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CM Punk’s Retirement Writes the Final Chapter in Champions’ Saga

July 18, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have won the LeBron James Sweepstakes, the biggest question in sports and sports entertainment may center on whether or not CM Punk will “un-retire” and return to the WWE. According to multiple sources, it looks like “Straight Edge” superstar and arguably one of the top three draws in the company, is official off the roster. This doesn’t necessarily make him a free agent like the former Miami Heat star, it just makes him someone who has hung up his boots for the last time.

The timing of Punk’s retirement has been offset as of late by the return of AJ Lee, Punk’s wife as of about a month ago.

Punk’s contract with WWE officially came to an end on Thursday. Punk hadn’t appeared on WWE television since January, and he’s finally been moved to the alumni page of wwe.com. Both sides have been quiet about Punk’s departure, but the former WWE superstar seemed to address the situation with a tweet on Tuesday (July 15).

“Nope, thank YOU. Thanks for all the help and support through the years. Health and happiness above all. Don’t ever take any s— from anybody,” Punk said on Twitter.

The timing of Punk’s “retirement” comes when the WWE is wasting away in its own form of purgatory of sorts. Daniel Bryan, the biggest draw in the company, is out of action with a neck injury, with no time table set on his return. The writers have worked to bring along talent in Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and members of the Family, but have not been willing to put the World Title on anyone else but defined talent like Bryan or Randy Orton or the current WWE World Champion, John Cena.

Other talent has been left to twist in the wind (Cesaro), move on to the tag team ranks (Cody Rhodes) or has given up on their potential (Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow). The WWE needs a plan and needs it now, and cannot expect veterans to come back like Chris Jericho or The Miz to save what is left of dying story lines.

A story on christianpost.com (http://global.christianpost.com/news/cm-punk-retires-from-wwe-superstar-moved-to-alumni-section-of-wwes-website-123473/) states that “The wrestler known as CM Punk has officially retired from the WWE. Rumors have been rampant about his departure since he abruptly walked away from the organization in January, but now things seem to be official.”

The story also states that. “The WWE moved Punk from its website’s section of active wrestlers to the retired section. Fans immediately noticed the change and took to social media to discuss what it meant for Punk’s career. The fan-favorite also took to Twitter to thank fans for all of their support over the years; it was perhaps a swan song for all those who continually chanted “CM Punk” at WWE events.”

Punk is a seven-time world champion, having held the ROH World Championship and ECW Championship once each, WWE’s World Heavyweight Championship three times, and the WWE Championship twice.

He won the World Tag Team Championship (with Kofi Kingston) and the WWE Intercontinental Championship, making him the 19th WWE Triple Crown Champion and the fastest man in WWE history to achieve this feat, in 203 days. Between WWE and Ring of Honor (where he is a two-time World Tag Team Champion), Punk has won a total of 11 championships. He won the 2008 and 2009 Money in the Bank ladder matches (the only wrestler to win the match twice), and the 2011 Superstar of the Year Slammy Award.

Punk is also titled in the company as “the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era”, having held the title for 434 days from November 20, 2011 to January 27, 2013. Punk is officially recognized as the sixth-longest reigning WWE Champion of all time and the longest reigning champion of the modern era.

As a fan, I hoped the fact AJ won the Divas Title in her return would signal the return of Punk. I was mistaken. Now, the WWE must figure out a way to keep true to the idea of promoting newer talent to move the company forward or there is no chance opportunity for the younger talent become successful with veterans continually running the show.

Follow David on Twitter @davidlevin71

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AJ Lee’s Return Ramps Up WWE’s Need to Acknowledge CM Punk

July 03, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Maybe I am in the minority here, but I am not convinced that AJ Lee’s return to WWE is completely “best for business.”

Her surprise return Monday night definitely is a shot in the arm to a dragging Divas division. And – just maybe –putting the Divas title back around her makes sense because you always want your top-name performer to sport the gold.

But on the other side, AJ’s return is only going to ramp up the “CM Punk” chants from the crowds. And sooner or later, WWE is going to have to publicly address them, whether or not they want to.

After all, that is his wife who is wearing the Divas title. Not his storyline wife…his real-life spouse.

Maybe that is cracking open the door for a possible Punk return. Lord knows the WWE Universe would eat it up.

But he says he is done with wrestling. That’s not stopping his wife from getting back into it.

To top it off, AJ seems to be all over her crazy-girl phase. No high-pitched screams. No thousand-yard stares. The skipping still is there, but it seems to have regained the reflection of a child-like innocence, not the psychotic break of a modern-day Baby Jane.

When AJ was around, the Divas division had become fun to watch. She is not the truest wrestler in the division – that distinction still belongs to Natalya. But AJ connects with the crowd in a way that none of the other Divas seem to do.

You possibly could include the Bella Twins as ones who can connect with the crowd. But they do so in a Hollywood glamour, unapproachable style. AJ, however, comes across approachable, as the next-door neighbor you might wave at over the fence or hang out with at a neighborhood block party.

She certainly moves the needle in terms of being a charismatic champion.

Thankfully, her arrival and Monday night victory brings an end to the dreadful Paige experiment as Divas champion. In my opinion, Paige was rushed into the top spot way before she was ready. But she offered the ideal storyline “out” for AJ to step aside, get married and get some much-needed rest.

Skills-wise, Paige had all the makings of a good champion. What she may have lacked in personality, she made up for in ring moves. Her combo of a Scorpion leg lock and chicken-wing lock was one of the most original finishing holds I have seen in a long time.

But you cannot succeed as a top champ on skills alone. That is why we refer to wrestling as sports entertainment.

As champion, Paige was not entertaining. As champion, AJ was very entertaining.

I just have a feeling that WWE may have waded into waters they did not intend to navigate.

Ever since his abrupt departure earlier this year, Punk has been the 800-pound gorilla in the room for WWE. Maybe they think they moved past all this on that night last March when they played his entrance music, only to have Paul Heyman come out.

Since then, the Punk chants have become a staple at WWE televised events. They may not start the show and may not end the show, but you know they are going to come sometime.

And they do, usually during matches where the audience is bored.

That’s all changing with AJ’s return. As soon as the first few notes of “Let’s Light It Up” blare across the sound system, the chants will start … and continue throughout her appearance.

And they likely are not going to die down as long as AJ remains active on the roster – or Punk finally makes some kind of appearance. He now is claiming he is retired, but think about it. Have you ever seen anyone completely “retire” from WWE? Even Edge and Shawn Michaels make appearances on the show despite the maladies that forced them out of active action.

Meanwhile, the Punk chants are going to continue. And WWE has only two choices to deal with this.

Come to some kind of reconciliation with Punk. Or invest in a whole bunch of noise-cancelling headphones.

Bill Atkinson is a frequent contributor to Camel Clutch Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963.

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WWE Half-Year Predictions For 2014

July 01, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

There is still plenty of time to go in 2014 as we cross the halfway mark. Thus far it has been one of the least predictable years in recent memory. What other shockers and/or surprises await the WWE Universe? Let’s dust off the crystal ball and see if the rest of 2014 will be full of just as unpredictable.

If you were to make predictions at the start of 2014, I would have missed out on some of the bigger stories of the year. Would you have predicted that Daniel Bryan would ascend at WrestleMania only to lose the title due to a legitimate injury? Would you have predicted that Seth Rollins would be the one to turn on the Shield and unite with Triple H? Would you have predicted that the Shield going over Evolution twice? Would anyone have predicted that CM Punk would walk out and retire within the first 30 days of 2014? Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn’t but it is fair to say that most of the big stunners were missed.

Dolph Ziggler will get a push - The pressure is starting to mount. Recent reports reveal that Ric Flair has gone to management and suggested they push Ziggler. The voices are growing and the sounds of fan support get louder and louder every time he is in the ring. He is hands down one of the most talented guys they have inside the ring and rarely if ever has a bad match. Why he isn’t utilized more is one of wrestling’s biggest mysteries. I think it happens, not at the top, but more mid-upper mid card by year’s end…at least I hope it does.

CM Punk will not be back - I think it is time to close the door and throw away the key. If Punk ever comes back it isn’t going to happen for awhile. We have all heard the different theories on why he walked but have yet to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. Punk’s colleagues continue to predict his return, yet those who know him best say otherwise. The irony is that Punk probably walked at one of the most inopportune times during his WWE career. With Daniel Bryan out, Cena stale, and the new crop of babyfaces not quite ready for the top spot, he would have had the run of the kingdom up top if he stuck around. He knows that and the fact he’s still not here tells you he doesn’t care. I think the next time you see him in a ring will be on some indepdent show for charity or having fun with his friends. It won’t be in a WWE ring.

Kurt Angle will be back - Punk may not be back but I am betting that Kurt Angle will be back. I will be the first to admit that this is more wishful thinking than anything else. The WWE have a new class of young stars ready to ascend to the next level. Unfortunately what they don’t have are many established veterans to put them over and give them that stamp of approval. Angle provides that in and out of the ring. Angle’s outside of the ring troubles are certainly cause for concern and those issues will likely be the only thing that prevents his return. He is still one of the most entertaining personalities in the business and when he is on in the ring, he is on. It all boils down to how big of a gamble the WWE want to take on him. I think they go all in!

Dean Ambrose will make a bigger imapct than Roman Reigns - It is no secret that Roman Reigns is the “chosen one” to become the next John Cena according to numerous reports. Yet it would appear at this point that his biggest threat is coming from his old Shield teammate Dean Ambrose. In the few weeks that Ambrose has gotten time as a singles, he has consistently delivered the best promos among the wrestlers in the company, only second overall to Paul Heyman. In the ring he has more charisma and versatility than Reigns and has more of the tools to produce long, main-events on the special events. It is going to be real interesting come December which is when we’ll have an idea who is being positioned for the WrestleMania spot. As of now all of the money is on Reigns. The more I hear Dean talk and the more I see him in singles action the more I think that could change.

Daniel Bryan will not have another WWE title run - This isn’t much of a bold prediction but it appears that Bryan won’t be stepping back in the ring any time soon. The decision has yet to be made as to whether he will need a second surgery so I am basing this on Bryan coming back without a second surgery needed. I think the ship has sailed on Bryan and the WWE are moving forward with Reigns, Ambrose, Rollins, and Wyatt which leaves Bryan out in the cold. The Yes Movement was lightning in a bottle and you can already hear the chants getting softer. The WWE finally has their out and Bryan was never their guy. This isn’t to say that Bryan won’t get another title run in 2015 or 16, I just don’t see it happening in ’14 if he does return to the WWE rings.

Bray Wyatt will be a top babyface - The booking of Wyatt has been one of the strangest WWE creatives in awhile. He was pushed to be one of the top heels of the company yet he’s been booked like a babyface. This all came full circle at Money in the Bank when he received one of the biggest reactions upon his entrance to the match. I will be the first to admit that I missed this one. I never expected a character like this to resonate with fans but I am dead wrong. The people absolutely love him. Reigns not only has to worry about Ambrose nipping at his heels, he has to worry about Bray. I predict Bray goes full-fledged babyface by year’s end and goes into the Rumble as one of the top five favorites.

Prince Devitt and Kenta will not live up their potentials - The news is out and it appears that these two international stars are WWE bound. The WWE are scheduled to hold a press conference to announce the signing of Kenta in a few weeks. Does this sound familiar? These guys are both two incredibly talented wrestlers but that was outside of the WWE. I think the track record is pretty clear on how these kind of international stars fare in the WWE. They don’t do well. The only guy to break the mold in recent years was Rey Mysterio and he had a fresh coat of WCW seasoning on him. Maybe they live up to their potentials down the line but I think that these guys have a ton of hard work ahead of them to do so. It won’t happen this year and it may not happen at all which is a damn shame.

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Paul Heyman Says CM Punk Was Unhappy For A Year

June 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The retirement of former WWE star CM Punk continues to stir conversation in the world of pro wrestling. Punk’s former manager recently spoke on the subject and while he was not surprised at Punk’s retirement, he is surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

Paul Heyman continues to be the only person who is close enough to Punk to give any real insight as to why the former champion walked out several weeks before WrestleMania. Many in and out of the industry continue to ponder and offer their opinions, but Heyman is one of the few offering up first-hand details of the sudden sabbatical.

Heyman recently appeared on his former ECW employee Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho podcast to discuss a variety of issues in a lengthy, yet highly entertaining interview. One of the many topics discussed was CM Punk and according to Heyman, the biggest surprise was how long it took for Punk to grab his ball and go home.

He was unhappy. He had enough. He couldn’t take it anymore… A year before he walked these was daily conversations of, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to take this. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be here. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to be before I just decide to go home.’ I’m surprised it lasted that long…

Every day with him was an exercise in him finding the balance to simply continue on and find the passion he needed that he to do it. And I think what happened was he walked in the day after the Royal Rumble and he couldn’t find that passion. He couldn’t convince himself or persuade himself, ‘OK, whether I’m happy or not this is about the performance, my legacy. It’s about I take pride in what I do. And whether I’m happy or unhappy when I go out there I’m going to be the best CM Punk I can be.’ And I think somewhere during that day he couldn’t find that.

As logical as this reasoning is, it blows up many of the fictitious conspiracy theories that have been floated out on the Internet as fact. If you were to believe Heyman, and why would he have any reason to lie here, the theories about Punk being upset about Batista coming back, his spot at WrestleMania, his impending match with Triple H, Daniel Bryan’s push, and injuries are all nothing by hyperbole and conjecture.

I don’t think it is fair for anyone that unhappy with their job to stay there when they have the security to leave. However, I still find fault in the way he left. Plenty of guys put him over the last few weeks before he quit as well. I find it unprofessional, especially if you knew you were going to walk at some point, to not repay the favor to those guys and the company in return for all of the guys that put him over on the way up. The least he could have done was give the Shield back a win the night he left on RAW or anyone for that matter.

A lot of people in the industry still can’t fathom the amount of money that Punk has left on the table. Many predict that money will drive him back to the WWE at some point. Quite frankly he appears to be a pretty disciplined guy and I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if you never saw him in a WWE ring. That isn’t to say he won’t pop up somewhere and have a match here and there for fun. I just think his days of dealing with the day-to-day politics that come with being a top guy in the WWE are over.

The entire interview is fantastic. Edge sits in on the podcast and it is more like a conversation between three friends as opposed to a straight interview. Heyman also talks about coming back with Brock Lesnar, being asked to fire CM Punk, ECW, and more. Check out the entire podcast here!

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Top Five WWE Money In The Bank Matches

June 26, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

The WWE Money in the Bank match has produced some of the most exciting moments of the last ten years. The glorified ladder match features daredevil heroics, extreme punishment, and intense action. Today I look back and celebrate the top five Money in the Bank matches in WWE history.

I don’t think anyone realized in 2005 when the WWE announced the first Money in the Bank match the significance this match would have on wrestling history. Stars were made, history was written, and memories have been cemented forever thanks to this innovative match. With two new matches around the corner I thought today would be a great time to look back and count down the top matches in MITB history. Since we aren’t quite ten years into MITB I went with a top five as opposed to a top ten. Leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or want to mention your favorite Money in the Bank match memory.

Edge defeats Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Benoit, Christian and Kane – WrestleMania 21

I can’t think of another MITB match that was more exciting than the one at WrestleMania 21. I think the big difference here was that it was the first. The match just had more intensity and crowd emotion than any other due to the fact that nobody knew what to expect. The match was full of crazy spots that fans hadn’t seen before or lumped into one match. It is hard to replicate the element of surprise that the first match had at 21. Spots like the Benoit diving headbutt and Benjamin running up the ladder had fans stunned in amazement at this new kind of match.

Not that this should be part of the criteria but it also had the biggest impact in regards to elevating a star. Edge won and once he cashed in became an established WWE elite superstar for the rest of his career. No other winner has taken as much away from this match as Edge did in 2005.

Mr. Kennedy defeated CM Punk, Edge, Finlay, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, King Booker and Randy Orton – WrestleMania 23

I liked this match a lot and even though it was one of the longer MITB matches, it kept me interested from bell to bell. Edge and Orton bumped up the star presence here while the Hardys brought a ton of excitement to the match with the anticipation alone of what these guys would do in this environment. In terms of MITB moments, the spots between Jeff and Edge were some of the best in MITB history. Jeff’s jump on Edge is arguably the greatest spot in MITB history. What those guys did alone made this match great, yet it was a great effort from all back at 23, and the surprise winner in Kennedy was a nice touch.

CM Punk defeated Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, Chris Jericho, Mr. Kennedy, John Morrison and Montel Vontavious Porter – WrestleMania 24

I was surprised at how much I liked this match when I went back and watched all of the old MITB matches. On paper it looks pretty average but these guys went far beyond anything I expected going into the match. It did get a little spot-crazy at times but that is to be expected in such a match. Shelton Benjamin really stepped it up here and John Morrison was in his element, delivering a moonsault with a ladder in his hand at one point. Matt Hardy’s spectacular 20-foot Twist of Fate remains the highlight of this match for me.

Alberto Del Rio defeated Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston, Alex Riley, R-Truth, The Miz, Evan Bourne and Jack Swagger – Money in the Bank 2011

I debated a bit about the four spot here but in the end I went with the RAW MITB match from last year’s memorable show in Chicago. This match delivered on a lot of levels with the guys going out of their way to give fans plenty of breathtaking memories. Between Evan Bourne’s shooting star press 20 feet in the air, The Miz falling off the ladder, Mysterio and Kofi’s double leap, and Rey Mysterio getting unmasked, this was one of the more fun Money in the Bank matches. The hot Chicago crowd certainly didn’t hurt this one from entering the top five either.

CM Punk defeated Shelton Benjamin, Christian, Finlay, Mark Henry, Kane, Kofi Kingston and Montel Vontavious Porter – WrestleMania 25

I struggled quite a bit with the final spot here. I went back and forth between this one, last year’s MITB match, and the SmackDown match from the Chicago 2011 pay per view. In the end, the MITB WrestleMania 25 match was just too good to leave off the list. Shelton Benjamis was the show stealer in this one giving fans some of the best spots of the night in this match. One moment in particular saw Benjamin leap off the ladder placed in the aisle onto his MITB opponents. Watching these MITB matches reminded me how good Benjamin was and had me wondering why he isn’t the WWE today! Kofi also had his moments, one in particular had Kofi deliver a kick through the side of the ladder and climb the ladder while it was closed. Another saw Kofi run up the ladder and fall into a World’s Strongest Slam. Christian also had his moment hitting an Unprettier to Punk off the ladder. This match had a lot of great moments and is often one of the more underrated matches of the MITB series.

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Top 25 WWE Ladder/TLC/Money in the Bank Matches In History

June 19, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

These Top-25 lists are picking up steam, so I’ll take the WWE approach of beating a good thing into the ground. With Money in the Bank coming up, it’s a good idea to look back at two decades-plus of WWE’s greatest ladder matches, and figure out what the best of the bunch truly are. There’s no bad matches to be found here; every entry is rewatchable time and time again. With TLC and Money in the Bank upping the ante of the classic ladder match, this list will cover a lot of ground, and no doubt provide a little argument fodder. Enjoy!

(Note: this list only includes matches which ended with the retrieval of a belt, briefcase, etc. As such, the TLC 2012 match with The Shield vs. Ryback and Team Hell No is excluded. Otherwise, it’d have likely been top ten).

25. Chris Jericho vs. Christian – Vacant Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Unforgiven, September 12, 2004)

Edge was forced to abdicate the gold after one of too many injuries in his career, so brother/’best friend’ Christian was called in for the match to fill the vacancy. Jericho suffered a bizarre injury of his own during the match, in which the ladder slammed into his anal orifice (hey, he makes it sound worse in his second book), but ended up winning a fairly lengthy match. In the end, Jericho was merely used to transition to gold onto a flourishing Shelton Benjamin.

24. Kane vs. Big Show vs. Matt Hardy vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Christian vs. Dolph Ziggler – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 18, 2010)

Firmly in the ‘let’s shoehorn gimmick matches into the secondary PPVs so that gimmick matches have less meaning’ era, Money in the Bank’s come away unscathed, thanks to the car-wreck spectacles that never get old. In this case, the maiden match of Money in the Bank’s spin-off event hit its mark, with a dose of big man psychology. Show and Kane were natural targets by the smaller competitors, while Show used a custom mecha-ladder for climbing.

23. Dolph Ziggler vs. John Cena – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (TLC, December 16, 2012)

Ziggler put his previously-earned briefcase on the line (stay tuned for that), and, as is modern custom, lost to Cena in several matches on Raw prior to the PPV contest. Just as naturally, Ziggler took his usual laundry list of wild bumps through the course of the match, before winning as a result of AJ Lee shoving Cena off the ladder. That’d be Ziggler’s lone win of relevance over Cena, but Dolph memorably cashed in four months later on Alberto Del Rio.

22. John Morrison vs. Sheamus – Ladder Match (TLC, December 19, 2010)

Forgotten in the dogpile beneath main event-and-celebrity over-focus, Morrison and Sheamus had themselves a nifty little feud late that year, and a title shot at The Miz was at stake. Akin to the Razor/Michaels matches of yore with the larger adversary throwing around the nimble stud, Morrison gradually overcame the odds and won in dramatic fashion after Sheamus attempted to tip the ladder. Sadly, the Morrison/Miz bout is just as forgotten as this great match.

21. Mr. Kennedy vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. CM Punk vs. King Booker vs. Finlay – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania XXIII, April 1, 2007)

Before Damien Sandow came along to look unceremoniously weak in failing in his cash-in against John Cena, there was Mr. Kennedy to lose his briefcase to Edge in a Raw quickie, following a Kennedy injury. The WrestleMania opener had plenty of intrigue, with a host of realistic winners. Jeff’s seated dive through Edge and a bridged ladder is cringeworthy, yet hilarious for the sight of brother Matt encouraging him to do it, then reacting as horror as Jeff lay hurt.

20. Dolph Ziggler vs. Damien Sandow vs. Tyson Kidd vs. Christian vs. Tensai vs. Santino Marella vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Sin Cara – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 15, 2012)

Another case of a heel being so much fun to watch that the crowd can’t help but cheer for them, the fans in attendance went berserk over Ziggler bumping Christian off a ladder in the end so that “The Show Off” could claim the briefcase. The match also seemed to be a coming-out party for Kidd, whose acrobatics finally had the forum for which to shine. Unfortunately, a torn meniscus sustained early in 2013 would sideline Kidd for almost a year, halting any push.

19. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, Triple Ladder Match (WrestleMania 2000, April 2, 2000)

The ‘unofficial’ TLC match (the official moniker for such matches wasn’t coined until SummerSlam that year) was the brightest bulb of a shockingly-dim WrestleMania. A quiet crowd most of the night, the fans memorably buzzed for the Dudleyz setting up the table bridge across two ladders inside the ring. Some of the slower spots haven’t aged well, thanks to innovation and improvement, but there’s still plenty of sick spots to marvel at.

18. Edge vs. John Cena – WWE Heavyweight Title, TLC Match (Unforgiven, September 17, 2006)

A bit of a shocker when Edge went over Cena in Cena’s Boston backyard at SummerSlam, but that only meant Edge would return the favor in his native Toronto. The visual of Edge being AA’d off of a ladder through a double stack of tables would remain a fixture in WWE’s “don’t try this at home” PSAs for quite some time afterward. Seems as though out of all of Cena’s frequent opponents, only Edge matches CM Punk in creating consistent greatness with Cena.

17. Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk – World Heavyweight Title, TLC Match (SummerSlam, August 23, 2009)

Given what a merchandise vessel Hardy had become for a company that loves its multiple revenue streams, it’s hard to believe Hardy would be gone by week’s end, with no return five years later. Punk’s victory transitioned into his tepid feud with The Undertaker, beginning immediately after the match as “The Dead Man” performed a supernatural body switch with a downed Hardy. In 2009, it was astonishing that Punk could win any PPV main event.

16. Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio – Vacant World Heavyweight Title, Ladder Match (Extreme Rules, May 1, 2011)

What a weird time period for WWE. Edge vacates the championship three weeks earlier upon his hasty, very real retirement, and a top contender’s match is made for the PPV. The crowd heavily bought into Christian, and a dramatic finish saw Edge providing timely interference to offset that of Ricardo Rodriguez and Brodus Clay. Christian winning the gold was possibly the biggest pop of his career, so naturally he lost the title to Randy Orton two nights later.

15. Paul London/Brian Kendrick vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. MNM vs. William Regal/Dave Taylor – WWE Tag Team Titles, Ladder Match (Armageddon, December 17, 2006)

Teddy Long punched up this one by adding the Hardyz and MNM, as well as the ladder modifier, seconds before the bell rang, I suppose in an effort to get non-buyers to purchase the show at about 8:23 EST. The match is most notable for Joey Mercury damn near getting his face grafted off in a see-saw spot gone awry, forcing him to wear facial contraptions for a time afterward. London and Kendrick retained in the midst of an 11-month reign the company barely promoted.

14. Daniel Bryan vs. Kane vs. Sheamus vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Justin Gabriel vs. Heath Slater vs. Sin Cara vs. Wade Barrett – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 17, 2011)

Takes a back-seat to CM Punk and John Cena’s all-timer to close the show, but it holds weight as the match that boosted Bryan into the main event tier where he’d more or less reside ever since. A wellness policy exodus played out as Sheamus powerbombed Sin Cara through a ladder, leading to a stretcher job into thirty days of oblivion for the luchador. Bryan’s victory was fairly unexpected, and the Chicago fans gave him a pop nearly comparable to Punk’s.

13. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (WWE Challenge Taping, July 21, 1992)

The WWE’s first ever ladder match seems very tame compared to the anarchic stunt shows of later years, but two masterful workers in their relative youth put together a dramatic series of ‘near-falls’, with the match more about the drama of the climb instead of insanity. Hart purportedly suggested the match to Vince McMahon, who asked for a demonstration at this TV taping. The match made it onto several video releases, and became a tape-trader’s bounty.

12. Randy Orton vs. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Christian – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 14, 2013)

In a roundabout way, this match made it possible for Daniel Bryan to stand tall at the end of WrestleMania XXX, holding two World Titles aloft (although the Rumble was definitely the fuse). The best ladder match in the spinoff PPV’s history began with a hero’s welcome for the returning RVD, and culminated with Paul Heyman turning on Punk, just prior to Orton’s victory, which was confusing at the time, but became much clearer following SummerSlam.

11. The Rock vs. Triple H – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (SummerSlam, August 30, 1998)

A year later, Rock was a mega-babyface that transcended the business, while Triple H would be the slimy villain he was born to play. Here, however, was the match that virtually shot both men into the main event for good. In front of a nuclear Madison Square Garden crowd, Rock about blew the domed roof off with a People’s Elbow while Helmsley lay prone on the oddly-yellow ladder. HHH’s win only freed up Rock for the World Title run we all saw coming.

10. Chris Jericho/Chris Benoit vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge/Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (SmackDown, May 22, 2001)

A worthy sequel to Benoit and Jericho’s heart-stopping title win over Steve Austin and Triple H one night earlier, an irate Vince McMahon booked the new champs against the TLC Six on free television. WWE Network, assuming it survives the long haul, will eventually have this episode up, as the match is otherwise lost to history thanks to Benoit’s involvement. A shade below the original TLC battles in terms of overall quality, it’s still one of the best ladder matches ever.

9. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – Ladder Match (No Mercy, October 17, 1999)

Hanging above the ring was a bank robber’s sack of cash, and the winner would win Terri Runnels’ managerial rights. If it was believed that the winners would be elevated by association with Terri, the four just elevated themselves with a performance for the ages, becoming made men to varying degrees. Interesting note: Edge came dangerously close to missing the match, as he was almost unable to fly to the show due to a hurricane (he lived in the Bahamas at the time).

8. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rob Van Dam – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Monday Night Raw, May 27, 2002)

Easily the best ladder match in Raw’s history, even if Undertaker and Jeff Hardy’s clash a month later received more company hype, despite it being a dramatic finish to an average match. This match was so good, even a moronic fan running interference couldn’t ruin it. RVD regained the gold, leading into the post-match involvement of Steve Austin, who went after Guerrero, only to be thwarted by a returning, suddenly-heel Chris Benoit; an angle that ended up fizzling.

7. Edge vs. Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. Kane vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania XXI, April 3, 2005)

The first of its kind remains the best of its kind. From Benjamin’s hands-free ladder ascension to Benoit German-suplexing Jericho, who was holding a ladder, it’s possibly the most uncluttered Money in the Bank match ever, and one that didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s also arguable that Edge’s eventual cash-in on John Cena was the most relevant of its kind, since nobody had ever seen a cash-in until he did it nine months later. Anything since dilutes the fun to a degree.

6. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Royal Rumble, January 21, 2001)

There’s a moment of retroactive horror in the body of the match, wherein Benoit goes for his patented headfirst dive to the floor, only for Jericho to wallop him upside the head with a jarring chair shot. If seeing that moment overrides any possible enjoyment you can derive from the art of the match, it’s understood. For the more unmoved, it was a viable candidate for 2001′s match of the year, rivaled by a litany of classics, one of which is to come.

5. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (SummerSlam, August 27, 1995)

Gorilla Monsoon’s first act as figurehead President was to remove Psycho Sid from SummerSlam, and give Razor the shot at Michaels’ gold, in the match they put on the map. Wise choice; it boosted the show into pretty good territory, rare air in 1995. Ramon played de facto villain, smashing Michaels’ knee to pieces with the ladder, before Michaels superkicked him off a second ladder. The botched ending, and Michaels’ tantrum, somehow adds to the charm.

4. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (WrestleMania X7, April 1, 2001)

From the greatest WrestleMania ever comes the ideal spotfest: accelerated, minimal set-up for the convoluted spots, and the type of chaos that comes from involving a few intruders. Nominee for the best bump visual in ladder match history: Bubba Ray Dudley and Matt Hardy smashing four tables into dust after an interfering Rhyno tipped a painter’s ladder over. Edge and Christian’s win was a bit anti-climactic, but you can’t discount the efforts before then.

3. Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (SummerSlam, August 27, 2000)

Gets the slight nod over its WrestleMania kid-brother for the sole reason of a less rushed ending. Conventional wisdom had the Hardyz going over here in their home state of North Carolina. In defeat, Jeff busted out a frightening Swanton Bomb off a ladder on the floor through Bubba Ray Dudley. The match is also known for an unfortunate double-entendre that Jim Ross made about Edge and Lita that gained new perspective about five years later.

2. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels – World Heavyweight Title, Ladder Match (No Mercy, October 5, 2008)

Doesn’t stand out, but it should. In fact, a lukewarm crowd is possibly all that kept this from the number one spot. Jericho and Michaels’ hate-filled feud in 2008 came to a head with this match, which was less about cutesy spots, and more heavy on the “I’m gonna kill you” brutality. Indeed, most of the ‘spots’ were Jericho and Michaels trying to make the other suffer, without the need for Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions. An inexplicably undervalued masterpiece.

1. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (WrestleMania X, March 20, 1994)

Like Savage and Steamboat, a newer fan may wonder what’s so special about this match, after seeing many a stuntshow since. For 1994, Ramon and Michaels put together a match just unheard of for the time, and wouldn’t become standard for a few years yet. Michaels took at least five or six crazy bumps off of Ramon’s power-based offense, and the dramatic near-finishes had the MSG crowd buying into every second. It’s still the gold standard.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Top 25 Best WWE B-Show PPV Events In History

June 12, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

When you look past WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and even King of the Ring, what have been the best PPV events in WWE history? I pored through the last two decades of the promotion, and came up with this list of secondary-PPV excellence. All are recommended viewing on WWE Network.

25. Backlash 2009 (April 26, 2009 – Providence, RI)

After a largely-unfulfilling WrestleMania outside of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels’ timeless epic, WWE rebounded with a better show, surrounded by Chris Jericho’s battle with an ageless Ricky Steamboat, a tremendous Last Man Standing match with John Cena and Edge for the World Heavyweight belt, and Christian felling Jack Swagger to become ECW Champion. Tack Taker/Shawn onto this, make it four hours, and boom: a great WrestleMania.

24. No Mercy 1999 (October 17, 1999 – Cleveland, OH)

One of the few PPVs from 1999 that actually holds up years later, No Mercy took place two weeks after Vince Russo jumped to WCW. Perhaps his exodus was the good omen this show needed? Everyone remembers the Hardy Boyz, Edge, and Christian making literal and figurative leaps in their ladder match/coming-out party, but Triple H and Stone Cold held their own in a violent brawl of a main event for the WWE Championship.

23. Unforgiven 2006 (September 17, 2006 – Toronto, ON)

Blowing off a number of feuds in one satisfying event generally makes for a really good show, and three pressing issues were finished here: Trish Stratus retired after winning the Women’s Title from Lita to end their on-again/off-again rivalry, DX won a bloody Hell in a Cell match over The McMahons and The Big Show, and John Cena began a year-long WWE Title reign, toppling Edge in an excellent TLC match. Rare in this day, the conclusions felt definite.

22. In Your House: Beware of Dog (May 26-28, 1996 – Florence/Charleston, SC)

Stretched across two nights because of a powerful storm that knocked out satellite transmission during the PPV (Part II took place before Tuesday’s taping of Superstars), the composite event yields some forgotten classics, including Marc Mero and a still-green Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Steve Austin and Savio Vega’s brutal Caribbean Strap Match, where Austin began his ascent. It was quite rare for an In Your House to have two great matches.

21. Elimination Chamber 2014 (February 23, 2014 – Minneapolis, MN)

With the notion that Daniel Bryan probably wasn’t winning the WWE Championship here, more focus was on the WWE Network launching twelve hours later than the event itself. The final traditional “pay-per-view” boasts the anticipated Wyatt Family-Shield dream battle (before it was done in by free TV rematches) and a great Chamber match itself, which teased fans with a possible Bryan win before Randy Orton retained in the end.

20. Judgment Day 2005 (May 22, 2005 – Minneapolis, MN)

Twin Cities with another gem. SmackDown in 2005-06 produced a handful of quality PPVs when apparently Vinnie Mac focused solely on Raw (i.e. less micromanagement on the blue brand). The result: John Cena and JBL’s barbaric I Quit match for the WWE Title (surpassing their Mania match four times over), Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s throwback to simpler times, and a rare Paul London Cruiserweight title showcase, against Chavo Guerrero.

19. TLC 2012 (December 16, 2012 – Brooklyn, NY)

The brand-new Barclays Center was christened with one of WWE’s more inspired efforts in recent years. The first match everyone thinks of is the in-ring debut of The Shield, as they stole the show with a Match-of-the-Year nominee with Kane, Daniel Bryan, and Ryback under modified TLC rules. Forgotten in its shadow: Dolph Ziggler scoring his only high-profile win, and a damn good one, over John Cena, via a ladder match where AJ Lee would turn heel.

18. Money in the Bank 2013 (July 14, 2013 – Philadelphia, PA)

The ladder matches are pretty much never a bust, and were divided into two concepts for 2013: an “all-stars” match with former World Champions that was won by Randy Orton, and a “rising stars” one in the opener, taken by Damien Sandow. Both matches were great, even if the cash-ins made many fans miserable. Mark Henry’s startling heel turn on John Cena was paid off here with a quality World Title match, though the feud was abruptly cut short.

17. Fully Loaded 2000 (July 23, 2000 – Dallas, TX)

These days, the match results would lead to the armchair bookers to cry over the juiced-in main eventers going over on the new class, but there was more optimism in the Attitude Era. Triple H and Chris Jericho’s Last Man Standing match is hellacious, and Chris Benoit’s World Title battle with The Rock is a close second place. The best visual of the night goes to Rikishi, who pancaked Val Venis with a Superfly Splash off of a steel cage. Yes, really.

16. Backlash 2007 (April 29, 2007 – Atlanta, GA)

Take away the ridiculous handicap match where Vince McMahon became ECW Champion, and it’s top-to-bottom great. Both World Title matches (Undertaker and Batista’s Last Man Standing match, and John Cena retaining in a four way) are both WrestleMania quality. On the undercard, Chris Benoit’s US Title match with MVP, Hardy Boyz’ formula-tag with Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, and Melina and Mickie James’ Women’s Title match all held their own.

15. No Mercy 2002 (October 20, 2002 – Little Rock, AR)

With creative in freefall thanks to necrophilia, a stunt gay wedding, and a lack of Steve Austin and The Rock, WWE was in a bad place, though the SmackDown half of No Mercy thrived, while Raw withered. Two matches fought for the right to steal the show: a tag team tournament final between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, and Edge and Rey Mysterio, was perfection, while Undertaker and Brock Lesnar’s Hell in a Cell match artfully pinned the gruesome meter.

14. Payback 2013 (June 16, 2013 – Chicago, IL)

Something about the city of Chicago that brings out the best in WWE; they’ve had a PPV every year there since 2006, save for 2008 (though TNA had Bound For Glory there that year). CM Punk returned after a sabbatical to win match of the night honors against Chris Jericho, while The Shield’s Tag Team title defense against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton got an honorable mention. The worst match of the show, Dean Ambrose vs. Kane, was actually pretty good.

13. One Night Stand 2005 (June 12, 2005 – New York, NY)

The spirit of ECW soared with the ultimate in reunion shows, hitting on every era in the company’s truncated history. One Night Stand was an all-star spectacle which thrived, in spite of the matches being relatively shortened. Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka waged their usual war, Chris Jericho and Lance Storm didn’t miss a beat in commemorating their first ever match, and the ECW brigade turning back WWE’s ‘invasion’ was a feel-good moment.

12. No Way Out 2000 (February 27, 2000 – Hartford, CT)

Ended on a major downer with what was thought to be Mick Foley’s retirement, but at least he went out in ultraviolent style via a Hell in a Cell match for Triple H’s WWE Title. The WCW defections enhanced the undercard, with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle’s Intercontinental Title match, and a Radicalz six-man against Rikishi and Too Cool. That’s not even mentioning the usual quality tag team match pitting Edge and Christian against The Hardy Boyz.

11. No Mercy 2008 (October 5, 2008 – Portland, OR)

Not as well-regarded as many of the events on this list, but maybe that’s just because the IWC consensus had grown more cynical by this time? The main event, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels in a World Title ladder match to conclude their hate-filled war, is, as such, a ‘lost’ five star match. The World Title match between Triple H and Jeff Hardy is an awesome face-vs-face match-up, and Big Show and Undertaker have their best match together.

10. One Night Stand 2006 (June 11, 2006 – New York, NY)

Gets the slight nod over its predecessor by having a better story element, and some appropriately lengthier matches. The WWE/ECW equivalent of nWo Souled Out, there are two very good World Title matches: Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena, and Rey Mysterio vs. Sabu (which the internet would have gushed buckets for in 1995). The show-stealer: a six-person bloodbath with Edge, Mick Foley, and Lita against Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah.

9. Extreme Rules 2012 (April 29, 2012 – Chicago, IL)

Hopefully in the past two years, the IWC has forgiven the ending to John Cena and Brock Lesnar’s “is this really the PG era?” car wreck, which displayed a level of intensity and pacing rarely seen in today’s WWE. Daniel Bryan and Sheamus finally got their proper match after the 18-second punch-in-the-sack that WrestleMania was, and it was a great two out of three falls match. Plus, CM Punk got to kick Chris Jericho’s ass in front of his family. Good times.

8. Vengeance 2003 (July 27, 2003 – Denver, CO)

Next to WrestleMania XIX, it’s the only other PPV from a dismal 2003 worth going out of your way to see. Three great matches dot the card: Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero for the US Title, The World’s Greatest Tag Team vs. Rey Mysterio/Billy Kidman for the Tag Team straps, and Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Big Show’s triple threat for the WWE Title. Also notable for John Cena’s true breakthrough match in defeat to locker room measuring stick, The Undertaker.

7. Backlash 2000 (April 30, 2000 – Washington, DC)

One of the earliest examples of the PPV following WrestleMania being way better than WrestleMania itself, Backlash was almost an apology for their grandest event being more bland than grand. Putting the Radicalz in four different matches only stretched the greatness evenly, with Dean Malenko/Scotty 2 Hotty and Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho as standouts. Steve Austin’s return to help Rock win the WWE Title was one of those great markout moments.

6. Backlash 2004 (April 18, 2004 – Edmonton, AB)

Much harder to watch with Nancy and Daniel Benoit at ringside (along with now-aspiring wrestler David Benoit), Chris Benoit wins his WrestleMania rematch over Shawn Michaels and Triple H, nearly matching the quality in the process. The real story of the show was Randy Orton’s gutsy performance against Mick Foley in a hardcore war. The undercard produced some solid matches, namely Chris Jericho’s handicap win over Christian and Trish Stratus.

5. Vengeance 2005 (June 26, 2005 – Las Vegas, NV)

After Judgment Day and One Night Stand (which followed a great WrestleMania 21 and decent Backlash), Vengeance was the apex of an underrated 2005. The event began modestly enough, complete with awful Victoria/Christy Hemme ‘match’, but the last three matches bail it out big: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle II, John Cena defending the WWE Title against Chris Jericho and Christian, and Batista and Triple H’s brutal Hell in a Cell World Title bout.

4. Judgment Day 2000 (May 21, 2000 – Louisville, KY)

With WWE’s spotless roster in the year 2000, and a desire to keep trouncing WCW every whichway, shows like this came to be. Count the classics: The Rock vs. Triple H in a WWE Championship Iron Man match. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho’s submission match for the Intercontinental Title. Eddie Guerrero vs. Radical-mates Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn for the European Title. Can’t leave out Kurt Angle, Edge, and Christian as ‘The Jug Band’.

3. No Way Out 2001 (February 25, 2001 – Las Vegas, NV)

What can you say about a show that would have been the best PPV of the year in most other years, but is only nipped by the awesomeness of WrestleMania X7? Triple H and Steve Austin’s Three Stages of Hell match is an all-timer, as is Kurt Angle’s World Title loss to The Rock. Chris Jericho’s Intercontinental Title defense against Chris Benoit, X-Pac, and Eddie Guerrero understandably brightens the undercard. Even Stephanie and Trish had a great match!

2. In Your House: Canadian Stampede (July 6, 1997 – Calgary, AB)

At the height of The Hart Foundation’s mutual beef with Steve Austin and The United States, WWE put together it’s best two-hours of wrestling imaginable. The Harts’ ten-man tag with Austin’s American contingent nearly blows the roof off of the Saddledome, and there’s no lull in action. As for the rest of the card, you have Mankind vs. Triple H, Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke, and The Undertaker’s WWE Title defense vs. Vader, each of them a winner.

1. Money in the Bank 2011 (July 17, 2011 – Chicago, IL)

Barely ekes it out over Stampede, as Money in the Bank was three mostly great hours instead of two. CM Punk winning the WWE Title in one for the ages over John Cena, in front of his neighbors and friends, is an indelible memory. Christian and Randy Orton continued their engrossing World Title feud with a heated rematch. Both ladder matches are tremendous, namely the SmackDown one that Daniel Bryan took the briefcase in.

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WWE Payback 2014: No CM Punk Added, But Certainly Needed

June 02, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Even in his absence, CM Punk causes a stir. Well, the “Payback” pay-per-view was in Chicago in Punk’s back yard and the hope by myself and millions of WWE fans would have been for the “Voice of the Voiceless” to appear on the show, throw his weight around a bit and excite the masses.

But to his defense, there was a Blackhawks playoff game at the Rosemont – a Game 7 no less – and of course, he was needed en mass to root on his hockey team.

But still, the sentiment was there for a “guest appearance.” It never happened, but what did happen was even better. Punk’s name was chanted on more than one occasion by the crowd in attendance Sunday night and in turn, was mocked and jeered by Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon, all by admitting how vital Punk – even in his retired state – is important to the WWE and its “business” that McMahon and her husband, Triple H, talk about.

The Payback pay-per-view was better than I anticipated, with John Cena, Bray Wyatt, the Family and the Usos giving us one hell of a match. And to follow it up with the Shield and Evolution was an epic clash.

But where does the WWE go from here? The fact is there is still a state of purgatory that exists within the ebb and flow of this company. The segment with Daniel Bryan, Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon must lead to a SummerSlam event involving Bryan, Triple H and the WWE World Title. The feud between Bella and McMahon is not match worthy, but it sets the husbands up nicely.

I kept waiting and waiting for Punk to jump through the crowds and enter the arena to no avail. I guess he did not read my letter begging him to reappear.

Oh, well.

The bad thing about these pay-per-view events is that it either furthers a feud or begins one. And if you notice, rarely does a feud travel more than a few months to keep a freshness. But the reality of that is this – great feuds of the WWF, AWA, WCCW, and the NWA carried on for months and years because fans continued to want to see them. Even Punk matched with John Cena has enough legs that it could carry on for a few years – if Punk had not taken his boots and left the company.

Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer chased each other all over the NWA for over a year in the early 1980s. Sting and Ric Flair beat the hell out of each other for a decade. Dusty Rhodes and the Horsemen were as good as it got in WCW and Jack Brisco and the Funks were must see wrestling in the 1970s.

Punk has that kind of appeal that makes the WWE know what it had and in turn, had to play off of it tonight – taking a stab or two at him like Rex Ryan did last week when he made comments about Tim Tebow.

I commend the WWE for putting together an event that was better than expected. Solid “B” (hope you are reading this, Stephanie McMahon).

The coming months and the summer should be scorching with potential. Sheamus and Cesaro are a good rivalry to build on (no more inside cradles) and we are all awaiting the return of Brock Lesnar. If the company can keep the ship afloat for a few months without losing too much more money, there will be a pot of gold at the end – culminating in one hot SummerSlam event.

But I assure you, there won’t be a CM Punk sighting until then, at the event or afterward. Sadly the best way for the WWE to capitalize on him is to put him down for his decision – like it or not.

Follow David on Twitter @davidlevin71

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