Despite its best efforts throughout the past eight years or so, WWE has remained largely a stale product with characters and personalities the average fan has trouble connecting with. The storylines have ranged from the bizarre (Katie Vick) to the obnoxious (Snitsky punts a baby) to the poorly timed (Vince McMahon's fake death just days before Chris Benoit's actual death).
That's a lot of questionable taste.
What seems to work best, though, is when reality creeps in and these characters we see on television each week stop trying to work us and simply revert back to who they actually are. It's no surprise that the most over wrestlers of all time have been guys who simply turned up the volume on their natural tendencies. Steve Austin really is "Stone Cold" in real life, just to a much lesser extent.
That's why CM Punk captured our hearts on the June 27, 2011, episode of Monday Night Raw when he grabbed a microphone and let his feelings be known on how he was being treated by the company he worked for. Sure, it was orchestrated. No, he wasn't allowed to say whatever he wanted.
But he was given a longer leash than anyone has in recent memory and he made the absolute most of it, delivering what has undoubtedly been the "Promo of the Year."
It catapulted him into the WWE stratosphere, which means he was now on the same level as John Cena and Randy Orton, the two pro wrestlers who are, for all intents and purposes, the chosen ones. There was a period of time, lasting around two years straight, in which every main event of every single pay-per-view involved one or the other in either a WWE or world heavyweight championship match.
Joining those exclusive ranks is no easy task.
Yet Punk did so by working hard and overcoming a seemingly insurmountable set of odds, namely the fact that he had little to no support from any of the important executives in the back. In fact, Vince McMahon would often lead the charge in making fun of him during creative meetings simply because he didn't feel as though he had the proper look to ever draw any money. That and Punk's straight edge style couldn't possibly ever get over with the crowd.
Except it did.
First as a heel, one of the best in the game, actually. Add in the fact that Punk is an extremely diverse performer who could work a solid match with a wide variety of different partners and you would think he's good as gold.
But that's just not how the wrestling business works. Or at least that's just not how this company works.
Again, though, despite his various detractors and backstage enemies, Punk busted his ass year after year and got himself over while he was being buried at every turn. His accomplishment is made even more impressive by this fact. But the one thing one must always remember when dealing with WWE is that ego and politics rule all.
And that's why Punk's incredible summer came crashing to an end with all his heat being siphoned away by one of the most egotistical men in the business -- Triple H.
When we last left off, Punk had won the WWE championship in an incredible match with John Cena at Money in the Bank in his hometown of Chicago to one of the loudest ovations in the history of professional wrestling. The crowd was hotter than any we've seen during a match since Hulk Hogan and The Rock locked horns in front of a Toronto audience that couldn't help but mark out for every move.
After winning the belt, Punk made his way through the crowd and on out of the arena and the WWE. He was the toast of the town, doing what no other wrestler had done in a considerable amount of time -- forcing those that don't normally pay attention to professional wrestling to actually catch back up on all the goings on with WWE.
The angle was hot, the personality was hotter and the execution was brilliant. We wouldn't learn until later just how hot it all was. As it turned out, Punk's merchandise would go on to outsell Cena's, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by anyone for a very long time.
The next night (July 18) on Raw, Vince McMahon announced a tournament to crown a new champion. One was held but before it could crown a winner in the main event, McMahon made his way to the ring to fire John Cena, one of the conditions of his losing the championship to Punk at Money in the Bank.
Just before he could do so, however, Triple H hit the ring to tell him that he had, essentially, been fired and replaced by none other than "The Game."
And that's when it all began to unravel.
You see, Triple H has viewed himself throughout most of his career as a sort of gravity in professional wrestling. All things must come to him. His ego is matched only by McMahon but the difference is that he's got a great mind for professional wrestling as a performer, something Vince simply never had. This provided a glimpse of hope throughout the wrestling world that while we knew he would eventually succeed McMahon, he would do so while making changes for the better.
How foolish we can be.
It started well enough. Triple H made it known to Punk that it was a new day in WWE and with "Vinny Mac" out of the picture, "The Game" would be more than willing to do business with him. They continued the sort of viral campaign they began with Punk hitting every possible social media venue by having a camera follow him through the Comic Con in San Diego to crash the WWE panel to cause a ruckus.
It was a big hit that got fans heavily invested in the product.
But a curious decision was made, one that, to this day, gets the majority of the blame for what truly marked the beginning of the end of such a hot angle.
They brought CM Punk back to Raw after only one week away.
Rey Mysterio won the WWE championship in the first match of the night as the conclusion to the eight-man tournament they had started the previous week. In typical fashion, he later lost the title to John Cena in the main event. And directly after Cena won the belt, Punk debuted his new "Cult of Personality" theme song when he came out to show Cena that he had won a fake title and Punk was the one holding the real belt.
Okay, so he's back probably much sooner than he should be and obviously headed for a rematch with Cena at Summerslam. On the one hand, that seems too soon to give away such a big money rematch but on the other, Summerslam is the third biggest pay-per-view of the year and they're handcuffed by the fact that The Rock will be returning just before Survivor Series to take up Cena's time.
They don't have forever, so they go ahead with the plans they had in place. But it turns out Cena would quickly be out of the picture and Punk would move on to feud with, you guessed it, Triple H.
"The Game" inserted himself as special guest referee at Summerslam, which immediately made me think of the match between Bret Hart and Undertaker at Summerslam in 1997. That match culminated in Hart winning the WWE championship but only doing so after Shawn Michaels, the special guest referee, clocked Undertaker with a chair while going after Hart.
Before the match went down, Hart was noted as saying he was worried that Michaels was going to steal all his heat. And he was right. The next pay-per-view, Badd Blood in October, was main evented by Michaels vs. Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match while Hart defended his title on the undercard.
"The Hitman" never truly got his heat back, even after the Montreal Screwjob in November that year.
So back we go to Summerslam this year and now it's Triple H inserting himself as the special referee, here to take the heat from the match and, in turn, Punk. Instead of centering on Punk vs. Cena like it should have, the hype to the match was largely built on whether or not "The Game" was going to call it down the middle.
The match came and that's what he did. All the way up until he counted a pinfall against Cena while his leg was on the bottom rope. This particular wrinkle, which was actually a really big deal considering the circumstances, was never explained or expanded upon. That's probably because while Punk was celebrating his big win, an old face came rushing through the crowd and into the ring to take him out.
This allowed Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on a beatdown Punk to win the WWE championship. Just like that, poof, it was gone.
Of all the people in the world to get involved in the hottest angle the WWE has come across in years, Triple H brought back his old friend to insert himself into the main event to feud with CM Punk. The same Nash who is in his 50s and can barely walk. The same Nash with heart problems. The same Nash who we would later learn couldn't pass a physical to actually have a match against Punk like they wanted him to.
We went from Punk being the rightful center of attention to Triple H slowly siphoning his heat to one of the biggest backstage political backstabbers of all time, Nash, clogging up the main event.
A series of promos and teased confrontations eventually ended in Nash getting fired and written off TV for the time being because, as noted, he didn't pass his physical and because he had movie commitments. But for the weeks he was there, the story tended to lean more towards Nash and Triple H instead of Punk, who was a sort of third wheel in the whole scenario. This was initially looked over and ignored because he was still so hot from his shoot promo and subsequent title win but it was starting to become clear that he wasn't the whole damn show like other champions before him.
Not only that but Triple H was cutting promos on him week in and week out cutting him down ... and getting cheered for it. He was making Punk out to be an egotistical whiner that didn't actually want change like he said he did, he just wanted the spotlight, which he was getting.
Naturally, this led to a match at Night of Champions.
Before they ever got there, though, they added the stipulation that if Triple H lost, he would be forced to resign as COO. This made absolutely no sense because it gave away the eventually result of the match and was a completely unnecessary wrinkle. A match like that would have easily sold on its own merits but for whatever reason, they went ahead with it.
Of course, Triple H defeated Punk, admittedly enough after some interference, and gave him a crotch chop to close the pay-per-view.
The next night on Raw featured Punk coming out and talking up a conspiracy that The Miz and R-Truth had been talking about for weeks on the undercard. He began to elaborate on as much before being interrupted by both Triple H and John Laurinaitis, a key player all throughout this entire scenario. He began as a lackey for Mr. McMahon and is now serving under Triple H.
Whoops! Probably just gave away the end of this storyline. You knew already knew that, though, right?
Anyway, Punk was given a WWE championship rematch in a triple threat match with Alberto Del Rio and John Cena at Hell in a Cell, the next pay-per-view. Cena had submitted Del Rio to win the title at Night of Champions, by the way.
Later that night, The Miz and R-Truth were fired for interfering in Punk and Triple H's match the night before and were thrown out of the building to close Raw. The last image we saw was of a livid Triple H passing by Laurinaitis and commentators wondering if he'd lost control of the company since taking over as COO.
At Hell in a Cell, Punk did his usual flying around to put the match over and selling big for everything everyone else was doing but, again, he was a bit of an afterthought. The main storyline by the end of the match itself was how Del Rio once again screwed over Cena by locking him out of the cell before hitting Punk with a steel pipe to pick up the pin and win back the WWE championship.
More importantly, though, after the match ended and the cage was raised, Miz and Truth made their return to attack everyone in the ring. The cage was then lowered to prevent anyone, including an irate Triple H, to enter the structure to stop the carnage. The entire WWE locker room came out to assist, which was a bizarre and stunning visual, before bolt cutters were finally rushed to the cage along with police officers. Miz and Truth voluntarily gave themselves up but while they were being led away in cuffs, Triple H attacked them.
This led to both guys saying they were going to sue WWE and David Otunga assuming the gimmick of a Harvard educated lawyer (which he actually is) and banding together with a group of disgruntled heels that felt like they were being screwed over by Triple H. When they complained to "The Game," he simply inserted them in matches they didn't want and made them defend their titles and generally treated them like crap, calling them "babies" for whining so much. This led them to seek a new way to get Triple H out of power.
Oh, that's right, this is a story about CM Punk.
He was placed in a 12-man tag team match, teaming with a group of babyfaces -- including John Cena -- to take on a group of heels. This wasn't the main event, though. No, the show would close with every WWE superstar taking a vote of confidence or no confidence for Triple H as COO.
As it would come to be, the entire roster, save for Punk, Cena, Sheamus, Randy Orton and Kelly Kelly, voted against "The Game" and walked out on Raw, leaving him alone in the ring. The crowd booed everyone who walked out while cheering Triple H. In fact, the show ended with Trips telling the crowd he was sorry, who answered his apology by chanting their support for him.
In the days since, every bit of press revolving around WWE has centered around Triple H as COO and what's going to happen with him -- and the show -- going forward. There have been reports that Punk is scheduled to receive another big push in the near future but those reports are about as reliable as my prediction that the Bears will win the Super Bowl this year.
You just never know.
2,521 words later, let's recap:
CM Punk cuts a shoot style promo all the way back on June 27 that captures the attention -- and hearts -- of the WWE fan base and goes on to win the title in an unforgettable match and even more memorable night at Money in the Bank.
He then loses the belt at the next pay-per-view before being inserted into an angle with the worst drawing champion in WWE history, who is geriatric and couldn't even pass a physical, before jobbing to Triple H, who buried him on the mic at every turn, at the next pay-per-view.
Then he was put into a WWE title match at the very next pay-per-view with Cena, the champ, and Del Rio, the guy who would win the title by pinning Punk while Cena looked on from the outside and who only lost his title due to interference.
And the last image we saw on Raw this past week was Triple H alone in the ring with the crowd adoring him and showering him with cheers.
Punk kick started the summer by making himself the hottest act in the company and ended it buried underneath Triple H as just another member of the pack. What's worse is that it was a slow job, so it's gone mostly unnoticed by those that have become wrapped up in the current storyline. That's not anyone's fault, of course, as the events that have played out have dictated as much. There's little to be gained from whining about Punk not being the center of attention all of sudden.
But it's extremely telling.
Another interesting aspect of this is an interview Punk gave before entering into his program with Triple H when he was asked if he would buried:
"I guess that's the $64,000 question. Everybody immediately assumes based on past experiences and past TV shows that this is what's going to happen. 'Punk's going to get buried.' That's one of those things, Mark, I hate to give you this answer but you have to wait and see. Is there a way I can escape that undamaged? Absolutely. Unless we're doing things we were doing 10 years ago and we don't really care about the future of the business. Because let's be honest, the future of the business is in jeopardy right now. If we want to make the same mistakes, then I'm obviously speaking out against it. But if we do make those same mistakes, I don't know if there's going to be a business in 30 years."
I think we have our answer to that $64,000 question. And so concludes "The Summer of Punk."
Will he get another run with the title. Most likely. Is he still a top three player in the main event scene. Indeed. But the heat he once had is gone.
And it's okay for us to mourn that fact.