Photo Credit: WWE.com
So did anyone else cringe when they announced a contract signing for the Undisputed WWE Championship match for SummerSlam? I did a little bit. Contract signings as a rule seem to follow a formula. Guys promo on each other, they sign the contract, then there's a pull-apart brawl. It's predictable, which in and of itself isn't a problem, but the execution is rarely ever done well. I can think of one contract signing off the top of my head that was done well enough to justify it, and it was the one between Batista and Rey Mysterio back in late 2009/early 2010 (I'm a bit fuzzy on when it happened). So yeah, the bar is set low to begin with.
Then last night happened, and of course CM Punk was at the epicenter of it. It's not like they deviated from the formula though. Punk and John Cena cut promos on each other, and at the end, there was a pull-apart brawl. It was all in the execution. Punk knows what buttons to push, and he has such a natural flair for working situations to get the maximum crowd reactions. It shone through again last night, with him defending himself from accusations from Triple H and Cena that he was the one who was the phony and continuing to tread the edge very finely, giving shout outs to Internet favorites such as Vladimir Kozlov1 and Chris Masters (and Harry Smith, although really, he was never an Internet favorite and he was a guy who WANTED to leave to do MMA).
But let's not give credit to Punk alone here. Cena made this work as well. It wasn't just because he went meta either. I do admit though, Cena knowingly nodding to his detractors on the web was surreal, because you don't expect John Cena, Company Man, to mention terms like workrate or heel on camera. What I was more impressed with was again, his serious, moral hero delivery. When you combine that with Punk's voice for the voiceless narrative, you get something special.
I think the capper was that neither Cena nor Punk really came to blows with each other either. It was teased, but John Laurinitis and Triple H served purposes here other than to annoy the shit out of me. Well, Johnny Ace didn't do anything to annoy me, but Trips' interruptions were really uncalled for. But then again, maybe that's the point? Maybe it's foreshadowing a heel turn that will cement him fully as Mr. McMahon for a new generation? As much as his butting in was frustrating in the moment, I'm willing to give it a shot because hey, out of the last eight weeks in this feud, only one has been a dud, so maybe they're on the right track here.
So last night's final segment proved a couple of things to me. One is that the right talent can make even the most tired and lame-sounding of segments become must-see TV. Two is that the writers really are superfluous to the whole narrative. It's guys who know how to work crowds. It's Punk, Cena and to an extent, Triple H. That's where your bread and butter is.
1 - Am I playing fast and loose by calling Kozlov an Internet favorite? Maybe looking at everything macrohistorically, but at least in recent weeks, people have been gravitating around him from where I sit.