Monday Night RAW’s length as well as its presentation has been the victim of drastic change several times over the almost thirty years run of the WWE’s titular flagship show. It was first a show designed and marketed towards children and pre-teens, during a time when the company was still aiming at them as their audience. Then, it became a more violent and sexualized version of itself, soap-opera-like in structure with cliffhanger endings to every episode, in an effort to attract older teens and adults away from their late 90’s competitor, WCW Monday Nitro. It was then WWE’s more “sports entertainment” oriented style of show for the majority of the brand split, no doubt an effort to distinguish it from the company’s second-largest show, SmackDown, which at the time was much more centered around wrestling and promos as opposed to big angles. As of now, in the year 2021, the show finds itself in its longest, most stagnant period so far, crippled by its cumbersome runtime as well as its questionable at best and unbearable at worst content, which recently seems like an attempt to sabotage itself and its stars. While Monday Night Raw has never been perfect, and at times has even been completely and utterly unwatchable, the show does also boast some of the greatest, most well-known matches in the company’s history, and for today’s piece, we will be looking at a recent example of such a match. For those interested in the first two volumes of this series from four years ago, check out part 1 and part 2. This time we look at an addition to the rivalry between John Cena and CM Punk
John Cena vs CM Punk, Dallas Texas, February 25, 2013
Here we have a remarkably interesting match, just a couple of weeks before the corresponding WrestleMania of its year, this match would also be just 11 months before CM Punk’s famous, or in some cases infamous, walkout on the company in January of 2014. Punk was also just coming off his also well-known 434-day reign as WWE Champion, which had seen its end in January of 2013 at the hands of The Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble. At that same event, John Cena would win the Royal Rumble match, obviously setting up for a rematch to their not-so “Once in a Lifetime” match at WrestleMania 28 the previous year, in Rock’s hometown of Miami, Florida in 2012. Both men had legitimate beef with The Rock and were both looking to stake their claim to a rematch against him at the company’s biggest event of the year, and redeem their respective losses to him. Punk, having earlier in the night pointed out to John that he had never cleanly, legitimately beaten him in a one-on-one match, goaded Cena into putting his WrestleMania match against The Rock on the line against him in the main event of the show, and John feeling the need to prove himself before going against The Rock again, accepted.
CM Punk entered first, then Cena, both to incredibly mixed reactions from the crowds. While Punk certainly had his supporters who were pulling for him to come out victorious, as the grown men in the crowd were certainly letting their voices be heard this night, the women and children in the crowd were no less vocal in their support of Cena, making for an electric environment with everyone in the arena focused squarely on anything the two men did. Right from the get-go, this match felt different than anything else the company was doing at the time, breaking away from the then dreaded “WWE TV Style Match” that so many had found tiresome. This match, opted instead to go for a much more old-school style, with both men trying to outwrestle one another, making every headlock, front chancery, and arm-bar look like a real struggle to assert dominance over the other, as opposed to simply trading submissions to display their move-set, or sitting in rest holds to get their wind back. In structure it is even reminiscent to an old Flair vs Funk match, where both men chain wrestle for a bit, arrange their spots, do them, then go back to the hold, and continue to do so as they increase the intensity and quantity of their offense, building the match to a crescendo. And it works marvelously; a case of what’s old being new again and feeling fresh at a time when everything the company did felt like a repeat of something else they had already done before. It is so similar to the 70’s/80’s NWA Style of wrestling in fact that one might even assume it was called on the fly, which would not be surprising given that Punk stated in a 2011 interview that their most famous match together, their WWE Championship match at Money in the Bank in 2011, was indeed all called in the ring with the exception of the finish and everything surrounding it.
Another layer of this match is that much like in many of their matches together, Punk takes great advantage of Cena’s famous “Five Moves of Doom,” disassembling his move-set and stunting it at each of its stages, making himself look like a more intelligent wrestler, and making John’s eventual comeback that much more meaningful. He cut him off first at the shoulder block stage of his comeback, dropping to the ground and allowing Cena to go soaring across the ring over his head, and to the floor below. He then cut him off at the proto-plex, hooking him by the head and taking him over with a headlock takeover into an Anaconda Vice, and finally cutting him off at the Five Knuckle Shuffle, by simply kicking John in the head when he bent over to wave his hand in Punk’s face. Finally, when Cena managed to hit his full comeback, it didn’t feel like a by the numbers, John Cena comeback, it felt like the end of a long struggle to hit his biggest moves.
In addition to this, both men had been in several matches together over the course of the last year and a half prior, and had incorporated this layer into the match as well. Both men knew each other and their offense so well, and had been so conditioned to it, that by the third quarter of the match, it was clear neither man was going to be able to beat the other using their normal methods, meaning they would have to try and pull more out of their playbook, and pushing each other to go to farther lengths than either was accustomed to at the time, including Punk hitting a banned and brutal-looking piledriver on Cena for the highlight and closest near fall of the match. Cena, not to be out-done, brought out his own new offense, with a beautiful sit-out powerbomb, along with admittedly the ugliest hurricanrana in the history of professional wrestling, which they even managed to tie into the finish, as Punk was so disoriented by the sudden and shocking display of offense from Cena, it allowed John to hit a second Attitude-Adjustment to finally pick up the victory, locking him back into his WrestleMania match with The Rock.
This would ultimately be the last time that either man faced off against one another, as both would branch off into different programs for WrestleMania, and Punk would leave the company a little less than a year later due to severe personal differences with the company. Overall, though, one can’t complain about this, considering this is probably one of the closest-to-perfect endings to a feud one could ask for. It felt as though everything both men had done in the last two years had all finally culminated in one match, and while it may not be their best match together, it is most certainly one of their better ones.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network and Peacock.
Looking to talk wrestling, pro football, or any number of sports? Head on over to the LWOS Boards to engage in conversation with fellow fans!