Tuesday 21 June 2011

Expect the Unexpected

Is he really leaving?

The June 20th edition of RAW opened with CM Punk announcing that his contract expires on July 17th, the same day as WWE’s next pay-per-view Money in the Bank. Also announced was that Punk would receieve a WWE championship match against John Cena at the show. Punk challenging for a world title on his last night with a company? Haven’t we been here before?

One June 18th 2005 CM Punk challenged Austin Aries for the Ring of Honor world title. Everybody knew he was heading to Ohio Valley Wrestling on a WWE developmental contract. It was his last night: he was going to put over the company’s champion and leave “the right way”. Only he didn’t. Punk beat Aries, signed his WWE developmental contract on top of his newly won championship belt and then left through the crowd.

It was a shocking angle that worked so well because it was using real life events and was just realistic enough in its execution to allow fans to suspend disbelief. It was exciting! Could WWE be planning to do exactly the same angle with exactly the same wrestler at Money in the Bank? It’s certainly possible. And if they do then fine: wrestling is always borrowing from its past, and the majority of WWE’s audience will have absolutely no idea Punk left another company in exactly the same way six years ago.

I don’t think that’s going to happen though. At least not in exactly the same way. There are a number of routes the match could take. Firstly, Cena could retain. That’s something that’s likely to be overlooked in the next few weeks as anticipation for the match builds and theories become increasingly elaborate. Cena is WWE’s most protected star, a man known for being booked to win almost all the time. If anyone is going to be allowed to beat Punk on his last night, in his home town, then it’s Cena.

That’s not to say I think Cena is going to win (at least I don’t think that yet, a few weeks of booking may persuade me otherwise). I think it’s far more likely that we’ll see Punk win the title, which could then be followed by the Money in the Bank winner cashing in their briefcase (remember, with two guaranteed shots being awarded at the event WWE will want to get one out of the way fairly quickly so the remaining ‘Mr Money in the Bank’ gets more of the spotlight) and defeating Punk for the title.

Or perhaps Punk has signed a new contract and WWE are using the rumours of his departure to fuel their storylines. The reports that Punk will leave when his contract expires have been going for some months now, and it seems very convenient that WWE are promoting a pay-per-view event in his home town on his last day. It could be a coincidence, but if it is then it’s a very big one.

I think it’s great if the promotion is using the rumour mill to its advantage and Punk’s not going anywhere. The WWE product has been crying out for some realism and fresh angles for a long time now, and this storyline is the perfect answer. If he has signed a new contract? The original RoH storyline saw Punk telling fans that he was going to take the belt to WWE. Vince McMahon won’t okay such a storyline, and with no credible competition it would be nigh impossible to write even if he did. But maybe we’ll see him win and a storyline develop in which he’s a champion holding the company to ransom, with Vince or the RAW General Manager (or both) granting anybody they think can win a title opportunity. That would work best if Punk were a fully fledged face but that’s fine, fans have been wanting to cheer Punk for around a year now.

At this point I’ll remind you that I’ve thought of all of this based on one episode of RAW, so I retain the right to change my mind as the match approaches. I’m sure new ideas will occur to me as the weeks pass.

I’m hoping for the “secretly renewed contract” path but there is the chance that Punk really is on his way out and Money in the Bank will be his last match. If that’s the case I don’t think it will be permanent. At 32 years-old he’s too young to retire, and he is still clearly passionate about the business and being a wrestler. If he leaves it will likely just be a break, much like those Chris Jericho has taken over the last several years.

What he’d get up to during the break is anyone’s guess, but I imagine recuperating and relaxing would feature somewhere in his schedule. A move to TNA wouldn’t be impossible, but it seems pretty unlikely. If anything I think select dates for Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate USA are more likely. Punk has a history in RoH (he is arguably the most successful wrestler ever to work there) and has worked with Dragon Gate booker Gabe Sapolsky before. If he wants to get away from the hectic WWE schedule without leaving the business all together this would be an effective way of doing so.

Punk’s departure would leave a big gap in the company’s roster. While he may not have been used as a main event talent since 2009 he’s always been there in reserve if someone went down with an injury or had to be suspended for a Wellness Policy violation. No matter where he’s been placed on the card he has always been someone WWE can rely on to work a great match or feud or cut an effective promo. It’s probably only just dawning on WWE’s creative department just how much they’ve relied on Punk for the last several years, whether they’ve known they were doing so or not.

More rumours concerning this match are bound to circulate as Money in the Bank gets closer, but we’re not going to know exactly how the situation will resolve itself until the show itself. But that’s the point: it’s gotten us excited and talking about the show. As is the case with all the best angles we’re eager to find out the answers. Well done, WWE.

Now don’t blow it.

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