With all this talk of "change" and "revolution" going on the wrestling zeitgeist with AEW, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a part of WWE's Summer of Punk arc and see how "change" and "revolution" went for them. Will we be able to find the reason the deal was so benign? Or will we find some diamonds in the rough? Let's begin.
Opening package: Completely absurd. First, they claim that you need to have power to be champion. Okay, I'm with you so far. Then they lump Triple H's COO-ship in as if it's a championship. Bit of a stretch but alright. Then they say the belts are power (now I'm officially lost) and "What happens when the power is gone?" Uhhhh, we get a new champion?
We get crazy heroic orchestral music. Also, the banners with all the championships is a cool set design.
Air Boom (Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston) (c) vs The Awesome Truth (R-Truth and The Miz)
Our tag team division is so devoid of life that the arguably the #3 and 4 heel at the time are just opening the card now like nothing , reduced to goofily rapping their way down to the ring.
Anyway, this is every "little team vs big team" match you've ever seen. However, Miz cutting off Kofi's comeback and hitting his headlock DDT had the crowd genuinely convinced that it was a finish. Kofi goes for the tag with Miz grabbing his foot as Truth distracts the referee, so Evan does the old southern "clap and pretend there was a tag" heel spot. Michael Cole is rightfully indignant about this, but Booker and Jerry ignore him. This comes into play later when the heels make a tag the ref doesn't see and get blocked from it. Truth arguing about it means Miz gets a one count off of the Skull Crushing Finale. The Miz shoves the ref, and we get a DQ,
So, I get what they were going for, but everything about it was just. wrong. This is why the "foot on the rope" spot exists, so that the pinning party can feel righteous indignation without anyone cheating, whether it's caught or not. And, if you must do a finish in which the heels attack the ref, having Truth and Miz jump the ref and put the boots to him. This doesn't make The Awesome Truth look like dangerous rebels without a cause, they just look like watered down heels, and your tag team champions look like flukes
Post match: The Miz looks confused by the rules of pro wrestling, and looks near tears. They tease the Miz jumping the ref, only for Truth to calm Miz down, but SWERVE, Truth hits a stiff sounding backhand to the ref. Another one of those things where I understand where they were going for, but it feels like six separate ideas are at play for one segment, when a simple mugging of the referee would've sufficed.
The Awesome Truth are interviewed by Matt Striker: Bad. Poorly written, contradictory lunatic heel logic. They allude to interfering in Hunter/Punk.
Cody Rhodes (c) vs Ted Dibiase Jr
This is played like a blood feud, as Ted was betrayed by Cody. They of course then start motoring through spots like it's a normal match. Ted actually takes Cody down, but they go back to doing spots again. The story is that Ted will make a comeback but Cody will immediately get momentum back. Ted finally shows some competency by countering a second Beautiful Disaster with a dropkick. Ted removes the mask, only to get rolled up with a handful of tights for Cody to retain.
Ted looked like a complete loser for 90 percent of the match, then he was given what should've been a huge story beat, and then immediately beaten. This was awful.
Sheamus and Christian segment: Bad. Christian tries to pull a Raven and demand he face the winner of Henry/Orton immediately after. Sheamus shows up and they have a dumb comedy segment which leads to Christian getting brogue kicked.
John Morrison vs Alex Riley vs Jack Swagger vs Dolph Ziggler (c) (w/ Vickie Guerrero)
Wow! An actually entertaining piece of pro wrestling, say it isn't so! Morrison is amazing, Swagger is a beast, and Ziggs is a wormy heel. Unfortunately Riley is just a warm body with some base athleticism. But, the big story is Swagger wanting to be managed by Vickie but Dolph not being happy about it that sets up some of the more contrived spots, and plays into the finish. This was very cool, also, Morrison hits a Spider German Suplex which I'm all about.
Mark Henry promo: Awesome. Mark delivers a great angry promo, and the camera angle he's filmed from makes him look enormous
Vickie Guerrero promo: Awesome. Vickie is exilerated that her ciient won and Swagger wants to work for her. She also thinks she'd be a great COO if Triple H were to step down. She locks lips with Matt Striker. Vickie is a great triumphant heel here.
Mark Henry/Randy Orton video package: Mark Henry looks like an unstoppable, determined badass. Orton similarly has had a mean streak going (RKOing Christian a bunch at MITB), and is coming off a series of great matches against Christian but they barely touch on it. Fortunately, the masterful booking of Mark makes up for this.
Randy Orton (c) vs. Mark Henry
This is one of those matches where Cole, Lawler and Booker dial up their commentary to 11, and I genuinely miss this. Other than Corey Graves you don't really get this big fight feel tone from WWE commentary anymore. But on a separate note, goddamn, do I not miss the World Heavyweight Championship and it's ridiculous lineage. Cole says that the belt "as we know it" has been in WWE for over 10 years, then in the next sentence says Booker is a six time champion. At least the Universal Championship, as weak as it is, has a history exclusively in WWE lore, so the announcers can stay semi credible when talking about it.
This is an exceptional "technical babyface vs monster heel" match. Henry should've finished Orton with the first World's Strongest Slam, and Orton shouldn't have kicked out at two,
Mark Henry post match promo: EXCELLENT He slags off Josh Matthews and banishes him from the ring. He also manages to turn smarky cheering back to universal boos. Henry sounds unstoppable and confident
Alberto Del Rio, Ricardo Rodriguez, Johnny Ace, and CM Punk are backstage: Meh. the heels are bitching to Johnny about Raw the previous Monday, they leave, Punk appears, and is suspicious of Johnny wishing him good luck. Punk manages to slide in a "future endeavors" dig. Punk is one of the few people who can make this forced dialogue work.
Kelly Kelly (c) (w/ Eve Torres)vs Beth Phoenix (w/ Natalya)
This is Beth's hometown, and she looks genuinely pleased by the pop.
Kelly motors through the three things she knows until Beth takes control. They're giving poor Kelly all these basic lucha spots to do and it looks like slow motion. Natalya pulls Beth out of the ring during a double down which prompts a catfight between Eve and Nattie, and Beth gets a piece of Eve, which doesn't even eliminate her from the match. Booker says this is the first female Superplex he's ever seen, which I'm sure is wrong, and terribly sexist. This gets a two count. Beth is selling her own superplex which is neat. And Kelly wins with a victory roll.
As by-the-numbers basic as this was. I enjoyed it significantly more than the Tag or Intercontinental matches, largely thanks to Beth. That said, Kelly Kelly is terrible, and shouldn't be champion let alone beating Beth Phoenix twice in two months, especially in her hometown.
Be-a-Star commercial: I can't think of anything that embodies early PG Era cringe like this.
Cena/Del Rio video package: Bad. Cena is pissed about Alberto cashing in MITB because it's so low effort and cheap. You'd think this would be a recurring Cena character beat because I'm pretty sure in four years he's been cashed in on at least twice, but it feels tacked on to give this storyline some oomph.
Alberto Del Rio (c) (w/Ricardo Rodriguez vs John Cena
Alberto Del Rio, the millionaire heel, can't find his keys, because they're stolen by John Cena, the babyface. I've never seen someone buried in THEIR ENTRANCE before. On the brightside, Jerry sarcastically saying, "Yeah, take that you gringos!" during Ricardo's ring intro made me laugh. Cena's cutting a promo that belongs on Raw, and he does his own intros and shits on Del Rio and gets the cheap pop.
I would say things about this match but I can't believe anyone would perceive Del Rio as a threat after the pre-match nonsense. Alberto does moves, Cena kicks out, whoop dee doo. Cena does manage to lift 'Berto into a powerbomb from the Cross Armbreaker position. Unfortunately, we miss the AA in replays. They tease Ricardo screwing Cena, even though he was banned from ringside early in the match, but Cena thwarts it, and submits Cena clean.
A pre-match angle has never offended me so badly that the match started in the 'dud' territory. We were looking at a 2, but missing an AA knocks this down a peg.
Punk/Triple H video package:: I'm conflicted I remember being blind to the issues with this angle at the time because regardless of how goofy this angle was, and how goofy it would become, this was at least a break from the complete stagnation that I had suffered under even since WWE went PG. Looking back with 8 years of hindsight though, this is so transparent "Hey smarks, we're talking to you" fodder that it probably hurt Punk's push in the short term, because I can't imagine a casual fan would understand what they were going for here. Luckily Punk (and to a lesser extent Triple H) are so good on the mic that it works. The Nash interlude was weird.
CM Punk vs Triple H
The dynamic of this match is pretty interesting. Punk is the tactical fighter, and he can counter Triple H because he is fighting angry and can take advantage of that easily. Punk has some really creative hardcore spots, and bumps like a boss for Hunter when it's time to do so. Punk eventually fights back and hits his Macho Man elbow through an announce table. The Miz and R-Truth rundown and attack both guys trying to create a Punk win, but Triple H kicks out! The way the crowd applaud say to me that Triple H is the babyface at about a 60/40 ratio. Awesome Truth bully the ref, and the ref tries to fight back but gets jumped. Johnny Ace comes down, which distracts Awesome Truth enough to get attacked by Punk and Triple H. Triple H gets a Pedigree but only gets a visual pin. Ace deliberately obstructing the second ref, demanding he check on Scott Armstrong. Ace does not obstruct the ref when Punk hits the GTS and gets the pin, but R-Truth breaks it up, so Punk takes Truth out. Punk kicks out of a second Pedigree which pops the crowd. Now Punk is being chanted for 80/20. Now Nash is here, and he goes after Trips, and Punk tries to break it up but to no avail. getting jacknifed. They tease Triple H getting Jacknifed through a table, but Nash gets the mighty sledgehammer instead. A third Pedigree nets Triple H the win.
This might be a controversial opinion, but I REALLY liked this match. I can appreciate shades of grey, non-overt storytelling in wrestling. But, it doesn't really work if Punk isn't the guy that wins.
I think they really missed a trick having Punk basically be the catalyst for a much greater evil (Johnny Ace) to be in power and having to deal with the consequences, and having to put aside his differences with Triple H . Have Johnny Ace, Kevin Nash, and Awesome Truth more clearly announce their allegiances , and have Triple H win, you still get Triple H's contingent vs Johnny Ace's contingent, but still have the Triple H be pissed at Punk having almost cost him his job. And either way, with how tepid Survivor Series' actual main event was, it wouldn't have hurt to have John Cena and The Rock as principle players, either on opposite sides, or on the same side in a big "winner controls WWE" match, similar to Survivor Series 2014.
My fantasy booking rant aside, this was a good match, and definitely a great main event.
Having two VERY bright lights like Henry/Orton and the main event really shed light on how unimportant the rest of the roster is, but how bad the match quality is as well. Those two matches are the only things worth watching.