Summer scramble: WWE seeks early return on investment in CM Punk at SummerSlam 2011 in Los Angeles
“Summer is kind of like the ultimate one-night stand: hot as hell, totally thrilling, and gone before you know it.” –Unknown Facebook philosopher
Less than two weeks after walking out on WWE with its heavyweight championship–and days after surprising the Comic-Con crowd in San Diego gathered for the WWE panel by confronting “new head of day-to-day operations” Triple H and goading him with the “real” title belt–CM Punk returned to Monday’s RAW to a largely babyface reaction, complete with new music, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” to confront new titleholder John Cena, who had just regained the company’s top trophy from Rey Mysterio, who had won the tourney final to crown a new kingpin 90 minutes earlier. I almost forgot–earlier in the show, Alberto Del Rio, who’s beens scheduled to win one of the company’s top titles since WrestleMania, once again teased cashing in his Money in the Bank contract against an exhausted Rey post-match, but the new champ ran him off before the ref could “officially” ring the bell.
The show closed with Punk and Cena in a staredown with their respective belts raised in the air, setting up a title vs. title “unification” match at SummerSlam to determine the undisputed new champion. Of course, with the most high-profile WWE tour of Mexico approaching, speculation immediately went into overdrive that Del Rio would cash in the contract and stun the new champion at SummerSlam to finally put WWE gold around his destined waist and set up a series of three-way bouts or possibly just Del Rio vs. Cena rematches.
Whew–that’s about two to three months worth of booking in less than 14 days.
As KFR reader “dlc320″ writes: “Well after the events of this past Monday’s RAW it seems to me that WWE has blown the CM Punk soap/angle off too fast in favor of the quick dollar return at SummerSlam. To have left the fate of the “real” belt in question for a while would have given an air (at least) of reality to the story. But no, instead, we rush CM Punk out at the end of the big match with his music playing and his new merchandise on his back as if any clown could waltz down to center stage right off the street. This all points to how hard it is too create a believeable storyline in today’s markett when everyone is now in on the joke…..it’s not real! And the worst part is that all true fans really want to believe in that “one true moment” when art turns to reality. We want to believe that the Snowman was real, that NWO was real, that Nexus was real,…that CM Punk was real. But now the smoke is gone, we all know the truth. And so it becomes harder to top each new ‘take over’ and I suppose in that quest for the green, the need becomes more. But sadly, the return (the fun) dies sooner.”
The Snowman angle he’s referring to is when Eddie Crawford, a muscular indie worker who briefly appeared under such monikers as Jimmy Hart Jr., Dr. Detroit and The Killer in Memphis–who was perhaps best known as the father of Xavier “X-Man” Crawford, the city’s best high-school running back of the ’90s–showed up during a live taping of Jerry Jarrett’s show at 1960 Union Avenue in summer 1991 to confront Jerry Lawler in an interview. It was the the promotion’s first attempt that I can think of that had a shoot-life feel to it. And since the show was indeed live, it added a sense of danger and realism to it–which lasted about two weeks after bouts between the King and the Snowman quickly revealed this was indeed an angle. The fact that Crawford couldn’t be carried to a decent, realistic-looking brawl by Lawler didn’t help matters. But with a promotion like Memphis, who for years had been forced to book strongly each Saturday to sell the weekly Monday shows. Much like Snowman after 5 minutes in the ring, the angle quickly ran out of gas before briefly capturing the imagination of the Memphis viewing public. The Nexus angle, of course, was blown the very next RAW when a slickly produced video package highlighting the “unscripted” attack helped kick off the show and relegated it to just another WWE angle–a part of the show–in the fans’ eyes.
Those in charge of WWE seemed to be stunned at the hot reaction to the Punk angle in recent weeks, despite his incredible Internet following and his longtime status as an above-average mover of merchandise. And despite being saddled with poor storylines for years and booked to lose nearly every big PPV match he’s had in the last three years, Punk’s superior promos and charisma have cemented him as a cult favorite nevertheless. Cult of personality, indeed.
While Punk vs. Cena is a much hotter SummerSlam main event than Del Rio in the mix, it seems that with less than three weeks ago to the Los Angeles show that the company panicked. At the very least, Cena vs. Rey and the disputed champion’s return should have been put off until next week, giving Punk a little more time away to stew and fans to speculate about his return. (Hell, if WWE hadn’t been so Memphis-like in its approach, perhaps they could have gone with a Rey vs. Cena vs. Del Rio three-way at SummerSlam, with Punk re-emerging on the Aug. 15 RAW in street clothes and no music to set up a slow build for Survivor Series.) The Rumble would have been too late as the company at that point would likely be best served with directing the promotion toward their WrestleMania main event “Dwayne.”
Longtime veterans and fans of the business have every reason to cringe about pulling the trigger too early on a Punk vs. Cena rematch and regulating CM to just another superstar on the roster just after establishing him as a modern-day rebel. But in today’s WWE, which goes with the hot hand to sell PPVs and merchandise (Punk’s new T-shirt from Monday is already on the company’s Shop Zone), it’s not surprising. Still, if anyone can save this rush job, it’s Punk. He’s overcome a lot worse since his WWE debut–which ironically enough was serving as one of “The Untouchables”-style gangsters leading Cena to the ring for his WrestleMania 22 main event–in his hometown of Chicago no less. Punk supposedly wants to get Steve Austin into the ring for one final match at ‘Mania, which might even trump Cena vs. Rock. (Maybe they could fight over Punk’s latest entrance theme; see Austin’s Hall of Fame video below.) I doubt it will come off, but if Austin were to have one more match, it might just be with Punk, whose work he admires. An Austin vs. Rock rematch from their last WrestleMania encounter would be much bigger money, though, down the road if the Rattlesnake bided his time. Hulk Hogan might as well just forget about Austin, but that won’t stop him from “issuing challenges” on radio shows, even offering to lose–geez, that’s some buildup there.
Here’s one intriguing scenario: Vince McMahon, protesting his ouster and the re-signing of Punk, re-emerges to screw CM out of the title at SummerSlam, leading to a Cena heel turn down the stretch heading into WrestleMania. Could be a refreshing change of pace as 18-to-34-year-old males, whom WWE covets, are dying to cheer Punk and boo Cena, which could lead to some hot rematches and brilliant, fresh TV. I’d say the odds of that happening are slim, though.