At the end of the 1006th episode of Monday Night Raw, WWE Champion CM Punk helped former enemy Alberto Del Rio defeat John Cena in a Falls Count Anywhere match by coming out of nowhere to kick his Night Of Champions 2012 challenger in the head and then dragging the Mexican Aristocrat’s limp body on top of him for the eventual pin backstage. After delivering a GTS (using the front of a car instead of his usual knee) on Cena and saying “respect” (a recent Punk obsession), he climbed into that same vehicle that was being driven by Paul Heyman and slowly fled the scene.
It was quite a way to end another three-hour episode of Raw. But it wasn’t exactly a surprise. (Besides the predictable Punk interference, online reports noted that Heyman was going to be in the building that night.) In fact, this sudden association had been mentioned live on-camera in passing more than a year ago.
It was June 27th, 2011. Punk had just helped R-Truth beat Cena in a Tables match at the end of a special Raw Roulette (where a spin of the wheel determined stipulations). Wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt, after the match’s conclusion he grabbed a ringside microphone, made his way up the rampway and sat cross-legged at the top of the stage area.
He went on to deliver one of the best promos in history. As they say in the wrestling business, it generated a considerable amount of heat. Not bad for a 5-minute speech that actually got cut off. (As he was about to tell a personal story about WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, his microphone volume was completely turned down.)
What made it so extraordinary was how real it all felt, how unusually blunt and pointed the comments were, much more so than usual. Punk mentioned other promotions he could possibly work for (New Japan Pro Wrestling or his former stomping grounds, Ring Of Honor) once he defeated Cena for the WWE title at the 2011 Money In The Bank event. (Although he won the belt, he did return to the WWE a week later despite claiming to the media that he wanted a break.) He mocked big-time wrestlers by name (including one who works for a rival promotion), his boss by name and members of the boss’ family noting only their association to him.
The speech did wonders for the CM Punk character as it began his transition from a two-year stint as a villainous gang leader (The Straight Edge Society, The New Nexus) into a more outspoken, mostly solitary babyface. But it also foreshadowed several angles and programs involving Punk over the course of the next year.
Near the end of his promo Punk talked about his problems with Vince McMahon who he would later confront in a memorable in-ring contract negotiation segment on another episode of Raw (“CM Punk The Movie!” “Ice cream bars!”):
“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, non-sensical, douchebag [censored] yes men, like John Laurinaitis, who’s going to tell him everything he wants to hear…”
At Money In The Bank 2011, the then-Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, along with McMahon himself, headed down to ringside near the end of the Punk/Cena WWE Title match. In the umpteenth homage to The Montreal Screwjob at the 1997 Survivor Series, McMahon tried to get the referee to call for the bell while Cena had Punk in the STF. As Laurinaitis was getting closer to the timekeeper’s area to do the job himself, Cena broke the hold, slid out of the ring and knocked him down with a right hand. He warned McMahon not to interfere or end the match unfairly. After getting back into the ring, Punk finished him off with another GTS giving him his first WWE Championship. The new champion blew a kiss to McMahon and high-tailed it out of there.
Not too long after returning, Punk would continue to verbally hammer Laurinaitis for months especially when he became the interim general manager of Raw, a role that became permanent at WrestleMania 28 (until he got fired at No Way Out three months later). During the Slammys in December, Punk introduced a very funny clip package of the former Johnny Ace during his wrestling days set to a song used in the animated Transformers movie (sample lyrics: “You’ve got the power! You’ve got the touch!”).
Although a match between the two was teased as a possible booking on Raw, Punk would have to settle for just giving Johnny Ace a kick to the head during one in-ring segment and a GTS in another. (Cena would actually fight the Bob Einstein soundalike at Over The Limit 2012 this past May.) Laurinaitis would drive Punk nuts during his brief program with challenger Dolph Ziggler which led to his presence at their Royal Rumble 2012 title match as an “outside enforcer”. Throughout, however, the Second City Saint would manage to keep his belt.
Back to the promo. After criticizing Laurinaitis, Punk said this:
“…and I’d like to think that maybe this company will 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.”
The “idiotic daughter” is, of course, Stephanie McMahon and the “doofus son-in-law” is her husband, Triple H. After Money In The Bank, the COO personally fired his father-in-law the next night on Raw (as ordered by the mysterious WWE board of directors) and announced that he would become the show’s new general manager. As Punk and Cena verbally toussled each other to hype their two WWE Title matches at MITB and SummerSlam in the summer of 2011, H became part of the angle.
He was there during the brilliant SummerSlam contract signing where Punk pointed out recent firings of guys like Chris Masters and David Hart Smith (one-half of The Hart Dynasty who the champion referred to as Harry, his real first name), something that’s never done during a wrestling broadcast. In fact, H became the Special Guest Referee for that particular bout.
The real-life Phil Brooks would routinely brutalize the real-life Paul Levesque (and vice versa) during contentious in-ring talking segments, especially after he lost the WWE title to Alberto Del Rio (the Raw Money In The Bank winner sneakily cashing in his title shot) despite successfully beating Cena again (even though his foot was clearly on the rope during the final three-count which was missed by H) after a surprise appearance from Kevin Nash (who helped make the undisputed champion completely vulnerable) at SummerSlam.
The logical next step was a match between the former Diesel and Punk (who had their own verbal war brewing) which was temporarily booked for Night Of Champions 2011. But because Nash had a serious real-life health issue (kept completely under wraps until a recent interview revelation), Punk faced H instead. Because of his personal issues with the COO’s job performance (and blaming him for Nash’s post-match interference that cost him his championship), H’s boardroom gig was put on the line. In other words, if the Straight Edge Superstar won, there would be a new COO in WWE. (H got the duke and kept his job.)
Absurdly, thanks to new issues with Awesome Truth who they tangled with unofficially at Night Of Champions and Hell In A Cell plus the growing tension with Lauranitis, H and Punk suddenly became tag team partners against them at Vengeance in an uneven match that sadly ended one of the more compelling feuds in recent memory. H would soon be fired from Raw (after a temporary walk-out by most of the talent, all of the refs and even some of the crew but not Punk, curiously) and replaced by Laurinaitis who would continue to be a thorn in Punk’s side especially after he regained the WWE Title from Alberto Del Rio at the 25th annual Survivor Series in November 2011.
Which brings us back to Paul Heyman. Early on in the promo, Punk said this:
“I am the best wrestler in the world.
I’ve been the best 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.”
Punk was referring to the temporarily revived ECW. Originally a Philadelphia-based promotion (that once had ties to the NWA) known for incorporating a lot more weaponry in its rule-free matches (tables, kendo sticks, street signs, to name three examples), Extreme Championship Wrestling was briefly resurrected as another weekly WWE show alongside Raw and Smackdown. (It was discontinued in early 2010.) Three years after Vince McMahon bought the struggling, influential, highly controversial territory in 2003, Punk joined the new ECW roster. Heyman became one of his few backstage champions. (Shawn Michaels was another prominent supporter.)
Punk’s reference to himself as the “best wrestler in the world” would later be simplified to just “best in the world”, a line future rival (and real-life friend) Daniel Bryan used years earlier for himself in Ring Of Honor. It would later become a slogan on a new T-shirt and a catchphrase to shout out before matches and during in-ring talking segments. Curiously, it would also become the initial source of tension between Punk and a returning Chris Jericho who often referred to himself as “the best in the world at everything I do”. In fact, it was Jericho himself, having watched this famous segment, who pitched the idea of a feud with Punk directly to Vince McMahon himself which wouldn’t happen until early 2012.
Immediately afterward, Punk made this remark:
“You know who else was a Paul Heyman guy? Brock Lesnar. And he split just like I’m splitting.”
Whether it was intentionally prescient or not, like Punk, both Heyman and Lesnar would ultimately return to WWE in the aftermath of WrestleMania 28. The former UFC Champion would attack John Cena the day after he lost cleanly to The Rock on Raw setting up their Extreme Rules 2012 match. And Heyman would be recruited as Lesnar’s mouthpiece during his feud with Triple H which is expected to continue later this fall following their recent SummerSlam encounter.
Almost a year later in late May on Twitter, Punk publicly messaged Heyman with this cryptic message:
“It’s going to be one wild F’n year!”
To which Heyman replied:
“They [meaning the fans] have NO idea!”
Now, that Punk is back to being a villain again (repeatedly beating up babyface announcer/wrestler Jerry Lawler, refusing to wrestle in his hometown where Raw 1006 aired, aligning himself with the hated Heyman, insecurely demanding respect from everybody especially Cena who he feels overshadowed by), it’s only a matter of time before he loses his WWE Championship. (Good guys tend to have longer title runs than heels for the most part.)
Regardless of when that happens, this much is certain. A good number of high profile storylines that Punk has been a part of since last summer can easily be traced back to that remarkably sharp promo he cut on Raw in late June 2011 that began his surprise ascension to the top of the WWE.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 5, 2012