Monday's Raw follow-up to Vengeance 2011 wasn't without it's points for improvement, but it did develop many of the questions and debates arising from the past four months of chaotic storytelling.
Let's take a good look at what ensued on Monday night, and see how it links up with what has happened thus far.
Caution: This is deep examination. I'm going into subtle things that may seem a waste of time. The fact is that, lately in WWE storylines, the smallest things are worth the most time—and WWE wants us to pay attention.
Don't click any further if you have no interest in giving these issues deep, speculative thought. However, if you're up for it, leave as many comments as you like.
Personally, I was hoping for this episode to start with CM Punk laying into his mysterious enemies in shadow for screwing up all his matches lately, though I'm ashamed to say that. Punk doesn't complain nearly as much as goody-goody Cena does, so I was glad when Triple H started the show.
This made more sense, anyway. Like many Punk disciples out there, I wanted him to make us laugh and cry with witty observations. Still, Triple H has been more of the focus in this storyline so far—so I was happy to see him start the bidding.
Hunter proceeded to state how hard the business is. While that isn't a reason to complain about taking an ass-kicking at Vengeance, Hunter has also been hurt by his friends' jealousy at his success and power.
Hunter claimed that Kevin Nash broke his heart with his recent actions—but he didn't cry. Hunter is one of the few guys in the world who can look tough with a broken heart.
Hunter then called Kevin out to the ring, but Laurinaitis appeared instead. Hunter told Laurinaitis to find Kevin—or he would do it. On Hunter's way up the ramp, Nash appeared with a sledgehammer and slammed Hunter in the back. In the next segment, Nash hit Hunter in the face while Hunter was tied to the gurney board—and was shooed out through the garage door.
Laurinaitis apologized to Hunter, and after a commercial, the commentators told us that Hunter had suffered injuries severe enough to sideline him for a while.
Obviously, Triple H hasn't been murdered—and may even be back in a WWE ring to either wrestle or encourage trouble. However, Kevin Nash's drastic measures cap off this particular story arc.
CM Punk's WWE Championship victory at Money in the Bank in July led to McMahon's drastic recovery attempt—initiating a tournament on Raw.
Before the finals pitting Miz against Mysterio could begin, Triple H made his surprise return to announce that, of all people...
Vince McMahon was fired.
To a degree.
Hunter also announced that he had been appointed by the Board of Directors as COO to take over daily operations of the company. In essence, one major aspect to this tale has come full-circle.
Triple H appeared and tried to maintain order in the face of such chaotic upheaval. But the conspirators stirred the pot.
The bulk of the WWE Superstars walked out on Triple H to vote "no confidence"—the same vote that took place when the Board took Vince out.
Kevin Nash then beat Hunter to a pulp with a sledgehammer.
Clearly, Triple H has been effectively removed from the equation.
Since Summerslam, Punk is yet to gain a PPV victory, but that may be in part to Triple H's presence.
After Punk established the conspiracy angle and shot his mouth off in June, he has been on a crusade for change.
According to his return speech, he got the change he wanted.
Vince was ousted from power and Cena wasn't technically champion—businessmen had simply put him in an easy position to get a belt.
Did anyone else notice Mysterio and Cena's version looked a bit...thin?
Triple H's first motion as COO was to keep to Vince's "lesson plan," and allow Miz and Mysterio to continue their promised WWE Championship match. Mysterio pulled out the victory, and Triple H gives John Cena a WWE Title match at the very end of the Raw broadcast.
Mysterio had to wrestle two matches against main event-level talent to walk out of Raw the champion. Meanwhile, Cena was fed a drastically-weakened Mysterio, who was busy fighting injuries.
Completely unfair, but fans ate it up.
Because Cena is a hero to many of them—not a plothole. This was on purpose.
CM Punk realized that not much had changed after all. Vince was out of power, but John Cena had gained the upper hand at the expense of more-deserving talent like Rey Mysterio.
Triple H made the Summerslam main event and placed himself in the position of special guest referee.
After a bad call, which Hunter justified as human error, Punk successfully took the title away from Cena a second time.
However, after Nash surprised everyone with his return, Del Rio had the perfect opportunity to cash in effectively, after failing at the previous PPV, and was crowned champion.
In his anger, CM Punk turned his attention to Triple H, and understandably so.
Punk defended his belt, Triple H called the pinfall—and in the ensuing chaos, as Cena complained about his foot being on the rope, Nash and Del Rio found a window to strike.
Punk took his fury out on Triple H, because he wanted Hunter to take action. Instead, Hunter acted like a suit and composed himself.
So, CM Punk did what he's best at.
He used his smarts to provoke Triple H into a fight for his COO position. Punk hoped this would bring out Hunter's rougher side. The mission was a success—however, due to Awesome Truth and Nash, Hunter remained COO.
Of course, while the conspirators watched happily as Punk scampered from one hot-button issue to the next...John Cena gained an opportunity to reclaim the title at Night of Champions.
The vote of "no confidence" occurred shortly after, the infamous "walkout" instigated by Vicki's growing stable of talent (mainly Ziggler and Swagger), Christian, Cody Rhodes and his eight staples, courtesy of Randy Orton, Wade Barrett and others.
Despite this, Punk abstained from the vote in order to set the record straight the following week.
What could he say? Everyone had their feet out the door, ready to vote "no." Punk couldn't come out and convince everyone to say—it would be too goody-goody. He couldn't come out and condemn Triple H—not after giving him a battle to find his balls again. He couldn't come out to the vote and walk everyone up the ramp—we would've thought him a pansy after that.
Literally, the only thing Punk could have done was abstain and explain the following week that he wanted to fight.
He didn't like Hunter, but at least Hunter was willing to fight—unlike those in the locker room. Punk would rather stand with a guy he hates but respects—not with a locker room of people who wonn't stand up for themselves.
At every step, Triple H has appeared to be the fans' choice as boss—the ideal future WWE Hall of Famer that has the fans' preferences in mind.
However, there are plenty of questions as to where Triple H's allegiance really lies.
One of the big questions on fans' minds is, "Why has Punk changed course so drastically—from seeking vengeance against Vince, Triple H, Cena and Nash, to focusing solely on regaining the title?"
From the beginning, CM Punk's MO has been to stick it to WWE for mistreating him for so long. He knew that taking the title was the best way to stick it to ALL his enemies, not just one.
Now, more than ever, one match can incite the conspirators to take more drastic measures. And if CM Punk wins, well, he'd have the belt.
Sure, Punk could challenge Miz, Truth, Nash, Cena, Triple H, or even Vince or Laurinaitis to one-on-one grudge matches and win—but what would that prove?
CM Punk is good enough to win titles—he's proven that to us on numerous occasions. But Punk is taking "The WWE Championship Title"—something that has been passed around, cheated, tarnished, and disrespected—and adding to its importance.
With all the controversy surrounding the belt, CM Punk knew that his chances of winning a title were low. He went to Hell in a Cell because he was given the opportunity, but the odds were stacked against him. Cena was champ, Del Rio had Ricardo in tow, conspirators were watching and waiting, and the confines of the cell meant there were no rules.
A perfect chance to screw Punk out of his shot—and that's exactly what happened.
Cena got his rematch at Vengeance, and thanks to Awesome Truth's interruption, failed to recapture the title. He diverted his attention instead onto Miz and R-Truth. Cena's anger even brought him into Laurinaitis' office to confront him about the problem.
With Del Rio's victory speech still to come that night, CM Punk knew the right time had come to inject himself back into the title picture.
Cena handled Awesome Truth. Nash may have had something against Punk—but with his rage boiling over and leading to the earlier attack on Triple H—and with Triple H being carted out in an ambulance—Nash's biggest target seemed to be taken care of.
Del Rio was left vulnerable to a challenge from CM Punk—which Del Rio denied. Laurinaitis told Punk he could have the title match if he simply admitted that he respected Laurinaitis.
He knew Punk wouldn't do it.
Punk continued to spit in the face of the banal, monotone authority, staying true to his feelings.
Now the ball is in Laurinaitis' hands. The next likely step is that CM Punk will face a challenge or two of his own. If he can succeed, he'll get his match against Del Rio.
In the meantime, fans have more to root for.
CM Punk may have gotten screwed out of several PPV victories in recent months, but he's still the same guy. This Monday's Raw proved that.
The best part is, if Punk does get his shot, he'll have done it without compromising.
Unlike Cena did, when Nexus swindled him into joining them—then threatened his job if he didn't protect Wade Barrett's WWE Title shot against Randy Orton.
Cena, of course, did everything asked of him until the match came—then pulled the rug out from under Wade and cheated him out of the belt. It made Cena appear willing to sacrifice.
Still, no one thought Cena was gone for good.
Punk will have kept his integrity if he succeeds. I'm pulling for him and I'll be watching much more intently as a result.
Some people say that IF Punk takes the belt off Del Rio, then Alberto would lose even more credibility as a heel and look like a paper champion.
However, I don't ultimately believe this to be true. And who proves it for me? Sheamus.
Sheamus entered ECW like gangbusters, despite a snag or two. However, he proved himself worthy to move onto Raw and quickly made a name for himself by defeating John Cena in a tables match for the WWE Championship.
Sheamus lost the belt quickly after that, regained it, then lost it again in the Night of Champions 2010 six-pack challenge to Randy Orton.
Sheamus attempted to regain his title against Orton, but failed.
So far, Sheamus's time with the WWE Championship around his waist closely resembles Del Rio's.
After losing the title, Sheamus went on to capture the US Championship for a short time. Del Rio had a Royal Rumble victory on his record before capturing a top tier belt. Both garnered similar secondary accolades.
Sheamus stayed a fairly strong heel through the end of 2010, but when he entered into a feud with Mark Henry, fans got to see the Celtic Warrior in a different light. Nowadays, Sheamus is considered one of the top faces on Smackdown and sometime soon, he'll be in line for a World Heavyweight Championship opportunity.
Bottom line: if Del Rio/Punk for the WWE Championship happens and Del Rio loses the belt, Alberto won't suffer all that much. He seems to have a distant link to the conspirators' decisions, and Punk's claim that "someone wants Berto to be champ" still rings.
Personally, I'm not overly impatient for Punk to regain the title. I'm okay with the conspirators screwing with Punk and ruining his WWE Championship opportunity against Del Rio. I'd much rather see Punk go through the fairly typical motions that other WWE stars have gone through.
Face turn, Royal Rumble win, take the title at Wrestlemania. It didn't happen that way for Del Rio. He won the Royal Rumble, defeated Kofi Kingston in a singles match at Elimination Chamber, but lost to Edge at Wrestlemania.
CM Punk has racked up a fair amount of losses lately. Maybe the tide will soon turn.
There are many who believe The Awesome Truth will end up on the side of the conspiracy.
There is certainly proof to support that belief.
R-Truth's conspiracy talk started as a result of his belief that management was holding him down and favoring John Cena as champion.
Truth used his talent with words on The Miz, who had also suffered from the undeniable amount of support management gave Cena.
Once Miz and R-Truth formed their pairing, they decided to fight the conspiracy together, as a unified front—a brilliant move. Truth was seen as a delusional lunatic, spouting nonsense about conspiracies and dressing up as a confederate soldier. Miz was taken slightly more seriously, as he participated in main-event Wrestlemania 27.
For Miz to take Truth's words to heart, there had to be something to them.
Around the same time, we heard a round of pipebombs go off. CM Punk shot his mouth off in June about growing problems with the way WWE was run—particularly the way Vince McMahon's decisions were running the company into the ground.
He echoed the complaints that the Internet Wrestling Community has had for months.
If CM Punk wins the WWE Championship, he will garner far more respect and adoration from fans.
In the meantime, Awesome Truth had earned a tag team title opportunity against Air Boom at Night of Champions, where a particular referee had screwed them out of numerous decisions. One or two bad calls can happen, but multiple bad calls in a title match is unacceptable and Triple H did nothing about it.
I assume Triple H had to do nothing with that case, as he would have appeared a blatant hypocrite for changing the calls in Miz and Truth's match but failing to restart the previous title match. It could be a deceptive choice on his part or a showing of integrity.
We'll find out.
Miz and Truth took their frustrations out on Triple H himself during his match with Punk and attempted to have him taken out of power.
Of course, they also had issues with Punk's constant time in the spotlight.
Triple H later fired them during Raw, in an attempt to defuse their rabblerousing once and for all. He was doing his best as COO to maintain order. But Miz and Truth had backed him into a difficult corner.
This hasty decision led Laurinitis, who is a clearly part of the conspiracy, to reinstate them. This, along with Awesome Truth's threat to CM Punk, and Laurinaitis' decision to pair Cena and Zack Ryder against Awesome Truth, all point to Awesome Truth working with Laurinaitis instead of fighting him.
After all, Miz and R-Truth have always wanted respect. If they're heels, it would be no surprise if they could be bribed into working with other heels with the promise of prominence, respect and title opportunities.
Presumably, Miz and R-Truth didn't like Vince McMahon because his poor running of the company was holding them down.
Triple H's treatment of things didn't seem much different, as he fired them.
But if Laurinaitis wanted them back, maybe a new regime would see them getting more advantages.
They'd look like hypocrites, but most heels are to an extent. It would work.
We might think that Awesome Truth is merely going along for this ride to get an easy shot to the top. Heels aren't widely known for their ability to fight such temptations.
However, I believe the story is more complex. At Vengeance, Awesome Truth had a brief run-in with Laurinaitis backstage, blatantly calling both of them suck-ups, claiming that he loves suck-ups.
In a comical move, the two of them bickered for a half-second over who was the better suck-up. Considering their egos, I didn't find this realistic.
If we look closely at what happened this Monday, however, we see the slick way in which Laurinaitis has yet again benefited Cena.
Cena went to Laurinaitis and said he wanted to face Awesome Truth after the way Laurinaitis kept Cena from regaining the championship. Laurinaitis allowed the match, but said that he would choose Cena's partner. Later, we saw Zack Ryder yipping around telling the Bellas that he'd be teaming with his broski, Cena.
We're all excited Ryder is main-eventing Raw, but this could have been done on purpose. Of all people, why did Laurinaitis choose Zack?
I think Laurinaitis knew that Awesome Truth would see Zack Ryder as a weak link and was trying to sway the match by taking out Ryder during his interview.
That left Cena by himself.
Of course, Cena powered through the match, despite coming off a brutal battle with Del Rio just one night earlier, frustrating Awesome Truth into double-teaming Cena and drawing the disqualification.
The DQ was the perfect moment for Laurinaitis to come to the ring, send Awesome Truth away and regain respect from fans by creating another match...Awesome Truth vs. Cena at Survivor Series.
This time, Cena got to choose his own partner.
Cena, of course, offered the slot to none other than The Rock, who is yet to speak on the matter.
While it seems that Awesome Truth will be maintaining their heel roles at least to Survivor Series, there is evidence to suggest they are not fully in sync with the conspirators.
Yes, as heels, they could be persuaded to work for the bad guys in order to gain the spotlight.
But their desires to be on top will still plague them.
When Laurinaitis created the match for Survivor Series last night, Miz was heard saying, "So that's how it is?" Obviously, with a traditional Survivor Series elimination match still in the cards, and Cena and Rock speculated to be matched up, there's a subplot to this issue.
As I said, Awesome Truth will likely end up on the heel side and it may expand from a tag match into a multi-man traditional elimination bout, but the long term fate for the two is another story.
If they are revealed as part of the conspiracy, I foresee them defecting somewhat quickly.
However, it's my feeling that, with the conspiracy still helping Cena out, if Miz and Truth are currently working with Laurinaitis, they could defect before the conspiracy is even revealed.
You may be wondering why I'm showing Punk and McMahon here. Trust me, everything links together.
Laurinaitis has received so much criticism from the Internet Wrestling Community for being bland, monotonous, and lacking the charisma necessary to be a WWE Superstar.
Those are the exact reasons why he hung up his tights, wears a suit and works primarily backstage in an office.
He's not a charismatic superstar—he's an office jockey.
In fact, Laurinaitis is the most convincing suit we've ever had in WWE.
Vince McMahon may not have been trained to be a suit, either. I doubt he was officially trained, outside of receiving wrestling training on how to perform certain moves and take bumps, etc., but Vince McMahon was also a prime on-camera part of marketing WWE in general. He was a play-by-play commentator for many years, he gave legitimate interviews with press and was an in-ring announcer for some time.
John Laurinaitis doesn't have Vince's energy, but for the role he's supposed to play in this conspiracy angle, he's perfect.
I chose this video to show that Punk's and Vince's argument doesn't allow Punk to take potshots at Vince's inability to speak, like he did to Laurinaitis.
Austin took plenty of shots at Vince for being a corporate stiff back in the day. And you ALL laughed at it.
Laurinaitis is just more the soulless corporate robot than Vince—that's all.
He's played the mindless stooge, attempting to do Vince's bidding at Money in the Bank. He's played the uber-heel authority who does awful things like humiliate Jim Ross. He's played the sneaky backstabber who's willing to throw a coworker under the bus and lie in order to get ahead.
And after this Monday's Raw, he's shown even more depth...
Since Laurinaitis' first appearance at Money in the Bank, his role has been primarily to support. He stood behind Vince and he has stood behind Triple H. However, after the no-confidence vote, Vince was chosen to inform Triple H that Laurinaitis would take charge of Raw for the foreseeable future.
A dark cloud descended on the Internet Wrestling Community, as thousands of writers groaned at the idiocy of such a decision. How could a supporting character be promoted to such a prominent role?
No one liked Laurinaitis at first and many of us still hate him.
I hate him—but I respect how good he is in his role. On Monday night, he stepped up his game considerably and further embraced that role.
At the 3:00 mark on the video, you can witness Laurinaitis' apology to Triple H, after Nash's sledgehammer attack. Clearly, Laurinaitis didn't intend for it to appear on camera. But it did and it added emphasis to the fact that we likely won't be seeing Triple H for a while.
Was it sarcastic? Was it heartfelt? Did Laurinaitis show a shred of humanity? Did he simply want to cover his complete disregard for Triple H's safety or well-being?
Vince became nearly psychotic in imposing his will upon rebellious superstars. He called in armies of security drones and surrounded himself with lackey superstars themselves. Vince was charismatic enough to inspire a force to support him.
Laurinaitis doesn't have that kind of ability.
He's been mostly a supporting character—and still is to an extent. Yet he stood up to Punk face-to-face.
It shows what kind of character Laurinaitis does have, even if he is an office jockey.
Take his conversation with Stephanie McMahon after Triple H was attacked. You know that Laurinaitis was not merely informing Stephanie of her husband's possible injuries—he was talking business.
Finally, look at his decisions regarding Cena's match on Raw and at Survivor Series. He hasn't exactly given a huge advantage to Cena.
If Rock accepts, Cena and Rock will be unstoppable together.
If Cena and Laurinaitis aren't in on this together, and Laurinaitis is the "evil GM" that many complain he is, why not just screw Cena for easy heat? Why doesn't he screw Cena's matches, causing him to get pinned, and make Cena jump through hoops?
It just fits together too perfectly.
Laurinaitis' inability to be read into as well as past authority figures is brilliant work.
Punk, Awesome Truth, Cena, Hunter and Nash—they're all high-profile players in this mess, but what about less visible figures?
For instance, David Otunga has been put to use marvellously during all of this.
He has a legitimate law degree from Harvard, and his smarts are being put to use. Because of his familiarity with litigation, he helped convince most of the WWE talent to vote no-confidence and walk out on Triple H. Wade Barrett wanted to create a similar uprising with Nexus and Corre and didn't come close.
As one of you has said, Otunga, in one smooth move, helped accomplish what Barrett couldn't in two major upheavals!
Otunga has been an advisor to Laurinaitis during many of the conspiracy's big decisions—such as the tag match at Vengeance, which led to Nash's return.
Just when people wrote off Otunga, he proved his worth and became a key character.
Same with Aksana.
When she was on NXT, she could barely speak English and her matches were awkward and choppy. She appeared to be just another pretty "model" with a sexy accent that couldn't compete in the ring.
Let's be honest, if Aksana's character gets more airtime and wrestles as a trophy valet of some sort, she could certainly exercise her charms over those in power.
Not sure if you saw it, but as Kevin Nash made his way out of the arena on Monday night, Aksana could be seen standing next to David Otunga in the hallway.
While we're discussing divas, Vicki Guerrero is proving to be a dark horse. She's been in contact with Laurinaitis in dribs and drabs. Despite only officially representing Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger, Vicki has managed to get Christian, Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes and her two boys to make friends.
With Vicki busy chatting up Laurinaitis, I hardly believe that those five WON'T play a major part when the conspiracy is revealed. Vicki has gone from an annoying cougar to potentially a high-powered manager.
Otunga and Aksana have been easy for critics to write off. Also, many thought we'd be rid of Vicki when she was fired from Smackdown—but she's still here.
The point is, many of these lesser-known forces may be in on some underhanded trickery.
If they are, more pieces will fall into place.
Survivor Series is up next, and the coming weeks will only add more drama and interest.
Many speculate that WWE holds too many PPV events over the course of each year. That's true only in the sense that it's extremely difficult to promote so many events in spans of just two weeks.
Since Money in the Bank, WWE has proven that when they have something good going, they know how to keep it going.
The same people who blubber about John Cena's merch-marketing ability are usually the people who say WWE should hold LESS PPVs in a year.
Summerslam, Night of Champions, Hell in a Cell and Vengeance have all featured good wrestling contests, and proper pacing. WWE is handling its success well.
We could even go so far as to say that the current string of good drama might make events like Capitol Punishment seem more interesting, because the current story twists can be linked back there.
Why not go even farther back and point out how Truth's former friendship with John Cena broke down while he was in Nexus. Truth told him to quit, as seen here in the video. Instead, Cena stuck it out, let Barrett and the Anonymous GM fire him, and stuck around until they rehired him!
Could that have been a precursor for what we're seeing these days from Truth?
The 2011 Draft wasn't a PPV, but it was initially seen as a major flop, thanks to the double-twist of John Cena getting drafted to his home on Smackdown, then getting drafted right back to Raw.
However, it was the Draft that saw Mark Henry turn heel on John Cena and go on to rule Smackdown with a newfound ferocity.
Maybe the 2011 Draft wasn't such a big flop.
We can look back on the draft as the beginning of new changes, a slight ratings jump, and the birthplace of some compelling drama.
I often hear that WWE doesn't conclude enough storylines. The fact is, MANY "angles" and "storylines" won't have distinct conclusions to every one of their subplots. As this conspiracy angle continues to develop, there will seem to be tons of loose ends.
As I've said in the past, the true fans are the ones who care enough to stick around until those loose ends are tied.
WWE expects writers on the Internet to be cynical, judgmental, and never happy. And the truth is, they're not out to make experts, critics and writers happy. We can make great points here, but they aren't always listening to us.
Even If they do listen, we're aren't really bringing up changes they can employ in an instant. WWE is primarily a drama-based product, which means things get dropped only when something severe has happened.
I was in attendance the night Vince came out on Monday Night Raw and said we'd never hear the NWO music ever again. Clearly, he was mistaken, thanks to Kevin Nash—but because of Nash, Hall, X-Pac, and a number of other factors, Vince put that angle to bed right there.
It hurt to watch that happen, mainly because I'd gone to that event specifically to see the NWO, or whatever pieces of it remained. Still, I had hope for the future, as I knew interesting things were coming down the pike.
Sure enough, Eric Bischoff was named Raw General Manager. Tommy Dreamer defeated Steven Richards in a Singapore Cane match. Molly Holly cheated to retain her Women's Championship belt against Trish. Big Show took on Booker T. And in the main event, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar took on Ric Flair and RVD.
Change isn't always good, but it takes a real grown-up to admit that seemingly pointless changes actually were beneficial.