What If..... CM Punk had left with the WWE Championship?
In a new series replacing the History of the WWE, Paul looks into scenarios that could have been made better, or should have worked out better than they actually did. This week, the topic is the second City Saint, CM Punk, and his historic WWE Championship win at Money in the Bank 2011.
July 17, 2011, was an historic day in WWE. The Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View took place from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, and the main event was set, as John Cena would defend his WWE Championship against the leader of the Nexus and probably the most popular wrestler of the time, CM Punk.
The lead up to the match was something truly amazing. Just weeks before the Pay-Per-View, CM Punk had cost John Cena a tables match against R-Truth on the special edition episode, Raw Roulette, on 27th June. Coming down to the ring in a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt, Punk moved a table out of the way just as Cena was going to AA Truth through it for the win. Seeing this, Cena went to the outside and the two traded blows, Cena threw Punk into the ring and attempted an AA, but Punk escaped and the distraction was enough for Truth to put Cena through a table that was stood in the corner.
Almost everyone knows what happened next. CM Punk grabbed a microphone, and sat on the stage at the top of the ramp, looking down on Cena in the ring, and he began to talk;
John Cena, while you lay there, hopefully as uncomfortable as you possibly can be, I want you to listen to me. I want you to digest this because before I leave in three weeks with your WWE Championship, I have a lot of things I want to get off my chest.
I don’t hate you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I do like you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back.
I hate this idea that you’re the best. Because you’re not. I’m the best. I’m the best in the world. There’s one thing you’re better at than I am and that’s kissing Vince McMahon’s ass.
You’re as good as kissing Vince’s ass as Hulk Hogan was. I don’t know if you’re as good as Dwayne though. He’s a pretty good ass kisser. Always was and still is.
Whoops! I’m breaking the fourth wall!
[Punk waves to the camera]
I am the best wrestler in the world.
I’ve been the best ever since day one when I walked into this company. And I’ve been vilified and hated since that day, because Paul Heyman saw something in me that nobody else wanted to admit. That’s right, I’m a Paul Heyman guy. You know who else was a Paul Heyman guy? Brock Lesnar. And he split just like I’m splitting. But the biggest difference between me and Brock is I’m going to leave with the WWE Championship.
I’ve grabbed so many of Vincent K. McMahon’s imaginary brass rings that it’s finally dawned on me that they're just that, they’re completely imaginary. The only thing that’s real is me and the fact that day in and day out, for almost six years, I have proved to everybody in the world that I am the best on this microphone, in that ring, even in commentary! Nobody can touch me!
And yet no matter how many times I prove it, I’m not on your lovely little collector cups. I’m not on the cover of the program. I’m barely promoted. I don't get to be in movies. I’m certainly not on any crappy show on the USA Network. I’m not on the poster of WrestleMania. I’m not on the signature that’s produced at the start of the show. I’m not on Conan O’Brian. I’m not on Jimmy Fallon. But the fact of the matter is, I should be.
And trust me, this isn’t sour grapes. But the fact that Dwayne is in the main event at WrestleMania next year and I’m not makes me sick!
Oh hey, let me get something straight. Those of you who are cheering me right now, you are just as big a part of me leaving as anything else. Because you’re the ones who are sipping on those collector cups right now. You’re the ones that buy those programs that my face isn’t on the cover of. And then at five in the morning at the airport, you try to shove it in my face so you can get an autograph and try to sell it on eBay because you’re too lazy to go get a real job.
I’m leaving with the WWE Championship on July 17th. And hell, who knows, maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe…I’ll go back to Ring of Honor.
[Punk looks at the camera and waves]
Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doing?
The reason I’m leaving is you people. Because after I’m gone, you’re still going to pour money into this company. I’m just a spoke on the wheel. The wheel is going to keep turning and I understand that. Vince McMahon is going to make money despite himself. He’s a millionaire who should be a billionaire. You know why he’s not a billionaire? Because he surrounds himself with glad-handed, nonsensical, douchebag yes men, like John Laurinaitis, who’s going to tell him everything he wants to hear, and I’d like to think that maybe this company will be better after Vince McMahon is dead. But the fact is, it’s going to be taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family.
Let me tell you a personal story about Vince McMahon, alright? We do this whole [anti] bully campaign...
[Microphone cuts off]
I've been silenced!
The promo that Punk cut became iconic, and is still heavily revered today, almost ten years on. The following weeks of Raw would see Vince McMahon desperately try to renegotiate Punk's contract, which would see CM Punk ask for things such as the return of WWE Ice Cream Bars, CM Punk: The Movie, and a host of other things. But ultimately, he made Vince very aware that he intended to leave, and he intended to take the WWE Championship with him.
As the Money in the Bank PPV kicked off on July 17th, you could be forgiven for forgetting the rest of the card that night, as the anticipation for one of the most exciting WWE Championship matches in recent years built to a fever pitch. CM Punk came out in his new "Best in the World" t-shirt, and the crowd went nuts. As the show was taking place in Chicago, CM Punk had home field advantage, a fact that the fans in attendance made John Cena abundantly aware of by booing him ferociously as he made his entrance. There was none of Cena's usual swagger as he headed to the ring, he simply walked to the ring, head down, and got into the ring ready to begin the match.
What followed next was almost 40 minutes of wrestling gold. the match was an absolute five-star classic. Hell, if it had been in the Korakuen Hall in Japan, Dave Meltzer probably would have given it seven stars! But come the end of the match, CM Punk, with Vince McMahon watching from the stage, would hit the GTS and pin John Cena for the WWE Title. Vince would then run down to commentary and demand that Alberto Del Rio come down with his Money in the Bank briefcase he won earlier that night and cash in. Punk though was ready for this, and kicked Del Rio squarely in the head, then ran into the crowd, blew Vince a kiss, and left with the WWE Championship.
And with that, the WWE lost its World Championship, its premier prize. And everyone wondered what was next. Without the World Championship and indeed, the World Champion, what would the WWE do?
Well, in their infinite wisdom, they held an eight-man tournament to crown a new WWE Champion. The final would see Rey Mysterio beat The Miz to claim the title, before a reinstated John Cena, who had previously been "released" by Vince as punishment for not retaining against Punk, would challenge Rey that night and win the title. As Cena held the title aloft in victory, Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" filled the arena, and out came the real WWE Champion, CM Punk. He missed one week of TV before returning, and revealed the next week on Raw that he had re-signed with the WWE. Punk's stock was massive and after a brief loss of the title he would go on a modern-day record 434-day reign as WWE Champion.
But, as with most things at the time in WWE, the angle felt like it did not live up to its full potential. WWE had an opportunity to boost the entire pro wrestling world, which would have been hugely beneficial not just to the business, but to themselves too, but they tossed it aside in favour of a quick pay off.
Punk did, in the one week he was off TV, do the rounds a little bit. He turned up at a WWE Q&A at Comic Con, belittling WWE and taunting Triple H, and he showed up at an independent AAW show, putting over Gregory Iron, a wrestler with Cerebral Palsy, but he did not have the title with him. This, for me, is where the WWE threw away the hottest angle they had come up with in years.
What if CM Punk had run off with the WWE Championship? It could have all been so different...;
July 18th on Raw, Vince McMahon comes out and apologises to the fans in attendance that the WWE Champion will not be here tonight. CM Punk is gone, and as a result, the WWE Championship is gone also. Meanwhile, CM Punk would do the rounds on TV and podcasts and tell the world that the WWE Champion is coming to a promotion near you!
Punk would then begin to tour the independent scene in America, as the WWE Champion, and make appearances defending the title in the main event against the top stars of the time. Matches with the likes of Christopher Daniels & Steve Corino in Ring of Honor, Samoa Joe & AJ Styles in TNA, and multiple others on the circuit would have boosted business everywhere and given some real exposure to the younger workers making their way up, as well as some bigtime match experience.
After a few months of doing this, CM Punk decides that if he is truly the World Champion, he needs to take the title out to the world, and so he begins a World Tour, going to promotions all over the globe to defend the WWE Championship. He goes to NJPW, as he said he would in his promo, and defends the title against Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi, he goes to the UK and he defends the title against people like Noam Dar, he shows up at some of the early PROGRESS shows and defends the title against Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr, Nathan Cruz and a host of others, he goes to Mexico and defends the title against wrestlers such as Negro Casas, Blue Panther and Marco Corleone (formerly known as Mark Jindrak)
By taking the title worldwide, and truly defending it, WWE could have in the background made deals with the companies he was going to and use these opportunities to further their own interest in stars of the future. By giving them the platform to showcase their abilities and their connection with the fans, WWE could have increased what was already a very impressive scouting network, whilst also giving a much-needed boost to some of the smaller companies around the world. A star such as CM Punk back in 2011, and perhaps even to this day, would most likely bring in record levels of revenue for companies like East Coast Wrestling Association, Maryland Championship Wrestling, All American Wrestling, Full Impact Pro..... the list could literally run and run.
Almost a year goes by, and in the WWE, things look very different. In storyline at least, Vince McMahon has seceded his authority to Triple H, and under his guidance, The Intercontinental Championship has become the top title on Raw (much like it was during Seth Rollins reigns in 2018) The World Heavyweight Championship is kept primarily on Smackdown, to further the absence of the WWE Championship, and no Raw Superstar has been able to cross over brands to challenge for it, but the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View is fast approaching, and everyone sees it as the opportunity to go to Smackdown and potentially become World Heavyweight Champion.
The build-up to MITB would be significant as so many Raw superstars would be in the frame to get themselves into the ladder match. Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, the Miz and a heavily motivated John Cena would all be chomping at the bit to put themselves atop the mountain as the World Heavyweight Champion in WWE.
July 15th, 2012 and Money in the Bank takes place at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The Money in the Bank match takes place and John Cena comes away with the briefcase after a brutal ladder match. Later that night, in the main event, Alberto Del Rio has just defended the World Title against Rey Mysterio, when Cena comes out to cash in his briefcase. Cena looks as if he is just about to win the match, and the title, when music that hasn't been heard in the WWE for almost a year fills the arena. Out steps the WWE Champion, CM Punk, to rapturous applause from the fans in attendance. The crowd goes absolutely insane for the returning champion, who just stands on the ramp, title aloft, and stares down John Cena.
Cena is visibly shocked, and cannot believe what he is seeing. Seizing this opportunity, Del Rio manages to roll up a distracted Cena to retain his title, and CM Punk has once again cost Cena a World Title for the second straight year. As Cena stands in the corner of the ring, devastated, CM Punk takes a mic and simply says "I'm back!" before dropping the mic and heading backstage as the show closes.
We then get snippets of "WWE Exclusive" videos showing a now pissed off John Cena charging around backstage looking for CM Punk. Cena is shoving people out of the way, kicking open doors, and throwing things around in his anger, all the while CM Punk sits in a guarded locker room by himself surrounded by luxury.
The next night on Raw it is revealed that CM Punk has indeed re-signed with WWE, but at great expense to themselves. He is to be given a luxury locker room to himself at each show, be transported in a private jet, given a substantial pay rise, appear on TV shows, have his face on programmes, cups, ice cream bars, and a documentary is to be made about him defending the title across the world for the last twelve months. He says that WWE agreed to all his demands as they were so desperate to get their Championship and the champion back on the red brand. Punk also says he has been given control of who he defends his WWE Championship against.
For weeks, Cena cannot get near Punk, and gets more and more angry as time goes on. Punk continually refuses to defend the WWE Title against Cena, instead giving opportunities to people like Kofi Kingston and Cody Rhodes (remember AEW wasn't even on the cards back then).
The Royal Rumble comes around, and Cena enters at number 3, and is clearing house. he gets down to the final four, when CM Punk runs out through the crowd and throws Cena over the ropes from behind. Once again, Cena has been cost a World Title opportunity by CM Punk and is now more enraged than ever. The next night on Raw, Cena, barely holding his anger in check, demands that Punk come down to the ring and listen to his proposal. Accompanied by guards, CM Punk does come down to ringside, where Cena proposes a Loser Leaves Raw Title match at Wrestlemania. If he cannot beat CM Punk for the WWE Championship, he will leave Raw. Punk says it's good, but it's not good enough, and counter proposes a Title v Career match. If Cena cannot beat him for the title, he is gone for good. Cena barely takes a second to accept, so enraged is he at CM Punk, and the match is set.
As the weeks go by, CM Punk continues to taunt Cena at every opportunity. He imposes a no contact clause saying that if Cena touches him before Wrestlemania, he will lose his match, and Punk spends every week leading up to it getting in Cena's face, goading him and begging him to hit him. Cena comes close, but always manages to just about contain himself. Punk decides that he will also bring in people from outside WWE for one match "Open Challenges" to his title, giving more opportunities to other talent.
The big night arrives. Wrestlemania 29 from the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. A sold-out crowd can barely contain themselves for the Main Event, CM Punk v John Cena in a Title v Career match for the WWE Championship. Cena comes down to the ring in a special entrance celebrating his achievements in WWE until this point, while CM Punk comes out surrounded by guards to an overly extravagant entrance.
As the match begins, Punk spends the first few minutes avoiding Cena, building up the rage and the anticipation of the fans. When the two trade blows, the crowd explodes and we are treated to a spectacle of a match that rivals their previous encounter almost two years prior, full of near falls, false finishes, and shenanigans from the defending Champion. The end of the match comes and CM Punk looks set to retain, and make Cena leave the WWE, but then Vince McMahon's music hits, and out comes the WWE Chairman.
Vince struts down to the ring and gets in Punk's face. Punk levels him with a GTS, but due to the distraction he is then hit with an AA by John Cena who gets the pinfall and the WWE Championship. The crowd goes insane as the title is back in the hands of a Champion who won't take it away again, and Cena helps Vince to his feet. they embrace as Punk skulks away without his title, and Vince holds Cena's arm aloft in victory as Wrestlemania closes.
That is how I envisioned the storyline going. Instead, we got a rushed pay off with no real difference in the product and a rushed return of CM Punk. The angle could and should have been so much better, but they blew it off for a quick pop. If they had taken their time with it, and put themselves out there to other companies instead of locking themselves away in their own bubble, the entire pro wrestling industry could have benefitted from the hottest angle, possibly of all time.
How do you think this would have played out? Were you happy with the way it went on TV or would you have done it differently? Let us know in the comments below and as ever thanks for reading and supporting us!
To keep upto date with news from all the major promotions as well as the uk indies, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Listen to the podcast over on our YouTube channel, and don't forget to like & subscribe!