Otherwise known as "Dear God, we can't trust the dude with tattoos to headline!!"
The year was 2013.
No, scratch that. For this story line you actually have to go back two years.
That's where this feud actually began. Think about that for a second. In a time where the WWE seems so ADD that feuds are often shut down before they even get a chance to really breathe (Stardust and Goldust, for example), the WWE decided on a slow burning angle that took two years to come to fruition.
In what was one of the most dull and horrible Wrestlemania Main Events in history (oh, and we'll get to it, don't worry), the Miz retained his championship over John Cena after the Rock interfered in an event that can best be described as "setting up for the next one". The next night Cena and the Rock came face to face and the Great One issued a challenge.
Wrestlemania 28- the Rock vs John Cena in the Main Event in Miami.
And when pushed came to shove, the Rock and Cena delivered...the third best match on the card.
Don't get me wrong, it's actually not a bad match to watch with some nice back and forth, though the submission spot in the middle is a looong wait (perhaps this was an informal toilet break for the live fans?) but it actually holds together pretty well. What really is great is the ending, with John Cena deciding to try the People's Elbow and getting caught in a Rock Bottom for the 3 count.
I remember seeing that Wrestlemania at a friend's place and the picture that stuck with me wasn't actually the Rock saluting the crowd and embracing the ref, but this:
I remember it because as I watched Cena look like a rube I couldn't help thinking that this could actually be a turning point for the company. You had a champion that was compelling on the mic and in the ring, you'd soon have a returning Brock Lesnar and finally, finally, Cena had a bit of grist that he could add to his character.
Not only did he lose to the Rock, but he lost in a moment of un-Cena like hubris. That attempted People's Elbow wasn't Hustle, Loyalty and Respect- that was Cena being smug.
What the WWE wanted to do was have a redemption story: Cena hitting Rock Bottom (har de har) and working his way back up to fight the Rock at Wrestlemania 29- winning the WWE Championship from the Great One and thus taking his position among the greats of the company's history. It must have seemed like a slam dunk.
To be fair, we really had no real inkling until the 1000th show of Raw, where the Rock declared that at the Royal Rumble he would have a title shot against the champion.
So it wasn't booked one year in advance like Mania 28. No, in fact it was worse where every single man and his dog with a wrestling mind knew what was going to happen 9 months in advance and the WWE attempted to tell you that it was all 'unpredictable'.
But anyway, we still had the story of redemption right? Cena's hitting the nadir before climbing back to the t-
Oh wait, he beat Brock Lesnar the next month? WTF, man?!
But he was so bashed up by the Beast that it was obvious with the stretcher that he would be taking some time off right?
Huh? He's saying he's staying around?! Who grabs a mic to say that he's sticking around?!
You see the thing is even though Cena did not have the championship he was headlining shows. When CM Punk was tearing the house down with Daniel Bryan in one of the feuds of the decade Cena was feuding with John
Laryngitis Laurinatis in main events!
Oh and FYI WWE, when it came to the event and you were trying to create some drama because you missed that whole opportunity in that last year so you decided to mention John Cena's divorce? I really, really hope that you actually asked Cena's ex if it was cool to just bring all that up again because you didn't do your job properly, because if you didn't it would seem to me to be a pretty shitty thing to do. Not to mention the fact that it makes Cena look like a bit of a douche (he'd rather feud with John Laurinatis than go home for a month or two and save his marriage?) and a sore loser (what, you lost to the Rock, so your marriage disintergrated? That seems to me to be a bit much to blame on poor Dwayne).
Anyway, let's get to our second problem with this whole schmozzle.
Despite everything that GrecoRoman Guy had talked about during his Summer of Punk articles, CM Punk was still arguably the hottest commodity the WWE had in 2012. He could talk, his matches in the ring were as good as they ever were (every PPV match between the Royal Rumble PPV in January and the Night of Champions PPV in September was very good to amazing- with opponents like Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, Kane and John Cena himself). And in the middle of all this of course he turned heel on the 1000th episode of Raw.
And erm, took a pretty good chunk of the audience with him.
It's difficult to know if the WWE really knew if this would happen or if they really cared. One could argue they were attempting a variation of the Randy Savage/Hulk Hogan storyline that led to a match at Wrestlemania V- Punk, overcome by jealousy by the guys who weren't the champion would turn heel and demand satisfaction.
The thing was...damn it, Punk had a point. The Rock turned up one episode, suddenly announced he had a title shot without really earning it, essentially didn't address CM Punk's great title run, and wasn't there the next week on Raw. Who was? CM Punk, the guy who had busted his buns to be the WWE Champion. The babyfaces who he was up against were a) A movie star who basically waltzed back into the main event picture and b) a guy who never left the main event picture despite not having the f*(%ing title.
And if you think that Punk was being petty about all of this, he was involved in 15 PPVs between when he won the championship (Survivor Series 2011) and when he lost it (Royal Rumble 2013). In that reign Punk headlined 5 PPVs- one third. John Cena on the other hand headlined 8- over half. Oh, and of all the ones that Punk headlined that was not against either Cena or the Rock- two. Just. Two. Both of those were when Cena did not turn up at the PPV at all.
And they tried to have Punk become more heelish by attacking Jerry Lawler, but the more they tried, the more it just came off as, well...forced. He did get some cheap heat by alluding to Lawler's heart attack and such, but it wasn't heat that lasted because everyone thought that while Punk was busting his ass as champion, the main event at Mania would probably not have him in it. The more he howled at the moon, the more the crowd loved him for it for bucking the tired old system that had dominated WWE for the last eight years. He was being a prick, but dammit, he was our prick who we hoped would take us to the promised land. He was airing the dirty laundry of the WWE and putting it out there for all to see. He may have been blaming us in kayfabe but that wasn't what we took home. What we took home was that this champion understood our grievances with the product. How can you boo a guy like that?
For fuck's sake, the guy tore a meniscus. I watch a lot of Australian Rules Football and if someone tears a meniscus (even partly) you can essentially count them out for 8 weeks. Punk was out for 5, and then was thrown back into a TLC match with Ryback. That's not being thrown in the deep end, that's being thrown into that Pacific Trench where all the Decepticons got dumped at the end of Transformers.
And then there was this guy
The inner conspiracy theorist in me sometimes wonders if Vince had his Reigns vs Lesnar match planned a year in advance and thus there were two reasons for ending the Streak.
1) To put Lesnar over as an unstoppable Beast who would dismantle the best in his path.
2) To ensure that that pesky 'Streak-Within-a-Streak' wouldn't overshadow the Main Event.
From Wrestlemania 23 to Wrestlemania 29 the Undertaker was in 5 Wrestlemania matches that were not the Main Event. Only one Main Event (Cena vs Michaels at Mania 23) really was able to keep up with the Streak match that came before it.
When Cena and Rock 1 occurred they found themselves overshadowed by one of the best pieces of wrestling storytelling in the decade when Triple H and the Deadman locked horns at Miami with HBK as the special referee.
And then Vince had the ingenious idea of putting Punk up against the Streak.
Add to that the fact that Paul Bearer had tragically passed away as the angle was beginning to cook and it soon became patently obvious which feud was interesting the audience more- particularly since one had one of the most respected and consistent workers in the locker room along with one of the best talkers and ring workers in modern WWE history.
But what also needs to be remembered is what happened after Wrestlemania. Rather than take a sabbatical as he often did, the Undertaker actually stuck around for two TV matches against the Shield and Dean Ambrose. Hell, he actually got speared through the barricade and powerbombed through the announce table!
Essentially, during the Undertaker's tenure, he came back and defeated CM Punk, but then allowed himself to not only be a part of a defeat by the Shield, but also put them over by putting his 48 year old body through a couple of crazy spots and some good to great TV matches. One cannot help but contrast that to the Rock strolling back at the Rumble, winning the title and headlining each and every PPV.
Not to mention those God Awful Rock Concerts.
Which brings us to the next issue.
The Rock last wrestled before 2012 in 2004. That's a long time between drinks- even for someone as charismatic as the Rock and between Wrestlemania 20 and 28 a lot had changed in the business- including the concerted shift to a PG rated product.
And when one talks about the Rock, one doesn't immediately think PG.
Don't get me wrong, the Rock could still talk. His return in 2011, the challenge he threw to Cena post-Mania 27, the return in 2013 (which incidentally does a great job of putting Punk over) and the unveiling of the new title were some fine promos.
Unfortunately though there were also Rock Concerts which Main Evented Raws.
Too often during the Rock's time back in the WWE it seemed like the WWE were trying to show how awesome he was by putting him in all these stupid situations. I don't care if the Rock can play passable guitar. I know Chris Jericho can and he has never been invited to do something like this. What I want to see him doing is either a) wrestling or b) doing some great promo work. How in the holy pits of Tartarus did these concerts relate to wrestling? Better yet, why would seeing Dwayne Johnson sing suddenly shoot ratings through the roof?
It was if the WWE were so insecure in the Rock's wrestling ability that they decided to bank on his entertainment ability instead.
Speaking about wrestling then came another elephant in the room.
Yes, the match between Cena and Punk on Raw on Feburary 25th was one for the ages. Everything came out in a blistering match that would determine the #1 contender to the Rock's title. Both men threw everything at each other and though everyone knew that Cena would win, it was an amazing 30 mins of free TV action that had everyone on the edge of their seat. It goes to show what can happen when Cena is put together with an opponent that knows his stuff.
The trouble is that a few weeks later Cena and Rock took to the ring in front of a much larger audience and proceeded to deliver a pretty average match.
Look, in all reality, it's not that bad. There's a couple of things that don't help it (we'll pick them apart as we go). Firstly the announcing. Rather than call the match at one point Jerry Lawler actually talks about how John Cena is such a great guy who is so approachable in the locker room (maybe he was giving Cena an apartment reference or something?). Furthermore, the announcing actually really doesn't heighten the match. If JR had called Cena kicking out of the Rock Bottom he would have "Cena, Cena just barely kicking out! Bah Gawd that was close!!!" You don't get that sense of urgency in this match from the commentators.
Secondly, the match is a very...one paced- particularly in the back two thirds. It sorta goes small move, small move, counter FINISHER! 1, 2- kick out. Lay on the ground for 20 seconds or so, then repeat.
"But Vectron!" I hear people cry, "Didn't HBK and Undertaker use false finishers as well?"
Yes, but there's a few differences. For a start, Undertaker and Michaels both had multiple moves that would get the crowd on their feet- 'Taker had the Last Ride, the Chokeslam and the Tombstone whereas Michaels had Sweet Chin Music and the elbow from the top rope. Secondly, the two guys didn't just resort to finisher after finisher after finisher but mixed it up a bit. Michaels Sweet Chin Music was countered into a chokeslam. The Tombstone was countered into an amazing DDT. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the two men sold incredibly well. When Michaels hit the superkick on 'Taker he literally crawled to make the cover. When Taker was struggling to his feet, he kept swaying around like he was punch drunk and running on empty. Both men seemed to go to the well to defeat the other.
Another great comparison is that Raw match between Punk and Cena. Both men pulled out moves that you usually never see because they were driven to defeat the other- I mean Punk used a piledriver for God's sake! However, against the Rock, Cena reverted back to a very...basic moveset that didn't really put over the importance of the match.
Look, I've no doubt Rock's injury didn't help in this regard but come on! This is Wrestlemania! Punk performed Old School on the Undertaker and elbowed him on the announce table and all the bookers can think of is for Rock and Cena to keep doing Rock Bottoms and AA's to each other?
But despite all of this, Cena won, the Rock bowed out gracefully and put him over.
Which leads me to my biggest problem with this.
I realise that Vince had his eyes set on the Box Office for the Rock's return. That's fine. I just refuse to swallow the bullshit that this was a way to come back to 'endorse' John Cena. John Cena does not need endorsing. He's like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect as far as the WWE is concerned- any product they have their fingers in, they will want John Boy there with his smile in order to sell more product.
But suppose you went about Wrestlemania 29 like this:
Firstly Punk has to lose the belt at Survivor Series 2012 to John Cena. He then takes two months off (proper two months off) to recover from his meniscus (he tore it in September, according to him) and comes back at the Royal Rumble. Instead of asking for a rematch, however, he does a Daniel Bryan and enters the 30-Man Event and wins it.
Cena, at the same time, faces The Rock at the Royal Rumble to a unfinished match after the Shield interfere (they are still Heyman's employees after all)- leaving both on the canvas and leaving the Shield looking strong.
At Elimination Chamber, however, with the Shield busy with Ryback, Sheamus and [insert Third Babyface Here], Cena and the Rock have a full out match and the Rock comes out victorious with the championship. Punk is kept off the PPV in the mean time in order to allow his knee to heal more (he may cut a promo, but nothing more).
At Wrestlemania 29, then it's CM Punk vs the Rock and John Cena vs the Undertaker. Punk beats the Rock, while Cena loses to 'Taker. You then have a (hopefully) fit champion who can drive the company forward, while Cena loses nothing by being on a list next to guys like HBK, Triple H, Kane and Randy Orton. Plus, since Punk didn't actually face Cena for the WWE Championship at the Rumble, Cena can justify having first title shot against the Second City Saint.
Just a thought.
Or you could do what the WWE did- give a rub to a person who didn't need it at the expense of someone who could have really used it.
And that's article 36 folks! Next time we look at the thorny issue of Couples Intervention...With a camera and everything!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action