Good day to you all and welcome to the twelfth article of this series! Today we examine WWE's 2013 remedy for insomnia...
The recipe for a good feud in any wrestling promotion boils down to putting the right talent together under the right set of circumstances. Nothing more, nothing less. While this may seem like simplicity itself, there is no doubt that wrestling promoters are still ever so keen to cut corners in order to try and get the superstars they think people want to see shoehorned into some sort of prominent angle based on ideas that have worked in the past. If the crowd don't but it though, what the promoter can have instead is a massive albatross draped over their neck.
CM Punk was the WWE Champion and flying high after Wrestlemania 28. He was in the middle of a great angle with Chris Jericho and seemed like he was the anti-authority babyface that many in the WWE Universe were clamouring for. After years of listening to the vanilla promos, childish jokes and dull character traits that John Cena had brought to the table all of this time it seemed like the obvious step to many would be to have Punk rage against the machine as only the Straight Edged Superstar could.
This was made all the more obvious by the fact that at Wrestlemania 28 John Laurinatis became the GM of all of WWE, defeating Teddy Long in a tag team match that saw Eve become his assistant. While he did not really have the heelish swagger of Mr McMahon, nor an event like the Montreal Screwjob to feed him heat, there was no doubt the interactions of Punk and Johnny Ace before Mania had been more than adequate enough for many to believe that this would be a great way to continue- to show that Punk was not going to bow down to the Man.
John Cena, on the other hand, had just begun a program with Brock Lesnar after his loss to the Rock at Wrestlemania 28. For once, almost all the people were geniunely excited to see where a Cena program was heading as the return of the Beast implied a match that would be hardcore and live up to the Extreme Rules stipulation.
Then Laurinatis got involved. And then things began going wrong.
Firstly, why was Laurinatis getting involved? The feud was fine- Brock could have challenged Cena himself to the feud- claiming that he doesn't consider Cena a real fighter and that Cena's time is over. That would have been simple and allowed the Establishment (Lauranitis) to then go on to make Punk's life a living hell as champion while having the crowd be happy every time Punk made the GM's life a misery. But instead of casting the rebellious CM Punk against the GM, they decided to set up Cena against Lauranitis to continue their 'feud' (such as it was).
Just consider that for a second. The WWE decided that the person to send against this corrupt regime was not the Internet star who had scratched and clawed for every inch of respect in the company and was currently the champion, but instead someone who the establishment had put on a plinth for years as numero uno of the company and who many people could not care less about as a character. Essentially, it was getting the establishment to feud with itself- or Superman to fight corrupt cops. Everyone thought that this was a waste of Cena's time and the WWE needed their Batman (Punk) to solve things.
Then they decided that what the crowd really wanted to see (I have no idea why) was not a main event consisting of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk- arguably the two most over wrestlers in the company at the time as well as the two best wrestlers in the company for the WWE Championship, nor a fatal four way that had Chris Jericho, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton gracing the squared circle for the World Heavyweight Championship.
No, what was needed in fact for the main event was John Cena vs John Laurinatis in a No DQ match. An event that would somehow get more time than the Fatal Four Way for the World Heavyweight Championship. The two World Titles matches tore the house down only to be forgotten as the main event basically bored the crowd senseless as Cena proceeded to make juvenile jokes with far too little wrestling and so many of the said jokes dying a horrible HORRIBLE death. This is compounded by Michael Cole giving awful sycophantic commentary, Lawler laughing in a manner that can only be described as like fingernails on a blackboard and Booker T...well you don't look to Booker for constructive announcing.
The feud limped on to No Way Out where Cena faced the Big Show in a Cage Match which once again main evented the PPV while the two World Titles were consigned to undercard status. Was the WWE universe clamouring for a Cena/Big Show main event? Nope. Were they interested in the Punk/Bryan/Kane triple threat for the WWE Championship? Hell yes. But that was apparently oblivious to the creative team. At least the WWE killed the feud off by having Cena put Johnny Ace through a table after Vince McMahon fired him.
So essentially the WWE not only missed the obvious anti-establishment/authority feud that could have catapulted CM Punk to the next level, they put a gosh darn vanilla babyface in his place while trying to convince the WWE universe that he was James Dean. Then, to top it all off they were prepared to prioritise this feud all other feuds that had genuine organic interest from the interest- such as the title angles.
The saddest thing about all of this is that the reason why Laurinatis was paired with Cena seemed to be mainly because Cena had nothing to do. Maybe Cena was supposed to take some time off after the beating he took from Brock Lesnar but when he decided against the 'stretcher job' the WWE had to hastily re-write their plans. Maybe the WWE called an audible themselves after finding out that Cena wanted to stick around rather than take some time off to deal with personal issues. Maybe the performance of John Laurinatis as GM, a pedestrian mic worker at best made the WWE feel that he needed to be given the boot ASAP and that meant they needed a wrestler with nothing on his immediate horizon.
The WWE had always been averse to the notion of moving on from the proven money making skills of John Cena. John Cena vs the Rock at WM? Perfectly valid main event. Cena vs Lesnar at Extreme Rules? Ditto. But John Cena vs John Laurinatis? Some may say that the WWE could not trust CM Punk with the status of Main Event just yet, but the alternative they came up with was a real slap in the face to not just Punk but every single wrestler in the locker room. This wasn't Austin vs McMahon- where the storyline and angle made people clamour for some sort of closure, this was a feud between two guys that didn't gel, in an angle that seemed artificial. Even if they thought it was a go feud, why was it put at the end of the PPV? Did the WWE geniunely not trust CM Punk or Daniel Bryan enough to capture the crowd- and if not them, why not Jericho, Orton, Sheamus and Del Rio? Two of those superstars had main evented Wrestlemania- surely they could handle the pressure?
This feud also damaged CM Punk's credibility as a viable champion. By having Laurinatis square off against Cena, the WWE was basically saying that it did not matter that Punk was the champion and wrestling the house down, the GM clearly saw him as a lower priority to "the face of the WWE". Never has the prioritising of the WWE been so nakedly promoted despite much of the crowd telling them to go in another direction.
This angle also signalled the beginning of the end for GMs as powerful entities. While the WWE would limp on with other people in the hot seat (including AJ, Vickie Guerrero and Booker T) it soon became apparent that the WWE would move everything back to where it all began- the McMahons with Triple H and Stephanie at the helm.
Finally, it must be said that this feud did absolutely nothing for John Cena either. At a time where he was being pillored from everybody for being too one dimensional and having little variety in his character and his wrestling skills, the WWE put him in a feud where his character and his wrestling ability was reduced to its bare minimum. The WWE may as well have painted a massive target on his back as far as the IWC were concerned.
The John Cena/John Laurinatis angle did absolutely nothing for the legitimacy of the rising stars of the company as the WWE seemed hell bent in trying to make Cena something he wasn't so if it meant he stayed on top of the card. Punk was left looking like a champion who wasn't invested in and the WWE missed a wonderful opportunity to have John Cena mix with some of their rising talent- something they are finally beginning to deal with two years later.
Well, that ends article 12 of this series! Article 13 teaches us the lesson that sometimes when you're carrying gold between towns, it's best to do it with Flair.
See you then!