Canned Heat on the TWO Board mentioned that Punk vs Cena was a perfect example of a great highspotty match, which got me to thinking. I loved the hell out of the big spots in this, but if you think it was purely about the moves (cool as they were in their own right) then you are missing quite a bit of the bigger picture. Why they did those moves and when was absolutely crucial to the story of the match and the story of their entire series.
Going all the way back to 2011, their rivalry in the ring was based on knowing each other’s stuff and countering it. MITB, Summerslam and Raw 22/08/2011 were chock full of this, with both Cena and Punk getting their usual moves countered up the wazoo and having to work to complete sequences they were used to running through unscathed.
Then a year later at Night of Champions 2012, they escalate further because not only do they know all their moves before they do them, but they know the counters are coming too. The result is that they both have to bust out entirely new moves to trump the other guy – Punk using the Mutoh Lock, the camel clutch, the moonsault, and Cena using baseball slides and a tope. This culminated in both men being pinned by another move Cena had never used before, the Avalanche German. These guys have to go above and beyond to find an extra edge now.
And so we come here, and the stage is set. Road to Wrestlemania. John Cena seeking redemption from the two men who seem to have his number – Rock and Punk. He is risking everything here just to prove to Punk, to everyone, and most of all to himself that he is ready for this. That he can beat Punk, so therefore he can beat Rock too. But…he IS risking everything. Lawler notices that Cena looks nervous before the bell. Of course he is, he’s putting his Mania main event on the line against a guy he’s never beaten “in a big match” before. He has everything to lose and could end up looking like the world’s biggest fool.
So the first cool moment of this match was Cena nailing the hip toss out of the leapfrog sequence that forced Punk to powder out. Cena smiles for the first time because that was the moment that he realised that it is just a wrestling match, just like any other match, and he can do this. He’s John Cena for God sakes!
And off to work we go.
As I said before, their feud is a series of escalations. They are at the point now where they are so familiar with each other’s next move that they cant hit anything the first time. They have to work for everything. Cena builds the entire Five Moves of Doom sequence from the ground up, being stopped at every single step of the way until he finally, finally completes the Five Knuckle Shuffle. And man, was Punk rolling through the Spinny Slam into the Anaconda Vice cool as hell.
The answer to this kind of familiarity is two-fold: more and more counters, and more and more crazy moves. One of my favourite moments of the match was the running knee-clothesline duck-BAMFU. Punk transitioned from the running knee-bulldog to the running knee-clothesline in the first place because Cena had countered the original combo too many times, including earlier in the match. Here Cena anticipated the counter, and was ready with a flash FU before Punk knew what hit him. The counter to the counter, if you will, only one of many, and so often the only way to get ahead in these matches is to hit something suddenly, out of nowhere, before it can be identified and countered. Hold that thought.
The other way to get ahead is to bust out completely new moves that you have never used before, to once again use the element of surprise. After the epic submission countering sequence and both guys escaping each other’s finisher attempts, Cena goes for the BIG DAVE BOMB of all things and nails it. The unknown factor works. Late in the game Punk is running out of options after Cena kicks from the GTS and counters another into the STF, so he resorts to the mofo’ing PILEDRIVER on WWE TV. Nobody has been that desperate to beat Cena since Shawn at WM. And Cena STILL kicks out. He wants to win this match, he needs to win this match, he is going to win this match no matter what he has to withstand. He refuses to lose.
But be that as it may, he still needs to find a way to win. Enter: the element of surprise! From out of nowhere he busts out the CENA HURICANRANA to, I swear to God, just to confuse the utter f*ck out of Punk. Punk’s FACE when he gets up pretty much confirms this. So before he figures out what the f*ck happened he stumbles bewildered into the FU and BAM, Ball Game. A great and super genius finish to a great and super genius match.
I’ve used this phrase before, but when a match is so accessible that it has everyone, from the crowd right up to and including my mother, going out of their minds marking out, and so layered that I can write a novel about the meaning behind every intricate detail…that to me is a f*cking great match. Probably MOTY so far, and will be pretty hard to beat as far as free TV matches go this year. Wonderful pro wrestling.