Welp, it finally happened. The creative team didn’t blow it. CM Punk is the new WWE Champion. Defeating John Cena last night and escaping through the crowd, I have to imagine that CM Punk has ushered in a new era for the wrestling industry. I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of last night’s events. With Vince McMahon left seething in the ring, we could be heading full throttle into an anti-authority angle with the potential to reach heights that no storyline has sniffed since Austin dropped Vinnie Mac with the Stone Cold Stunner for the first time.
Punk’s match with Cena was a definite match of the year candidate. False finishes with guys kicking out of their opponent’s trademark moves are always an exciting way to pad a match if the stage is big enough, and the main event had plenty of them last night. Surviving two STFs and two Attitude Adjustments, perhaps we’ve seen the end of Super Cena and the birth of Super Punk. Before I continue, I want to say that I can appreciate Cena as an in-ring performer. I’ve mentioned here before that a lot of people either praise him as the absolute best or decry him as a cancer to the product, but the truth is that he’s a solid performer who’s just suffered the blessing and curse of being relied on at the top of the card for too long. He can go when it matters. Last night mattered, and he brought it. Now, with that out of the way, time to sing the praises of the greatest human being on the planet, Mr. CM Punk.
Punk is always a joy to watch, but he was at the top of his game last night. Asking the crowd who their “you can’t wrestle” chants were directed towards, applauding Cena’s attempts to best him on the mat, and emphatically telling the referee the he didn’t wish to tap out every time he was put in a submission all illustrated how much fun Punk was having in front of his hometown crowd, and it made for an unforgettable performance. His interactions with fellow Second City Saints Colt Cabana and Ace Steel at ringside only added to the fun. As the match rolled on, the Straight Edger’s humor gave way to his vicious streak and he landed some nasty knees to the face of Cena. When the WWE shows an instant replay in slow motion and they don’t bring it back to full speed before the point of impact, you know somebody got rocked, and that was the case with the knee Punk planted into Cena’s jaw during their main event.
The match culminated with the threat of awfulness. Vince McMahon and John Laurinitis made their way ringside and teased the recreation of the infamous Montreal Screwjob, which would have probably resulted in plenty of us quitting on the company once and for all. Cena put a stop to the attempt though, crushing Johnny Ace in the face before he could have the bell rung. Cena’s stance on the moral high ground proved to be his undoing, as Punk used to distraction to hit the Champ with a devastating Go To Sleep. Three slaps of the mat later, CM Punk was the WWE Champion. The crowd exploded. Fanboys everywhere rejoiced. The impossible had become reality. The threat of a show-ruining turn of events still loomed as Vince McMahon called for Alberto Del Rio, Raw’s Money in the Bank winner, to come down to the ring and challenge Punk for the title. Our fears were refuted in moments, though, when the Mexican born superstar slid into the ring only to have his dome rocked by a stiff kick from the new Champion. Punk blew the Chairman a kiss, hopped the ringside barricade, and was engulfed by the Chicago crowd. Exiting through the people, CM Punk was the WWE Champion at show’s close last night, and he was within an hour of becoming a free agent.
Hell. Yes. This was the most exciting main event that I’ve seen in years. The last thing that compares, for me, was Rob Van Dam getting his crack at Cena at One Night Stand in the Hammerstein Ballroom, and that wasn’t this good. The rest of Money in the Bank, which was easily the best pay-per-view of the year, and some more love for CM Punk, just beyond the jump.
By the way, how sweet was this shirt? It’s already selling for between $200 and $300 on E-Bay, and while I’m absolutely in love with it, I have to imagine that it’ll be up on Shop Zone within the week, maybe with a little modification to the back to remove “Chicago 7x17x11” from the design.
Before we delve into the rest of Money in the Bank’s awesomeness, I should tell you that the show was not without its flaws. Don’t get me wrong, as a whole, the show was phenomenal. If the whole event was one long Matt Hardy match but it ended with Punk winning the title, I think it would still have been a success. Fortunately, however, there was some really great stuff that preceded the main event too. But I want to get the junk out of the way first. Kelly Kelly retained the Divas Title over one of the Bella Twins – do you really care which one? Despite it being longer than most of the divas matches we get on Raw, it was still a throwaway. None of the girls involved can hold a candle to the knockouts, who for the most part can’t perform at the level achieved by the women on the indies. I realize how emasculated this makes me sounds, but I have no interest in watching a couple of fitness models roll around and rub their butts in each others faces, and I especially don’t want to watch it when I’m impatiently awaiting the biggest main event in years.
The only other blemish on the show was the train wreck that was Mark Henry vs The Big Show. As expected, these two oafs plodded through a snooze-fest, one that Mark Henry was victorious in after two of the weakest looking splashes I’ve ever seen. I’m glad they didn’t kill the little bit of momentum Henry has going for him, but I would have been pretty pleased if this match took place on a Smackdown so I could have fast forwarded through it. After the match, Henry wrecked the Big Show’s leg by entangling it in a chair and splashing onto it. There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than the Big Show writhing in pain. Nobody sells like Paul Wight.
The actual Money in the Bank matches delivered in a big way, especially the one of the Smackdown variety. In the blue brand’s annual 8-man spot fest, there were more than a couple of moments worthy of a highlight reel. I wasn’t excited to see any former members of The Corre involved, but they earned their keep. Justin Gabriel performing a 450° Splash off of a ladder propped up as a bridge in the corner was nothing short of spectacular; it looked a lot cooler than it sounds, I swear. Wade Barrett giving Gabriel a Wasteland from the ring to the floor onto Heath Slater was pretty sweet too, though not nearly as impressive. Other high spots included Kane chokeslamming Sheamus off of one ladder and onto another, and of course, Sheamus powerbombing Sin Cara from the apron through a ladder at ringside. It was evident that the ladder Sin Cara went through wasn’t made of steel (as Michael Cole vehemently insisted), but it was pretty cool looking none-the-less. The whole bout was entertaining from bell to bell, although the most exciting thing about it was its ending. After elbowing Wade Barrett repeatedly and kicking him off the ladder that was setup under the briefcase, Daniel Bryan ascended to the top and retrieved the contract, winning the match. Entering Sunday, I didn’t think Bryan had a prayer in this one. To say I’m excited to see American Dragon victorious would be an understatement. I cannot wait to see his development over the next few months.
Raw’s Money in the Bank match wasn’t near as good or unpredictable as its Smackdown counterpart, but it was entertaining in its own right. As most of us expected, Alberto Del Rio reigned supreme. In the moments leading up to his victory, he and Rey Mysterio were atop ladders in the middle of the ring, and Del Rio capitalized by ripping Rey’s mask from his head and forcing the perpetual underdog to cover his face. It would have been a nifty spot had it went as planned, but Del Rio’s ladder tipped and he had to climb it again before snagging the case. Despite being the lesser of two ladder matches on the show, Raw’s MitB was not without its high spots. Evan Bourne hit a Shooting Star Press from a ladder in the entry way onto a sea of opponents, and you can bet we’ll be seeing it in video packages for years to come whenever a Money in the Bank match is being promoted. R-Truth manages to remain hilarious even when he doesn’t have a microphone in his hand. Mysterio hit a 619 that actually didn’t look contrived, marking the first time I haven’t despised the move, since his opponent wasn’t stretched out on the middle rope when he was hit with it. There was a Miz injury scare that saw the Awesome One helped to the back after apparently tweaking his knee. Later in the match, he returned to the ring (to a rousing pop) and scaled a ladder, so I’m inclined to believe he’s fine. He did a hell of a job selling it though. Rey Mysterio was the one who stopped Miz from reaching the case when he returned to the ring, which got the masked star a chorus of boos from the Chicago crowd. I was surprised at the heat Rey received, although I can completely understand. I’ve been sick of the guy for years, and it’s nice to hear a crowd share those sentiments. Pro-talent crowds are so much better than pro-face ones.
In the Smackdown main event, it was Christian challenging Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Championship once again. This time, Orton could lose the title via disqualifications or if the referee made a questionable call. The match was very back-and-forth, and at one point it looked like Christian had it won after hitting Orton with the Killswitch, but Randy managed to roll the shoulder at two. The commentators did their best to portray the crowd as being firmly behind Orton, but their attempts were futile as the Peepulation could clearly be heard chanting for the WWE’s last great Canadian. The ending of the match was genius. Orton, provoked by Christian spitting in his face, punted the challenger square in the crotch, getting himself disqualified. As a result, Christian became the World Champion once more, and he did so in great heel fashion. After the match, Orton leveled his opponent, delivering two RKOs on an extra-sturdy Spanish announce table. I was a little surprised not to see a briefcase cashed in after Christian was demolished in such authoritative fashion, but I’m very happy he left Chicago with the World Title.
Overall, the show was absolutely wonderful. Christian is the World Champion. Daniel Bryan has one of the Money in the Bank contracts. CM Punk is the WWE Champion and the ruler of the free world. It doesn’t get much better than this. It’s easy to lose sight of the events of the undercard since the Punk angle was so massive, but I would have been thrilled with any one of these things happening, let alone all three. I’m glad that both briefcases are still in play, too. They add a subtle unpredictable dynamic to every week of programming that they’re a part of, and we’ve never had two Money in the Bank winners holding their respective title shots for more than one night before. John Cena’s loss by honor was a little lame, but it’s what John Cena is all about. Hopefully his “firing” ultimately results in a heel turn. Although Ryan raised some good points about the inherent issues with turning the face of the company into a bad guy, I can’t imagine Cena and Punk coexisting in the company as things are now. Punk is going to be an uncontrollable fan favorite from this point forward, and assuming the firing of John Cena doesn’t stick, I think he’ll be forever playing second fiddle to Punk if he remains a face. Alberto Del Rio looming with the briefcase makes for an interesting angle moving forward too, as he’s the type who will capitalize when the Champion is down, making for exciting television in the moments following every match in which the Champion is a participant. I’ve got the nagging suspicion that Del Rio will be the first man to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase and not win a World Title as a result. On Smackdown, you can certainly bank on a Christian vs Orton rematch at SummerSlam. The way Bryan will choose to use his contract is a little less clear than Del Rio. I’m excited to see how they groom him for a main event feud, or who he’ll even be facing for the title by the time he cashes in. A lot can happen in a year.
If you didn’t see Money in the Bank, order the encore. Or you know, download the torrent. Whatever. It was a great show.