CM Punk's WWE departure in 2011 was done in magnificent fashion. While the money-drawing element of the summer of Punk didn't live up to the critical acclaim, WWE had an opportunity to harvest a storyline that could have affected the entire wrestling business. Punk teased defending the WWE Championship on enemy soil(s), but sadly it was not to be.
The hottest WWE superstar upon his exodus, Punk was quickly cooled off after returning to the WWE just eight days after what could have been a promising sabbatical from the World Wide Leader.
This summer series will examine talents, moments and matches that crumbled under the weight of their immense potential.
Money in The Bank 2011 was the culmination of one of those rare transcendent storylines. The type of storyline that ends up on ESPN and creates an Internet buzz that refuses to die down.
CM Punk had set off the pipe bomb heard 'round the world when he sat atop the entrance way on Raw one night in Vegas.
His pseudo-shoot interview was laced with real-life frustration. It could have passed as legit if it weren't for the fact that almost every individual he mentioned coincidentally made a return to the WWE within one year of that promo.
Punk vowed that he was leaving the WWE and taking the WWE Championship with him. And on a night where his contract was set to expire, Punk beat John Cena in his hometown of Chicago.
As promised, he took the WWE Championship with him.
The vast potential in Punk's fulfilled manifesto was inherent during a surprise appearance days later at Comic Con in San Diego.
Punk teased WWE COO Triple H with the promotion's crown jewel and told Rey Mysterio—who was part of a WWE panel—that if he wanted a title shot he could "come to Chicago and get one anytime."
That's how this angle could have and should have blossomed: CM Punk defending the WWE Championship in every promotion but the WWE. Or for that matter TNA. After all, this would still be a WWE-branded angle.
The title itself would sell out high school gyms across the country while shining a national spotlight on otherwise obscure wrestling promotions. More importantly, it would shine a brighter spotlight on the wrestling business as a whole.
Punk was the real champion, The People's Champion, defending the holy grail with honor. This is what the WWE Championship looked like without a suit or tie.
John Cena, the interim champion at the time, was pretty much synonymous with the WWE logo. He would have been right at home attempting to reinstall dignity in the WWE brand through his defense of an otherwise paper championship.
He's the only star in the WWE who could have made people believe in that similarly noble mission. All the while memories of losing the real championship would slowly eat Cena's competitive spirit alive until a rematch became mandatory.
ROH, Dragon Gate and other indy promotions are no threat to Vince McMahon's monopolistic empire. Vince's working relationship with ECW proved that WWE wasn't above working with promotions that couldn't beat him. Each unprecedented defense of CM Punk would have carried the stimulating implication that he could drop the WWE title to an independent wrestler.
The dual defenses over the course of multiple months could have led to a unification much more meaningful than what would occur just one month later at SummerSlam.
In reality, Punk would return just over one week after his dramatic exit. All of a sudden, the rematch seemed more like a replay. Cena's tournament belt was no better than the ones made in a Mattel factory.
It wasn't long before Triple H shoved his Hall-of-Fame nose in Punk's business. This led to a match between Punk and Triple H that officially ended the Summer of Punk through a muddled finish.
All the while, Alberto Del Rio was somehow WWE Champion. If box offices could talk, they'd ask "what happened?"
Politics. Impatience. Roster issues. It all happened. Unfortunately what didn't happen was history. And what could have been iconic was only rendered noteworthy.