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CM Punk: The greatest superstar of 2011 wins the WWE championship at Money in the Bank (Part two)

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After delivering what was easily the promo of the year on the June 27 episode of Raw, CM Punk caught fire. It wasn't that fans hadn't seen shoot promos in the past; quite the contrary. But the timing of this particular program mixed with the real life issues behind-the-scenes made for an emotional ride that we all wanted to be a part of.

When Punk made mention of Vince McMahon and his warped sense of how things are and should be in the world of professional wrestling, he did so from a place of personal experience. He spoke of all that we, as fans, have believed for years and have never been able to give voice too.

At least not in a way that anyone who matters would take notice.

More than that, though, the angle itself was an easy sell. Punk, a disgruntled employee who has been treated like garbage since the day he was hired by the company, has his contract coming up. But, on the very same day his contract is set to expire, he's booked for a match for the WWE championship against John Cena at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view on July 17.

And it was in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

Over the next two weeks, WWE, somewhat shockingly, did nothing to kill interest in the match. In fact, it fostered an environment that would be nothing short of explosive by the time the bell sounded.

Punk was "suspended" for his shoot promo on June 27. And, in that vein, he was taken off TV for the next Raw, risky as that may have seemed to be. In his place was a segment between Vince McMahon and John Cena, in which the WWE champion told the Chairman of the Board that he would quit if Vince didn't lift the suspension so they could have their match. McMahon admitted his unease at doing so was caused by his lack of faith in Cena's ability to win at the pay-per-view. He had to protect his company, after all, and he absolutely could not have Punk winning the title and leaving Chicago with it.

So the stipulation was made that if Punk did, in fact, win the title that night that Cena would be fired for failing to uphold the integrity of WWE and what the championship is supposed to stand for.

Again, what made this so special was that it was all rooted in honesty. These were legitimate concerns, to an extent, and Punk himself admitted later that he was honestly planning on leaving WWE when his contract was up. Why not work it into the storyline?

The next Raw, held on July 11 in Boston (Cena's neck of the woods), featured another fantastic segment, this one with Punk back and confronting McMahon about a possible contract extension. Because of his incredible promo on June 27, Vince was forced to admit that Punk was the hottest act in professional wrestling today. McMahon, who is nothing if not a prudent business man that makes sound decisions based on what will and will not make him the most money, was attempting to resign the "Straight Edge Superstar."

Only Punk made a mockery of the entire proceedings, demanding an apology along with such items as a private jet and the return of WWE ice cream bars. McMahon, of course, relented as much as possible, which was just as true behind-the-scenes, to appease one of his top stars. Ultimately, though, Punk ripped up the new contract and maintained that he would defeat Cena at Money in the Bank and parade the title around his hometown of Chicago while no longer under the restrictions of a WWE contract. 

By the time everyone made it to Money in the Bank, the buzz that had grown progressively throughout the past few weeks had reached a fever pitch.

It was time.

The crowd in Chicago that night was so firmly behind its leader, "The Second City Savior," they chanted his name during matches early in the evening. The entire card was filled with excitement; both ladder matches with briefcases and guaranteed title shots on the line lived up to their collective billing on both the Raw and Smackdown brands. But no one paid a dime to see those matches, compelling as they may have been.

They were here for one man and his quest to win the title before bailing on those that doubted him and did everything they could to hold him back.


Finally, it was time for the man of the hour to make his entrance. And what an entrance it was.

As much love as fans in the "Windy City" felt for Punk, they felt just as much hate for Cena. When his music hit the speakers at the Allstate Arena, it was immediately drowned out by the collective boo of disapproval.

The ensuing match ran 33 minutes long. Punk and Cena, two veteran workers who knew the stakes and were well versed in exactly how to play their hands, had a back-and-forth battle that saw neither man truly gain the upper hand. It was a heavyweight slugfest between two evenly matched heavy hitters that just refused to go down, no matter what was thrown at them.

The crowd maintained a level of energy not seen in a match of this length in years. From the first blow to the final smack of the third count of the pinfall, they were overly enthusiastic. This served to make the match feel much bigger than it was while covering up the fact that there were a number of botched moves between both men.

Nonetheless, it was a classic, easily a four-star match. The live audience is directly responsible for no less than two of the those stars for their rabid digestion of every movement made by all involved.

Naturally, the finish wasn't clean. Punk was slowly turning the tide towards the end of the match, building to what felt like his inevitable victory. Vince McMahon, however, had other plans. He tentatively walked out with his Executive Vice President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis. This distracted Punk and allowed John Cena to apply his signature submission, the STF. At this point, Vince instructed Laurinaitis to hurry down to ringside to ring the bell and call and end to the match, screwing Punk out of the title so he would leave empty handed.

Cena, ever the proponent of fair play, refused to let this happen and let go of his hold to knock Laurinaitis to the floor, stopping him cold in his tracks. Cena reminded Vince that he would do things his way -- the honest way -- before climbing inside the ring.

A GTS was waiting for him.

After hitting his finishing maneuver for the second time in the match, Punk made the cover and the referee counted it down.




CM Punk was the new WWE champion. He was going to leave Chicago with the title, just like he said he would.

McMahon wasn't done with his attempts at preventing as much, however. He quickly ordered Alberto Del Rio down to the ring to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase that he won earlier in the evening. This would accomplish two things. If Del Rio won the title, Cena could keep his job, seeing as, although he lost, Punk would not leave Chicago with the championship.

Such crafty wording.

Del Rio made a beeline to the ring but as soon as he climbed in -- and before the referee could ring the bell to signify the start of the match -- Punk blasted him with a head kick that quickly put him out of commission.

Before McMahon could concoct some other scheme to keep him in the ring and further risk his losing the title he had just worked so hard to claim, Punk quickly picked up his prize and made his way toward the crowd, where he would walk out basking in the glory of his victory and all he had accomplished.

But he couldn't do so without first giving McMahon one last thing to remember him by.


And with that, Punk walked through the crowd and right on out of the building. He would parade his title around town, with it landing at such places like his refrigerator and Wrigley Field during a Cubs game.

Everything about the angle, beginning with the infamous shoot promo on June 27 and on through Punk's victory at Money in the Bank, was perfectly executed. Punk's popularity was at an all-time high and whatever he touched turned to gold. The pay-per-view did 185,000 buys, which doesn't sound like much but when you consider the 2010 event did 165,000, you can see the impact Punk had.

By himself, this man sold an extra 20,000 buys. And yes, we can attribute each one of those buys to his hard work.

The shirt he wore that night, the "Best in the World" with the "Chicago 7.17.11" tagline sold like hotcakes at WWE Shop and was a ridiculously hot item on eBay. Hits on professional wrestling websites were up all across the Internet and Punk was the toast of the town, trending on Twitter and receiving media inquires like never before. An appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, a podcast with Bill Simmons; all mainstream outlets that latched on to the storyline and willingly went with it because of how hot it was.

Amazingly enough, it got better ... at first. Punk carried his title everywhere with him and brought more and more attention to WWE by doing so. On Raw the next night, with Punk out parading the title around, WWE quickly held a tournament to crown a new champion, which was won by Rey Mysterio. Then they went in a new direction with a HUGE development that would have far-reaching consequences -- Triple H took over for Vince McMahon and became the COO on-screen, meaning he took over as the boss and would play the on-screen role that McMahon had occupied for so long.

This opened up all sorts of storyline possibilities, which were quickly explored and exploited in various avenues. It was brilliant, really, the way they carried out the next week. While WWE held a panel at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, Punk crashed the party with a megaphone in a video that went viral in a hurry. It set up a future relationship with Triple H, who said he would gladly work with Punk and it was "a new day in WWE."

No longer was Vince around with his old style of management and things would be different with Triple H at the helm.

We just didn't know exactly how different they would be. Or we did and we just had our blinders on with the amazing summer that was taking place with one of the freshest storylines in years for a company that had largely grown stale with the same tired programs.

But, as we would very quickly find out, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Part three: The downturn and the new reign of Triple H

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