-If I may have the freedom to rant here, back when someone like Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock won the WWE Title, it was something that you and your buddies talked about at work or school the next day. Last night, CM Punk, the current WWE Merchandise Champion, was given a healthy win over Alberto Del Rio in Survivor Series’ semi-main, and became WWE Champion for the second time. Of course, the moment was forgotten within minutes, as all of the focus was now on The Rock and John Cena, the former in a cameo role, the latter as a good talent whose interminable push has jaded more than half of the fanbase, despite being marketed as the Hogan/Austin/Rock archetype. While the fans assiduously spent the summer clamoring for Punk to get Vince McMahon’s eye, the boss seems content to try and shatter buyrate records with Cena/Rock, which it might possibly. But while Vince is focused on one event, he’s ignoring the buttress of talent and booking underneath that are needed to sustain longterm growth. If he’s wondering why Raw can’t do ratings over a 4.0 anymore, maybe he should take a gander at something other than the main event scene, and Twitter, and work to build a stronger total brand. Relegating Punk’s big moment at MSG as an afterthought, one that lacked the chatter of an Austin or Rock moment from over a decade ago, just isn’t smart business. Maybe tonight they can make the win mean more, but based on recent patterns, I won’t hold my breath.
-Live from Hershey, PA, the land of chocolate.
Punk regales us with the story of “first grader” Phil Brooks, who proclaimed he wanted to be a professional wrestler when he grew up. He notes that he didn’t say “sports entertainer”, so that insider ship hasn’t sailed yet, apparently. Punk has also promised that the game of “Hot Potato” for the WWE title is over with, and that the championship is his to keep. Punk declares himself the “New Face of WWE”, whether or not the office likes it. Punk also promises to be an ‘agent of change’ for WWE as Champion, demanding his ice cream bars, but more important: he wants Johnny Ace fired. This brings Ace out, not understanding what the champ’s issue is with him. Punk compares Ace to Lumberg from Office Space, making me smile. Ace books Del Rio-Punk for next week, which Punk shrugs off, asking if he can have it now. Ace says tonight, instead, Punk will face Dolph Ziggler, champ vs. champ. Punk lambasts Ace for that call, saying the fans don’t want to see that. Fans chant “WE WANT RYDER”, so Punk demands that Ziggler defend his US Title against Ryder. Ace says Ryder is facing Del Rio instead. Punk nonchalantly declares that he’s going to beat Ziggler, then beat Del Rio then, one day….someone is going to beat Ace. I wonder who?
SEGMENT RATING: 8/10. I like it. My earlier rant may come in handy if they drop the ball, but for now, it makes Punk look like the undisputed face of the show, and it gives him room to work with it.
Editor’s note: Check out CM Punk on my buddy Jimmy Traina’s Hot Mustard podcast.
Match 1: Alberto Del Rio vs. Zack Ryder
Nice touch with Ryder decking Ricardo during the introductions just to get a WWWYKI in. Ryder plays plucky underdog early on, with Del Rio working the arm. Booker takes up for “Z-Ryde” by bringing up his US Title petition being one of the most signed in “internet history”. How could they know that? Ryder misses a Ruff Ryder, and takes an enzuigiri and cross armbreaker for the quick loss.
WINNER: Alberto Del Rio via Cross Armbreaker
RATING: 4/10. I realize Del Rio had to look strong, but it too short to reward fan interest in Ryder.
Match 2: Sheamus vs. Jack Swagger
Their match was fun last week, and they had an issue from last night (Sheamus DQed for ignoring a count, so he took Swagger out with the Brogue Kick out of anger), so hey….CONTINUITY! Sheamus dominates with strikes in the early going, and the camera work makes me think Sheamus is going to attempt a plancha. Perish the thought. Match slows down unexpectedly, and Swagger works submissions while Vickie shrieks a lot. I can only imagine her screams when she saw just how much Botox her daughter put into her forehead. Match drags a bit in Swagger’s double tiger armlock, but Sheamus powers out and mounts the standard big man comeback. Crowd is sadly dying after such a hot opening. Bust out the plancha, Sheamus! Counter of moves leads to an ankle lock for Swagger, bringing the crowd to life. Sheamus escapes, and the Brogue Kick kills Swagger dead. Crowd loved it.
WINNER: Sheamus via Brogue Kick
RATING: 5/10. Picked up near the end. Down from last week’s effort, but it served the purpose of keeping the Sheamus train rolling.
NOTE: WWE ’12 has “predator technology”. I can’t wait to shapeshift in the jungle in kill Jesse Ventura.
Talk Segment: Kevin Nash
Nash admits he watched Survivor Series, after much stumbling over his words. Seriously, just ditch the scripts and let the talent talk naturally. Nash reminisces about his history at MSG (Beating Backlund, Curtain Call), and talks about how Triple H changed. Nash is now yelling, which is putting his patella tendons at risk. Nash ends the short speech by saying he was the real survivor of the Kliq. Okay.
SEGMENT RATING: 2/10. Nash gets two puts for not having a spinal stroke and blowing out both knees trying to steady the mic. Sometimes it’s good to reward small things.
Match 3: Cody Rhodes vs. Santino Marella (non title match)
Rhodes begins with a speech about how losing the mask has unbound his confidence, and he adds that wonderful devilish laugh to punctuate it. If any of you could get me that Santino gi-shirt for Christmas, I’d greatly appreciate it. Cross Rhodes finishes quick.
WINNER: Cody Rhodes via Cross Rhodes
RATING: 2/10. A noble squash, but the show’s beginning to lose steam.
Afterward, Rhodes tells off Booker T at ringside and attacks him with a beverage, before Rhodes leaves without further incident. Rhodes and Booker? I’m down. Especially if it reunites Book-Dust.
Match 4: CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler (non title)
If this match goes twenty-five minutes, the show gets an automatic thumbs up. Ziggler now has a remixed version of his Downstait theme, which still sounds awesome. It’s like Saliva without a disgusting fat guy singing. Match begins with a mat sequence and feeling out process while the crowd chants for Punk. Sequence ends with something resembling a stand-off as Ziggler bails. Different from a typical World Title match on Raw, at least. Ziggler takes control and the crowd chants for Punk some more. Ziggler works a chinlock, and Punk escapes, but takes a shot to the gut for 2. Punk countered a neckbreaker with a backslide for 2. Ziggler then applies a Crippler Crossface, but Punk manages to escape. Vickie blows a kiss at Punk to try and distract him. Punk has none of it, but ends up going knee first into the corner. Ziggler does a headstand to show off as we go to commercial. Back from break, Ziggler works another chinlock, and the crowd buzzes for Punk. Punk escapes, and deals a wicked back kick to the gut (“AWWWWWWW” says the crowd). Ziggler counters a GTS into a sleeperhold. Punk escapes, but Ziggler gets a sunset roll for 2 when the ref sees him using the ropes. Punk adds a cradle for 2. Zig Zag blocked, and Punk gets the knee/bulldog combo for 2. Ziggler rolls away before Punk can attempt the Savage elbow, and catches a pursuant Punk with a SICK dropkick for a close 2. To the top rope, where Ziggler looks for a superplex, but Punk resists with punches and knocks Dolph off. Savage elbow follows for 2, and the crowd was BUYING that as the pin. Ziggler manages an inverter powerslam for 2, and the crowd is hanging on every big move. Ziggler gets frustrated and angrily stomps away, but a mistake leads to the GTS and the pin.
WINNER: CM Punk via Go to Sleep
RATING: 10/10. A damn good match, about ****-****1/4 if you ask the nerdtastic side of me. Punk and Ziggler are to 2011 what Bret and Perfect are to 1991. They are the heart and soul of WWE.
Talk Segment: Big Show
Unless Show sings “Cara Mia” out of his rectum, he’s not topping Punk and Ziggler. Unless he reenacts the top rope elbow, of course. Show brags about Henry being carted out with the busted ankle, but says that Henry may not have a broken ankle after all. If that’s the case, Show has the WMD waiting for him.
SEGMENT RATING: 5/10. Enjoyable and to the point. You know, I approve of this new method of cutting promos. It’s like the old style of “stand-up studio promos” from WWF Challenge, but on the stage in front of the crowd. They’re effective.
Match 5: Wade Barrett vs. Kofi Kingston
I also love the insert promos, as well as the way Barrett says “Berritt Barr-odge”. Barrett and Kingston have an early exchange and Wade gets the upper hand, attempting Wasteland before Randy Orton makes his way out as a distraction. Barrett becomes apprehensive as we hit the commercial. Back to action and Barrett’s wearing Kingston down, despite Orton’s looming presence. Barrett manages to hit a beautiful twisting sidewalk slam, similar the Black Hole Slam, for 2. Kingston’s taking a lengthy beating, so it’d be kind of cheap if he won, especially if Barrett winds up just being fodder for Orton to pummel. Match slows to a near crawl, as the crowd is merely waiting for Orton to somehow screw Barrett over. Barrett is floored by a low bridge, and Kofi compounds it with a head first suicide dive, sparking things a bit. Back inside, Barrett attempts a top rope Wasteland, but gets shoved off and Kofi lands a cross body for 2. Boom Drop connects. Barrett lands Wasteland after Kofi awkwardly falls off the ropes and….gets the win? Hey, color me surprised. Barrett and Orton share a staredown, which is better than the usual “50/50” booking I was anticipating. Barrett rubs his victory in Orton’s face afterward, and the crowd chants for Orton to get in there and attack. Instead, Orton glares at him and makes a small lunge, but nothing more, before leaving.
WINNER: Wade Barrett via Wasteland
RATING: 6/10. A good TV match despite the slow spots. I think the Orton/Barrett payoff will be better than their matches from a year ago.
Cena gets a nice smattering of cheers with the usual boos tonight. Cena puts over Punk and Ryder, which seems a tad bit condescending, or even like he’s trolling for love. But with that said, Cena gets to the main topic: he and The Rock. Yada yada yada Survivor Series ends with a Rock Bottom. Cena goes to hype WrestleMania, and The Awesome Truth interrupt. Miz and Truth waste no time mocking Cena for the fans rallying behind Rock over him. “You say you can’t see me; last night: NOBODY wanted to see you” – Miz. Cena seems to be taking more exception than usual to Miz and Truth’s mockery of him, and comes back with some rather catty insults. Cena then says that nobody cares about Miz and Truth, and goes to shoot each man’s ego into the toilet with a reality check. In a weird ending, Cena serves them both and “reveals” what Miz and Truth REALLY think of each other before leaving, allowing Miz and Truth to argue it out in the ring. Miz shoves Truth, and Truth shoves Miz down. Miz tries to reason with Truth that Cena’s playing them against each other, and they rush backstage to get Cena, but on the way up the ramp, Miz spikes Truth with the Skull Crushing Finale.
SEGMENT RATING: 6/10. Enjoyable, but would mean more if Miz and Truth hadn’t been partners for a scant three months. Also, there’s no payoff for the angle where Ace kept letting them back into the building. It feels like a few months worth of TV has been flushed away.
OVERALL: Almost no dull spots tonight, and a hell of a Punk-Ziggler match to boot. I’m looking forward to the two title matches next week, as well as the Orton/Barrett feud, and seeing where they take the Awesome Truth split from here. It’s wrestling, not rocket science, and WWE has delivered for two straight nights. Let’s try and keep it this way.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.