For those of you who are unaware, 2011 was a pretty big year for CM Punk. After delivering one of the most impactful and exciting promos of his generation, he went on to win the WWE Championship twice, including his first victory in front of his hometown crowd of Chicago. He began a 434-day reign with the WWE Title, main evented five different pay-per-views and won three highly illustrious Slammy Awards. However, all of that could’ve been very, very different.
As CM Punk recalled for his ‘Best in the World’ documentary for WWE:
I was really leaving. This was as real as it gets. Clock strikes midnight, I’m out of here.CM Punk
Just let that sink in. If CM Punk didn’t sign the contract on the day he won the WWE Championship, he would’ve walked out. How mental is that? The entire landscape of wrestling would’ve been altered, which got me thinking: what actually would’ve happened if CM Punk left in 2011? I’ll break this up into two parts, what would’ve happened to WWE, and what would’ve happened to Punk. Starting with…
What would’ve happened to WWE?
Let’s get this out of the way early, CM Punk does not walk out with the WWE Championship at Money In The Bank. I’d like to think most people would realise this, but in case you need any proof, at Starrcast, CM Punk said:
Vince said: “What’s the finish, because if you don’t sign the finish is obviously, John up.”CM Punk – Starrcast III
So at the end of the match, CM Punk would tap out to the STF, and Chicago would be absolutely fuming. I can see Del Rio cashing in after the match to try and placate the crowd, however, this wouldn’t satisfy a ravenous Chicago crowd. They didn’t want to see John Cena lose, they wanted to see CM Punk win. And on the RAW after Money In The Bank, and most likely for the foreseeable future, the crowds would likely heckle the shows with loud CM Punk chants. John Cena would likely enter a feud with Alberto Del Rio which would last for the next few months. A trilogy of matches would occur: a singles match at Summerslam, a falls count anywhere match at Night of Champions, culminating with a Hell in a Cell match at… …Hell in a Cell. Cena would eventually come out of the feud on top, and the beatdown from Miz & R-Truth would still attack John Cena inside of the Cell, leading to the next feud, John Cena vs Awesome Truth
At Vengeance, instead of Cena facing Del Rio & Awesome Truth beating Triple H & CM Punk (we’ll get back to Triple H don’t you worry), Cena goes into a Triple Threat match against Miz & Truth. Awesome Truth, just like in real life, are being built up as credible threats to face The Rock & John Cena at Survivor Series, and even though Cena would win at Vengeance, Awesome Truth would beatdown Cena, with The Rock coming in for the save and winning the tag match at Survivor Series.
Meanwhile, Chris Jericho makes his debut around the same time, but with one major change, he’s a babyface instead of a heel. With CM Punk gone, RAW needed a new main event level babyface, and Jericho manages to slot into that role well. With John Cena & The Rock already agreed for Wrestlemania 28 & 29, Cena most likely wouldn’t be in the WWE Championship match, which would mean Jericho would likely be the babyface coming up against a heel, most likely to be either The Miz or Dolph Ziggler. For the sake of variety, let’s say Jericho faces Ziggler at Wrestlemania for the WWE Championship, I can’t see any other result than Y2J walking out of Wrestlemania as WWE Champion, and from then on you can just slot Jericho in the Punk role of holding the belt until The Rock takes it at the Royal Rumble.
Meanwhile, Triple H wouldn’t be able to beat CM Punk at Night of Champions, and with Punk gone, he would likely enter straight into a feud with Kevin Nash. Rather than having a mystery element involving stolen phones and text messages, you likely just have Nash return to attack Triple H at some point. The feud likely wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did, but it probably would’ve concluded around Survivor Series. But at least he wouldn’t have put himself over the hottest wrestler in the business! Speaking of which:
What would’ve happened to CM Punk?
Whilst there were many places that Punk could’ve gone in the aftermath of Money In The Bank, the most obvious place for him would be Ring of Honor. Punk namedropped ROH during the pipebomb, Punk left ROH to go to WWE & ROH really fit the underground aesthetic that Punk would’ve cultivated had he left. In 2011, the main storyline was between Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards, based around respect and forging a singles career for themselves. However, even though the feud they had was tremendous, there is no way that CM Punk wouldn’t have been put into the top feud after coming straight from Money In The Bank. Whilst Davey Richards didn’t have a match at Death Before Dishonor, I can see him losing the ROH World Title to CM Punk on that night, as it was the first major ROH show since Money In The Bank. In an ironic twist, I can see Punk reviving his Summer of Punk Part 1 gimmick, mocking the ROH faithful and claiming he is far better than ROH. At Final Battle, Punk would likely end up putting over Davey Richards, potentially in a Triple Threat match with Eddie Edwards. However, this wouldn’t be the only story of his 2011.
In 2011, there was a strong working relationship between Ring of Honor and a Japanese wrestling promotion. No, not that one. Despite the fact that Punk namedropped New Japan during his pipebomb, it is far more likely that he would’ve ended up at Pro Wrestling Noah instead, as the partnership between ROH and Noah was very strong in 2011. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that Punk would’ve featured in the Global League. In 2011, Noah ended up using outsider Trevor Murdoch in the tournament, despite the fact he only took part in 1 previous tour. It’s not hard to imagine Punk taking his place, especially since he expressed a desire to work in Japan. He likely wouldn’t have stayed, but it would’ve been interesting to see unique matchups against the likes of Morishima, Shiozaki & Akiyama. We may have even seen a GTS vs GTS match against KENTA. An interesting prospect indeed.
However, after Final Battle 2011, I can’t imagine Punk would’ve stayed in ROH for much longer, since there wasn’t much money in ROH at the time. However, there was another American promotion that had more exposure going into 2012, TNA.
In a world where CM Punk leaves in 2011, it’s almost undeniable that he would’ve ended up in TNA at some point. In 2012, TNA was slowly moving on from the likes of Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett and Sting in the main event, and giving pushes to wrestlers such as Austin Aries, Bobby Roode and James Storm. In this instance, you could easily see CM Punk moving to TNA. The prospect of rekindling his rivalries with the likes of Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy and Christopher Daniels; as well as starting new ones against the likes of Kurt Angle, Bobby Roode and James Storm seems like such an appealing attraction. You could easily see Punk winning the TNA World Championship and having a long reign with the belt.
Would this have turned the tide of TNA and led them to becoming on par with WWE? Probably not, but it certainly wouldn’t have hindered TNA. However, it certainly would’ve hindered Punk. Whilst Punk ended up becoming WWE Champion and walking out anyway, his success in WWE led to him joining UFC and eventually transition into movies. This almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if Punk joined TNA, and whilst he would still be a cult favourite, there is no way Punk would’ve been a household name in 2021 if he left. Whilst Punk resigning in 2011 was mutually beneficial for both parties, it certainly was more beneficial for Punk than it was for WWE.