Meltzer’s Classics: John Cena vs CM Punk (17/7/11)

John Cena vs. CM Punk - WWE Championship Match | WWE
Credit: WWE

Unlike most of the matches I’ve covered in Meltzer’s Classics, I watched this one live. Back in 2011, CM Punk sat down and cut the now-infamous pipe bomb promo, calling out WWE and Vince McMahon in a shocking and real way. It felt like a game-changing moment, and it set up a storyline where the whole world knew his contract was expiring after Money in the Bank 2011. On what could have been his final show, he was put up against the WWE champion and the man Vince crafted in a test tube, John Cena. Surely he couldn’t win… right?

And the question coming into this isn’t whether it’s good. It is. Punk vs Cena/WWE can be placed up with the likes of Tanahashi vs Okada as the feud of the decade, and nothing can diminish how important it was in the moment. CM Punk went out in front of a rabid hometown crowd and did something that no-one saw coming. It was raw, fresh and exciting. Unlike the multi-man spotfests I’ve reviewed recently I don’t have to try and put myself in the place of a fan watching it at the time, I was one, I remember.

No, the question with this match, is how much what happened next hurts it in the rewatching. Because now I know that this wasn’t a changing of the guard or a sign that WWE could get better. Everything Punk proclaimed in that promo is still true while he has done a lot to kill the goodwill he built up at this time. Has everything I’ve learnt since 2011 eradicated the joy of an iconic main event?

The quick answer? No, it hasn’t, for one straightforward reason. Chicago. This Punk run can be held responsible for creating the modern wrestling crowd, a crowd in love with chants and having fun, often at the expense of the action. Their rabid support of Punk made everyone want to be their own Chicago, and they followed suit. However, at this point, this isn’t a crowd going into business for themselves. It is a crowd supporting their man, gripped to the action, living and dying on every near fall. They’re not screaming Punk’s name to be heard. They’re doing it because they love him.

And that blows through everything else, turning this into something you can’t take your eyes off. Yes, it’s a good match, even a great one, but if you watched it on mute, it would have half the power and remind you that while Punk was an indie darling, he was far from a super worker. With the crowd, though, you realise it hits all those spots at the right moment. Spots like Punk kicking Cena as he sets up for the Five Knuckle Shuffle before following up with a dive to the outside are judged brilliantly, perfectly structured to get the biggest reaction possible.

Towards the end, I do think it stumbles. The McMahon and Laurinaitis shenanigans feel unnecessary, drawing the attention away from Punk vs Cena and making it Punk vs WWE when it didn’t need to be. However, you’re watching the Vince McMahon show, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s what he does and if he can draw on the shadow of Montreal you better bet he will. Ultimately, it doesn’t take away from a match that should have been the start of something incredible. It’s a damn shame it would turn out to be its peak.

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