Punk and Bryan: Heroes Into Victims
“We will turn the heroes into victims!”
In the banner for their match at Survivor Series, Punk and Bryan look more doubtful than usual, and stand in a defensive position; the Wyatt Family looks menacing and confident. Thus far, they’ve done a good job of convincing us that the beloved Punk and Bryan could be vulnerable against the Wyatts. Are Punk and Bryan heroes? At a time when fans are bored and befuddled by wrestling, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk still stand as symbols of hope.
Punk enters first, and he’s in full crowd-pleasing mode. There are a lot of finger guns and urging the fans to cheer. It’s really bumming me out – the upbeat version of CM Punk seems wrong. As soon as “Flight of the Valkyries” starts, the crowd erupts into “Yes!” chants and Daniel Bryan enters simply. He and Punk shake hands, and the lights go out.
“She speaks to me. She whispers in my dreams…” says Bray Wyatt in an easy, singsong voice. The Wyatts come down the ramp in the dark; Harper and Rowan slip into the ring while the focus is on Bray and his lantern. When the lights come up, the four combatants stand facing each other, and Bray writhes with laughter in his rocking chair. This is already better than his Summerslam match.
Right before the bell, Michael Cole refers to Punk and Bryan’s shared history on the independent wrestling circuit. I am impressed that he is allowed to speak of their lives before WWE. I thought all Superstars were born as fully-formed wrestlers with developmental contracts. DING DING!
Rowan and Bryan start with a kicking contest; Rowan powers Bryan to the mat and begins to knock him around the ring. “Daniel Bryan” chants turn into “Yes!” chants as Bryan regains the upper hand and kicks Rowan repeatedly. Tag to Punk, who continues the kicking. Remember when they used to refer to Punk’s Muay Thai martial arts background every time he kicked someone?
“CM Punk” chant, and Rowan manages to overpower him as well. Tag to Luke Harper, who Yeah Yeah Yeahs into the ring for some clobbering of his own. Michael Cole wonders who Bray Wyatt was referring to in his promo, this woman who speaks to him. Something to remember for later? Punk catches Harper with a boot to the face, and delivers a high-cross body off the turnbuckle. One count.
Punk gets in a few Ric Flair chops to the chest before Harper turns the tables for a few of his own. Tag to Rowan. Punk is beginning to look small and vulnerable, in the way he carries himself and the expression on his face. It’s pretty subtle. Rowan gets him into a brief bear hug, but Punk gets out by boxing his ears (which looks stupid). Punk tries to suplex Rowan but can’t get him up; Rowan counters by lifting Punk up into a suplex position, but Punk escapes and cripples Rowan with a stomp to back of his knee (classic Finlay move!). Punk tags Bryan.
They try to suplex Rowan together, but Rowan is able to block it and turn it into a double suplex of his own! He roars and pounds the ropes. The announce team raves about his strength, but then Cole takes it too far by comparing Rowan to Michael Myers “with that mask and his make-up and his look”. Silence.
Punk and Bryan double-team him with tandem kicks, and it makes me wonder how these guys really feel about tagging together. They look great, super smooth and relaxed. Punk doesn’t strike me as the type to put on a fake smile when he’s not feeling it. Perhaps they said, “You can either tag with Daniel Bryan, or you can wrestle Ryback again.” “Let me just load my finger guns, Vince.”
They manage to double suplex Rowan this time, and Punk gets a two count (with a huge decisive kick-out on Rowan’s part). They often cut to Wyatt in his chair, yelling encouragement like “Pain is not real!” to his family, which I love. Rowan gives Punk a tremendous body slam, methodical and old-school which is a good way to describe them in general. Rowan tags in Harper.
Lawler can’t stop musing about who’s the strangest of the Wyatts. He won’t shut up about it until someone acknowledges him. He’s that uncle who smells like greasy hair and aftershave, who everyone barely tolerates at Christmas.
Frequent tags on the part of Punk and Bryan; this time they use their count of five to share a double drop kick onto Harper off the ropes. Tag in and tag out makes another double-team legal for a count of five, and they use the time for a Hart Attack! Shout-out to the Hitman up on the expert panel. The announce team doesn’t even acknowledge it, nor most of the actual wrestling. I know this is standard operating procedure in a world where the idea of the match counts for more than the mechanics of it. But they even suck at the storytelling; meanwhile, the wrestlers are putting on a nice little match.
Two count, but this time it’s broken up by an intervening Erick Rowan. Bray’s getting fired up now too, and unseats himself. This brief ballyhoo distracts Punk just enough to eat a big boot from Harper. Two count. Rowan tags in. Rowan drops a knee onto Punk’s chest and covers him immediately for another two count. “CM Punk” chant as Rowan wears him down. Backbreaker and a two count, barely acknowledged while Cole raves about Florida Georgia Line’s performance on Raw. Sometimes I have to close my eyes, then open them again, to check that I’m actually watching a wrestling match, and not listening to a really shitty podcast. But here we are.
Tag out to Harper who shows off some awesome upper cuts on Punk’s face. The fans clap to encourage Punk. Then Harper gets Punk into the gator roll, and Rowan has a few words with his sheep mask on the ring post. The camera zooms in on it, showing the myriad scars and bits of tape holding it together. AW YEAH!! He clearly uses the same mask all the time! Cole tries to make the point that Rowan talking to the mask is strange, and JBL freaks out at him because wearing the mask to the ring is weird enough, and him talking to the mask shouldn’t be any more remarkable. Lawler cuts the tension by saying he feels “sheepish” and JBL laughs hysterically, clearly inebriated.
Big chops to Harper’s chest from a beleaguered Punk. Harper slams Punk for a two count. He grinds his foot into Punk’s hand while he tags in Rowan (that seems rather Finlay or Regal-esque as well). Rowan gets Punk into an odd loosey-goosey reverse chinlock. His body isn’t snug to Punk’s, but the hold looks painful because he’s formed a super-tight grip with his wrists and hands around Punk’s chin. Punk fights out of it, makes a quick swipe at Harper on the apron, then leaps across the ring towards his partner for the tag. Rowan catches him mid-air, Punk turns it into a sunset flip but cannot get a pin count because Rowan simply bends over and picks Punk up by his head. Cole praises Rowan for his “flat-out power”. He drives Punk into the corner, but Punk catches him with a Tornado DDT. Tag to Harper.
Everything in this match just flows. They are all at home here, and everyone seems to understand the keys to tag-team wrestling: frequent tags, knowing when and how to draw attention to yourself, and managing the pace of the match. With Bray being at ringside, one would think that he’d play a bigger role in the matches, but he rarely gets involved. I think his decision to sit and watch is a very calculated one: it’s showing confidence in his family, and it makes him looks even more powerful. He can achieve his goals without even getting up.
Hot tag to DBry! “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He does all the house-of-fire things that he does when it’s time to get everyone riled up. Air-Goat through the ring ropes onto Harper, then he throws Harper back into the ring and administers a missile drop-kick off the top for two. Harper makes it to his feet. He lifts Bryan but Bryan counters into a hurricanrana. He gets Harper up onto the turnbuckle but before he can execute another hurricanrana, Harper turns it into a back-splitting powerbomb off the middle turnbuckle. Punk breaks up the pin, and Rowan also enters to throw Punk out with great height and authority. “These. Guys. Are. Beasts.” says JBL, in his only valid contribution of the night.
“This is awesome!” the fans chant during the replay the powerbomb clip.
In comes Rowan for a big splash and a count of two on Bryan. Bryan is writhing in agony and exhaustion on the mat. Harper comes in to exact further punishment, including a catapult between the ropes. Two count. Bryan musters enough energy to pound on both of his opponents as an escape tactic, but is cut short by a freakin’ awesome half-nelson suplex. Give’r! Harper staggers towards Punk to ensure he doesn’t interrupt the pin, but Punk is ready this time. Boot to the face, and Harper is dazed on the mat.
HUGE “YES!” chant, encouraged by Punk from the apron. HOT TAG! Punk enters by jumping off the top turnbuckle and clotheslining Harper. Lots of clotheslines and a roundhouse kick off the ropes has Harper in the vulnerable position now. Punk pushes Rowan off the apron so that he cannot interfere. He climbs to the top for a big elbow drop onto a prone Harper, but changes direction at the last second and leaps onto Rowan and Wyatt on the floor. NOW he does the elbow drop onto Harper for two. “Randy Savage” chant, as Punk gestures for the GTS. Rowan intervenes, only to be drop-kicked by Bryan out of nowhere (a classic tag-team gesture that does the thrilling trick). Punk manages a slow and dreary GTS on Harper, but gets the three count nonetheless.
Bray punches the barricade in frustration, then regains his composure. He stares down Punk and Bryan from the outside of the ring. He removes his fedora and Hawaiian shirt, returning to his cocky, playful self. He approaches the apron, but is met with Bryan leading a “Yes!” chant. Punk joins in, looking both bewildered and amused at once. Bray quickly backs down, and the music changes from Punk’s (who made the pin) to Bryan’s (who has the upper hand for crowd reaction). In an eerie nod to my distaste for his finger-gunning, Punk holsters his Peter Pointers and the match is over.
So what now? In a night full of predictable endings, and in a feud with so much potential, why did the good guys win this match? It didn’t make too much sense to me, until the next night on Raw when their re-match ended in a double DQ, the Wyatts carried off Daniel Bryan, and The Shield attacked Punk. It was better to have Punk and Bryan going into Raw looking strong, so that the attacks would have a greater impact. And now we have further evidence that The Shield and the Wyatt Family have common interests.
This was a solid bout – the Wyatts needed opponents with big personas to counter their mystique; Punk and Bryan fit the bill. In my eyes, it proved that the Wyatt Family is capable of playing in the big leagues. With the heroes now being victims, this story can really begin.