After Wrestlemania 27, the plan was for John Cena to re-capture the WWE Title (which he did at Extreme Rules 2011) and then drop the title to Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam 2011. The wrestling insider publications were touting this as the WWE's long term plan as Vince McMahon was dead set on making Del Rio a star. Reportedly, Del Rio is one of Vince's personal favorite wrestlers and appears captivated whenever Del Rio is on screen. The booking from Wrestlemania 27 to SummerSlam 2011 was to have John Cena lose to the Miz at Wrestlemania 27 due to the Rock's interference (which would set up Wrestlemania 28 in 1 year), have John Cena win the WWE Title at the next Pay Per View from the Miz (Extreme Rules 2011), finish off the Miz (Over the Limit 2011), wrestle R-Truth and CM Punk as "filler" heel opponents at the next Pay Per Views (Capitol Punishment 2011, Money in the Bank 2011), and then drop the title to Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam 2011.
Sounds like a reasonable long-term plan?
And it was... Things seemed to be trending towards that direction... Cena won the WWE Title at Extreme Rules, completed his destruction of the Miz at Over the Limit by practically defeating Miz and Alex Riley in a makeshift handicap match, and beat R-Truth at the next Pay Per View to move things along. Next up was CM Punk, who actually feuded with John Cena to begin 2011 as the new leader of the Nexus. After Royal Rumble 2011, CM Punk's attention was shifted towards Randy Orton to set up their Wrestlemania 27 match-up while John Cena was shifted to the Miz. The Money in the Bank 2011 just a time killing Pay Per View before SummerSlam 2011 arrived and CM Punk was the throwaway heel of the month for John Cena.
But something happened... CM Punk was getting over with the crowd throughout the year since he switched to the RAW brand during late 2010. Punk seemed to give adult fans, tired of the PG era and John Cena babyface overkill, someone to root for. When granted the opportunity to feud with John Cena, the reaction by fans was already mixed because adult fans rooted heavily for CM Punk and the kiddies loved John Cena. Lots of "Let's Go Cena, CM PUNK!" chants happening heavily. But then THE "Pipebomb" speech happened on the June 27th, 2011 edition of Monday Night RAW:
As the story reportedly goes, CM Punk's WWE contract was set to expire and he was going to leave the WWE after Money in the Bank 2011 Pay Per View. In an interesting move to put additional heat on the John Cena vs. CM Punk match-up, the WWE Creative Team and Vince McMahon actually gave CM Punk a live microphone and full creative freedom to say whatever. This was an unprecedented move given how obsessive the WWE has become on scripted lines and for the potential risk of CM Punk exposing the wrestling business and the WWE by being unfiltered to say whatever. Vince McMahon reportedly thought about the damage CM Punk's words could cause, but he wasn't predicting how much attention the promo would actually receive and expected Punk to be an afterthought once he left the WWE. To make a quick buck for the Money in the Bank 2011 Pay Per View, it was worth the risk, Vince probably thought. After the John Cena vs. R-Truth Tables match on RAW, CM Punk grabbed the mic while sitting Indian style and delivered one of the best promos of all time.
Almost overnight, the wrestling world was buzzing on what CM Punk said and there was major heat towards the John Cena vs. CM Punk match at the Money in the Bank Pay Per View. Vince's plan to let CM Punk speak freely worked, but it worked too well. Where the WWE's ongoing investment in social media may have paid off, they quickly observed the groundswell of fan discussion about CM Punk's "pipebomb" promo and also about CM Punk's expiring contract. There was legitimate interest in where CM Punk could land after his WWE exit. WWE management read into this and sought to capitalize on the fan interest. The WWE began to push CM Punk's expiring contract harder on television and created a "sense of urgency" on the legitimate risk that if CM Punk wins the WWE Title, he could take the WWE Title to another promotion to show off. Fans bought it hook, line, and sinker and Money in the Bank 2011 ended up gaining 30,000 more buyers than the year before. To further play up the WWE Title leaving the WWE hype, the WWE actually had CM Punk defeat John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 and Punk taunted Vince McMahon as he left through the Chicago crowd in celebration. It was an incredible moment in pro wrestling history that followed 2011's "Match of the Year" winner by many publications.
But here's the real question: was CM Punk's expiring contract a work?
CM Punk has gone on various radio interviews and spoke about how real the contract situation was and his dislike for the WWE workplace during the final year of his contract through 2011. If you watch CM Punk's DVD (or Blu-Ray), he goes into detail about his contract situation, knowing a full year before it was expiring that he had no interest in signing another WWE deal. He was unhappy at how the Straight Edge Society dissolved, as stated on the DVD, and reportedly, there were some mixed feelings as to how his second World Heavyweight Title reign ended during late 2009 against the Undertaker. Punk has also been outspoken about the Miz getting his spot against John Cena at Wrestlemania 27 and being quite critical of the Miz's abilities on various media outlets.
However, this IS the professional wrestling business. Even in this day and age when the pro wrestling business has been exposed and when backstage chatter leaks like a running faucet, promoters and wrestlers are still trying to work the fans. After all, why would the WWE give CM Punk an open microphone to be heavily critical of the WWE for that "pipebomb" promo and then he just so happens to win the WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011? CM Punk claims on his video that he actually signed his new WWE contract at the Money in the Bank 2011 event. Quite odd to sign a new contract and then have the booking go your way to win a WWE Title shortly thereafter on the same evening.
However, what backs up CM Punk possibly leaving the WWE was the utter chaos in booking that occurred AFTER Money in the Bank 2011 that led up to SummerSlam 2011. Complete disaster. The WWE sold CM Punk leaving the WWE so they had a quick WWE tournament to determine the new WWE Champion. For the next few weeks, the tournament was held and Rey Mysterio actually won the vacated WWE Title. On the same night that Mysterio became champion, however, he was forced to wrestle John Cena and defend the WWE title! Mysterio lost... Why not just have John Cena win the WWE Title tournament in the first place? After Cena won the title, CM Punk made his WWE return and thus set up WWE Title vs. WWE Title for SummerSlam 2011. By the way, making the WWE Title tournament, Cena getting a title shot after the title tournament, and then the WWE Title vs. WWE Title match possible was the new Chief Operating Officer figurehead boss of the WWE, Triple H. Triple H was the special guest referee of John Cena vs. CM Punk at SummerSlam 2011, too.
Reportedly, scripts for Monday Night RAW were rewritten often during the days of the shows between Money in the Bank and SummerSlam. The CM Punk situation and him getting over were probably changing booking plans of the McMahons. Still, Vince wanted Alberto Del Rio as WWE Champion by the end of that SummerSlam show, come hell or high water! Fans should have known what was coming when Del Rio won the Money in the Bank match at that Pay Per View. What happened at SummerSlam is still confusing to this day... CM Punk got the win, although John Cena's feet were on the ropes. Still, he won the match because it's the referees job (Triple H) to see that. After the match, out of no where, Kevin Nash runs in and attacks CM Punk and drilled him with a Jacknife Powerbomb. Alberto Del Rio then runs down, cashes in the Money in the Bank briefcase, and gets the easy WWE Title win. Vince McMahon got his wish of ending SummerSlam with Alberto Del Rio as champion. Punk would pretty much carry Triple H's bags for the next 2 months and losing matches for the next 3 consecutive Pay Per Views. WWE would pull the plug on Alberto Del Rio's WWE Title run at Survivor Series 2011 where CM Punk would actually win back the WWE Title and hold it for over a year until dropping the title to the Rock at Royal Rumble 2013.
The confusing booking after Money in the Bank 2011 leads me to believe that a legitimate contractual situation did occur before Money in the Bank 2011. However, it may be doubtful that a contract was signed AT the Money in the Bank 2011 show itself. Chances are that the WWE and Punk may have signed a WWE contract at the RAW before Money in the Bank on July 11th, 2011. After all, why would Vince McMahon do a segment with CM Punk before he could possibly work for another promotion?
For this "WHAT IF" column, we'll assume that a WWE contract was legitimately expiring around June/July 2011. Enough reasonable proof is there without much refuting that and the booking after Money in the Bank 2011 seems to justify that CM Punk's return was unexpected. Thus, this column will consider WHAT IF the WWE actually let CM Punk go after Money in the Bank 2011. John Cena retains the WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011 and CM Punk is free to go anywhere he wants.
Where does CM Punk go? Punk appears to be good with his money and may have saved up enough money to be comfortable leaving pro wrestling for good and maybe trying another profession. He's made enough connections with other entertainment avenues that he could be employed elsewhere easily. I believe that during 2011, CM Punk could have gone into business with Paul Heyman, be it pro wrestling, smaller mixed martial arts promotions, or some other form of entertainment. Punk appears to be highly intelligent and a great speaker and those abilities can adapt to almost anything.
If you want to talk pro wrestling, I believe a return to Ring of Honor was where CM Punk would land. Why? The promotion was bought by the Sinclair Broadcast Group during May 2011, just months before CM Punk's contract could have run out. RoH and Sinclair could have sought CM Punk to be the promotion's star as Ring of Honor was debuting on newer television outlets with Sinclair. CM Punk, being as red hot as he was during June/July 2011, would have been worth the investment by the new Ring of Honor owners. Heck, they probably would take Paul Heyman too, which could be conditional of Punk's return to Ring of Honor. It would be a major "shot in the arm" to that promotion to grab one of the industry's hottest superstars that the WWE just discarded.
I don't believe TNA Wrestling had a chance at CM Punk unless they threw tons of money at him. CM Punk became frustrated by WWE management, led by the McMahons, so why would he want to endure struggles with Eric Bischoff/Hulk Hogan? Certainly, there are wrestlers at TNA whom Punk worked with in the past, such as Samoa Joe, but it's hard to consider how Hogan/Bischoff would assess CM Punk as a talent. Maybe if TNA came up with the Aces & Eights table earlier, CM Punk joining TNA as a surprise member could have been impressive. The stable debuted during June 2012, but Punk could have joined TNA during 2011 and book it as if Punk were planning a coup against TNA through the debuting Aces & Eights group. Punk has that affinity for heel stables through his roles with the Straight Edge Society and the Nexus.
If CM Punk would have left the WWE, he would probably have to wrestle as his real name, Phillip Brooks. The "CM Punk" name is owned and copyrighted by the WWE Corporation and they've played hardball with wrestlers jumping to other promotions throughout the years. Ask Bully Ray while he's no longer called Bubba Ray and why he can't be called a "Dudley" while in TNA Wrestling. Devon Dudley, can remain Devon because that's his real name. Of course, CM Punk could go the Ultimate Warrior route and legally change his name to "CM Punk" as a difficult workaround. As difficult as this may sound, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall did just fine ditching their WWE names when they jumped to WCW. They had a hot NWO angle that got those real names over though.
For the WWE, if they lost CM Punk after Money in the Bank 2011, chances are that John Cena vs. Alberto Del Rio headlines SummerSlam 2011 as a singles match and Alberto Del Rio probably goes on for a lengthy title reign through the end of 2011 and maybe heads into Wrestlemania 28 as WWE Champion. There were no indications that the WWE wanted Rock vs. John Cena to be for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 28, so chances are that Alberto Del Rio is the one carrying the WWE Title or possibly trying to win it again at Wrestlemania 28. Fans resented Del Rio for stealing CM Punk's title at SummerSlam 2011 and crapped all over him as WWE Champion. With Punk long gone, Alberto Del Rio is able to win the WWE Title in a legitimate match instead of a cheap Money in the Bank cash-in that screwed Punk. For all we know, Del Rio could have been a successful WWE Champion. I would venture to guess that Chris Jericho, who wrestled CM Punk at Wrestlemania 28, gets the nod to wrestle Del Rio at this show. Maybe Sheamus is moved to the RAW brand to feud with Del Rio?
Triple H vs. Vince McMahon feud was scheduled to be in the works through the end of 2011 and maybe have a program of sorts at Wrestlemania 28. They used the CM Punk controversy as a means to "demote" Vince and put Triple H over as the new Chief Operating Officer. I believe that the angle still would have been that the "WWE Board" had a problem with Vince putting the WWE Title at risk and the demotion was coming anyway, regardless of John Cena retaining the WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011. Then, at a future date, Vince McMahon would make his return and the family feud would have attempted to be captivating television from there.
What happened in reality is that fans rejected Triple H as the Chief Operating Officer and were pissed at him for meddling with CM Punk for SummerSlam 2011 and the following Pay Per Views. Triple H was soon removed as the figurehead boss and thus the Triple H vs. Vince McMahon feud was scrapped as well. Why CM Punk's contractual situation might not be a work is due to all of the planned booking that appeared to be changed by his return. Vince McMahon set his sights on the Triple H vs. Vince McMahon feud and reportedly chewed Alberto Del Rio out after a promo when Del Rio mentioned Vince's name. Vince wanted his character to remain low key so that his return could be more of a surprise. In the end, the Triple H vs. Vince feud never happened and Triple H then fought another match against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 28 instead.
With no CM Punk in the WWE after Money in the Bank 2011, the Triple H vs. Vince McMahon is likely to happen. Triple H probably has less negative heat for not cooling down CM Punk's momentum and the "COO" becomes a permanent non-wrestling role for him. Again, for all we know, Triple H could be a decent in a non-wrestling role. Fans rejected Triple H, especially after he defeated CM Punk in a one on one match at Night of Champions 2011 and Triple H was particularly brutal responding to CM Punk during their promos hyping that show (almost shooting on him when Punk is trying to be a smartass heel character).
Chances are that Alberto Del Rio benefits the most from a CM Punk absence from the WWE while others like Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, and maybe even the Miz would be expected to step up as well. After all, CM Punk was WWE Champion for the entire year of 2012. Think about that... Major void to be filled and others could seize the opportunity. Or, we could have had more John Cena title reigns... WWE had enough confidence in Punk to give him a lengthy title reign but who knows if the WWE would show that confidence in other wrestlers. Thus, John Cena probably gets handed the WWE Title ball more during 2012.
No Rock vs. CM Punk at Royal Rumble 2013, which was a credible title victory for the Rock and it helped set up Rock vs. John Cena nicely for Wrestlemania 29. How the Rock gets the WWE Title before Wrestlemania 29 is beyond me unless the WWE has enough confidence in a Rock vs. Alberto Del Rio match for the WWE Title. I wouldn't doubt it based on the way Del Rio could get over in 2011 without Punk and how much Vince McMahon loves Del Rio's character.
But we'll never know... CM Punk opted to stay with the WWE. He was given a lengthy WWE Title run from Survivor Series 2011 to Royal Rumble 2013. Punk would give the Undertaker a great match at Wrestlemania 29 before taking some time off to rest and heal up some injuries. Punk is set to return at WWE Payback in a match against Chris Jericho on June 16th, 2013 and fans highly anticipate his return. RAW has been consistently under a 3.0 rating without him and the WWE is probably beginning to realize how much they've relied on him since Money in the Bank 2011 by rushing him back early. Reportedly, he could have been out as long as SummerSlam 2013 but it gets boring resting at home and a Chicago hometown return at WWE Payback was probably tempting.