When: July 17, 2011
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Your hosts: Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and incoherent Booker T.
Opening Match, Smackdown Money in the Bank: Daniel Bryan vs. Kane vs. Wade Barrett vs. Justin Gabriel vs. Heath Slater vs. vs. Sheamus vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Sin Cara.
Daniel Bryan receives a big pop from the Chicago crowd. The big wrestlers fight each other, which allows Justin Gabriel to jump his way to the middle of the ring by using the ladder, but Bryan dropkicks him off. Rhodes goes up the ladder, but both Kane and Barrett push him off. Gabriel and Bryan fly out onto Kane and Barrett. Slater slingshots onto Rhodes, and Sin Cara executes a plancha onto Sheamus. Barrett sets up a ladder but misses a clothesline onto Bryan and runs into the post. Sheamus Brogue kicks Sin Cara and then powerbombs him through a table. As God as my witness, he is broken in half. I wonder why Sin Cara didn’t sue Sheamus for him becoming addicted to painkillers. Sheamus and Kane fight over the ladder, but Bryan and Rhodes knock both of them out. Sin Cara is stretchered out of the arena. The Core put a stop to Bryan and Rhodes dominance. Wade tells Slater and Gabriel that they should allow him to win. Both Slater and Gabriel let him go up, but then drag him down and go up themselves. Cody pushes the ladder over and hits Slater with Cross Rhodes, and then another one for Barrett. Sheamus then nails Rhodes with a backbreaker. Sheamus and Kane join forces to do a ‘Doomsday Device’ on Daniel Bryan. This leads to a “L.O.D.” chant from the fans. That was a cool spot. Kane goes up the ladder, but Daniel Bryan stops Kane. Sheamus and Barrett spear Slater with a ladder and sling him across the ring. Wow, that was a ridiculous spot. Sheamus goes up, but Kane chokeslams him right onto another ladder. Everyone attacks Kane, and then Justin Gabriel hits a 450 splash onto Kane. Rhodes clotheslines Barrett over, but Bryan locks in a guillotine on Rhodes. Bryan fights off Barrett and then goes up to recover the Money in the Bank briefcase.
Winner: Daniel Bryan in 24:25 minutes
Thoughts: Daniel Bryan winning was a pleasant surprise, but many people believed he would end up being the first person to not win the championship. That did not end up being the case, as Bryan won the World Heavyweight Championship….although he did lose it to Sheamus in 18 seconds at WM 28.
Anyways, that was a terrific opener. There were so many highlight reel moments in it—Sin Cara’s insane spot, the Road Warrior spot, and the tease of reunion of the Core. This was well booked, well performed, and instead of it being a bunch of random high spots, the spots were laced together, and the match told a number of attention-grabbing stories. ****
WWE Divas Title: Kelly Kelly (w/Eve) vs. Brie Bella (w/Nikki Bella).
Kelly has some early offense before Brie cuts her off and goes to work. Brie scores some close near falls, but Kelly eventually hits her finisher for the win.
Winner: Kelly Kelly in 4 minutes
Thoughts: Crowd did not care, I did not care, and WWE did not care about this match. ½*
The Big Show vs. Mark Henry.
This might have been the least anticipated match ten years ago, but I was looking forward to this match. The build-up was very good. Show attacks Henry with chops and then flattens him. Henry slows Show down by attacking his knee and then puts in a Boston crab. Show battles out, though. Show executes a flying shoulder block, but Henry goes after the knee to counter a chokeslam. Henry hits the World’s Strongest Slam but only gets two. He hits two splashes and that is enough to pick up the win. After the match, Henry puts Show’s ankle in a chair and then murders it. Show really sells the ankle well, as the EMTS come running out. The fans were quite rude during well-executed by chanting CM Punk’s name.
Winner: Mark Henry in 5:02 minutes
Thoughts: This was just two gigantic dudes throwing everything they got at each other, and it totally worked. The match had sound selling and psychology to boot. Sometimes a match does not need to be a classic to serve its purpose — something wrestling companies have a hard time understanding, even WWE at times. This accomplished everything they wanted it to. It established that Henry was a force to be reckon with, planting the seeds for his memorable WHW reign, and it allowed Big Show to look credible, even in defeat.** ½
Raw Money in the Bank: Kofi Kingston vs. The Miz vs. Alex Riley vs. R-Truth vs. Jack Swagger vs. Evan Bourne vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Rey Mysterio.
Both Miz and Truth fight with the small ladders, but Swagger blindsides them both. Rey jumps off a ladder that is being fought over by Kofi and Bourne and then hurricanrans Swagger to the outside. Riley performs an over-the-top suicidal maneuver and then Bourne delivers the Shooting Star Press onto a flock of people outside. Miz halts Bourne from winning, and then Del Rio tips the ladder over. Bourne and Mysterio scale the ladder over the top of Truth and Del Rio. Later on, Del Rio tries a spear on Kofi, but Kofi pulls himself up with the ladder, which sends Del Rio to the floor. Rey executes the 619 on Kofi by using the ladder. Amazing spot. Truth kicks the ladder, sending it into Swagger’s face. Eventually, everyone goes after the briefcase, but nobody can grab it. People start dropping, leaving Kofi the only one on top. Swagger goes up the ladder, leading to a spot where both ladders fall over and both land awkwardly. Miz enters the ring, but Rey stops him. Del Rio halts Mysterio from winning and then unmasks him. He throws Rey and goes up to take the case down.
Winner: Alberto Del Rio in 15:34 minutes
Thoughts: This was just a car-wreck on route 44, but it was so entertaining that I could not look away. There really was not a coherent story being told, just a ton of insane spots, one right after the other. I also liked the finish. Mysterio is more concerned about protecting his identity and the Lucha Libre tradition than winning the future title shot. A character’s flaws, not its strengths, create an interesting persona. *** ¾
World Heavyweight Title: Randy Orton vs. Christian.
If Randy Orton is DQed, he loses the title. Christian tries to manipulate Orton early on to get DQed, but he does not fall for it and beats the shit out of him. The two of them trade punches back and forth, leading to a Killswitch from Christian. Orton, back on his feet, clotheslines them both over. Back in the ring, Orton Thesz Presses Christian and punches him. Christian counters a superplex and nails a diving headbutt for two. Orton misses an uppercut, and they both look at each other for a while in what seems to be a messed up spot. Orton just hits an uppercut. Orton dodges a spear and then executes the body vice into a backbreaker move for two. Christian spits right into Ortons face, which makes Orton go crazy. Orton keeps punching Christian and then proceeds to kick Christian in the nuts for the DQ. After the match, Orton keeps trying to break the table by RKOing Christian but to no prevail. The crowd ate it up, though.
Winner: Christian in 13:30 minutes
Thoughts: Good drama and intensity, and very suspenseful. They told a great story by using the stipulations. Randy Orton’s character is based upon him being short-tempered, so Christain channeled his long time buddy Edge’s “Ultimate Opportunists” gimmick to mentally defeat Orton. This feud was extremely unsung; they never had a bad match together, and their feud felt very personal. The only real reason people disliked it was because Christian’s first title reign was only two days. Both of them ended up having one of the most heated brawls of the PG era the next month. *** ½
WWE Heavyweight Title: John Cena vs. CM Punk.
Interesting fact about this: The road agents did not map out this match. Before the match, Hayes asked what they were going to do. Cena and Punk ended up just about improvised the entire thing. Perhaps that is why the entire thing felt realistic instead of choreographed. Punk counters out of the Attitude Adjustment and then goes for the GTS, but Cena avoids it. Punk counters another FU into a DDT. Outside the ring, Punk gives Colt Cabana a high-five. Punk then puts Cena over the edge of the apron and then hits a flying knee. Back in the ring, a cross body from Punk gets two. Cena suplexes Punk from the apron all the way to the floor. This match is already avoiding every WWE wrestling cliché. Cena delivers a powerbomb Cena puts in a weird looking abdominal stretch, but Punk hip tosses out of it. They clothesline each other. Cena makes a comeback after Punk misses a knee in the corner. Cena tries the “You can’t see me” taunt, but Punk drills him in the face with a kick before tossing him to the floor. A springboard clothesline by Punk misses, and Cena hits the Five-Knuckle Shuffle. Punk counters out of the Attitude Adjustment by landing on his feet. Punk kicks the shit out of Cena and then delivers a few stiff knees. Cena avoids a kick and locks in the STF, but Punk makes the ropes, though. Punk hits a roundhouse kick. He comes off the top with a cross body, but Cena rolls through. Punk counters, but Cena counters the GTS with the STF. Punk makes the ropes, but Cena drags him into the center. Punk counters that with the VICE. Cena fights back to his feet and counters the VICE with a FU but only for two. Cena blocks the Go2Sleep and hits another FU only for two. Cena sets up for the super FU, but Punk elbows out of it. Punk delivers a GTS, but it sends Cena to the floor. Punk’s face tells the story, as he cannot believe Cena fell out of the ring. Both Vince McMahon and Johnny Ace come out. Punk looks at them too long, which allows Cena to lock in the STF. Vince calls for the timekeeper to ring the bell and then sends Johnny Ace down to do it. Cena lets go of the hold and drills Ace. Cena tells Vince he is not winning like that. Cena goes back into the ring, only to be met by a GTS via Punk to pick up the win. After the match, McMahon tells Del Rio to cash in. Del Rio tries cashing in, but Punk delivers a roundhouse kick before the bell rings. Punk leaves through the crowd, while Vince looks on in disbelief.
Winner: CM Punk in 33:00 minutes
Thoughts: Remember when Edge remolded his character from the weasel, chicken-shit into a deranged psychopath to give off the impression that he could defeat the Undertaker in a Hell in the Cell match, but he wrestled the same as he did before, derailing the belief that he had a chance of winning the match? Well, unlike Edge, Punk adapted his wrestling style to his snarky, ahead of the curve persona, who did not fall clichéd tactics (example being when he kept countering Cena’s hackneyed signature comeback moves). Cena’s character also made adjustments to counter Punk’s adjustments by delivering his signature moves ways that we have never seen before. Now, that is both character development and psychology at its finest.
This had a big match feel to it that I have not experienced in WWE since possibly The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 17. There was so much to win, and neither man could afford losing. The atmosphere made it feel as if the Chicago Cubs were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series
Millions of people gave their predictions of what will happen, but WWE ended up doing the most surprising one—allowing CM Punk escape with the title. We all believed that this was indeed Punk’s final match in WWE for a long time, but they kayfabed us all.
Unlike the Rock vs. Cena II that I trashed, this had genuine, not fabricated, drama, intensity, and heat. And, most of all, Punk and Cena just didn’t do things for the sake of doing them. Everything made sense and fit the context of the story they were telling. Nothing happened that was impractical like, oh let’s just say Cena hitting a DDT, flipping Punk over, and then putting in the STF. No, instead, a spot in the match went like this: Punk went a cross body, but Cena caught him and rolled through. Cena went for aFU, but CM Punk wiggled out. He set him up for the GTS, but Cena caught Punk’s knee and locked in the STF. Sequences like that allowed everything to feel natural and flow like a harpoon.
This also had impeccable pacing and timing, and they magnificently built the match to its crescendo. The finish also enhanced the drama. Then, ultimately, Cena’s concern for his “goodie two shoe” image wound up being a character imperfection that caused him to fail. Sometimes, you know, nice people finish last.
Initially, I had this at **** ½ because I thought Punk should have played the face-in-peril, and allowed Cena to control the match, so that the fans would come unglued for Punk’s comebacks. However, the crowd became unglued during the courses of the match enough to not really care about that, and Punk is better at dictating the pace nevertheless.
Additionally, there were some sloppy spots, but on a second viewing, it made me realize that it sold them being both fatigued and desperate better. Further, I was also able to see the subtle brilliance that took place— Cena’s body language showing his nervousness as a result of the atmosphere in the beginning, and then his intense determination toward the end; Punk transforming his wrestling style to mold his character, and the perfect blend of 80s storytelling and psychology and today’s state-of-the-art moves and characterizations.
When I add it all up, I have to give this the full monty. *****
Final Thoughts: This card delivered top-to-bottom. Not only did the show deliver a collection of great matches, it also progressed the stories that were being told, and both defined and added fresh layers to the wrestlers’ characters. This is easily a top five WWE PPV of all time.