Splitting off into the diverse legacy of ECW now…
Subject 58: CM Punk
I suggested months ago that it’d be interesting to see where Punk had gotten to after his summer revival, and now he’s competing at Survivor Series for his latest WWE championship opportunity, having become a fixture of the main event scene.
Punk’s journey began with Ring of Honor, where he was an acknowledged attraction who was probably Samoa Joe’s biggest rival, but that feud didn’t lead directly into his first world title. For whatever reason, Joe dropped the title to Austin Aries, who held it for half a year, and only then did Punk capture the belt, holding it for a couple months during the summer of 2005 (before dropping it to James Gibson, otherwise known as Jamie Noble).
Punk resurfaced for WWE’s ECW in 2006, quickly emerging as a fan favorite for a brand that tried to combine veterans with emerging stars (almost a precursor to NXT in some respects). Many expected that Punk would become champion before long, but Rob Van Dam dropped the ECW title to Big Show, who eventually lost it to Bobby Lashley, and then the intended switch to Chris Benoit was interrupted by tragedy, and at Night of Champions in June of 2007, John Morrison defeated Punk to capture the vacant championship.
Throughout the summer, Punk and Morrison battled over the title. The fans who’d been eager for months to see Punk represent ECW as champion became restless and lost interest, even when Punk finally emerged victorious in September, setting off a long reign that included PPV defenses, including the improbable fan-selected challenger of The Miz at Cyber Sunday (which led to a three-way dance at that year’s Survivor Series along with Morrison, and was probably the reason Miz and Morrison became a tag team). When Chavo Guerrero beat Punk for the title early in 2008, it opened the door for him to win Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 24, switch to Raw, cash in the briefcase against Edge, and capture his first World championship.
Some observers were unhappy that Punk’s method for success was exactly the same as how Edge himself had done it in 2006 (and again in 2007) (though the pattern has since proven that everyone except RVD and likely Daniel Bryan will handle their guaranteed contract in this manner), stealing the victory and title from an incapacitated opponent. PPV title defenses against Batista and JBL followed, before a combination of Randy Orton and Chris Jericho ended the run at Unforgiven.
Punk again won Money in the Bank, at WrestleMania 25 in 2009, which led to PPV battles against Kane and Umaga, and then cashing in against Jeff Hardy (who had just captured the World title) at Extreme Rules following the main event. Their feud continued for months, with Hardy winning the title back at Night of Champions, and then Punk once more reclaiming it in a sensational TLC match to main event Summer Slam.
As champion on Smackdown, Punk didn’t necessarily have a storyline. He defeated Undertaker in worked controversial fashion at Breaking Point, but lost to him (and lost the title) in a Hell in a Cell match in the PPV of the same name. He began forming his Straight Edge Society, building on the cult of personality he’d developed in the feud against Hardy, and this led to a prominent match against Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania 26 in 2010, a protracted feud, and then another war, this time with Big Show, which spanned Summer Slam and Night of Champions.
The SES imploded in time, and Punk, after a successful tenure as color commentator on Raw, assumed leadership of the Nexus from Wade Barrett in the early weeks of 2011, initiating feuds with John Cena and Randy Orton, which led to a match with Orton at WrestleMania XXVII. It wasn’t until his WWE contract was expiring that Punk truly seemed to become inspired, however, bragging that he would defeat Cena at Money in the Bank (now a PPV), capture the WWE title (for the first time) and then gracefully disappear (as champion), angry that the politics of the company had so often kept him down (you could actually argue that throughout his career, whether in ROH, ECW, or WWE, he was never seen by the front desk as someone the fans would rally around).
As you may be aware, Punk did win at Money in the Bank, much to the surprise of WWE, which had counted on an Alberto Del Rio program against Cena in the closing months of the summer, and so all three were folded into a single program, until we’ve reached this point, where Punk and Del Rio will meet for the WWE title at Survivor Series. Win, lose or draw, CM Punk has now solidified himself as one of the top names in the company, and in the wrestling world as a whole, someone even TNA would take seriously (did you know, for instance, that he worked for them in their early days?), and will probably permanently reside in the main event scene.
Subject 59: Christian.
Emerging onto the world scene as Edge’s tag team partner in 1998, Christian was a key component of WWE programming through 2005, when he grew dissatisfied with his lack of career progress, and decided to make the jump to TNA, where he was almost immediately crowned a world champion, which led to his crowning and extended run as ECW champion upon his WWE return in 2009, and finally string of World title victories in 2011.
Edge had been primed to compete as WWE’s newest sensation upon his debut, but he almost immediately paired with Canadian friend Christian, who was booked as his brother, and together the two became one of the most prominent aspects of the company’s tag team boom in the Attitude Era, even though much of their early work was as members of Gangrel’s Brood or Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. It wasn’t until the Hardy Boys emerged in the fall of 1999 that Edge & Christian truly broke out, especially after the acquisition of the Dudley Boys in early 2000, which led to all three teams making history at WrestleMania 2000, and then over and over again as they established the TLC (tables, ladders and chairs) style that punctuated the new millennium.
By 2001, Edge once more transitioned into a solo career, which might have been a bad thing for Christian (traditionally, only one member of a successful tag team goes on to enjoy singles success), but he capitalized on these expectations by becoming a petulant heel, competing against Edge during the Alliance angle over the Intercontinental championship, and against “Diamond” Dallas Page for the European championship at WrestleMania X8 in 2002.
While his prominence as a competitor struggled to form, Christian began working on his persona, which was given a big push when Steve Austin began referring to him as a “creepy little bastard,” or CLB. He started referring to his fans as “Peeps,” and formed a working relationship with Chris Jericho. He was a key player in the revival of the Intercontinental championship in 2003, but his greatest moment came at WrestleMania XX, when his secret alliance with Trish Stratus at the end of an epic match against Jericho, which led to a feud that stretched throughout 2004, in which he gained a key ally in Travis Tomko.
Still, like Jericho WWE seemed to lose interest in Christian by 2005. Where Jericho chose to take a sabbatical, Christian made the jump to TNA, debuting at Genesis on 11/13/05, the same day fans learned of the death of Eddie Guerrero. Christian marked the occasion with an emphatic in-ring promo. He became a world champion for the first time at Against All Odds in 2006, defeating Jeff Jarrett, holding the title for four months before dropping it back to Jarrett at Slammiversary. He recaptured the title at Final Resolution in 2007, after the much-touted acquisition of Kurt Angle, and defeated his fellow WWE alum at Against All Odds. Tomko resurfaced as one of Christian’s allies during this time, though it wasn’t quite enough; Angle finally beat Christian in a five-man “King of the Mountain” match at that year’s Slammiversary, snapping a near-six-month reign. He remained a featured member of the TNA roster, until he made his WWE return in 2009.
Many fans expected Christian to be revealed as Jeff Hardy’s mysterious assailant (actually revealed to be Jeff’s brother, Matt), but he instead debuted as part of ECW’s roster. He competed in Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 25, and then defeated Jack Swagger to become ECW champion at Backlash. After a program that saw Tommy Dreamer finally hold the title for more than a few minutes, Christian regained the ECW belt at Night of Champions, and holding it until ECW folded in 2010, dropping it on the brand’s final show to Ezekiel Jackson.
In the closing months of 2010, Christian became one of Alberto Del Rio’s first WWE rivals, a position that led to a lucrative opportunity in 2011, after Del Rio had feuded with Edge, whose retirement left a power vacuum on Smackdown. Christian quickly took advantage, defeating Del Rio for the World title and entering into a feud with Randy Orton that continued for much of the year. Clearly, success in TNA was something Christian relished, but prominence in WWE was probably all the more sweet for “Captain Charisma.”
Subject 60: RVD
Rob Van Dam was the AJ Styles of the original ECW, but only ever achieved championship success with the TV title. He was the biggest winner in the 2001 Invasion angle in WWE, capturing an incredibly high profile as a member of the Alliance, where he became a rival to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, encouraging fans to believe that he would become a regular member of the main event scene, something he flirted with for the next two years before settling into a more utilitarian role. Pro Wrestling Illustrated was so energized that the magazine made him their top star in the 2002 PWI 500 despite having failed to capture a world title, not just during their grading period, but in his professional career at any time to that point.
RVD won Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 22 in 2006, and famously called his shot for ECW One Night Stand three months later, in front of a hometown crowd, who heavily favored him over John Cena. He was considered both WWE and ECW champion at that point, since WWE had just decided to launch a full-time ECW brand. RVD lent instant credibility to the experiment. Unfortunately, this particular phase of the experiment ended fairly quickly, with Edge defeating RVD for the WWE title and Big Show capturing the ECW soon after RVW was caught driving under the influence.
Incredibly, he stuck around WWE for about another year, long enough to help represent the ECW Originals at WrestleMania 23 in 2007 and defeating Randy Orton at One Night Stand, and then going on an extended sabbatical.
He was one of several stars to show up for the dawn of the Hulk Hogan era in TNA at the start of 2010, and ended AJ Styles’ lengthy run as world champion at Sacrifice, holding onto the title through the Hardcore Justice PPV that saw another ECW revival, then being forced to relinquish it in October. It was a return that seemed out of nowhere, but fans were happy to discover that he’d hardly missed a beat. Though he seemed to have finally achieved all his goals in WWE and then just as quickly burn away his prospects, RVD came back as a fan favorite in TNA and a world champion, finally fulfilling his potential.
Subject 61: Team 3D.
One of the most prominent, if not the most dominant, tag teams of the modern era, Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley debuted as just another couple of members in the eccentric Dudley family in ECW. It wasn’t until they debuted in WWE and started putting everyone through tables that they put the whole world on notice.
Without the perfect rivals in Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boys, it’s still doubtful that the Dudleys would have gained that reputation. In matches that went well beyond expectations, they were able to showcase their unique style, one that transcended their ECW origins, where the hardcore style was commonplace, demonstrating their ability to work against diverse opponents. The 2002 brand extension split them apart for the first time, but by 2004 they were reunited and served as one of Eddie Guerrero’s toughest challenges as WWE champion, and even proving difficult for Undertaker to handle.
All that would have been well and good, but the Dudleys made the jump to TNA in 2005, competing at the same Genesis PPV where Christian announced his arrival, renaming themselves Team 3D and further adding to their impressive tag team championship tally. In 2010 their ride came to an end at Turning Point when they failed to defeat the Motor City Machine Guns, and Bubba transformed himself into Bully Ray, rejecting Devon and ultimately becoming a key member of the Immortal stable.
In an era where even prominent and highly successful tag team combinations are temporary and last only a few years at most, Team 3D was not only the exception, but a cornerstone of the division in three different promotions. It’s unlikely their likes will be seen again anytime soon.