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Devils and Dust: CM Punk, John Cena, and the 'Dusty Finish'

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On Sunday night (Sept. 16, 2012), we were treated to what has become somewhat of a rarity in WWE. At Night of Champions, John Cena put on a good match. It wouldn't even be a stretch to call it great, as he went tit-for-tat with WWE Champion CM Punk.

Unfortunately, all the great work that was done beforehand was overshadowed when Cena hit a German suplex from the top rope and bridged into a pin on Punk. What is a pretty normal sequence in professional wrestling turned into controversy, as Cena had his shoulders down while bridging to put Punk's shoulders on the mat.

Any temporary finality to this feud was left up in the air.

Last night on Monday Night Raw, we expected a bit of a payoff. A "super" main event was scheduled, with Alberto Del Rio and Punk teaming up to meet Cena and World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus.

A fun match ended with more controversy, as new WWE official and former FCW standout Brad Maddox counted to three for Cena while Punk's foot was on the bottom rope.

While this is a good booking method for one or two nights, can we expect this angle to play out every week with the dreaded "Dusty finish?"

The "Dusty finish" is a term named after pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, who booked these ambiguous endings during his time as booker in NWA and WCW. Here's an explanation from Wikipedia:

...typically a finish in which the face appears to win a big match, but the decision is later reversed due to interference by other heels to save the heel champion, as, in most federations, the title could not change hands on such a disqualification. It can also refer to an ambiguous finish to a match where neither wrestler can be claimed the winner. The "Dusty" in the term refers to Dusty Rhodes, who booked many such finishes in NWA and later in WCW. The first, and most infamous, case of this was Starrcade (1985) when Rhodes faced Ric Flair for the NWA World title after a long layoff by Rhodes due to injury by Flair and his henchmen. Rhodes would win the match, by pinfall, as a second referee came in for the count, but original referee Tommy Young would later reverse the decision (disqualifying Flair for interference by Ole and Arn Anderson while Young was knocked outside the ring), with the fans only finding out on the next week's television programming. The Dusty Finish is referenced in the WWE video game SmackDown! vs Raw 2006. The Dusty Finish is often seen as quite deceptive to the fans, and is not usually well-received.

Emphasis mine.

The "Dusty finish" is the ultimate tease. We had hot promos leading up to Cena and Punk colliding at Night of Champions, providing a solid level of hype for a WWE pay-per-view. The Boston crowd was enthusiastic all night during the pay-per-view and it was electric when main event time came around.

The match was greatly executed. From the exchanges of offense and nearfalls between the two competitors, to the masterful acting of Paul Heyman at ringside, who remained in silence and spoke with facial expressions that told the story.

And it lead to a draw via double pinfall.

While the finish is a good one-off thing to build up to an inevitable rematch in a Hell in a Cell match at the pay-per-view of the same name, it makes things very murky for the future.

After last night's conclusion to the main event, it seems the few ways this can pay off will be so cliché. There is the nonstop "Dusty finish" route, where the men have matches marred in drama until Hell in a Cell. There, it can be settled with a definitive winner, building up for Survivor Series and the run to Royal Rumble, where Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will make his return. This will likely be the setup for the main event of next year's WrestleMania.

Overall, that is utterly unrealistic. In the so-called "reality era" we are in, the lack of realism in the consistent botched endings will likely become tired if it happens next week. If WWE strives for a more realistic product of sorts, they have to understand that fights in MMA (mixed martial arts) and boxing don't finish controversially as often as they'd like to build Punk/Cena with.

Then, there is the curious case of Brad Maddox.

There usually isn't a lot of emphasis to be placed on a referee in a storyline. You can tell now that Maddox is going to have to play a big part here after last night's saga. This screams a potential smoz finish where Paul Heyman will use his dreaded hustle to pocket Maddox, a very stale scenario in professional wrestling.

The WWE could have a trick or two up their sleeve. With the way they are going with this, I don't doubt they do.

However, if any of these scenarios are hinted at the end of Raw each week, we could indeed be going into hard times, daddy.

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