This was for Cena’s WWE Championship.
While what happened after this match really has tarnished it in some ways, this match still exists as a great example of how much easier wrestling is when you actually makes fans invested in the characters and the stakes of a match.
This match felt like an organic clash of the titans. Two wrestlers who clearly just were bigger than the actual sport at the time of this battle.
In one corner, there was Cena, the constant presence in WWE main events for years. The man who represented establishment WWE. A man, for all of his talents, was pushed to such a level that it became hard for fans to “like” him, even as they came to appreciate him for his abilities.
In the other corner, there was CM Punk, the perpetually under-pushed star for five years in the WWE. The wrestler fans believed in despite the fact that even his biggest pushes in the company were designed to undercut his status.
This match was not about subtle in-ring storytelling and fittingly did not feature things like limb work or anything resembling it. Instead, it was about competition. It was about getting control and holding onto it for as long as you could. It was about being the last wrestler standing.
Here, it happened to be Punk. It could have easily had been Cena though. Cena could have taken the easy way out and let Vince McMahon and Johnny Ace hand him the match. Cena’s pride would not allow that though, and his actions gave Punk an opportunity to finish him.
This was a modern classic. Historically, it does not matter quite as much as it should have. This match did not signal any significant change with the Raw product. It’s been six years and the flagship show still sucks WAY more often than not.
However, you could easily make an argument that the rise of CM Punk paved the way for the rise of Daniel Bryan and the recognition from backstage players that there was a lot more to be gained from pandering to the hardcore fans than from alienating them. Without this match, we probably would not have had all the silver linings that the last six years of WWE produced. (****1/2)