Wrestling Review: WWE SummerSlam 2011 feat. John Cena vs. CM Punk

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WWE SummerSlam 2011

WWE SummerSlam 2011 was the follow-up to the fondly-remembered Money In The Bank, a show that featured a very memorable headline bout between John Cena and CM Punk, as well as a scrap between Randy Orton and Christian. This SummerSlam card had a double main event of, erm, John Cena vs. CM Punk and Randy Orton vs. Christian, albeit with add-ons to make these feud-ending contests feel bigger than the matches that had preceded them. For the third straight year, SummerSlam emanated from Los Angeles, California, at a time when the roster had reduced depth in star power, so while this had some eye-catching contests on paper, it still felt like one of the less important SummerSlam shows in recent memory beforehand.

Six-Man Tag Team Match
Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston & John Morrison vs. Alberto Del Rio, The Miz & R-Truth

Opening things off, we had a six-man attraction which continued an unusual tradition for SummerSlam, where the summer spectacular has always included a six-man bout in a year ending with “1”. In this case, besides an ongoing rivalry between former friends John Morrison and R-Truth, there was little reason for the match to exist aside from filling time and providing a spot on the show for some of Raw’s most notable names. That isn’t to say that this match wasn’t of a high standard, though, because it was a fast, frenetic battle filled with energy and high-flying spots. Rey had been on something of a PPV losing streak at this point, with only one supercard triumph in the previous eight months, so it was a significant moment for him to claim the pinfall victory with a 619 and a splash on the increasingly-paranoid Truth. It was revealed here that Rey would have a WWE Title match the next night on Raw, but we didn’t realise that his opponent would actually be one of the participants in this very contest, and we also didn’t know that his title opportunity would be his last match for almost a year due to injury.

Sheamus vs. Mark Henry

After CM Punk insulted both John Laurinaitis and Stephanie McMahon backstage, we had the first match for Sheamus as a babyface, who had become a fan favourite by virtue of his willingness to face Mark Henry, a behemoth whose Hall Of Pain was rapidly gathering pace, having put Big Show on a very large shelf at MITB. This was your typical big-man scrap, with the action being slow and uneventful, but logically worked enough to make both men look strong. Speaking of strong, Henry demonstrated why he was the World’s Strongest Man with his latest power stunt, that being a sidewalk slam that sent Sheamus crashing through the ringside barricade. This got a huge reaction from the LA fans, with Henry picking up (no pun intended) the victory via countout. Henry would become World Heavyweight Champion the following month at Night Of Champions, whilst Sheamus would go on to claim the same prize in an infamous match the following April at WrestleMania XXVIII.

WWE Divas Championship Match
Kelly Kelly (C) vs. Beth Phoenix

The Glamazon had earned this title shot by winning a Battle Royal on Raw, only to turn heel immediately afterwards on Kelly (the same match saw Gail Kim deliberately eliminate herself, bringing an end to her WWE tenure, and leading to her becoming one of the most bitter ex-employees ever in the years since). Natalya also turned heel to align herself with Beth, thus meaning that the odds were very much in Phoenix’s corner to win this bout. But we were in for a surprise: the seemingly-overmatched Kelly (who did have Eve Torres in her corner to provide moral support) managed to largely hold her own against the challenger, and she reversed her way out of the Glam Slam with a victory roll for the pinfall win. Beth’s quest to become Divas Champion would eventually lead to her winning the title at Hell In A Cell, while her desire to remove the “Barbie Doll divas” from WWE would take a lot longer, being a mission that was only achieved long after Beth herself left the company.

Daniel Bryan vs. Wade Barrett

This was an example of why SummerSlam 2011 wasn’t a particularly big show. On paper, this was a potentially fun match, and it did deliver high-quality action. But with no real storyline aside from Barrett being resentful over Bryan capturing the SmackDown MITB briefcase the previous month, and with Bryan yet to become the red-hot fan favourite that the “Yes!” chant would allow him to morph into in 2012 and 2013, this was another filler bout, despite being positioned as one of the night’s bigger attractions. Nevertheless, despite the lack of story and the feeling that this match had no major reason to exist, it was still an enjoyable, hard-hitting battle that did draw the crowd into the fight. It was assumed that Bryan would be victorious to strengthen his cause as the holder of the blue briefcase, but instead Barrett came out on top with Wasteland. Bryan wouldn’t even wrestle on another PPV until TLC, a night when he did cash in the case to win the WHC.

World Heavyweight Championship No Holds Barred Match
Christian (C) vs. Randy Orton

After excellent battles at Over The Limit, Capitol Punishment and Money In The Bank, this No Holds Barred contest was set to be the decisive PPV showdown between these two foes in one of the most underrated rivalries ever. Beforehand, Christian brought out the recently-retired Edge as a surprise insurance policy, only for The Rated R Superstar to leave Captain Charisma hanging after expressing displeasure over Christian only winning the World Title via DQ at MITB (after Orton went crazy on him for the CLB spitting in his face). This meant that Christian had to fend for himself in an anything-goes war against The Viper. Though Orton held the advantage for the majority of the match, which included a series of brutal kendo stick shots and a Spear for a close near-fall, Orton clearly proved his superiority: after avoiding an attempted RKO by Christian with one of his own through an announcer’s table, Randy went on to powerslam the champ through a table, DDT him onto a trash can, and finally catch him in mid-air with an RKO onto a set of steel stairs to pick up the victory and reclaim the WHC, his ninth heavyweight crown in total. They would have one more match inside a Steel Cage on SmackDown a few weeks later, but otherwise this drew a line under a fantastic feud that stands as Christian’s biggest of his career, at least in WWE.

WWE Championship Match – Triple H Is Special Guest Referee
John Cena (C) vs. CM Punk (C)

There was a hell of a backstory to this. Punk had vowed to leave WWE with its top title after MITB in his hometown of Chicago, during which time he cut several worked-shoot promos that had made him the most talked-about wrestler in years. After triumphing in an unforgettable (albeit slightly overrated) match at MITB, Punk did indeed leave WWE screens, with Vince McMahon set to fire Cena in retaliation, only for HHH to return and announce that he was now COO, and relieved Vince of his duties. In the meantime, Mysterio won a tournament to crown a new champion but lost the gold that same night to Cena, at which point Punk resurfaced (with his new Cult Of Personality theme), still brandishing the title. Amidst further insider insults at various people, and Punk making a new enemy in HHH despite both seemingly being babyfaces at this point (Punk was a tweener, but an extremely popular one), this winner-take-all match was set to determine who the true WWE Champion was.

Though we weren’t in Chicago, Punk still received the lion’s share of the cheers, but while he was still booed in spite of his own good-guy status (which was hardly a surprise by mid-2011), Cena at least had slightly more support than he had in CM’s backyard the previous month. As for the match, it was very good: people sleep on this one due to the aftermath shenanigans which I will get to shortly and because it was the rematch from MITB, but this was a more than adequate main event, and from a technical standpoint, it could be argued that this was actually better than their Chicago showdown. At one point, both men were down and out at ringside, but HHH – requiring a clear winner and a clear WWE Champion – threw both men back into the ring. The finisher exchanges and kick-outs came from there, culminating with a GTS by Punk to Cena, and CM got the three-count, despite Cena’s foot being on the bottom rope.

Michael Cole (then still flip-flopping between generic babyface commentator and annoying heel sympathiser) was begging on for HHH to recognise his mistake, but despite his and Cena’s protests, the result stood and Punk was victorious, though he was reluctant to allow HHH to endorse him. This being the pre-Authority days, HHH didn’t turn on Punk here, and instead he walked up the ramp to leave Punk alone in the ring. At that point, though, Kevin Nash of all people turned up from the crowd and drilled Punk with a Jackknife Powerbomb. As HHH wondered what was happening, Alberto Del Rio sprinted down holding his Raw MITB briefcase, and after a near-miss cash-in attempt after MITB, ADR succeeded here, with a straight kick to the head allowing him to pin Punk and win the WWE Championship for himself, all while HHH looked thoroughly bemused.

There is a lot of hate towards this ending in hindsight, as well as the subsequent events. There’s no doubt, that to quote his promos at the time, Del Rio was destined to win a top title, and once he had the red briefcase, it was only a matter of time. More concerning than Del Rio becoming champion was Punk losing the belt, and losing several subsequent PPV matches (his defeat to HHH at Night Of Champions 2011 would stick in his craw so much that it was a contributing factor in him eventually leaving WWE for real in 2014). The storyline which followed, where HHH wondered who had texted Kevin Nash to suggest that he attack Punk only for Nash to be revealed as having messaged himself from The Game’s phone despite John Laurinaitis acting suspicious when texting himself, and the match that never happened between Punk and Nash leading to HHH pinning Punk and eventually beating Nash on PPV too, was unquestionably a mess, though it was partly because Nash didn’t receive the presumed medical clearance to wrestle Punk at NOC. Though Punk went on to regain the gold at Survivor Series and hold it for 434 days, a reign that solidified his legendary status from a company standpoint, there remains a prevailing feeling that WWE dropped the ball with Punk, as he could have been the next Austin-level megastar.

In my opinion, Punk’s explosion in popularity suffered from bad timing more than anything else. As noted, a Del Rio title reign was clearly on the cards, with him having already been denied at WrestleMania XXVII, and despite how fans feel about ADR today, a Del Rio push was largely endorsed at the time (the Chicago fans loved it when he won the MITB briefcase in the first place). More notably, though, Cena vs. The Rock had already been announced for Mania as the main event, and as the most-hyped contest ever. There was no way that WWE could sacrifice this to give Punk another big moment to close the show, and it’s totally understandable why they would return to that well for Mania 29. Had Punk cut the pipe bomb promo in June 2010 or June 2013, chances are he would have been given a proper storyline chase culminating in him winning the WWE Title in a WrestleMania main event which could have made him that massive star that the fans hoped for. This doesn’t excuse the questionable booking between August and October of 2011, but there is a real aspect here that Punk cut the right promos and had the right matches at the wrong time when it came to him receiving the true company endorsement. Still, the longest WWE Championship reign in 25 years, major matches against Cena and Rock as well as Undertaker and Brock Lesnar subsequently (though he lost almost all of them, which again upset him), and his name still being chanted by fans to this day as a sign of how much of a chord he struck with followers, suggests that he didn’t do too badly. I’ll cover the Punk situation in full in a separate article, but I will simply say that I personally liked the ending to SummerSlam as it felt unpredictable and shocking, though I will admit that the follow-up wasn’t great, and while it wasn’t an apocalyptic calamity as a lot of fans might suggest, it is understandable why Punk wouldn’t be happy at how he was booked for the couple of months following Money In The Bank and SummerSlam.

As for this show as a whole, though, WWE SummerSlam 2011 is better than I remembered. It’s one of those shows that seems weak on the surface, and it still feels less meaningful than other SummerSlam cards, but there is plenty of action to enjoy. The opener and Bryan vs. Barrett succeeded in spite of them being filler bouts, Mark Henry got a boost from his win over Sheamus, Kelly Kelly upset the odds against Beth Phoenix, and both main events delivered big-time from an in-ring standpoint, with a surprise title match to round things off. To the super-smarks, the ending of this card was akin to a tragic world event, but if you don’t live in a world where CM Punk is the be-all and end-all, this is quite an enjoyable PPV, and one that is certainly worth tracking down for the double main event, even if you swerve the less important bouts.