Although the WWE Universe was taken aback by the news of WWE Champion CM Punk undergoing emergency knee surgery on Tuesday afternoon, the warning signs indicate that the WWE had been planning it for quite some time, as well as his removal from the TLC pay-per-view.
According to WWE.com, Punk underwent knee surgery that was performed by famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The procedure was a fairly simple scope that was done in order to trim a cartilage tear that caused Punk's knee to lock up.
Recovery time varies for arthroscopic knee surgery, but one of its biggest perks is that the timetable is accelerated significantly compared to other types of knee surgeries. With TLC in less than two weeks, however, the WWE didn't want to take a chance with its top champion, so he won't be competing against Ryback as originally scheduled.
The Punk vs. Ryback match will instead be replaced by a six-man tag match pitting the squad of Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan against The Shield—Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns—according to a statement released by Vince McMahon.
The fact that Punk vs. Ryback was announced last week would probably lead most to believe that Punk's need for knee surgery was a sudden thing, but Punk and the WWE have most likely been plotting it out for a couple weeks. Punk had his knee wrapped on Raw a few weeks ago and he has been moving with a bit of a gimp as well, so I'm sure he and the WWE were well aware of the issue.
While there are several factors that point to Punk's surgery being planned ahead of time, the most obvious is the manner in which Kane and Daniel Bryan have been handled. Team Hell No had a match against Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara on Raw a few weeks ago, and if Mysterio and Sin Cara had won, they would have become the No. 1 contenders for the Tag Team Championships.
The Prime Time Players interfered in the match, however, and that seemed to signal a triple-threat match for the titles at TLC. The Tag Team Championships haven't really been mentioned since then, though, and no TLC match was ever announced. Also, Kane and Bryan shifted their focus last week from Mysterio, Sin Cara and The Prime Time Players to The Shield.
Kane and Bryan had to be injected into the storyline involving The Shield, and that is why Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns attacked them last week as well as this week. Also, Ryback already had an obvious issue with them as they took him out at Survivor Series, the following night on Raw and on last week's edition of Raw too.
Based on everything else that happened last week, the announcement of the Punk vs. Ryback match was merely a setup to make the fans believe that everything was going as expected. By last week's edition of Raw at the very latest, though, the creative team was privy to Punk's condition and the seeds were already being planted for him to be removed from the TLC card.
Was CM Punk's surgery planned weeks ahead of time?
Ultimately, the match vs. Ryback wasn't really necessary anyway. Punk had already beaten him twice, and while it was through unfair means, he shouldn't have had to do it again. Also, everyone and his mother realized that Punk would defeat Ryback again at TLC due to the looming match against The Rock at Royal Rumble. Punk's surgery prevents a predictable outcome.
Now we're being given a match that could clearly go in either direction. It isn't obvious whether the WWE will try to make Ryback look strong after consecutive pay-per-view losses or if it will continue to build up the trio of newcomers. Also, the possibility remains open for someone like Brad Maddox or even Brock Lesnar to interfere on The Shield's behalf.
Punk's injury was also explained by pretending like Ryback putting him through the table on Raw caused it. It was definitely a preexisting condition, but saying that Ryback took out the WWE Champion makes him look that much stronger. All of this was simply mapped out too well for it to have been a snap decision on the WWE's part.
The WWE's writers are criticized far more often than they're praised, but they deserve kudos for the way they handled Punk's injury. It likely took them by surprise a couple weeks ago, but they subtly tweaked a couple angles and set things up perfectly to write Punk off television for the time being.