Or what made UFC seem like such a fine choice...
What is a disaster?
Many would look at this angle that I am about to grapple with and shake their head, claiming that this isn't a disaster- it was just not as good as it should have been. But sometimes in wrestling you get a glorious chance when you're handed lightning in a bottle. WWE had that when the Montreal Screwjob occurred and Austin was primed to line up against Vince McMahon. They also had it handed to them when Austin went away with injury...allowing the Rock to emerge as this totally new babyface to challenge Austin at the top of the card. But the thing is, neither of those were down to luck, they were down to WWE being ready for both of them.
Actor Michael Keaton after his film Birdman said it was like positioning yourself in a desert so you'd be ready for the meteor to hit you so you'd be transformed. And the same is true in wrestling. When the seismic shift happens you have to be ready so the business will be all the better for it.
WWE seemed pretty much to miss the meteor coming so they were only grazed by it, then run after a seemingly much smaller meteor, trip over its own feet and land with a mouthful of sand. And who knows what would have happened if they were willing to position themselves properly for that meteor- better known as the second Summer of Punk.
Where to begin?
On the 22nd of May 2011, John Cena retained his WWE title against the Miz in an I Quit match. What made it particularly galling was the fact that Cena essentially had to get through Miz and his protoge Alex Riley as they beat him mercilessly.
But, Cena gritted his teeth and came back to win the match, once again reaffirming that he'd never give up.
And that was part of the problem...
At the same PPV, one Philip Jack Brooks, aka CM Punk, was nowhere to be seen.
At a time when Christian and Randy Orton were scorching up the place on the Smackdown side of things with great matches in an amazing feud, the audience found itself having to watch main events whose character development had essentially come to a 6 year pause. And what was worse was the fear that we'd have to have this for another 12 months because he was going to face the Rock in April the next year.
Cena had the WWE title and was looking more and more out of place. The Nexus? Kicked to the curb. John Morrison- who could have benefited from a nice little feud with the Face that runs the place? Given one cage match then tossed aside. The Miz? Wasn't allowed to be seen as a top superstar because he couldn't beat him in a 2-on-1 match (and yes. Cena doesn't quit, but it doesn't say much when he gets 5 moves of offense to the other guys' 50 and makes them submit).
Furthermore, probably because he felt himself an obligation to wrestle a very low-risk style due to the fact that the WWE had essentially bet the house on him, his matches at the time were not up to much. Cena of 2011 wrestled an incredibly by the numbers style that is almost chalk and cheese compared to the matches that he wrestles today (I believe Kevin Dunn and Vince would have had a heart attack if they saw Cena pull off a yoshi tonic...).
And then he came along.
It should be said that WWE revisionist history will probably construct the Summer of Punk as piece of inspired booking but there is really no evidence to suggest that. Yes, they decided that Punk and Cena would make for a good main event for Money in the Bank, but it's not as if they were building Punk up for this feud. Ostentatiously he was still the leader of the New Nexus- a group that had become more a millstone around Punk's neck than a stepping stone. Furthermore, although again WWE may revise this, Punk in early 2011 wasn't really a massive fan favourite the same way that Daniel Bryan was. He was respected, sure for his work in the ring and on the mic, but between the New Nexus and the Orton feud, as well as the fact that he was just such a damn good bastard (as opposed to the geniune niceness of D-Bry) it felt that he would be stuck in that Upper Midcard picture.
Fact of the matter is, before Punk sat on that stage with his legs crossed, WWE really had a feud between a guy that was going to leave that had been booked pretty poorly and a guy who more and more of the crowd were seeing as poisoning the well that they were drinking their pro wrestling from.
And then Punk gave them a wonderful, beautiful reason to care.
There are so many things that I love about this promo but one of the best aspects is the fact that it doesn't come off like Punk is whinging. Instead, Punk essentially comes on the stage and says "screw it, if I'm not going to be treated right, then I'll go elsewhere, but I'm going to tell you what you're missing out on". But at the same time, he never declares that the world will fall apart when he takes the WWE Championship from Mr Hustle, Loyalty and Respect. Indeed, he actually says the opposite- that even though he'll leave with the WWE Title, the money factory that is the WWE will still keep going, that "Vince will still make money despite himself" (possibly my favourite line of the whole thing).
It is a truly amazing promo because it made Punk a face despite the fact that he isn't really doing this for anyone but himself. But what that promo did was turn what was potentially selfishness into personal integrity.
And all we saw of John Cena was Hustle for the Boss, Loyalty to the Shareholders and Respect for the TV PG rating.
From there we were off to the races. Cena could be Cena because Punk was able to call out the ridiculousness of it. It was now the establishment vs counterculture; fruity pebbles vs straight edge (ok, that last one is a little much). And to add to the spice, John Cena would be shown the door if he lost to Punk at Money in the Bank.
And Punk won the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank in a incredible match and fled the scene in what could be described as one of the biggest heists of WWE history. The rocket ship seemed like it was well and truly strapped onto Punk's back.
And yet...seeds were sown that would come back to bite WWE in the arse.
And the first was this one.
If you look back over the early Punk/Cena stuff, you see a curiously muted Vince McMahon sorta trying to ingratiate himself into it. Part of this is the fact that Vince is not really a heel or a face for much of the feud but an old fashioned authority figure, which is not something that Vince seems that comfortable playing.
But a bigger part of it was the fact that Vince was probably scared shitless of what Punk represented. Not because of all his tattoos, or all his irrelevant pop cultural references, but because for over 12 years Vince and the WWE had peddled the myth of the WWE as the great land of opportunity thanks to the exodus of WCW workers such as Benoit, Jericho, Show and Guerrero who were willing to take a pay cut in order to show what they could really do.
In other words, CM Punk was now willing to walk away from the WWE for the very same reasons that Jericho and Guerrero walked into it. No wonder Vince claimed that Punk had him over a barrel when it came to the contract. If Punk lost, even if he got squashed (and it may have occurred to Vince that Punk probably knew a few shoot holds to make that really difficult if he got wind of it), the WWE would essentially be confirming everything that Punk was accusing them of. It obviously stuck in Vince's craw.
Still, the worse problem was made on the night after Money in the Bank, when we saw one of the most mind boggling bizarre fifteen minutes of television. Not because it was particularly bad (though it was by no means great), but because it essentially showed that the WWE didn't really know what they had with this angle and didn't know what exactly made Punk special.
So let's try to break it down.
Firstly Vince comes out in the final of the WWE Championship tournament between Miz and Mysterio and claims that nobody is bigger than the WWE and he needed to take care of some business- firing John Cena because he needs to set an example because it's best for business. This part of the segment is actually quite good.
But then Cena comes out.
And again the first part of the promo I like- he talks about the fact that he doesn't want to remembered for screwing Punk the way HBK was remembered for screwing Bret Hart- that's fine...But then as the promo continues...you suddenly begin to realise...
Holy shit, this is Cena's version of the fucking Pipe Bomb!
Seriously, he talks about how Vince will make money despite himself, he talks about how he'll go elsewhere if he's fired, he talks about how Vince has to be in control all the time, he even talks about how Vince could find another wrestler for the Rock at Wrestlemania 28.
And that's the first massive problem with this segment. Because Punk as a character lives in that grey area between kayfabe and reality. The Pipe Bomb worked because it was a real grievance. Whether it was a worked shoot or just a plain shoot, it definitely came from somewhere real.
Cena's character on the other hand, does not do reality. Everything about this segment feels artificial compared to the Pipe Bomb. Whether it is little things like the fact that Punk mentions actual wrestling promotions and Cena says he will go on "another television show"; or the major things like the fact that without John Cena Vince will make Wrestlemania 28 simply go on as normal (uh huh...). And the way he says "that was a hell of a match, son" to CM Punk is frankly...obnoxious. This isn't some blow in from NXT that beat him, Punk was a multi-time World Champion before he won the title and now Cena is thanking him as if he's some kid that did him a favour. How are you supposed to make him seem like he's Cena's equal after that?
But hey, Cena finishes and Vince is about to fire him when-
Yes, the Game comes out and decides that the cheesiness needs some extra ham.
Not that Triple H doesn't do a good job looking uncomfortable here- it's just that it gets awkward and weird. Firstly, we start with notion of a shadowy Board of Directors who have decided to act upon Vince's "extremely questionable judgement". Soo...apparently the guy who was willing to crucify his own daughter to get the title off some bald Texan had questionable judgement because he was going to fire a guy.
At TV tropes and idioms (a site that myself and CSS' Reconstructionist Greco- sorry Mr GrecoRomanGuy both recommend you check out) a Deus Ex Machina "is when some new event, character, ability, or object solves a seemingly unsolvable problem in a sudden, unexpected way". Well, this one made things worse. What's more, it essentially took all the agency out of the Game's hands. If you were going to take away Vince's authority (and we'll talk more about that later), then the Game should have marched down that ramp and told him straight. It's not as if the crowds are going to suddenly empathise with Mr McMahon. Even better he could have gone down there and given him an ultimatum at the beginning of the show- be a bit less authoritative or face consequences. Vince of course laughs it off and at the end of the show we find out what said consequences are.
And that's the thing. When this uncomfortable speech occurs, the crowd aren't going "Oh my God that poor man Vince McMahon has been fired by his son-in-law!" They're saying "Ha! Suck on that Vince!" WWE crowds had been indoctrinated for years to boo McMahon against Stone Cold, the Rock, Mick Foley, the Undertaker, HBK, Bret Hart and even Triple H himself and they think they can pull off a switcheroo with one emotive promo?
Because sure sport and entertainment are emotional. And characters are redeemable. But Vince has a rap sheet that would make Cersei Lannister pause. You can't expect fans to just forget that because it's your damn kayfabe!! All this did was try to make this a more 'reality' based angle- but the stupid thing was that they essentially flew in the face of their kayfabe to do it. CM Punk didn't fly in the face of kayfabe- he used it.
Furthermore, the whole damn impetus of the Cena/Punk feud has essentially been hijacked. Now, this would have been ok if Punk was leaving for- say 3 months but as we'll see in the next article that didn't occur. If Vince was still in the authority slot when Punk came back, then the battlelines are still defined- but now we have a sort of semi-face authority figure with his own anti-establishment cred muddying the waters.
"But Vectron!" I hear you say, "If Vince doesn't go, what happens to Cena- he said he'd be fired remember?"
Simple- have Vince go back on his word. Or downgrade the charge. Either way it'll be grist for the mill when Punk comes back- for now he can claim that Cena does get treated differently by the higher-ups. Do something to push the story along.
Just don't try and upend the table.
Well, at least you know they get it back on track with-
But that's Part 2...
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
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?