Vintage Vault “Pre-Viewing of Punk”: WrestleMania 23


CM Punk vs. “The Rated-R Superstar” Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. Finlay vs. Mr. Kennedy vs. Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy vs. King Booker (w/ Queen Sharmell) in a Money in the Bank Ladder match

As I had mentioned back at the Royal Rumble, there were a lot of questions as to where CM Punk was going as 2007 started and now that we were heading into WrestleMania, there were now even more questions. His TV feud with Hardcore Holly had pretty much ended by this point and he had nothing else going on as he was not currently a part of the ECW Originals/New Breed feud. However, many probably felt that he would be a part of the Money in the Bank ladder match, which was becoming a staple of WrestleMania as it was entering its third year and had so far proven successful as Edge and Rob Van Dam both cashed in and became champion. I’m sure many felt that Punk would be perfect for that match and if he was a part of it that he would win and take the next step, but at the time there were several other Superstars that were slightly higher on the totem pole and would probably win over him. This was another case like the Rumble where if he was in it, everyone just hoped that he would get a good showing and come out looking pretty strong especially in the post-WrestleMania period.

The build for the MITB match began the night after No Way out when Edge defeated RVD to qualify and then the next night on ECW, Punk would be the second to qualify by defeating Johnny Nitro. Later that week on SmackDown, King Booker qualified by defeating Kane and on the 2/26 RAW, Jeff Hardy defeated Shelton Benjamin to qualify for the match. It was also announced that instead of 6 men, this year’s edition would include 8 men as Mr. Kennedy would defeat Sabu on the 2/27 ECW to qualify. 3 nights later, Matt Hardy would qualify by defeating Joey Mercury and then Finlay would qualify by defeating Chris Benoit and MVP in a Triple Threat match. On the 3/5 RAW, Ric Flair and Carlito went to a no contest in the final qualifying match and later that week on SmackDown, Kennedy would defeat Punk clean to build momentum. On 3/12, Randy Orton would defeat Flair and Carlito in a Triple Threat to earn the last spot as his team with Edge was starting to fall apart, and the next week Orton forced Edge to compete in a battle royal to keep his spot which Edge would win. On the 3/20 ECW, Punk would defeat Hardcore Holly to build momentum and then on the 3/27 RAW, Punk would defeat Kenny Dykstra and later in the night all 8 men appeared on the Cutting Edge which ended in a brawl. The next night on ECW saw Booker, Orton, Kennedy, and Finlay defeat Edge, Punk, and the Hardys in an 8-man tag when Booker pinned Punk and on the SmackDown two nights before WM, Punk would get his win back by defeating Booker in a singles match. The build for this match was always pretty basic with the participants facing each other in various matches, but this year’s clearly focused a lot on Edge/Orton and a possible battle between the Hardys while the other four, including Punk seemed a bit like afterthoughts.

I thought this was a good choice to open the show after being the second match the previous two years, but this was a great way to fire the crowd up as Punk and the Hardys get big pops while the other 5 men had a lot of heat as heels. I also liked how all three commentary teams called the match together as they all brought their own perspective of the match with JBL in a way taking the lead in the match. All 8 men stare up at the briefcase to start and then they quickly brawl to start as Kennedy goes for the ladder, but Orton goes after him and the ring is quickly cleared out as Finlay hits a clothesline on Matt. Punk and Jeff pound on Booker on the outside as Orton and Kennedy trade blows and Finlay goes up top and wipes all five men out in a great spot. Edge brings a ladder into the ring and quickly tries to climb it only for Matt to pull him down and he knocks Edge out of the ring, and then Orton and Finlay roll in and climb the ladder while pounding on each other only for the ladder to tip over. Orton knocks Finlay out of the ring and pounds on him as Jeff sets the ladder back up and climbs it, but Kennedy tips the ladder over only for Jeff to land on his feet and knock Kennedy down. He stomps on Kennedy as Booker pulls a stepladder out from under the ring, and his reaction is priceless until Punk nails him from behind and he jams the stepladder into Booker, Orton, and Finlay. He whacks Booker in the back with it until Edge gets a kick in and he tosses the stepladder flush into Punk’s head in a nasty spot, busting him open as Edge nails Matt and Kennedy before grabbing a big ladder and bridging it between the ring and the barricade. Matt pounds on Booker and throws him into the ring as Edge attempts to suplex Punk onto the bridged ladder, but Punk blocks it and hits a suplex on the floor as Booker rams the knees repeatedly into Matt before tossing him out of the ring. Booker hits a big spinebuster on Orton and a side kick on Kennedy before hitting a pair of spinebusters on Punk and Finlay, and then he busts out a Spinaroonie to a pop only for the Hardys to sandwich him with a pair of ladders. Edge knocks Jeff down only to run into a Side Effect from Matt and the Hardys set a pair of ladders up in the corner, and Jeff goes up top as Matt puts Edge near the ladder for a double team only for Finlay to shove Jeff to the floor. Matt knocks Finlay down only for Edge to get a shot in and he hits a suplex onto the ladders in a nasty spot, and Kennedy comes in and tosses Edge out of the ring before putting the ladder on the mat and rolling Matt on top of it. Kennedy goes up top and attempts the Kenton Bomb only for Matt to move and Kennedy hits the ladder in a vicious spot, and then Jeff goes up top and hits the Swanton Bomb on Kennedy. The Hardys grab a ladder and ram it into Finlay and Orton before Matt rams it into Booker on the outside, and Matt sets it up and climbs it as does Jeff and they trade blows until Finlay shoves the ladder over and both Hardys hotshot the top rope. Finlay hits a clothesline on Orton, Punk, and Kennedy before splashing Booker in the corner, and he grabs a ladder only for Edge to come in and hit the Spear on Finlay before turning around and hitting the Spear on Orton. He then hits Spears on Booker, Kennedy, and the Hardys before attempting one on Punk only for Punk to leap over him and Edge hits the corner, and Punk grabs the ladder and puts it around his head before nailing Booker twice with it as well as Finlay. But then Edge hits the Spear on Punk which sends the ladder into Finlay and Orton in a pretty cool spot and then Edge goes outside and grabs the giant ladder in the aisle, and he brings it into the ring and sets it up before climbing it only for Orton to grab his foot. He tips the ladder over and Edge falls over the top to the outside as Jeff gets a kick in on Orton and hits a front suplex, and he sets the ladder up and climbs it as Matt puts Edge on the bridged ladder and Jeff hits a seated senton onto Edge which puts both men through the ladder in an awesome and memorable spot. In three years of this match taking place, that had to be probably the greatest spot in the history of this match as Jeff provides another memorable WM moment at the expense of Edge. Unfortunately, that move would end up taking both men out of the match as Edge would be wheeled to the back on a stretcher and Jeff would also be assisted out as the match is now at a brief stand still. The commentators did a great job of putting the spot over by talking about Jeff taking a risk like that instead of winning, questioning if that was a smart move on his part.

Matt folds up the giant ladder and tosses it at Orton who ducks it and the ladder sails out of the ring, and then Orton hits the RKO in succession on Matt, Finlay, and Kennedy before grabbing a ladder and setting it up. Punk slides another ladder into the ring and nails Orton with it before setting it up and climbing up, and Orton follows him up and they trade blows until Orton hits the RKO on Punk off the ladders in another great spot. Booker rolls in and attempts to climb the ladder himself only for Orton to follow him up, but Booker blocks the RKO and hits the Bookend off the ladders in yet another great spot. Booker resets the ladder and climbs up again as Matt rolls in and climbs the other end, pounding on him until Sharmell rolls in the ring and grabs at Matt’s foot. Matt jumps down and grabs Sharmell before setting her up for the Twist of Fate, and Booker debates going for the briefcase before deciding to save his wife and Matt pounds on him before hitting the Twist of Fate on Booker. Matt climbs up the ladder only for Finlay to tip it over and Matt lands on the mat hard, Finlay hoists Matt up and hits the Celtic Cross on the ladder in yet another nasty spot, and he sets the ladders up though is too weak to climb as Hornswoggle comes out from under the ring. He gets in the ring and climbs up himself only for Kennedy to come in and hit a kick on Finlay, and he climbs up and gets in Hornswoggle’s face as Hornswoggle nails him twice. Kennedy then puts Hornswoggle on his shoulders and hits the Green Bay Plunge off the ladder in another great spot, and Finlay grabs the ladder and tosses it at Kennedy before climbing up the other ladder. Punk goes up top and dropkicks the ladder out from under Finlay who falls to the mat, and Punk sets another ladder up and climbs it only for Kennedy to climb up himself and he pounds on Punk only for Punk to battle back and knock Kennedy to the mat. Punk reaches for the briefcase only for Kennedy to grab another ladder and jab it into Punk which sends him to the mat, and Kennedy climbs the ladder and unhooks the briefcase, winning the match and becoming Mr. Money in the Bank.

Overall, the match itself was tremendous as all 8 men worked hard and put on a great ladder match that was clearly better than the previous year, but still not quite up to the original though that is in a league all its own. There was an interesting array of talent in this match and they went all out with the big spots, and there were several memorable spots in the match that helped it stand out from the previous two MITB matches. Obviously the most memorable moment in the match was Jeff’s dive onto Edge through the ladder though Kennedy giving Hornswoggle the Plunge off the ladder was pretty great too. I thought that Kennedy was a good choice to win the match as he was clearly on the rise after a few big matches and he was seemingly on the fast track to the top. As mentioned, the commentary was really solid as Cole and JBL were carrying the action while J.R. and King were right along with them, and Tazz was carrying the action for ECW as Joey somewhat disappeared into the background. One of the issues some people have with this match is that Edge had his undefeated streak broken, but they could explain it away by saying that he didn’t finish the match and no one knows what would’ve happened if he stayed in the match. As for how Punk looked in the match, he had some good shine in the match including pulling out the ladder helicopter during the match. I’m sure many were hoping that he would win the match when he came so close at the end, but again I thought Kennedy was slightly higher on the food chain and Punk did look good in the match despite not winning. Now the question becomes what will become of Punk after this show as it looked like he was being transitioned into the ECW Originals/New Breed feud and we will see where that would end up. As for tonight, Kennedy becomes Mr. Money in the Bank and is seemingly on the fast track to the top while Punk heads back to ECW and continues on his own road.

Final Grade: ****1/2