In 2011, WWE had their own version of the Summer of Punk. It all started with CM Punk declaring that his WWE contract was running out…just shortly after becoming the #1 contender to the WWE Champion at the time, John Cena. However, the feud took a life of its own when CM Punk cut the infamous “Pipebomb” promo, one that you’ve probably heard many times and read about many times as well.
It kickstarted what was known as WWE’s Summer of Punk. What many people didn’t know was that the Summer of Punk existed years before back in his days with Ring of Honor and it was basically a very similar storyline, except this was when Punk signed his developmental contract with WWE.
However, it was the first storyline of this kind that WWE fans had really seen in the modern era and it caused a lot of excitement and gave Punk never-seen-before momentum in WWE, despite the fact that he was already an established multi-time World Champion at this point in time.
The fact that the fourth wall was broken over and over made it all the more interesting and by the time Money in the Bank rolled around, all eyes were at Chicago in what was expected to be an epic main event. To call it epic would be the biggest understatement we could possibly make. Firstly, the environment and atmosphere of the rabid Chicago crowd made it extremely special, with hometown hero CM Punk getting a response like none other. He sat for minutes in the center of the ring as the entire arena chanted “CM Punk”.
Two things were very clear: One, Cena was in hostile territory and two, Punk had a relationship and connect with Chicago like no other hometown connection seen before. The atmosphere certainly gave the match its own life, but that can’t take away from the two men who laid everything they had in the ring.
Many consider it to be the greatest match of both Punk and Cena’s career and for good reason. It genuinely felt like a special once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment, even though they faced off multiple times afterward and had great matches afterward too. But the storytelling and psychology in the match made it as close to perfect as one can get.
And at the end of it all, with CM Punk’s contract legitimately running out, he ran away with the WWE Championship, much to Mr. McMahon‘s distraught as his attempt at sending Alberto Del Rio to cash in his MITB briefcase had failed. Just like that, Punk became the hottest babyface in all of wrestling.
It’s crazy what momentum can do to a superstar and for Punk, it carried on. He walked away with the championship and around a week later, a tournament to crown a new champion was made, where Cena defeated Rey Mysterio (who had just won the tournament and the WWE title) on the same night of him winning it to become champion again. This led to the return of Punk, who had a very legitimate claim to the championship.
Since both of their perspectives and claims had validity to it, there was only one solution – to crown an undisputed champion at SummerSlam, with Triple H as the special guest referee. While the match wasn’t on the same level as their Money in the Bank bout, it certainly impressed in a big way, with CM Punk getting yet another controversial finish after Cena’s leg was on the rope and Triple H missed it.
CM Punk was crowned the unified champion, but that lasted all but minutes as Kevin Nash made an unexpected return and targeted Punk right off the bat, hitting him with a jackknife powerbomb. This gave Alberto Del Rio the opportunity to slip in and cash in his MITB briefcase, winning the World Championship at last.
While Punk wasn’t frustrated himself, there was a lot of outrage among WWE fans over ruining Punk’s momentum just as he had gained it. However, this wasn’t the actual point where WWE went wrong. It could be argued that up until here, they got it completely right. However, it was Punk’s feud against Kevin Nash and Triple H that certainly ruined a lot of his momentum, particularly when he faced the latter at Night of Champions (Punk was legitimately upset at Triple H even years after for not putting him over).
WWE didn’t do wrong by Punk in the summer, but right after the summer, they managed to somehow squander the momentum he had. Luckily for them, he managed to recover in a good way and while John Cena was getting occupied with The Rock and others, CM Punk went right after Alberto Del Rio and would begin his monumental 434-day championship reign at Survivor Series. At least in the run after, it worked out fine for Punk.