WWE television. He would state that he left WWE as champion because he wants to make the WWE title mean something, referring to those involved in the WWE title tournament, and eventual long-term gold wearer Alberto Del Rio, as paper champions. It would be a good idea for him to drop in references to Triple H and other WWE personnel calling him every day, so that fans and viewers were aware Punk’s return to WWE was a constant possibility and that he could crop up on any episode of RAW.
The post-Hell in a Cell RAW is when I’d progress the storyline. Up until that point Punk would not have been referred to by name on-screen since Money in the Bank, and WWE would have been recognising Alberto Del Rio as the “official” WWE champion, new title belt and all, since SummerSlam. Coming out of HIAC Cena would once again be champion, having dethroned ADR in a titular cage clash the previous evening. The October 3rd RAW would open with Cena giving one of his trademark victory speeches, which would likely receive the standard mixed response.
Embarrassing nonsense or thrilling promo segment? I know which I'd vote for
Hopefully that mixed response would turn to cheers as CM Punk walked through the crowd clutching his WWE championship belt, taking up his seat in the front row. The show would cut to an emergency commercial break (not before Punk was “accidentally” shown on camera, obviously), returning to find ‘The Second City Saint’ sitting in the front row riling various backstage personnel. Cena, still in the ring, would address the issue and invite Punk into the ring to speak. Triple H would then hit the scene (to no music, because that adds to the reality of these situations) and tell security to escort Punk to the backstage area. He would then restart the show.
If handled right I think that would reinvigorate the buzz around Punk and get a great response from a live crowd.
Later on in the show the commentary team would tell viewers that CM Punk had left the premises after contract negotiations had broken down between he and Triple H. ‘The King of Kings’ would come out a short while later and cut a worked shoot promo regarding Punk, branding him ungrateful, egotistical, and selfish. He would drop in many of the things Punk mentioned in reality: wanting to be in the signature at the start of the show, getting his own tour bus, starring in a movie and having contract negotiations in the ring. He would then turn to the camera and announce that if Punk wants a televised contract negotiation with him he can have one at Vengeance on October 23rd.
Yes, I’d put a non-wrestling segment on pay-per-view. The reason why is simple: it would sell tickets and get people tuning in just as much as any match.
At Vengeance Punk and Triple H would have their contract negotiations high up on the card. Punk would remind everyone that he’s the true, unbeaten WWE champion and that he’s been defending his title all over the world while ADR and Cena have been battling each other week after week in an endless cycle of nothingness. The general gist of Triple H’s argument would be that he wants Punk back in WWE because he recognises that people want to see him and it’s “good for business.” He would say he’s not Vince and that he’s willing to agree to all of Punk’s terms (the bus, the signature and the all-important ice cream bars) to have him sign a new contract.
Punk would tease signing a contract before revealing he has one more demand: John Cena stripped of the WWE championship. Triple H would say that’s not an option as he’s the officially recognised champion, with Punk answering that he won the belt in an officially sanctioned match and was never beaten for it. This would bring out Cena, who would say he understands Punk’s point but also thinks of himself as the WWE champion because he’s there every night wrestling for WWE fans and has the gold to prove he’s the champ. Cena would suggest a title unification match to sort the dispute out, which Triple H and Punk (after the inevitable snarky comments) would agree to.
That match would be announced then and there for Survivor Series. Punk would sign the contract and he and Cena would spend the next four weeks hyping up their Survivors collision. The story would be quite a way in by this point so it’s tough to say with any certainty what booking decisions I’d make but there’s a good chance I’d add The Rock to the match as a guest referee or enforcer in order to increase the buy rate and continue the preparation for his WrestleMania XXVIII bout with Cena.
Who’d win the WWE title match at Survivor Series? CM Punk. To have Cena win would be a massive anti-climax and would mean another title change has to be worked in soon after in order to unencumber him for his showdown with The Rock. Punk winning at one of the Big Four pay-per-views in WWE’s “home” of Madison Square Garden would solidify him as one of the promotions top stars and set him up for a fresh feud to begin the next evening on RAW.
That’s how I’d have booked The Summer of Punk II. It may not be perfect, but I think it would have made far better use of the worked shoot situation and ensuing popularity boom WWE created for themselves than what actually happened. We’ll never know for sure though, will we?