Survivor Series 2011 was largely a two match pay-per-view when you get right down to it. While the majority of the show was forgettable, the two co-main events were set up to be picture perfect. The final match of the night pitted WrestleMania opponents John Cena and The Rock in a tag team match against The Miz and R-Truth, which is the strangest tag team I’ve borne witness to in a while. The reason for that match was simple: Set up more hype for the upcoming Cena/Rock matchup at WrestleMania 28 in Sun Life Stadium. The other main event of the evening? CM Punk finally received his one-on-one rematch for the WWE Championship that he lost three months ago at SummerSlam to the Mexican Aristocrat, Alberto Del Rio.
What’s the best way to start your match as the most over babyface in the company, in the greatest arena in the world? Bring out Howard Finkle as your personal ring announcer, of course. CM Punk decides to roll with The Fink as his announcer for the night, and it just added to not only the story, but the nostalgia of this match. Even though in recent years, Survivor Series hasn’t meant as much as a pay-per-view as it had in the past, this still has a big fight feel to it, even when watching this match five years later. With this match being the culmination to the “Summer of Punk”, it had no choice but to deliver. With all of the hype surrounding it and the stage it was on, failure was not an option. Not if WWE wanted to capture on the momentum and popularity of Punk.
Early on in the match, Punk immediately attempts the Anaconda Vice, but Del Rio runs and hides like a scolded dog. The opening moments of the match is all CM Punk. He’s simply outclassing Del Rio at every turn, even connecting with a huge outside dive and a flurry of moves. Friendly reminder, by the way, that Michael Cole is an absolutely irritating heel. Some may say that’s his job as a heel commentator, but there’s a correct and incorrect way to do heel commentary. Michael Cole’s way of doing it, obviously, is incorrect. The clashing of styles in this match is very interesting. Alberto Del Rio prefers a slow, dominating, and precise pace in which he can attack the arm of his opponent. Punk, meanwhile, prefers a furious, fast paced style. The downfall of Del Rio during this match is ultimately played around the face that Del Rio deviates from his normal game plan. Whenever he tries for some sort of diving move, or what have you, Punk is able to derail the momentum of Del Rio.
Punk comes back into the game with furious strikes, chops, and single leg dropkicks, capping off with a huge neckbreaker to try and swing some momentum back into his favor. Del Rio’s gameplan has worked to a tee thus far, however, as Punk is not able to utilize his left arm when he does a signature corner bulldog, and has to switch off to the right instead. Stalking the champion, Punk looks for his signature Go To Sleep, but the cocky, arrogant champion responds with a backstabber. After a little more back and forth, the match begins to pick up majorly, with Del Rio and Punk trading flurries of offense. Punk, paying homage to Randy Savage, goes for the top rope elbow drop and connects, even if it was the most ungraceful one I’ve ever seen. Punk calls for the Go To Sleep again, but Del Rio locks the Cross Arm Breaker on the severely injured arm of Punk. The crowd erupts into cheers and chants for the challenger, trying to will the Second City Saint back into this fight. Del Rio fights off another Go To Sleep attempt, hurling Punk straight into Ricardo Rodriguez, with Punk nailing a huge enzuigiri to knock the champion out. The finish is all academic at this point, as CM Punk locks in and wrenches back the painful Anaconda Vice, leaving Alberto Del Rio no choice but to tap out from the pain. The Summer of Punk is finally capped off with what would become a record breaking WWE Championship reign.
What a match. I will never, ever, ever accuse Alberto Del Rio (present day) of being a great worker, but this match was one of the best pieces of in-ring work by ADR in a while. He focuses on the arm with surgical precision, and Punk sold it like no tomorrow, making every bit of pain that Punk was in entirely believable. There was no bigger stage for this to happen on, and WWE captured lightning in a bottle by pulling the trigger and letting CM Punk take the reigns of the top championship in the company. It’s a shame that WWE doesn’t have the same faith they had in Punk as they do with some of their more under-utilized talent, and it’s also a shame that this match got somewhat overshadowed by a lackluster main event that was really only as good as it was due to the hype of seeing The Rock perform in a WWE ring for the first time in years.