It's almost midnight as I start writing this. Three more of these midnights will elapse between now and my first exam. I need to write just to keep my mind from being consumed by it.
For the first time in a long, long time, I see a story within a story with a main-event angle on WWE. CM Punk is in a singles match for John Cena's WWE title at Money in the Bank on July 17 in Punk's hometown. His contract expires the same night. If he loses, he's gone. If he wins, he's gone...with the title.
Punk's contractual status at this moment is unknown. It is popularly held that the decision to draft Beth Phoenix to Raw in early summer as well as his recent booking have been attempts to get him to sign an extension. The first is no extraordinary concession, but the second is, if you take into account the fact that you need to go back almost fourteen months for his last pay-per-view win (he was admittedly out with a hip injury for part of last winter, but that still amounts to nine straight unsuccessful pay-per-view matches since he beat Rey Mysterio at Extreme Rules in April 2010).
Over this time, however (and especially since his return from injury this year), he has been unquestionably the best character on WWE programming and arguably the best in-ring performer as well. WWE's efforts to get him to re-sign have been sincere - it would make little sense for them to lose a character fast approaching (if not already at) the peak of his career (in line with the mid-/late-30s theory).
Would he benefit from walking away from it? Possibly - it is popularly known that he has been weighed down by more than five years of being on the road with the company and, without the considerable advantages of having a long-term contract (the kind to which Cena and Randy Orton are both tied) to bank on as security and rely on for dependable upper-card booking (Kendra Bunyon suggested yesterday on WNW that this could potentially be his own fault, for not consciously selling WWE creative on possibilities with character going forward, over a period of time), he might just be thankful for a break, whether temporary or permanent.
But it's the latter part of that lack of advantage that rankles - clearly WWE do not see him being in the same category as Cena and Orton. If they did, the question of him re-signing wouldn't arise. Could he be frustrated enough with his inability to acquire this status that he would consider leaving indefinitely a la Chris Jericho in 2005 or Dave Batista last year? Absolutely. But surely the WWE realised this at least post-Wrestlemania (where his match with Orton was, from a technical standpoint, the best match by a considerable distance), hence the recent upturn in booking - three clean wins over Mysterio on Raw either side of Capitol Punishment, a pinfall over Cena on the go-home Raw to Capitol Punishment, a #1 contender's match victory over Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio this week and now the main-event at Money in the Bank. Surely, that would convince anyone, even if they were as badly booked as he has been over the last fourteen months or more (indeed, to find his last pay-per-view win prior to April 2010, you need to go back to the Montreal Screwjob ending at Breaking Point in September 2009, which hardly qualifies as a win), that WWE creative were finally turning the corner on you?
It's evident that a decision has been made - there's no way a kayfabe contract expiration storyline would be run if his contractual status was still legitimately uncertain. Yet, we don't know what that decision is. And at the same time, inside the ring, he is displaying something truly phenomenal - an ability to get over as a face with a significant number of fans despite a heel character and heel booking. (The second factor here is critical because Orton did the same last year, but without the heel booking.) Which is why the win over Cena on the go-home Raw to Capitol Punishment was so significant - the crowd turned from dueling the 'let's go, Cena' with 'Cena sucks' to dueling it with 'CM Punk'. Loud and clear, for everyone to hear. The same trend was picked up and amplified in this week's #1 contender match from Baltimore. Louder, clearer.
That's two wins in two weeks (three, if you include the pay-per-view win over Mysterio, which I haven't yet seen) over the two most clear-cut faces on the roster, with the crowd solidly behind him in both instances. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that in Rosemont on July 17, the heel and face roles will be reversed and, short of changing the match, there's nothing WWE can do to stop that from happening. However, they don't seem to be trying. And by not trying, they suddenly have more of my attention than they have with anything they have tried in the recent past.
July 17. Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois. I wouldn't miss it for anything.