Hello and welcome to the ninth installment of WWE Flashbacks. In my last volume, I went back in time to remind you of the Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin feud that catapulted both Austin’s career and the beginning of the beloved Attitude Era.
Today, Flashbacks returns as Part 4 of a four-part series reviewing the epic rivalry that CM Punk and John Cena have had, and to foreshadow what is to come when they inevitably step inside the ring once again.
For Respect to Be Earned, It Must Be Given
CM Punk confronted Jerry Lawler the night after SummerSlam and wanted to put their issues to rest once and for all. John Cena, though, would intervene. Punk said Cena knew he was going to call him out, but he had to take away the spotlight.
He continued, saying if Cena would proclaim him to be the best in the world then the WWE title shot at Night of Champions would be his, but Cena refused. Cena said he had to believe that he was the best because the day you don’t believe in yourself “there’s the door, get the hell out!”
Cena departed from the ring by claiming if Punk didn’t accept his challenge for Night of Champions in Cena’s hometown of Boston to solidify his so far meaningless title reign, he had no respect for the title and no respect for himself.
Punk refocused his attention to Lawler again demanding an apology, Lawler obliged and gave it to him. He turned around before being pulled back by Punk who wanted more. He wanted Lawler to proclaim him the best in the world since John Cena wouldn’t. When The King refused, Punk roundhouse-kicked him in the back of the head.
The following Raw, Punk would face Lawler inside a steel cage. Although Lawler got his share of offense in, the end result was a brutal beatdown of Lawler at the hands of Punk. John Cena would make the save but Lawler was already a bloody mess.
A week later Raw opened with Punk brawling with Lawler and once again getting the best of the King. In a cruel irony, Lawler would miss the rest of the show due to chest pains, and a week later would suffer a legitimate heart attack during Raw.
Punk’s disrespect of legends continued when he berated Bret Hart in his hometown and claimed to be superior to Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Meanwhile, Punk decided to take a personal day when scheduled to face Sheamus, only to return to cost John Cena his Falls Count Anywhere match against Alberto Del Rio.
Punk would GTS Cena off his car hood and get in the passenger side of the car. It drove off as Paul Heyman looked out the window at the fallen John Cena as Raw went off the air. Heyman’s return to television coincided with Punk’s complete heel turn.
Punk’s ego inflated week by week with Heyman by his side, leading Cena to believe it was just Punk once more changing his ideology because he had yet to figure out who he was.
He had went from a straight edge messiah to some underground voice of the voiceless to an insecure kid demanding respect.
Now his identity centered around the WWE Championship, an ideology that would crumble when he took away said championship from Punk in six days at Night of Champions.
September 16, 2012: Night of Champions
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman,” CM Punk’s manager stood in the middle ring proclaiming ”and although I’m from New York, tonight I’m just like every single one of you here in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m here to witness history. I’m here because tonight, I get the best seat in the house to witness your reigning, defending, WWE Champion CM Punk in his 302nd consecutive day as the WWE Champion.
"You see, I’m here tonight to pay respect to the title and the champion. I’m here tonight to pay homage to a man of such extraordinary character that he proudly and publicly pontificates himself to be a Paul Heyman guy!” Heyman said with a great deal of arrogance before smirking and raising the microphone proudly.
Out came his client, his friend CM Punk to a mixed reaction from the Boston crowd. He walked slowly and confidently until unzipping his hoodie to not only unveil the title he held so proudly, but pinstripe attire to symbolize that he was no longer the underdog; he was the New York Yankees as he had claimed Cena to be over a year before.
As the WWE Champion of over 300 days, he was now the dynasty and had no problems in admitting such. He was now on a quest for not only respect, but he was on a quest to become the greatest WWE Champion of all-time.
Standing in his way, however, was one of the few men who had held that title longer than him. The former champion of 380 consecutive days, the Boston native, John Cena.
Cena believed that the only thing that had changed since Punk’s plea for change was that Punk was made a star. Punk had fooled the fans with the pleas for ice cream bars and other things when in reality, he didn’t care about those things nor did he care about the fans. He only cared about himself.
On commentary, John Bradshaw Layfield, JBL supported Punk. He said Punk doesn’t get the respect he deserved after being champion for so long. It was about Cena, Undertaker, Triple H and Brock. It was about The Rock. It was about everything except Punk.
Layfield, the longest reigning WWE Champion in Smackdown television history, said people still talk about his reign which was three weeks shorter than Punk’s.
After formal in-ring introductions, Punk raised his title in the air for a good two minutes. It was showmanship. It was a psychological game in an attempt to get under Cena’s skin and inside his head, and also fired up the capacity crowd before the match even got underway.
Dueling “Lets Go Cena” “Cena Sucks” chants cascaded from the rafters of TD Garden as Punk laid a big kiss on his prestigious championship.
The two longtime rivals locked up as Cena’s dad looked on from the front row. Chain wrestling leading to a stalemate ensued before Punk invoked some mental chess games, again trying to get into Cena’s head.
Cena fought out of Punk’s headlock following a shoulder knockdown. Punk pointed to his brain, in no hurry to lock up. His ring psychology was as good as ever, perhaps thanks to the man standing in his corner; Paul Heyman.
Cena then got the advantage on Punk which opened up the champion for a Fisherman’s Suplex. He would lock in a submission focusing on the ribs of Punk, to which Punk responded with an elbow to escape.
Punk would go to work on Cena next, grounding him with a headlock. His offense continued even through showboating which looked to possibly cost him as Cena lifted him off the turnbuckle, possibly attempting an electric chair drop but Punk weaseled out into a DDT of Cena.
Punk attempted numerous pins to make Cena work. He wanted to tire the former champ early to make him easy pickings later on. Headlocks and other wrestling basics were applied to set this strategy in motion.
Like Cena the previous year in Chicago, Punk wanted to take his opponent’s hometown crowd out of it sooner rather than later. He didn’t want to give Cena the chance to feed off them and front run as he does oh so well.
Punk had his share of fans in Boston as well though, as they chanted “This is wrestling” when Punk applied a unique bridge to Cena. Cena would power out as JBL hailed him to be the physically strongest opponent that he’d ever been in the ring with.
Cena favored his leg and rolled outside the ring to gather himself. Punk saw an opportunity and seized it upon taking a breather himself by nailing a suicide dive onto Cena. He would stand up and maniacally grin into the face of Cena’s dad, who was sitting in the front row, before tossing Cena back in the ring.
Punk could have went for the easier countout victory over Cena with the champion’s advantage on his side, but on this night it wasn’t about merely being victorious; it was about establishing his dominance.
Punk blew a kiss to the fans, referencing to Money In The Bank of over a year ago when he briefly left the WWE with its championship.
Cena hit a baseball slide-like kick to Punk’s kidney area to ground the WWE Champion and promptly take control of the matchup.
He sent Punk into the front row of fans then suplexed him back over the barricade as his father fist-pumped excitedly.
Now back inside the ring, Cena tried an Attitude Adjustment but Punk squirmed out and hit him with a roundhouse kick to the skull to knock him down.
Punk again utilized his technical wrestling skills to his advantage. He knew he wasn’t going to out power this genetic freak, but rather do what he does best to methodically dissect him.
Punk’s “perfect match” as JBL put it wore on for a couple more minutes until suddenly Cena fought out of the Go To Sleep and hit his patented shoulder blocks.
He went for his side suplex but Punk reversed into a pin and a two count. Cena though would now go toe-to-toe with Punk in more of an even encounter as the match slowly climaxed.
We were transitioning from the basic wrestling maneuvers to the ones that change the complexion of the match.
Cena went for the Five Knuckle Shuffle on a grounded Punk, but Punk stiffed him away by sticking up his leg and nailing him in the previously surgically repaired pectoral muscle.
Punk’s impeccable game plan now seemed somewhat flawed as Cena rolled out of a crossbody and into an Attitude Adjustment attempt before simply tossing Punk to the outside.
Cena furthered his attack with a suicide dive onto Punk and right in front of the face of Paul Heyman. Cena taunted Punk’s manager after the unusual move (for him.) The situation was dire, though, so Cena pulled out moves he doesn’t otherwise use much.
Cena tossed Punk back in the ring and positioned him for the Five Knuckle Shuffle but Punk once again countered, this time into his Anaconda Vise. Cena would counter the Anaconda into the STF only for Punk to counter again into a crossface submission. Cena would power out and make Heyman mutter to himself in disbelief.
Punk recovered and made it to his feet for a stand off which he would finish off with a dropkick. Cena pulled himself up in the corner, making himself vulnerable to Punk’s knee and clothesline to follow.
Punk made his way to the top rope for his Macho Man elbow, which he hit. The pin to follow was unsuccessful.
Punk signaled for his GTS finisher and hoisted Cena in the air, but Cena countered with the STF. Punk screamed in agony as he dragged this beast on his back across to ring to somehow reach the ropes.
Out of nowhere, Punk hit the GTS and tried to pin Cena; 1,2, kickout!
Punk was on the verge of tears while Heyman’s face turned blood red in anger. Punk looked to Heyman in desperation, seemingly asking him what to what to do, but Heyman shook his head and shrugged. Even the wrestling mastermind himself was at a loss for words.
Cena’s brute strength and will to win wasn’t something that could be analyzed or put to a stop. It was something even Heyman, a longtime veteran in the business, had never witnessed before.
“Come up with something else!” Heyman finally grumbled to Punk. Too bad Punk didn’t use his Pepsi Plunge anymore, huh?
Punk went back to the well with kicks and clotheslines once Cena reached his feet. Another pin would result in another unsuccessful attempt and an increasingly angry Punk.
“You can’t gameplan against strength and tenacity like Cena has” reasoned JBL, a man who had wrestled Cena for this same championship before, “you just got to keep going to the well.” he advised Punk.
Punk slapped Cena and went for the GTS; however Cena answered with an Attitude Adjustment attempt which Punk fought out of. Cena, though, would hit his side suplex after Punk missed wildly with a punch to set up for the Five Knuckle Shuffle which he hit after two missed tries earlier.
Punk reached his feet and walked into an Attitude Adjustment. Pin attempt; 1,2, kickout! Even Heyman was stunned by his client.
Cena powered Punk back into the ring and headed up top to capitalize. Nobody was home for Cena’s leg drop causing his tailbone to smash against the mat. The mat maybe padded, but he surely felt the wood underneath with that fall.
Punk hit a roundhouse to Cena’s head leading to a pin attempt; 1,2, another kickout! Punk was furious!
“There’s a reason John Cena is the face of this company,” JBL correctly stated as Punk reached deep inside and went back to work.
An offensive flurry from Punk lead to another pin attempt with the same old result.
Punk dragged Cena in position for a rare top rope moonsault that Cena avoided. Cena lifted him for the AA but Punk reversed into a GTS. 1,2, kickout!
Doubt lingered in the mind of CM Punk. What else did he have to do? Was there anything he could do to finally put away John Cena?
The wheels turned as he mocked The Rock en route to a Rock Bottom; 1,2, kickout!
Punk leaned against the ropes as he had no idea what to do next. Cena stumbled to his feet though and nailed the AA from behind. 1,2, kickout!
Cena lifted Punk’s dead weight up to the top rope. Punk temporarily knocked him off with some elbows but nonetheless Cena jumped back up to hit a German Suplex. 1,2,3!
“He got him! He got him!” Michael Cole proclaimed. John Cena was now an 11-time world champion! Or was he?
Cena gleefully celebrated and even grabbed the title he thought to be his once again, but the referee thought otherwise. He grabbed Cena’s attention (and the WWE title) once he came down from his top rope celebration, informing Cena he had not won.
Both men’s shoulders were on the mat as Justin Roberts explained, meaning this match was draw. CM Punk was still the WWE Champion.
Cena begged for something, anything so that this main event wouldn’t end in a draw only to turn around to a title-belt shot from Punk. Punk stepped over the fallen body of the 10-time world champion and screamed “Respect!”
On a night that was all about establishing dominance, CM Punk established no such thing. The only thing established was CM Punk narrowly escaping as WWE Champion and then promptly cried for respect after attacking a man from behind.
This series is now over, but soon enough we’ll have the privilege of watching possibly the two best of their era go head-to-head one more time, something I can’t wait to see.
To read a WrestleEnigma exclusive on the 2003 rivalry of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, click here. Thanks.