What if…CM Punk took the Ring Of Honor World Title to WWE?

0 Submitted by on Thu, 27 December 2012, 15:32
 
Text By Jed Shaffer

What if…CM Punk took the Ring Of Honor World Title to WWE?

(Author’s note: This story requires you, Loyal Reader, to allow one minor suspension of disbelief with me: a working relationship between WWE and Ring Of Honor. If you can get past that caveat, then we should be fine.)

Our story begins on August 13th, 2005, at Ring Of Honor’s “Punk: The Final Chapter” event. CM Punk, the reigning ROH World Champion, put the promotion in a state of panic two months prior, when he won the company’s top prize, then promptly announced his intentions to sign with WWE and take the ROH World Title with him. Punk has bested all challengers, including a four-way elimination match the night before with Christopher Daniels, James Gibson and former champ Samoa Joe. The aptly titled event is, indeed, Punk’s final date, and his former friend, Colt Cabana, is the only thing standing in his way of leaving the company championless …

Aug. 13, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Punk: The Final Chapter”:

For 25 minutes, Colt Cabana has raged and fought and bled to defend Ring Of Honor’s sanctity. He has tried to rescue the ROH World Championship from a living oblivion. For 25 minutes, he has kicked and clawed and suplexed and poured everything he has and then some into stopping CM Punk from leaving the ring, the arena, and the company, with their top prize. With their best-of-three-falls match tied at a fall apiece, and the entire locker room peering out from the back or on the ramp, Colt nails a Shining Wizard; Punk is knocked stupid. Colt, fired up from a crowd that senses the Summer Of Punk, the long, dark nightmare perpetrated by this “icon” of the company, is about to draw to a close, bends over to pick up Punk.

But Punk is playing possum; he reaches up and pulls Colt into a small package. Colt rolls through and reverses the pin attempt, but before the ref can count to two, Punk shifts his weight and, out of the referee’s line of sight, hooks a foot on a rope for leverage. There is no reversal. And there is no kickout.

The crowd deflates instantaneously. Every wrestler watching feels their jaw hit the floor. Everyone waits for the decision to be reversed on a technicality, or for the ref to restart the match. Even a WrestleMania IX ending … there’s been rumors of the return of Bryan Danielson, and now would be the optimum time for the American Dragon to step up to the plate. Anything.

But none of these pipe dreams come to fruition.

CM Punk, who realized his dream of becoming ROH World Champion not two months beforehand, is now about to keep his promise to himself. He is not contractually bound to Ring Of Honor anymore. He has made it perfectly clear he has no compulsion to honor the company where honed his game enough to get his WWE deal. He has made no promises, save that one most despicable vow: to deliver the belt to Vince McMahon live on Raw.

Seeing that more then one of the wrestlers standing by the entranceway and the back of the crowd are getting itchy–and that not a single one of them isn’t midway into thermonuclear meltdown–Punk scoops up the belt and runs in the opposite direction, shoving resistant audience members out of the way as he books for the front door to the arena. Homicide, the man who would have the next title shot, starts to give chase, but Punk has too much of a lead. When cameras catch up, he is jumping in his rental car and tearing out of the parking lot, leaving Homicide, and Ring Of Honor, in his rearview mirror … leaving Ring Of Honor without a champion … and a perhaps-unanswerable question: now what?

Aug. 15 and 18, ’05: WWE Raw/Smackdown:

As The Heartthrobs make their way to the ring for a handicap match against Big Show, a commotion in the crowd causes cameras to swing around and track the happenings. Dressed in a fine suit, with hair slicked back and eyes shrouded by stylish sunglasses, a young man makes his way to an open seat in the front row. On his shoulder, he carries a championship belt, in the center of which is emblazoned three red letters: ROH. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler make mention of this young man obviously being a wrestler from another organization, trying to get himself over at the expense of the WWE, like ECW had done eight years prior. Neither Show nor the Heartthrobs pay him any mind; the young man, to his credit, does nothing to disturb the match, although he does chuckle at the in-ring action, shaking his head as if in disdain.

As Raw winds through Eugene’s problems with Kurt Angle, the Diva Search and a second handicap match (this one with John Cena, Chris Jericho and Carlito), the young man continues to watch with bemused detachment. It isn’t until Rob Conway comes to the ring to face The Hurricane that he finally makes a move; he stands up, vaults over the barricade and starts towards the ring. Security swarms to prevent him from entering the ring, but Vince McMahon surprises everyone by coming out and telling security to back off. Vince gestures for the young man to enter the ring, but Hurricane gets a microphone and protests.

“Mr. McMahon,” says the super-hero wannabe, “this citizen, this man, he isn’t even a member of the Raw roster! You cannot simply allow an outsider to–”

With a nod from McMahon, CM Punk blasts Hurricane in the back of the head with the ROH World Championship belt. Conway cheers and extends a hand to Punk; instead of a handshake, he gets a face full of Punk’s belt. Vince applauds and enters the ring, extending a hand in Punk’s direction. Punk half-heartedly returns the gesture and nearly gets his arm shaken out of socket by an enthusiastic Vince. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Vince boasts, “may I present to you, the newest signee of World Wrestling Entertainment … CM Punk!”

The music of Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff stops any further discussion. The GM comes down to the ring and gets a microphone. “Mr. McMahon,” says Bischoff, trying to sound as conciliatory as possible, “is there a reason I wasn’t informed of this? I am the General Manager of Raw. I should have some say in the booking of my show, especially in regards to new, unproven talent.”

Punk eyes Bischoff suspiciously at this last statement, but Vince gets his thoughts in before Punk can say anything. “Eric, I didn’t mean to step on your toes. This–”

“I think I can speak for myself, Vince,” says Punk with more then just a little attitude. Vince’s head whips around, looking Punk dead in the eyes. “And as far as what I got to say, after watching the show tonight … seeing big, lumbering idiots like Big Show, and handicap matches and whatnot, I gotta say I’m already regretting my WWE contract. I came here with the intent of facing the very best. This is the WWE, after all; the global leader in this industry. It’s like ‘PlayStation’ and video games, or ‘Kleenex’ and bathroom tissue; World Wrestling Entertainment is synonymous with wrestling, world-wide.” Punk holds up the belt on this shoulder. “This belt here in my hand says I’m the world’s greatest wrestler. I’m elite. I’m better then every single one of you. I won this in some piss-ant, two-bit, circus-tent promotion, a promotion I dominated from the day I entered it. They didn’t have a single wrestler who could take this belt off my waist before I walked out their front door, to come here and work for you, a job that you came and offered me, I might add. That means you recognized my superiority … and you bring me here, and you show me this garbage? You waste my time, showing me this pedantic garbage?”

“Listen, boy–”

Punk’s glare is enough to silence Bischoff. “Why you don’t go get Verne a warm-up on his coffee?” snaps Punk. “This show sucks, from top to bottom, and the buck stops with you. I have no more interest in signing with Raw then I do going back to that sweat-shop, hellhole company I took this belt from.” Punk looks Vince dead in the eyes. “I’m giving you another chance, Vince. I’ll be at Smackdown. I’m willing to forgive this horrible first impression you showed me tonight. But I better see one hell of a better show on Smackdown, if you wantthis belt I have to go in your trophy case.”

Before Bischoff and Vince can say a word, Punk drops out of the ring, hops over the barricade and leaves the arena through the crowd, leaving the Raw GM and the WWE Chairman–along with the gathered crowd–in a state of shock.

Punk’s arrival on Smackdown stands apart from his arrival on Raw; instead of being a nameless invader, he is given the five-star treatment from the word go. A limo drops him off, and he is escorted, via WWE security, to his luxury suite, where Smackdown GM Teddy Long is waiting for him.

“What’s up, playa?” Long says enthusiastically, grasping Punk’s hand for a shake. “Welcome to Smackdown, the real A-show of the WWE! If there’s anything you need, just ask and I’ll–”

“Yes, I need to see one good reason why I should commit myself to your show, Teddy,” says Punk with a sneer.

“Playa, you gonna get way more then one reason! Smackdown’s got the best wrestlers, the finest Divas, the best–”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Punk takes a seat in a luxurious recliner, the ROH Championship sitting in his lap. “I assume I can get something to drink here.”

“Of course! What kind of beer do ya drink?”

Punk’s blank stare makes Teddy take a step back. “I’m straight-edge.”

“I can see that, playa! That’s a damn close shave you got going–”

“No, you idiot. Straight-edge. No booze. No drugs. Totally clean and sober. You know what? Just leave and run your show.” Teddy tries to speak, but Punk says again; “Leave.” Teddy nods and leaves Punk to watch Smackdown.

Over the course of the next two hours, cameras return to catch Punk’s reactions to the night’s matches and happenings; from Eddie Guerrero’s vow to reclaim custody of his son, Dominic, in a ladder match at SummerSlam, to a new Legion of Doom crushing two prelim workers, a preposterous fight between Funaki and #1 contender JBL, and an interview segment with Christian and the Mexi-cools, everything hits Punk with the same weight. He shows no interest, no excitement, no anything. Finally, the main event, a match between Randy Orton and Chris Benoit, bows; Punk actually begins to show interest as the master technician takes it to the cocky youngster. But Benoit falls sucker to a distraction from recent nemesis Orlando Jordan, allowing Orton to nail his RKO finisher for the pinfall victory. The lights black out, and when they come out, The Undertaker is in the ring with Orton, and proceeds to lay waste to the third-generation star.

As The Undertaker decimates Orton, Teddy Long opens the door to Punk’s luxury suite. “CM Punk! My man!” he says with exuberance. “Now that was a show, was it not?”

Punk raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, that was a ‘show’, alright.” Punk starts to walk past Long, heading for the door. “If you’ll excuse me–”

“But … I mean, do we got a deal? Are you ready to join the winning team, the A-show, here on Smackdown?”

Punk eyes Long for a few seconds. His lip is curled in disdain, the look in his eyes one of disgust that he can’t be bothered to even thinly disguise. “You’ll be hearing from me on Monday,” he says and exits the suite.

Aug 20, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Night Of The Grudges 2″:

The week leading up to Night Of The Grudges 2 is one of great anticipation and nervousness for both Ring Of Honor fans and wrestlers alike. Articles on ROH’s website question the future of the company having a champion in another promotion, and if the value of the ROH World Title could survive a break in continuity if Punk is stripped. There is open speculation on if Punk might return to defend, but only the most naive believe he’d deign his former promotion with his presence.

Nevertheless, ROH marches forward and advertises a Punk vs. Homicide title match as the main event if Punk shows up … and a Pure Title match of Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels if he doesn’t (with Homicide taking on James Gibson and Spanky in a three-way under the same circumstances). When the triple-threat, scheduled to be the last match before the intermission, takes place, the hopes of everyone in the building come crashing down.

When the lights go down for the second half of the show, the crowd is noticeably restrained in their reaction. Ring announcer Bobby Cruise’s enthusiastic welcome-back fails to get the crowd riled like it normally would; the loss of the ROH Championship, and perhaps the lifeblood of the company, is too much for everyone to cope with.

However, the crowd comes alive for some very familiar, if out of place, music; the screech of whitewalls precedes a crunchy power chord, ushering in former WWF Champion and hardcore legend Mick Foley. Foley politely lets the crowd wear through their chants of “welcome back” and “he’s hardcore”, and runs through a couple cheap pop statements before getting down to brass tacks.

“I didn’t come here to hear you guys cheer my name, though, much as I appreciate it. I asked the owner, Cary, if I could have a few minutes of time tonight to address a little problem. You see, I’ve worked for a lot of wrestling promotions in my life, and the number of promotions that I can honestly say didn’t leave me feeling beat up, worn down, disrespected and just … well … pardon my French, but downright shit on. For every Paul Heyman, who treated me like a man, there’s been Eric Bischoffs, and Vince McMahons, and the IWA; people taking advantage of me, raping my wallet, and grinding my self-respect into the dirt. But this company, Ring Of Honor … there’s none of that. This is a company of honorable men, from the bottom to the top. I came out here a while back and gave my endorsement to this company, because it’s how a wrestling promotion should be run, and I still believe it. This is the best wrestling company on Earth, they have the best wrestlers on Earth, and dammit, you people are the best fans on Earth!” The audience applauds vigorously and gives Foley another chant; this one, however, Foley waves quiet. “Hang on, I really need your guys’ attention right now, because I’m making a point here, and it’s important. See, everything I said was true, even when I did some things that people didn’t agree with a few months ago … but there was one person that didn’t show this company, or you fans, the same respect, and that person is CM Punk. I came here on official business from the WWE, as Vince McMahon’s representative, and he did everything he could to weasel out of defending this company’s championship belt. Vince McMahon, you see, doesn’t want wrestlers to come to his company with baggage from their old employer, and that’s what CM Punk has brought to World Wrestling Entertainment. He brought baggage, and he did it by stabbing everyone in this building in the back. So two days from now, live on Monday Night Raw, I’m going to do this company a favor; I am going to confront CM Punk, and if I have to drag him back by his ear and make him defend that title until he loses it, dammit, I–”

Foley’s words are drowned out by the entrance music of the leader of The Rottweilers, Homicide. The fiery street fighter wastes no time in getting right in Foley’s face, making Foley take a step back. “Who the fuck you think you are?” Homicide barks out. “Dis here was s’pose to be my night. That piece of shit coward runs off to your WWE, and he hides behind Vince’s skirt … he don’t want a piece of the Notorious 187 … and neither do you!”

Foley puts his hands up in surrender. “Hey, listen … I’m not here to start anything, especially not with you. I’m just here to help out Ring Of Honor in their time of–”

“Ring Of Honor don’t need your fucking help, fat-boy! Dis is Ring Of Honor’sproblem, not yours. If anyone’s gonna take care of ROH’s business, that’s gonna be me, not some sucka from WWE pretending to be down! So take your fat ass, jump in your limo, and go back to suckin’ off McMahon before I open you up!” Homicide reaches in his waistband and pulls out a fork. Foley immediately backs off. “What, I thought you was hardcore! I thought you was extreme! C’mon, ya tubby son of a bitch! Stick your nose in my business. I’m beggin’ ya, make me fu–”

Before Homicide can finish his threat, Matt Hardy races out and starts brawling with Homicide. Foley hangs back as Hardy and Homicide, no strangers to each other, trade blows until Hardy snap off a Side Effect. Before Hardy can use the captured fork, though, he’s speared almost clean out of his boots by a new invader, having run through the crowd: Edge. Edge helps Homicide get up and grabs a microphone.

“This is your precious Ring Of Honor, Matt? This is how you paid the bills after Vince fired your ass?” Edge picks up the fork and tosses it to Homicide; Foley tries to step in, but Edge is a step ahead, and drops Foley with a DDT. “Where’s your brother, Matt? Where’s your friends, Matt? Where’s your woman?” Edge gets in Matt’s face as Homicide pulls him to his feet. “Your brother’s slumming it in Orlando, and I stole your woman! And friends … in this company, Matt, you don’t have friends! You’re an outsider! You’re not wanted here! This is what you’re so proud of?” Edge grabs Matt and turns him to face Homicide. Homicide comes off the ropes and jams the fork into Matt’s head, tearing open his skin. “After I beat your ass tomorrow night and send you packing again, this is what you have to look forward to, Matt! A lifetime on the outside! Welcome home, Matt!” Edge turns to Foley and adds a couple stomps, then says; “Do yourself a favor, Foley: stay home with your ugly little accidents you call children. It’s already bad enough to see how much you’ve pissed on your legacy with your yearly comebacks that you always lose. Don’t make it worse by starting a war you can’t finish.” Edge tosses away the microphone and leaves through the crowd again, leaving Homicide to do a little more damage to the prone Matt Hardy and Mick Foley before security comes in and drags Homicide away.

Aug. 21, ’05: WWE SummerSlam:

Wincing in pain with every step, Mick Foley enters Vince McMahon’s office. Vince regards Foley with visible contempt and holds up a hand to cut off Foley before he can even get out a syllable. “Give me one good reason, Mick, why I shouldn’t call security and have you tossed out on your ass for that stunt you pulled. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tear your contract in half for that stunt you pulled last night.” Mick opens his mouth, but Vince steamrolls over him. “Yeah, I heard. You went to another promotion–another promotion, Mick. You went there, as a contracted WWE performer, and acted on your own behalf, sticking your nose in another promotion’s business. Do you realize how many lawsuits I could’ve faced if you injured one of their performers? Do you realize I could sue you for breach of contract? You didn’t get my clearance to go there! We’re trying to impress this man, not inspire him to leave! Their title situation is none of our business, Mick!”

Finally, Mick manages to silence Vince by stabbing a finger in his chest. “That’swhere you’re wrong, Vince,” he says, his voice as stern and lethal as a blade. “You have a responsibility. You ordered CM Punk to defend his title while he was still in Ring Of Honor when he balked. You hired him, and he still holds their belt. You can’t allow him to be on your show and bury that championship!” Vince waves off Mick, but Mick grabs Vince’s arm and spins him around. “Isn’t that why you screwed Bret Hart, to keep him from doing to the WWE Championship what Punk is doing to Ring Of Honor’s? Do you forget how it felt when Alundra Blayze did it on Nitro?”

If Vince has heard a word Mick said, he doesn’t show it. Vince rips his arm away, fuming mad, getting in Mick’s face. “You do not lay your hands on me.”

“If I have to beat some sense into you, Vince, dammit, I will!” says Mick, looking just as furious as Vince. “You’re about to allow an employee to denigrate another company’s championship belt–a company that’s no threat to you–and the worst part of all is, CM Punk is just using you! If he doesn’t have respect for that championship, what makes you think he has respect for you or this company? What makes you think that, if he wins a championship here, he won’t turn around and take it to another company?”

Vince glares at Mick, but says nothing. Finally, after a few long, tense seconds, Vince spits through clinched teeth; “This is none of your concern, Mick. I will handle it.”

Mick eyes Vince for a moment, measuring whether the fight is worth the effort. “I’ll be at Raw tomorrow, Vince,” Mick finally promises. “You can’t stop me from doing the right thing.” Mick turns and leaves.

Vince’s methods of impressing the controversial Punk is booking him in a triple threat with two former champions for a debut match at SummerSlam. Unfortunately for Punk, the two former champions are not nearly as impressive as their status would indicate, as his opponents are Scotty 2 Hotty and Rob Conway. Before the referee can signal the timekeeper to ring the opening bell, Punk grabs the announcer’s microphone and shocks the audience by announcing the match will be for the Ring OF Honor World Championship. Punk then proceeds dissect both men, setting a WWE record for the fastest victory in a triple-threat match. Vince strides down the aisle to meet Punk in the ring, but Punk sneers at Vince’s hand and walks down the aisle, passing by Mick, who glares at the ROH Champion as he walks by.

Aug. 22, ’05: WWE Raw:

Both Teddy Long and Eric Bischoff join Vince McMahon in the ring in anticipation of CM Punk and his decision on what show he will sign with. Vince takes to the microphone and gives Punk an intro worth of royalty; “Ladies and gentlemen, General Managers Teddy Long and Eric Bischoff, along with myself, are thrilled to be able to present to you the hottest free agent in sports entertainment today … CM Punk!”

Punk, decked out in a new pinstripe suit and sunglasses, strolls down the ring, his Ring Of Honor gold thrown across his shoulder. But instead of exchanging handshakes with the leaders, Punk snatches the microphone out of Vince’s hand, leaving the Chairman perplexed. “You don’t mind if I have this, right?” says Punk. “You’re not here to get on me with cocktail party pleasantries.” Vince motions to Punk that he has the floor.

“When I was a kid,” Punk begins, “the WWE was the center of the wrestling world. If you wanted to be a wrestler, and God knows I did, your goal was to get to Stamford, Connecticut. It was the epicenter, the pinnacle. To wrestle in a WWE ring meant you were among the very best the industry had to offer … and by proxy, that meant you were among the industry’s very best, too. My entire career has been directed at achieving that childhood dream, to set foot in a WWE ring … to walk among the elite. To stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the industry’s strongest and best. To wrestle against the industry’s most skilled athletes, because, after all, Vince, this is still the wrestling industry, is it not? That’s what I do. That’s why you hired me; because I am the very best wrestler this industry has to offer. This belt”–Punk holds up the ROH Championship–”is the proof. You see, this belt here, it represents a company that is true wrestling.” Punk turns to Vince and whips off his sunglasses. “The garbage that you peddle week in, week out … this sports entertainment crap … it’s poison. Don’t try and throw these two clowns under the bus, either, Vince; when it all comes down, the buck stops at your desk. I aspired to be the best wrestler on Earth, in the best company on Earth … and now, now I see that the best company on Earth is a hollow, rotten shell, a parody. You promise me two former champions in a debut match, and you give me a Rick Martel wannabe and some simpleton who thinks he’s Vanilla Ice? I even gave them a shot at this belt, and they couldn’t even give me two minutes! Is this what I have to look forward while I’m stuck in this prison?” Vince’s jaw is hanging between his knees; he tries to get something out, but Punk cuts him off. “Don’t even try. You’ll embarrass yourself. You already do that enough on a daily basis, running this farce of a wrestling promotion. Don’t make yourself look dumber then Eugene. You wanna know what I’m gonna do? Here, let me lay out my plan for you, Vince. It’s real simple: step one? I’m not signing with either of your shows. I wrestle when I choose,where I choose. Step two? I’m serving notice to your top ‘wrestlers’ that a real wrestler, a real champion, the only champion that matters, is coming for them and their tin title belts. Step three? I’m running every one of your BS ‘sports entertainers’ out of this company, and I’ll make you replace them with real wrestlers. I may not give a rat’s ass what happens to the company that I took this belt from, but I’ll be damned if I have to spend the rest of my career surrounded by morons doing dance routines in the middle of their wrestling moves. You murdered my dream by dragging me into this nightmare, and now, I’m gonna murder your comp–”

Mick Foley’s music cuts into Punk’s tirade. Punk flashes a humorless smile as Mick enters the ring. Vince tries to get in between Punk and Mick, but surprisingly, Punk pushes Vince back. “No, let him have his say,” says Punk with a phony grin. “This could be the best thing I’ve seen on WWE television since I signed that stupid contract.”

Mick raises a skeptical eyebrow, but dismisses Punk’s comments by getting right to the point. “I gotta say, I’m surprised, Punk. I honestly thought you’d come out and give Vince that belt. I can’t say I agree with everything you say about this company, but it’s nice to see you’ve matured enough to see that you can’t stab Ring Of Honor in the back after all they did for you.” Mick extends a hand and says; “So, when can we all expect you to go back to Ring Of Honor and defend that belt until you lose it?”

Punk’s disingenuous smile melts into a mask of astonishment. “Go … back?” Punk looks at Mick, down at his hand, then back at Mick and laughs. “You’re … you’re joking, right? You want me to go back to that pathetic little one-ring circus and wrestle? Mick, I’ve moved on. I won this belt straight-up, and no one they could put me in the ring with could get it off me. I don’t owe them, or this belt a damn thing.” Punk leans in, his nosetip almost touching Mick’s. “You and Ring Of Honor can kiss … my … ass.”

For a few long moments, Punk and Mick hold their glares against one another, shooting daggers back and forth. Punk finally breaks the stare, turning away, only to come roaring back, swinging the ROH Title; Mick ducks and starts to unload on Punk with rights until security, along with several wrestlers–including Big Show, Shelton Benjamin and a very injured Matt Hardy–pull Foley off Punk. Foley escapes their hold and rushes Punk as he leans against the ropes, nailing the patented Cactus Jack clothesline, spilling to the floor before security and the wrestlers get between the two and break up the fight. Foley yells over the shoulders of the mob that he’ll teach Punk a lesson in honor and respect as he’s being led away. Punk rips off his jacket and dares Foley to come back, but nobody buys it as anything more then a tough-guy act.

Vince chooses this time to grab the microphone off the mat and go into domineering-boss mode. “Wait just a minute! Security, you keep Foley right where he is, cause I got something to say to the both of you.” Vince looks over at Mick first and says; “Foley,       I don’t know how you got it in your head to wage this little campaign of yours, but I can see that you’re not gonna let this rest. You want my permission to chase this disrespectful punk from one company to another? Fine. As long as you don’t damage the WWE’s reputation or injure my personnel doing it, I don’t give a damn what you do. And as for you,” Vince adds, turning to Punk, “if you want a nightmare, I can give you a nightmare: unless you pick a show to sign with right here and now, I will terminate your contract and send you back to that ‘hellhole’ you’re so fond of.”

Punk throws his arm around, a tantrum worthy of a diaper and a binky, but Vince ignores it. “Pick a show, or you’re fired,” he says flatly. Punk levels a lethal glare at the Chairman, then turns to Bischoff and grabs his hand. “Good, glad you’re willing to pl–”

Before Vince can finish, Punk yanks Bischoff in, doubles him over and snaps off a DDT on the Raw GM. Punk snatches the microphone out of Vince’s hand, bends down to Bischoff’s ear and says, “See you at work next Monday.”

Aug. 27, ’05: ROH’s “Dragon’s Gate Invasion”:

With articles on Ring Of Honor’s website pondering the fate of the Ring Of Honor Championship and Mick Foley’s campaign to rescue it from CM Punk, it comes as no surprise when Mick shows up. The crowd greets him enthusiastically, but tonight, he is all business.

“I appreciate the applause, but I’m here tonight for a very specific reason, and I need to get to that right now.” Mick opens his flannel shirt to reveal a Ring Of Honor t-shirt underneath. “I’m here because of this,” says Mick, pointing to his shirt. “If you saw me on Monday Night Raw, or you heard about it from a friend, you know why I’m here; to pledge to every fan, every wrestler back there, and to the owner of this great company, that I am scouting every wrestler in the WWE to find the guy I think wi–”

The music of Samoa Joe comes across the PA, sending the crowd into overdrive and making Mick swallow nervously. Looking tired and beaten, having wrestled earlier in the night, Joe comes into the ring, grabbing a microphone and pacing back and forth for a few seconds as the crowd chants his name. Joe stops pacing, looks at Mick and scratches his head. “You know, Foley, I’m having trouble here. See, I just wrestled my ass off earlier tonight, and I kinda got my bell rung, so I got a wicked headache. Maybe you can clear something up for me: exactly how is our World Championship your business?” Mick goes to talk, but Joe puts a hand in Mick’s face. “I’m not interested in what you have to say, Foley. See, one thing I do remember is you bashing a chair over my head, so you’ll pardon me when I say I don’t trust you. And I sure as hell don’t appreciate the idea that you’re gonna comb through the WWE locker room lookin’ for someone to be our savior. I’ve beaten Punk. Hell, Jimmy Rave’s beaten Punk. He’s not as good as likes to think he is, Foley … and neither are you. You’re no saint, no great hero. Or was that someone else who spit on the WCW Tag Titles, insulted the ECW audience and tried to convince Tommy Dreamer to go to WCW? The only interest you serve in sticking your nose in this is your own. So my advice to you is to pack up your sock, waddle on back to Connecticut and let us take care of our own business.”

“For once,” a familiar voice says, echoing through the hall, “I agree with you!” All eyes turn to the front door; surrounded by a phalanx of security–all wearing WWE shirts with a circle-and-slash written over the logo in Sharpie–is none other then erstwhile ROH Champion CM Punk. Punk approaches the ringside area, his team of security clearing a wide berth through the audience. “I figured you’d show up here, trying to drum up support for your campaign. I don’t know what bug flew up your ass, Mick Foley,” says Punk as he rolls into the ring, “or where you get off being some kind of noble crusader. Every word Joe said was true–well, maybe not that part about me not being as good as I think I am.” Punk hops in the ring and gets right in Mick’s face. “You don’t belong here, you’re notwanted here, and if you don’t get out, I’m gonna take you ou–”

Joe grabs Punk’s arm and spins him around; Punk glares at Joe, but the former champ is none the least bit bothered. “Mick Foley may be a hypocrite. He may be an unwanted guest. But don’t go acting like you’re Ring Of Honor’s defender, Punk. You’re a disgrace to this company, and you’re a disgrace to that belt.” Joe smiles, looks down, grabs a button on Punk’s sport coat and rips it off. Punk protests, but Joe grabs the next button and tears it off. Punk barks out at Joe to stop, but Joe grabs Punk’s lapel and yanks down, pulling Punk down a bit before the fabric gives way and comes off in his hand. “And believe me, Punk … tonight, I’m gonna take that belt off you if I have to rip you apart, piece by piece.”

Punk scurries back and slides under the ropes, but physically runs into Colt Cabana. Behind Cabana stands virtually the entire Ring Of Honor roster, who spread out around the ring, blocking off all avenues of exit for the champ. Punk, looking for escape and finding none, rolls into the ring, where Joe and Mick are waiting for him. Punk panics, falling down on his ass and holding up his hands in surrender. Before Punk realizes it, Joe bends down and scoops up the title belt, eyeing it happily. The crowd for Joe to “kick his ass”, but Joe turns to Mick instead. “Tell you what, Mick. I’m gonna give you a shot to earn our trust. This scrawny little punk-ass bitch ain’t gettin’ outta back to Connecticut alive without putting this up for grabs tonight. So, what I’m tellin’ you, Mick is this: you wanna prove you’re good for Ring Of Honor? Pick his opponent. Pick the guy who’s gonna kick his sorry, sell-out ass back to Stamford … but you better make sure you pick someone that’s ROH. Don’t be bringin’ someone in here that ain’t ever done time here.”

Mick eyes Joe for a long moment, waiting for the twist of the knife. There is none. Joe waits, occasionally taunting Punk by putting the belt within reach, then snatching it back. “That’s fair,” Mick finally replies. “I got someone in mind. Someone that needs no introduction. Someone who knows what it’s like to fight for this company. Someone that … will not die.”

Every pair of eyes in the building go wide as Matt Hardy comes down the aisle. Joe’s booming voice fills the arena, full of anger. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! I said you pick someone ROH! This guy ain’t–”

“Matt Hardy has wins over Homicide and Christopher Daniels! This man deserves–”

“He deserves a woman who won’t get nasty with his best friend. What youdeserve is the ass-kicking you’re about three seconds from–”

Hardy steps in between the two, but before he can say anything, Punk springs up and attacks Hardy. Mick quickly drops out of the ring as Punk plants Hardy with a DDT, then looks at the timekeeper and yells for him to ring to bell. Joe warns the timekeeper not to make the match official, but Foley slides back in and gets in Joe’s face. The timekeeper rings the bell, and as tempers flare, the Punk/Hardy title match is joined by a fistfight in the same ring between Joe and Foley. When they spill out of the ring to the floor, the crazy brawl draws in others, and the impromptu lumberjacks become a self-destructive mob, with everyone fighting everyone as Punk and Hardy go at it in the ring. With the crowd distracted, nobody sees Edge run through the crowd, slide into the ring and nearly spear Hardy in half. A Pepsi Plunge later, Hardy is pinned for the three-count, and Punk sneaks out with his entourage, unseen by the ROH roster, which is too busy fighting amongst itself.

Aug. 29, ’05: WWE Raw:

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler hype one of Raw’s marquee matches for the evening, featuring CM Punk teaming with Edge to take on Matt Hardy and a partner to be chosen by Mick Foley, as Punk makes his way to the ring, dressed to the nines and proudly brandishing the ROH World Championship. The crowd gives him a welcome befitting a war criminal or murderer, but Punk actually smiles back.

“It’s alright, you’re all just brainwashed by Emperor Vince and his sports entertainment nonsense.” Punk holds up the belt. “This here, this is the championship of real wrestling. This is what I bring to you; the promise that I will not rest until I purge this company of the garbage that is sports entertainment. I will not stop until every ‘WWE Superstar’ is defined as a wrestler. I will not–”

A loud “Whoo!” and the familiar strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” usher in Ric Flair, who gets the hero’s welcome. Flair struts and strides to the ring as Punk tucks the microphone under his arm and applauds. “Ric Flair,” says Punk. “A legend, a symbol of excellence, a champion like none other.” Punk reaches out to shake Flair’s hand; Flair regards it with hesitation, but Punk insists. Flair grabs Punk’s hand, and gets a manly handshake. When Punk reclaims his hand, he then adds; “And Ric Flair is also a fat, balding, decrepit dinosaur who hasn’t had a watchable match since the mid-90′s!” The crowd turns on Punk, but Punk couldn’t care less. “So, what can I do for you, grandpa?” Flair opens his mouth, but Punk cuts him off; “I said, what can I do for you, grandpa? Good lord, man, turn up your hearing aid!”

Flair chuckles with Punk. “That’s funny,” he says. “You remind me of me, back in the day–”

“And that would be, what, when you were rolling around in the dust with Ed Lewis and George Hackenschmidt?”

“Yeah, back then,” Flair says without missing a beat, as calm as Buddhist monk. “See, I was just like you; loudmouthed, brash, full of piss and vinegar. The old guys on the mountain–Harley Race, Buddy Rogers–I got in their face and I spat in ‘em. I said I was there to take ‘em out back like Ol’ Yeller and put a slug in their head. And wouldn’t you know it, 10 years later, a couple guys named Lex Luger and Sting, they came around and did the same to me. Said I was yesterday’s news, and they were the fresh headline. And lemme tell ya, being on the other side of that, that stung like hell. But you know what the difference was between how guys like me and Sting did it, and how you did it?”

“No, and I don’t care, but that ain’t gonna stop Ol’ Man Flair from rambling on, will it?” Punk says with a sneer.

Flair chuckles again, then lets loose with a slap so hard, it puts Punk on his ass. Flair’s face turns red almost instantly and his voice explodes with rage as he towers over the fallen Punk. “The difference is, we respected the title! We had respect for the belt and everything it meant! And you … you … you’re pathetic! You steal, you steal that belt, and you spit all over every man to hold that belt, but every man who held a belt!”

Punk leaps to his feet. “Oh, that’s rich. This coming from a guy who stole the WCW Championship belt and brought it here after he got fired. You wanna talk about respect for a title belt? What next, you gonna bring out Shawn Michaels, so he can try to dance around helping screw Bret Hart?” Punk gets right in Flair’s face and says; “You know what the real difference is between me and Sting and you? The difference is, you guys didn’t get the job done; you didn’t send Race packing, and Sting obviously fell short of putting you out to pasture. Me, I’ll make sure when I’m done with you, you’ll beg the doctor to pull the plug.”

Flair and Punk stand eye to eye for a second before Flair unleashes with a classic Nature Boy kick to the balls. Punk drops to his knees, and Flair is on him, raining down fists on Punk’s head. Security and officials come in and pry Flair off Punk, who hobbles to the back holding his bruised boys.

As Raw goes on, numerous stars show up to visit Foley and campaign to be his choice for Matt’s partner; Shawn Michaels, Big Show, The Hurricane, Kane and Eugene all plead their cases. The last person, who visits Foley minutes before he is to go to the ring, is Ric Flair, who begs Foley for the chance to teach the youngster some respect. Foley receives Flair’s request with silence, and says nothing as he exits the locker room, leaving Flair by himself, calling after Foley for an answer.

Minutes later, Mick comes down to the ring. He shakes hands with Matt Hardy, then takes the microphone from Lillian Garcia. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says to the expectant crowd, “the man I’ve chosen for Matt Hardy’s partner is a former champion here in WWE, and he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. Give it up for … Shelton Benjamin!”

The crowd gives the former Intercontinental Champion a warm, if confused, welcome; Mick and Matt shake hands with Shelton, even as the crowd finally decides they’re disappointed in Mick’s choice and let loose with a “We want Flair” chant. Foley encourages his team to ignore the crowd and focus on their opponents, who come at Matt and Shelton as soon as they hit the ring. But as the match goes on, the exciting, revolutionary offense of the four men take a backseat to a development outside the ring, as Ric Flair comes out and confronts Mick Foley. The two exchange words, then shoves; when Flair openly slaps Foley across the cheek, the floodgates open. Foley takes Flair down with a running charge and they roll on the ground, each trying to get the leverage advantage for striking. Security has to pry the two apart, but Flair manages to wiggle out, grabs Jim Ross’ water pitcher and breaks it over the back of Foley’s head. Security gets in between the two, with the group around Flair dragging him kicking and yelling from ringside. In the ring, the match, which has broken down into a brawl much like the one on the outside, ends when Punk manages to get a low blow in on Shelton and pins him while putting his feet on the ropes. Punk sneers at Foley, still being held by security, as he exits the ring, taunting that he won again … but he forgets about Flair, who once again squirrels out of security’s grip and tackles Punk.

Then, chaos turns into a full-scale Watts-style riot, as Matt pulls a spike from his boot and rushes Edge. Matt catches Edge full-on in the forehead, tearing open a gusher of a wound; before security can even figure out how to contain the three men on the outside and deal with a borderline stabbing in the ring, Homicide comes out of the crowd, slides into the ring and gives Matt a head wound of his own with a fork. Homicide drags Matt to his feet, but has to abandon his attempt at a Cop Killa before security now fully abandons the Foley/Flair/Punk brouhaha to go after the intruder. More security, along with every WWE official, front office staff member and several members of the locker room all pour out as reinforcements to keep everyone apart. As Raw goes off the air, Raw GM Eric Bischoff watches the wholesale carnage on a monitor, pulling at his hair, his empire in tatters.

Sep 5, ’05: WWE Raw:

Raw skips the opening video and goes right on the limo of Mr. McMahon. JR and Lawler speculate on what Mr. McMahon is doing at Raw as they hype the announced card for the evening, which includes a 15-man battle royal to determine who will get a shot at Carlito and the Intercontinental Championship at Unforgiven. Vince gets out of the limo and signals for a production assistant, who scurries up looking so nervous, you can practically hear his knees knocking. Vince grabs the kid by the collar, gets in his face, and snarls; “You go find Eric Bischoff, and you tell him I want every single person involved in that debacle last week, and you have them meet me in the ring now.” Vince shoves the kid away and stomps into the arena.

Once in the ring, Vince rips the microphone out of Lillian Garcia’s hands and spits out; “Don’t make me fire all your asses right here and now, get out here!” Bischoff, Foley, Flair and Hardy all come out and join Vince in the ring, their eyes cast down to the mat. Before Vince can bellow out for the tardy ones, CM Punk and Edge join, but stay up at the stage. “Get your ass down here,” Vince says, pointing at his feet.

Punk, the only one of the group not standing with head slung low, glares at Vince from across the arena. “Kiss … my  … ass,” Punk says.

Vince’s eyes bug out so far of his skull, they almost look spring-loaded. “Do youwant to be fired, Punk? Cause I can sure as hell do it if you want, and it wouldn’t give me a moment’s discomfort to do so.”

“Only if you wanna see yourself dragged into court over unlawful termination. You wanna pop me for low blowing Shelton Benjamin? Fine, go right ahead. But Edge and I didn’t have a damned thing to do with that riot last week; it was Flair who attacked me not once but twice. It was Matt Hardy who tried to impale Edge with a metal spike. It was Flair who smashed a glass pitcher over Foley’s head. And it was Bischoff who couldn’t control any of them, let alone allow security to get so bad that some maniac from Ring Of Honor came into your building and attacked Matt Hardy with a fork.”

Foley, glaring at Punk, snaps out; “And if you would do the right thing and go back to Ring Of Honor and defend–”

“Foley, you ain’t doin’ this for yourself, so shut your mouth about doing the right thing!” snaps Flair.

Without warning, Foley swings and connects with a sucker punch on the jaw, putting Flair on the mat. Matt Hardy grabs Foley’s arms and tries to pull him back before he pounces on Flair, but it is only Vince’s yelling that gets through. “Foley! Foley! Foley, so help me God, I will fire your ass if you don’t stop right now!” Foley stops and backs away, even as Vince continues. “For the life of me, I don’t know why I shouldn’t fire every damn one of you. You two,” says Vince as he looks at Foley and Flair, “are behaving like a couple of children. It’spathetic. I don’t care how many world titles or who you’ve beaten; you two are a disgrace to your legacies. And you, Matt Hardy … I went out on a limb and hired you after all that crap you pulled online, and this is the thanks I get? You try to jam a spike into Edge’s head? I don’t care what he did to you, that’s notacceptable.” Vince suddenly shifts his focus to Bischoff. “And I blame you, Eric Bischoff. I blame you most for all this. Maybe you’ve been allowed to be in charge for too long, and you’ve grown soft. Maybe you’re so busy focusing on sending people after WWE Champion John Cena that you’ve overlooked the rest of your brand, and the state of emergency you’ve allowed it to become. That ends tonight, Eric Bischoff. You have two months to get this brand, and its Superstars, under control.” Vince levels his gaze at Bischoff, his eyes now narrow slits. “Don’t ask what happens in two months if you fail.” Vince shoves the microphone into Bischoff’s hands and stomps up the ramp. At the top, Punk stands in his way. Vince huffs as Punk dares him to punch, even sticking out his jaw. When Vince doesn’t budge, Punk chuckles derisively, then steps aside and gestures for Vince to walk by; as Vince does, Punk flinches as if to swing, but Vince doesn’t so much as twitch.

The battle royal leads off the second hour. Right before the first participants are named, extra security–both uniformed and in street clothes–pours out of the back, stationing around the ring both in the crowd and in the ringside area. As soon as everyone is camped at their station, the participants are brought in one at a time, with CM Punk coming down last and ducking out under the bottom rope the second the bell is rung. The despised ROH World Champion sneaks back in and ducks back out as strategy, and opportunities, permit, helping to oust competitors one by one, until he stands as one of the final four, alongside Big Show, Shelton Benjamin and Ric Flair. Once again, Punk ducks out of the ring as Big Show goes after Shelton and Flair, but the smaller guys evade the behemoth and work together to put the hurt on the big man. Before long, they have Show on the ropes, each with a tree trunk-like leg in their arms, trying to hoist Show up and over. Show looks to be ready to reverse the momentum and push off his attackers, but Punk, still legal but lurking on the outside, comes up from behind and uses his leverage to help drag Show out to the floor. Punk slides in and starts to taunt Show, but Show stands up, reaches and grabs Punk by the throat. Flair and Shelton come up from behind and push him over the ropes, leaving him now in peril of elimination, and suspended in mid-air only by Big Show’s meaty hand.

But the quick-thinking submission specialist wraps his legs around Show’s arm and head, cinching in a triangle choke. Show tries to pry the wily Punk off him, but Punk cinches it in tighter and tighter, letting his upper body hand down as a weight to add more pressure. Show falls to a knee, then both, all the while Punk using his arms to keep from collapsing to the ground himself. Punk wrenches the hold as tight as he can, and as Show slowly collapses, unconscious and face-down, to the floor, Punk uses his bridge to help extricate his legs from around Show’s legs without touching the arena floor, until he has maneuvered himself into standing on Show’s back. Punk leaps from Show’s body to the apron, just as Shelton and Flair struggle on the opposite side of the ring against the ropes. Punk slides in, rushes them and manages to dump them both. securing an Intercontinental Title shot at Unforgiven. Foley comes out and argues with the referees, but the refs are stuck by the rules, and Punk’s liberal exploiting of them without outright violating them. Flair comes over and argues with the refs, which leads to another Foley/Flair argument, but the heightened security presence keeps the two from coming to fisticuffs. Punk makes sure to give everyone the finger as he leaves the ring, leaving Flair, Foley, Shelton and Show to glare after him.

Sep. 12, ’05: WWE Raw:

Alongside Edge vs. Ric Flair, Raw’s undercard has CM Punk taking on Big Show in a grudge match, and an announcement from Eric Bischoff regarding Punk’s controversial victory in the #1 contendership battle royal the previous week.

But first, Jim Ross takes to the ring, standing beside a double-sided podium. First, he welcomes Mick Foley, and then announces Ric Flair. Both take opposite sides of the podium, not even trying to conceal their raging hatred. JR wastes no time with preambles and gets right to the point.

“Ric Flair,” he says, “you have taken issue with Mick Foley and how he is handling matters with CM Punk. The world wants to know two things; what is your problem, and why is it any of your business?”

“Jim Ross, it’s real simple,” says Flair, cool and collected. “It’s no secret that Mick Foley and the Nature Boy don’t get along. This is a man who’s inspired a generation of kids to leap off roofs and break light bulbs on each other and call that wrestling. This is a man who took a championship belt to another company, and then spit on it. I have no respect for Mick Foley; his achievements, his legacy, it means nothing to me. And when I see a hypocrite like Mick Foley come out here and preach about honor and respect for a championship, I feel it’s my business to step in. Mick Foley has no business even looking in CM Punk’s direction. If anybody should be teaching that disrespectful punk a lesson, it’s a man like me. Someone who will actually have respect for the championship that he’s abusing and pissing on. Someone who isn’t some has-been trying for one more shot at the spotlight. Someone who didn’t just set the bar–”Flair holds up four fingers, which sends the crowd into a frenzy–”but someone who is the bar.”

“At least I’ve been in Ring Of Honor. JR, the only person Ric Flair has ever doneanything for is himself. He likes to bring this up”–now Foley holds up the four fingers, which makes Flair’s lip curl–”all the time, and how they meant excellence. How they were all for one and one for all. But it occurs to me that in all those years, you never once gave Arn Anderson a World Title shot. Or Ole, or Tully Blanchard, or Chris Benoit, or Brian Pillman, or Dean Malenko. In fact, anytime someone in your little club decided they wanted to step up to the plate, you booted ‘em out! The Horsemen weren’t all for one … it was all for you, and you sticking your nose in this issue just proves you haven’t changed. You want to do this, not to help them out, but because you want another championship. You’ll notice, JR, that this glory-seeking has-been,” he says, pointing to himself, “has yet to step into the ring with CM Punk. He’s brought in other people, to help them make a name for themselves, and to do a favor to a company that needs a hand.”

“A favor they didn’t ask for, and from what I’ve heard, they don’t want.”

Foley glares at Flair. “And you think that they’ll be overjoyed at having Grandpa Ric come in and deal out kicks to the groin and call it a match?”

Flair returns the glare, then, with one quick sweep of his arm, sends the podium flying aside and gets in Foley’s face. For what seems like forever, the two legends stand as still as statues, eyes locked on each other as over a decade of hostility passes through the air between them. Finally, Foley signals–without taking his eyes off Flair–to JR to bring the microphone over. “Tell you what, Ric,” says Foley, “this weekend, Ring Of Honor’s putting on their big Glory By Honor show. I’m planning to be there. Why don’t you show up, and we’ll ask the boys how much they appreciate you getting involved?” Foley turns and leaves as Flair looks on.

When Raw comes back from commercial, Flair is still in the ring, ready for his match with Edge. The Money In The Bank winner comes out with Lita on his arm, who fawns all over him as he holds his bandaged head. Edge climbs the steps tentatively, acting as if the minor change in elevation is making him dizzy. Edge stops at the top of the steps and sends Lita to fetch the microphone from Lillian Garcia. “I’d really like to wrestle tonight,” says Edge, “but after that psychotic attack by Matt Hardy last week, I’m just in no condition to wrestle tonight. I have stress-induced vertigo, and the doct–”

The crowd suddenly perks up when Matt Hardy strolls down the aisle, and in his hand is the metal spike. Hardy makes a stabbing motion and points at Edge, who conveniently forgets his “vertigo” and backs up the steps, a look of sheer horror on his face. Flair comes over to the corner, grabs Edge by the hair and proceeds to drag him into the ring, where the elder statesman of the WWE tars and feathers the Money In The Bank winner with chops from one side of the ring to the other. With Edge exhausted and his chest as red as a lit match, Flair tears the bandages off Edge’s head and goes to work on the wound.

As Flair seeks to satiate his bloodthirst, Hardy, satisfied with cornering Edge, turns to leave. Lita picks up the metal MITB briefcase and slowly stalks Hardy up the ramp to the stage, the briefcase raised high above her head. But Hardy catches a glimpse of her on the TitanTron, and spins around in time to catch the briefcase as it comes down. Lita mouths something snide, and on a dime, Hardy goes from defense to offense and kicks Lita in the gut. The briefcase drops to the metal grating, but Hardy forgets about that in favor of the spike in his hand. He looks at it, then at Lita, and brings it up. Ross and Lawler plead with Hardy not to do it, while the crowd eggs Hardy on to take revenge on his adulterous former girlfriend; Edge, having gotten enough of an advantage over Flair to get a breather, screams for Hardy not to do it from the ring ropes. Hardy grabs Lita by the hair, screaming at her and threatening her with the spike. Finally, Hardy lets her go, but another badly timed obscenity by the red-haired Diva makes the final straw in Hardy snap; he suddenly lashes out, jamming her in the forehead with the spike. In the ring, Flair reaches up and pulls Edge down into a roll-up and scores the three-count. No sooner has the ref signaled for the bell then Edge scrambles out of the ring, races up the ramp and tackles Hardy as he stands over the unconscious and bleeding Lita. Edge uses the tackle to ram Hardy back-first into the TitanTron’s support structure, and follows it up by dragging the winded Hardy to the edge of the stage and throwing him off, into the catering tables. Medics flood the scene and put all three on stretchers, with Bischoff ordering that Hardy not be in the same ambulance as Edge or Lita.

With the specter of the carnage still obviously weighing him down, Bischoff makes his way to the ring. He paces around like a caged lion, running his fingers through his hair as the crowd chants “you’re getting fired”. “First off,” says Bischoff, “I am not getting fired. I am going nowhere. Raw is my brand, and if I have to impose martial law to get the criminal element around here under control, I will. If I could keep WCW under my thumb when I was with the nWo, I can keep a fence on this brand.” Bischoff takes a second to inhale, and doing so seems to cleanse him enough to make him stand up straight and face the entrance with renewed strength. “Now. CM Punk. I don’t need you out here, cause I know you can hear me, and I don’t wanna waste the time. I’m going to make this short and sweet; I don’t like you. I don’t like how you manipulated the rules to my battle royal. And if you think I’m gonna just hand you an Intercontinental Title shot at Unforgiven, after the disrespect you’ve shown me, this brand and the Raw Superstars, you’re in for a rude awakening. You want a title shot? You got it. You versus Carlito … versus Ric Flair, Big Show and Shelton Benjamin. One pinfall to a win. You seem to like being in two places at once with that belt you carry around … hope you like being in four places at once. Oh, and Punk? Believe me, if you somehow manage to pull off the impossible and win the Intercontinental Title, I won’t let it be some trophy you carry around. You’ll defend it. Weekly.”

No sooner do Bischoff’s feet hit the floor then Punk is out complaining about the treatment. Bischoff, the only one with a mic, hears none of it. “I can just as easily take you out of the match, if you like. Now get in the ring. Your match is next.” When Punk tries to protest, Bischoff lays down the law. “I can give Big Show a partner, if you like. Yeah, didn’t think so.”

Big Show comes out before Bischoff is up the ramp and makes a beeline for Punk, who scrambles around the ring, looking for safety. After a minute of Punk running like a scared child, Bischoff comes back out and orders Punk to get in the ring or lose his title match. Reluctantly, Punk gets in and goes for Show’s legs, but the massive show, a bigger opponent then Punk has ever faced, overpowers him. When Punk tries to counter Show’s chokeslam with the same counter he used to choke him out the previous week, Show retaliates by slamming Punk down anyway, breaking the hold. Finally, Show’s onslaught proves too much for Punk, and the embattled ROH Champ hits a blatant low blow that draws a DQ. With Show clutching his hurt scrotum, Punk grabs his title belt and waffles Show in the head.

When Punk leaves, he backs up the ramp, not noticing that he is no longer alone. When he runs into Mick Foley, Punk turns around, then falls on his ass. Foley looms over him a moment, then smiles a smile right from the Cactus Jack arsenal. “Oh, it isn’t me you should be afraid of, Punk. It’s who’s gonna be at Glory By Honor this Saturday. Someone you don’t want a piece of. And if you don’t show up on Saturday and face him like a man, I’ll see to it you see him on Sunday.” Foley tosses down the mic and walks off, leaving Punk in a state of shock and confusion.

Sep. 17, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Glory By Honor 4″:

As promised, Mick Foley shows up at Glory By Honor, but unlike his more recent appearances, he no longer receives the hero’s welcome; some cheer respectfully or out of undying fandom, but there is an equal amount of fans who boo the hardcore icon. The boisterous anti-Foley fans start up a chant of “You’re not wanted” as he goes to speak. The other side of the crowd chants “He’s our hero” in reply, leaving Foley silent in the ring, waiting for his chance to speak.

But instead of getting a word out, Ric Flair, dressed in a fine suit as if it was the Horsemen’s heyday, strolls down the aisle. And, unlike Foley, Flair gets a rousing show of support from the crowd. The crowd even busts into a “We want Flair” chant, which Flair makes sure to point out to Foley. As soon as he can be heard over the crowd, Flair gets a shot in on Foley. “Why don’t you take your cellulite ass outta here, and let the Nature Boy style and profile!” Flair struts around the ring and lets out a couple “Woo’s!”. “The Nature Boy, back in the territories, and lemme tell ya, it feels good to be in front of a crowd like this!”

Foley walks over and snatches the microphone out of Flair’s hand. “I didn’t invite you here to babble on like an old man, Ric. I invited you here because I wanted you to hear it from the horse’s mouth–these fans–how much they want you defending their honor. How much they want a man who brags about being a dirty player, a guy who doesn’t know when to quit and let someone else take the torch. You say my motives aren’t pure? Well, what does it say when a guy who’s almost 60 is trying to step in front of guys who deserve the shot?”

“Everybody knows the name Ric Flair means excellence! It means The Man! It doesn’t mean some doughy stuntman who falls on thumbtacks!”

“It means a guy who can’t fall down or he’ll break his hip,” says CM Punk as he strolls down the aisle, with Edge alongside him. Punk hops in the ring, holds up the title belt to taunt the fans, then leans in the corner. “It absolutely kills me to see that the two heroes of this little drama, the two guys fighting to dethrone the evil thief in the night, are a fat, retired, glorified yard-tard, and a guy who’s so old, he debuted on Lawrence Welk. These are your choices, folks? Jesus, you’re screwed. Might as well just make a new belt and have a tournament or something, cause if you’re putting your money on these horses, all you’re getting is glue. But, go right ahead; continue your lover’s quarrel.”

“Oh, I have a better idea,” says Foley, stepping in front of Flair before Flair can challenge Punk. “I promised you a little something, a surprise. It isn’t this fossil behind me. It’s … well …”

Foley looks to the entrance. The lights go down, and the music of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” fills the arena, sending the audience into overdrive … and Punk into a panic. Bryan Danielson, the man who had quit the promotion in frustration only months before and vowed not to return unless he was coming after the title, steps into the spotlights, eyes locked on the Ring Of Honor World Champion. Foley gives Danielson the microphone when he gets in the ring. Danielson takes it, then gets right in Punk’s face. “I know there’s no way in hell you’ll give me a title shot tonight,” says Danielson, “so since you got your little Connecticut ass-kisser here, why don’t I go back in the back, grab Joe or Colt or Aries or any of the other boys you screwed when you walked out the door, and if one of us pins you or makes you tap, we get a title shot?”

His face a mask of outrage and hatred, Punk simply nods. But before Danielson can call out someone from the back to partner up with him, Flair steps forward and grabs the microphone out of Punk’s hands. “Then you’re gonna have to deal with The Nature Boy tonight!” he yells, then strips off his suit jacket. Danielson looks at Flair with incredulity, while Foley throws his hands up in the air and says, sans microphone, “See? What did I tell you?” But before Danielson can question the concept of tagging with Flair, a referee shows up, signals for the bell, and the match is underway, with Flair wrestling in slacks and loafers.

Very quickly, Flair is singled out by Punk and Edge, and the hopes of the crowd evaporate as the respected, but undeniably older, Flair is beaten up one side and down the other by faster, younger wrestlers. But Flair refuses to go down so easily, and manages to take it to Punk enough to get a tag in to Danielson, who lights up both his opponents. Foley watches with pride as Danielson takes it to both his opponents, but when Danielson tags out to Flair, Foley is almost apoplectic. For a moment, he moves as if he’s going to reach in and trip up Flair, but Danielson catches his eye and gives him a dirty look, making Foley back off reluctantly.

In the end, after trading the advantage back and forth numerous times, the match turns into a wild donnybrook, with the ref unable to maintain control. Edge and Flair fight on the outside, while Danielson and Punk trade vicious chops and kicks inside, egging one another on to hit harder. Edge manages to get Flair off his back by whipping him into the barricade and starts to go for the ring, but Matt Hardy leaps the barricade and chop-blocks Edge. Grabbing the knee he just chopped, Hardy pulls out the spike and starts to repeatedly stab at the joint until Homicide comes out for a swipe at his nemesis. Hardy intercepts and manages to jab Homicide in the head with the spike and falls to the floor, punching wildly until security separates them and escorts a kicking and screaming Hardy out of the building. Flair gets up and tosses Edge in the ring and signals for the figure-four; Punk tries to stop him, but Danielson manages to catch him, take him down and cinches in the Cattle Mutilation. Edge and Punk try to get to the ropes, but their captors wrench the holds as tight as possible, and they are left with no choice but to both tap. Punk and Edge waste no time in beating a retreat, but halfway to the door, Punk realizes he’s missing something: the ROH Championship belt. He turns and sees Danielson in the middle of the ring, holding it aloft to the delight of the crowd, daring Punk to come and get it.

Part II

 

Our story continues at WWE’s Unforgiven pay-per-view where two high-profile matches feature men with divided attentions. In one, Matt Hardy finds himself locked inside a steel cage against the man who stole his girlfriend and ruined his life, Edge … but his attention is split by the growing hostility between him and Ring Of Honor wrestler Homicide. Meanwhile, the company’s—possibly the industry’s—most controversial Superstar, CM Punk, faces four challengers for his newly won Intercontinental Title … but the problems of his holding Ring Of Honor’s top belt are growing, as Ric Flair and Mick Foley have both targeted the straight-edge superstar … and Ring Of Honor’s finest have plans of their own …

Sep. 18, ’05: WWE Unforgiven:

With the Hardy/Edge blood feud taking the step inside of a steel cage, and the five-way Intercontinental defense, two of Raw’s most explosive and chaotic situations are set to explode and wreck havoc over the company.

But before either can bow, as the pay-per-view begins, cameras swing into the crowd to catch four men coming down the steps. Dressed casually, but obviously not simple audience members from their size, security quickly intercepts them, where they flash tickets. Reluctantly, security allows the four men to pass. When they get to the front row, the last one in line pulls up a satchel, opens it and pulls out the contents: the Ring Of Honor World Championship belt, which he puts over his shoulder. Within seconds, Raw GM Eric Bischoff is on the scene, flashing a completely disingenuous smile. “Something I can do for you, gentlemen?”

“Nope,” says Bryan Danielson, not even looking at Bischoff.

“Move out of the way, maybe,” says James Gibson flatly.

“And if you could get that beer man over here, that’d be great,” adds Colt Cabana.

If Bischoff is taken aback, he doesn’t show it. “And you guys are?”

Cabana looks up, flashing a 1000 megawatt smile. “Oh, I’m sorry! Colt Cabana, that’s Jay Lethal, James Gibson–I think you know him. Didn’t you work here once?”

“Yeah.”

“And, uh, down at the end, that’s Bryan Danielson.”

“That’s great. Fantastic,” says Bischoff, his words laced with irony. “Let me make myself perfectly clear, gentlemen. I assume you’re from that promotion, that, what is it, Land Of Honor or something? I don’t really care. The point is, if you guys think you’re gonna jump the rail and do what ECW did 7 years ago, do not think I’ll hesitate in ordering security to break every bone in your bodies. And after that, I’ll make sure you get to know the inside of the local jail real well, are we clear? This is my show, and these are my Superstars.”

Lethal is up and getting in Bischoff’s face before anyone can blink. Cabana and Gibson both get to their feet, pull Lethal back and try to talk sense to him. While they do that, Danielson casually stands up, approaches Bischoff calmly and says; “Now let me make myself perfectly clear, Eric,” he says as calmly as if he were reading a bedtime story to a child. “The only person we have a vested interest in is CM Punk. See, I may be holding his property, but as much as we hate to admit it, he’s still our champ. And that means, until CM Punk loses that belt, he belongs to Ring Of Honor.” Danielson tosses the belt back into his seat, then suddenly gets as close to Bischoff as the guard rail will allow. “And that also means,” he adds, “that any time I want to make him my bitch–a parking lot, a back alley, your backyard or mine–I will. Now as for tonight …” Danielson brushes off Bischoff’s shoulder and straightens his lapel. “Tonight, you don’t have to worry. We’re here to watch. As long as Punk keeps to his business in that ring tonight, we won’t make trouble. We’re just sending a message tonight–that wherever he goes, Ring Of Honor follows. And that if he wants that belt, he has to come fight for it in Ring Of Honor … where this belt belongs.” Danielson returns to his seat, putting the title back over his shoulder. Bischoff tries to speak at the foursome, but none of them pay him any attention, leaving Bischoff with no choice but to walk away.

While Punk’s controversial position is a captivating story, the matter grabbing the most attention is the very personal, very intense–and nearly homicidal–blood feud between Edge and Matt Hardy. One of two semi-main events for the evening, Matt and Edge’s steel cage match proves to be just as much about containing the brutality inside for everyone else’s protection as it is a license to maim for the two enemies. In a pre-match interview, Edge updates an unsympathetic audience that Lita is still in the hospital, awaiting plastic surgery to deal with the scarring and maiming at the hands of Matt Hardy and his steel spike. Edge warns Hardy to expect nothing less then what he delivered to Lita and then some, as it is Edge’s stated goal to drive Hardy back out of the fed.

When the match finally bows, neither fail to live up to the promises of their months-long, company-spanning feud. Chairs, Hardy’s metal spike, the cage itself, and a length of barbed wire all wind up used by the wrestlers to rend, bludgeon and bloody the other. After nearly twenty grueling minutes, both men are bleeding so heavily, most of their upper bodies are drenched in blood; Edge is limping, a victim of more attacks to his damaged knee, while Hardy is clutching one injured shoulder. Hardy manages to close out the match with a leg drop from the top of the cage that nearly kills both men. The crowd is as elated to see Hardy win as they are to see the gruesome living-snuff-film finally come to an end. Paramedics have to put both men on gurneys and wheel them into waiting ambulances. But before Hardy’s ambulance can leave, Homicide comes out of the shadows of the loading dock, rushes the driver, yanking him out and tossing him aside. He leaps into the back and, brandishing a fork, jabs it into Hardy’s forehead. Authorities swarm on the scene, but Homicide’s crew, The Rottweilers, hit the scene and overwhelm the ambulance, dragging Hardy out onto the concrete and stomping him. It takes ten WWE wrestlers, alongside authorities and arena security to get the situation under control. Authorities subdue Homicide, Ricky Reyes, Low-Ki and their manager, Julius Smokes, and pack them in op cars. Homicide yells and fights all the way into the cop car, yelling “You’re dead, motherfucker! Don’t be showin’ your face in Ring Of Honor, Hardy! You’s a dead motherfucker!

The backlash is immediate, as, before either Carlito or his challengers can come out for the five-way match, Bischoff is back in the faces of the Ring Of Honor wrestlers, warning them all not to do so much as blink in CM Punk’s, or anyone else’s, direction. The foursome all hold hands over their hearts and re-state their intentions to watch and nothing more; Bischoff warns them that if any of them plan anything like their “street thug friends” did to Matt Hardy, they’ll find themselves, and their home company, slapped with a lawsuit so mind-bogglingly big, their grandchildren’s grandchildren won’t be able to make good on the debt. Colt Cabana stands up stiff and straight, puts a hand to his forehead like a military cadet and yells out; “Oh, captain, my captain!” Flustered, Bischoff walks away.

One by one, the five men come to the ring, each one eyeing the four ROH wrestlers carefully. Carlito goes to spit apple towards them, but stops after getting death-glares from Gibson and Danielson. Big Show gives them only a moment’s glance, while Shelton Benjamin gives them all nods and waves, which they acknowledge with returned polite, if restrained, gestures. Ric Flair walks right up to the four and offers his hand, but is perplexed none stand up and go for the handshake. Danielson stands up, which makes Bischoff’s excess security jump to attention; Danielson smirks, pats the belt on his shoulder and sits back down. Flair lingers a moment, perplexed by Danielson’s reaction and the snubs, then goes on to enter the ring.

Finally, CM Punk makes his way down. As soon as he’s at the ringside area, he heads right for his former ROH colleagues, getting into a staring match with Danielson. Once again, Danielson gets to his feet, this time advancing up to the guard rail. Security springs into ready-mode, but they’re denied anything but a stand-off and some harsh words; Punk demands his belt, to which Danielson replies, “Come to Boston and take it.” Danielson takes his seat again, but not before giving Punk the parting shot of a middle finger in the face. Punk looks to his old friend and Second City Saints member, Colt Cabana, for support, but Cabana turns away.

As soon as the bell rings, Punk finds that, regardless of personal issues or hatreds, he is the one common enemy among all the other wrestlers. But Punk proves craftier then expected, and manages to evade the lynch mob, all the while exploiting existing grievances to shift the focus away from himself. In fact, focus shifts slowly but surely onto another person, the largest and most difficult target of the five, the Big Show. The only one of Punk’s four opponents who don’t get distracted from taking out the WWE’s most anti-WWE employee is Flair, who goes after the loudmouth and utilizes the no-disqualifications atmosphere to his advantage. It isn’t highly technical, but a shot to the groin levels the youngster, and Flair goes to work on the legs, as Carlito, Shelton and Show all trade off on each other.

But as the match continues, attentions shift, and Flair’s continued working over of Punk draws eyes to him, as he is more or less the freshest man in the ring; Punk uses the reprieve when Show goes after Flair to go outside and rest as the other four slug it out. Show becomes the new primary target, but his size and strength advantage are more then a match for the others. He fells Flair with a big boot, nails a double chokeslam on Shelton and Carlito, then, for good measure, hits the chokeslam on Flair, too. Show pulls the straps of his singlet off his shoulders as the crowd cheers him on. But the chance for victory evaporates as Punk ascends the turnbuckle; Show turns as Punk leaps and catches the straight-edger, but Punk wraps his arm around Show’s neck, locking in a guillotine choke. Show begins to droop as he struggles to breathe. When Punk’s feet touch the mat, he quickly spikes Show with the Devil Lock DDT; Flair starts to stir, but before he can make a move, Mick Foley runs out, reaches through the ropes and grabs his ankle, holding him in place. Punk rolls Show onto his back and, as Foley and Flair brawl on the outside and Shelton and Carlito start to stir, makes the pin for the Intercontinental Championship. Punk snags the belt and makes tracks for the back before anyone can clear the cobwebs and come after him. Flair and Foley see Punk depart and both give chase, though they push and shove each other as they run, and end up brawling again before they get to the back.

Bischoff comes out again as the ring clears, regarding the ROH foursome with obvious contempt. “So, I think you’re done here,” says Bischoff. “You can go now.”

Danielson looks at his cohorts, shrugs, and stands up. “We paid for tickets, Eric, so I think we’ll stick around. Maybe see your …” Danielson looks at the belt on his shoulder and gives it a pat. “get a good look at your champion.”

“And I don’t leave any show until I’m done with my nachos,” says Cabana, holding up his basket of chips and cheese.

Bischoff pauses, considers saying something, then just walks away, shaking his head. Danielson chuckles as Bischoff walks away as the bell rings to signal the introduction of the main event. The challenger, Kurt Angle, is introduced first to a chorus of boos. The WWE Champion, John Cena, is welcomed like a war hero … except by the Ring Of Honor contingent, who give him no reception, save four hard stares. Cena catches their glares and approaches them; all four rise, setting the security on high alert. Cena gets right up to the barricade, holding up the WWE Title, not saying a word. Danielson steps forward, half-grinning; he looks from Cena to the belt and back again, then responds by holding up the ROH Championship and saying, “This is pro wresting’s real world’s championship belt.” Before Cena can respond, Danielson turns and walks for the exit, the other three ROH wrestlers falling in line behind him, throwing scowls in Cena’s direction as they leave the arena.

Sep. 19, ’05: WWE Raw:

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler pimp CM Punk’s first Intercontinental Title defense, a one-on-one rematch against Carlito, as well as a confrontation between Mick Foley and Ric Flair, as Raw begins, as well as an update on the conditions of Lita, Edge and Matt Hardy, who are all in the hospital as a result of their accumulated injuries.

Raw kicks off with the champion, John Cena, coming to the ring, stomping to the ring with purpose and anger, coming off his disqualification loss to Kurt Angle. He eschews the normal theatrics of getting the crowd riled up and goes right for a microphone. “Last night,” Cena starts, then pauses. “See, I don’t know where to begin with last night. Cause, you see, last night was full of things that pissed off the champ. Eric Bischoff, he pissed me off, as you could see when I F-U’ed him through a table. Kurt Angle, you pissed me off, too, and believe me; if you think I’m done with you, boy, it’s only just begun. But last night …” Cena’s voice trails off; he shakes his head and scratches his head. “See, the thing is, being WWE Champ … that means I’m the face of this company. I represent this company, to the fans and the stockholders and the entire world. So, what am I representing? A company where a guy attacks a woman with a railroad spike. A company where two legendary figures are pissing and moaning like little girls over who gets to fight another guy. A company where guys from other wrestling companies come in and disrespect the WWE and the men and women who work here, up to assaulting them with deadly weapons.” Cena shakes his head again, head cast down, looking absolutely disgusted. “CM Punk. You come in here, you run down the entire company, you run down every man and woman that busts their ass for these fans, you flash your belt that you stole from your last company, and then you take one of our belts. And worst of all, you leave the door open so your old buddies can come in and disrespect the WWE even more.” Cena approaches the nearest cameraman and gets up close to the lens. “You guys watching? You guys wanna swim in this ocean? I can make that happen. If you’re feelin’ froggy, guys–just jump. That’s all I ask.”

The audience suddenly turns, causing Cena to look to the ramp. Standing at the top of it is CM Punk, the Intercontinental Title around his waist. “Hey, folks, look,” says Punk. “The WWE Champ … the Intercontinental Champ … in one place, at one time. Two champions. But we got more in common then holding worthless belts, don’t we, John?” Punk strolls down the ramp and hops in the ring, Cena eyeing him like an eagle would a field rat. “We both don’t really care much for Eric Bischoff, but then again, who does? We’re both role models for kids … although, whereas I’m a fantastic choice, being straight-edge, I don’t think many parents are gonna want little Billy mimicking some Vanilla Ice-wannabe. But one thing we are absolutely, 100% on the same page about is those four guys who strolled into Unforgiven last night. See, the last thing I wanted to do was leave a door open so they could slime their way in here. I wouldn’t wish this company on my worst enemy, let alone a bunch of never-will-be’s like them. I don’t wanna see them here any more then you do. Now, why you think this is my fault, I don’t understand–”

Cena rips the microphone out of Punk’s hand and tosses it aside. “Man, if I have to hear one more word from your mouth, I think I’m gonna puke.” Cena steps up to Punk, jabbing his finger in Punk’s chest with every point. “If it wasn’t for you stealing their title belt, we wouldn’t have guys like Mick Foley and Ric Flair tearing each other’s throats out. We wouldn’t have guys like Matt Hardy in the hospital because a bunch of street thugs rolled up on him and jacked him up with friggin’ forks. And we wouldn’t have those guys sitting in our front row, mocking this company. You, Punk. This is all you.”

Punk snatches the microphone away from Cena, a sick grin on his face. “So what do you propose we do about this little misunderstanding? Have a match? You and your wide array of punches and Yo! MTV Raps music-video poses against my superior technical skills and martial arts? Oh, wait, I know. You watched 8 Mile last night; you wanna do a rap battle! Well, gee willikers, mommy and daddy never let me listen to that there gangster rap!”

“I’ve got a much better idea,” says Eric Bischoff from the stage. Cena’s and Punk’s attention switches to the Raw GM, who is beaming as if he’s about to burst with excitement. “In just a few weeks, Raw will be presenting WWE Homecoming, and we need a big, blow-out main event for the show. Something that reaffirms the position of this company as not just the leader, but theinnovator in sports entertainment. And since the two of you have so much in common, I figure why not?” The crowd almost squeals with anticipation. “In one corner … John Cena … and his partner, CM Punk …” The crowd suddenly goes quiet, absolutely confused; JR and Lawler even voice their puzzlement. “And they will take on, in a historic match for Raw, and for this industry … a match only I, Eric Bischoff, the man who brought you the nWo and Goldberg, could pull off … Ring Of Honor’s Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana!” Bischoff smiles the biggest, phony used-car-salesman smile he has at Punk and Cena and departs, leaving Punk to chase after Bischoff, complaining the whole way while Cena glares at Punk from the ring.

Via satellite, Todd Grisham interviews Edge in his hospital room, who looks less like a beaten professional wrestler and more like someone who stepped on a landmine. “Edge, after the carnage of last night at Unforgiven, and the steel cage match with Matt Hardy,” asks Grisham, “the world wants to know your condition, and your plans.”

“The doct–” Edge winces and holds his chest. When he catches he breath, he starts again. “The doctors say I should be ready to leave in a day or two. I’m banged up, and I’ll have some scars, but that’s nothing compared to what that lunatic Matt Hardy did to Lita. You wanna know my plans? Get revenge. Because nobody gets the better of Mr. Money In The Bank.”

“What are your opinions on the actions taken by this man from Ring Of Honor, Homicide, and his violent attack on Matt Hardy last night?”

“I’d say Matt Hardy has a knack for pissing people off. And I’d say that … well, you ever heard the old saying ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’?” Edge’s smile answers the question before Grisham can even answer it. “Listen, Grisham, let’s get one thing straight; Matt Hard–”

Edge’s sentence dies in mid-syllable as Matt Hardy, dressed in a hospital gown, rushes into the room as fast as his injuries will allow him, and hurls himself onto Edge, throwing wild, clubbing forearms faster then the eye can see. Nurses scream for security as Edge tries to fight back, but Hardy’s upright position gives him all the advantage; he gets off Edge, bends down, grabs the gurney and lifts, tipping it over and sending Edge thudding to the tile floor. As Edge scrambles to find some kind of safety, Hardy grabs Edge’s IV stand and swings it like an axe, bringing it down on Edge over and over again until hospital security finally arrives. Hardy manages to take out the first two security guards, and grabs a tazer from their waistband; as more security piles in, Hardy leaps onto Edge and jams the tazer right against his heart. More security pours in and they manage to get Hardy off Edge. Hardy screams “You can’t get rid of me! I won’t die!” as officers haul him away from Edge’s hospital room.

Ric Flair approaches the ring, and though he’s wearing one of his trademark Nature Boy robes, he has no strut or swagger to him; he is all business. He grabs a microphone and gets right to it. “Mick Foley! I want you out here now! You’re a punk, your’e a fraud, you’re a shame to this business, and I wanna kick your ass right here, right now! Get out here!” Flair gives Foley a few seconds, and, when Foley’s music fails to bring out the former WWE Champion, Flair calls him out again. “Foley! This is why you failed in WCW, and this is why you’ll only be known for crap like getting slammed on thumbtacks and thrown off cells; because you’re a coward! A gutless, old coward, a hack who can’t go! Look at me! I got 20 years on you, and I can still go all night and half the morning, too! Now get out here!”

Foley appears, but on the TitanTron instead of the stage. “Ric, I’m not going to apologize for not being there tonight,” says Foley to an unexpected chorus of boos. “You see, I have better things to do then chase some old man around the country. I realized last night, after I stopped you from winning the Intercontinental Title, that I’d let my hatred for you distract me from what I’m supposed to be doing: beating some sense into CM Punk, and standing up for Ring Of Honor. So, before you can shove your ample nose into their business–something the boys in ROH most certainly told you they don’t want–I’m taking the bull by the horns. I’m training, and I’m going to come out of retirement to beat CM Punk myself. And unlike you, I won’t put my own personal desires for glory over the sanctity of the ROH Championship; once I beat CM Punk, I will march right into Ring Of Honor and hand-deliver the championship to whomever they choose.” Foley pauses, a smirk popping up on his lips. “Now, as for our little ‘confrontation’ tonight … if you’re itching for a fight, I have a friend who’d be more then willing to give you a fight, if you like.”

Mick Foley’s proxy is Shelton Benjamin, who refuses Flair’s offer of a handshake. “C’mon, kid, don’t let Foley screw up your head,” pleads Foley. “He’s using you to avoid me.”

Benjamin gestures for Flair’s mic; Flair gives it to him, and Benjamin promptly tosses it aside, then crouches in a ready position. Reluctantly, Flair removes his robe and locks up with the fiery youngster. But they don’t get in more then a couple reversals and a trade-off of chops before CM Punk runs down and goes after Flair. But not only does Flair fight back, but Benjamin comes to Flair’s defense. Punk tries to get away from the pair, but Benjamin manages to catch Punk; Flair whoos, points at Benjamin and yells for him to do it, and Benjamin slaps on a figure-four. Flair grabs a microphone and says; “Carlito! Come and get him!”

When Carlito comes out, Benjamin and Flair leave the ring, but stay at ringside. Carlito immediately goes to work on Punk’s damaged leg, with Benjamin and Flair cheering on the otherwise-despicable Caribbean superstar. But the injury doesn’t stop Punk from cheating every opportunity he gets, and the cheating pays off when Carlito tries to splash Punk in the corner, but Punk drops down and Carlito eats the exposed turnbuckle. Punk rolls up Carlito and, with a handful of tights as good measure, gets the pinfall.

But with his bum wheel, Punk isn’t fast enough to make his usual escape; Benjamin and Flair catch him, and are joined by Big Show and John Cena. With Carlito, the four begin to dissect the Intercontinental Champ, with everyone scoring a hit of their finisher on the straight-edge superstar. Flair goes last, locking in his signature figure-four as tight as a drum; Punk, almost comatose by this point, snaps to as soon as the pain sets in and begins screaming and tapping furiously, but Flair keeps the hold locked in until officials come in to break up the mob justice. As Punk is helped to the back by medics, every WWE superstar they encounter applauds at the sight of Punk’s misery.

Sep. 24, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Survival Of The Fittest ’05″:

With Bryan Danielson obligated to other commitments, he, and the (twice-over) kidnapped ROH World Title belt are absent from the promotion’s annual one-night tournament. And with the opportunity to both showcase their abilities and speak their minds, every single member of the tourney’s field seizes their moment; Samoa Joe promises to do what he did once before, to rescue the belt from a coward and restore its glory. The members of Generation Next collectively vow that, if it takes their entire membership, one of them will stop CM Punk in his tracks. Christopher Daniels pledges that CM Punk will not deny him the title that has eluded him in his career–that of world champion.

The most chilling words come from Punk’s former best friend, Colt Cabana, who disposes of his normal happy-go-lucky nature for a short, but memorable promo. “Punk, every man in this building wants a piece of you,” he says. “But there is only one guy who had your back, whether you were going after Raven or Jimmy Rave, when you needed back-up against The Prophecy or to win the tag titles with. You stabbed this whole promotion in the back, Punk … but I’m probably the only guy who considered you a friend. And for that, I owe you more then you know, more then everyone else combined. For betraying Ring Of Honor, and for betraying me, I owe you the kind of beating only a friend can deliver.”

After the field is narrowed down to the six-man finals, and the show comes back from intermission, Nigel McGuinness successfully defends his Pure Title against one half of the ROH Tag Champions, BJ Whitmer. As Nigel stands in the ring, proud of his tainted victory, the lights go to black. A spotlight directed at the front entrance of the arena pulls everyone’s attention. CM Punk approaches the ring, dressed in his wrestling gear, with the Intercontinental Title around his waist. Punk looks at Nigel, cocking his head to the side. “What’s that you got?” Punk asks. “You pick that up at XPW’s estate sale?” Punk unfastens his belt and holds it aloft. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a championship to be proud of. Sure, it comes from a company that’s absolutely bankrupt in talent and morality, but think of the good wrestlers who’ve held it: Bret Hart. Randy Savage. Pedro Morales. Curt Hennig.” Someone in the crowd yells out for Ricky Steamboat, a name from CM Punk’s past that makes him shudder. “Didn’t that loser drop the strap to a Fat Elvis impersonator? Yeah, keep worshipping at that temple, jackass, see how far you get. The point is that, unlike that toy you have, Nigel, I have a championship. A championship with a prestigious legacy that has been building over thirty years to this moment … to me. Just like the Ring Of Honor World Title … it had to slog through years of mediocre half-wits and sluggish stiffs, until it could finally arrive at the one and only symbol of perfection … CM Punk.”

Suddenly, Punk’s jovial demeanor vanishes. “The only problem is, this rotten son of a bitch, Bryan Danielson has my belt. Now, I know that coward piece of shit isn’t here tonight. The only way he’s getting his hands on that belt is by stealing it; he can’t take it the old-fashioned way, not from a true, fighting champ like me.” The crowd chants for CM Punk to shut up, albeit with a little profanity, and Nigel puts in his two cents.

“Bloody hell, can’t you hear these people?” says Nigel. “Shut up, before I smack the spit from your teeth!”

Punk eyes Nigel harshly. “I don’t think this is any of your business, curtain-jerker! I’m out here on business; I’m here to defend my Ring Of Honor World Title against someone I feel is a worthy opponent. I hold belts in two companies; I don’t have time to waste on menial, generic midcarders like yourself.”

“Well, then, tell us who he is,” says Nigel, gesturing for Punk to get on with it.

Punk straightens himself proudly, like a ring announcer. “Ladies and gentlemen, my opponent tonight … Pelle Primeau!”

The diminutive ROH training school student comes out to virtually no reaction at all, good or bad. But before Primeau can get in the ring, Nigel holds up a hand. “Wait a bloody moment, son. Before you get here in this ring, hold on just a moment.” Punk turns to ask what the hold-up is, and turns right into a European uppercut. Nigel lights into the stunned Punk with more European uppercuts and chops, backing him into a corner. Punk has no time to think about reacting, let alone putting a plan in action, before Nigel lifts him up on the turnbuckle, grabs his head and sticks him with the Tower Of London. With Punk laying in a heap, knocked stupid, Nigel grabs the microphone and says, “He’s all yours, kid,” as he leaves the ring. But the young student, half the size of Punk (if that), takes one too many big risks, and Punk manages to catch the youngster and tie him up with the Anaconda Vice. A quick tap-out later and Punk stands above the kid, victorious, looking down on him with disgust. The ref orders Punk to shake Pelle’s hand, but instead, Punk lifts Pelle up and spikes him with the Devil Lock DDT. Punk points to the corner, signalling for the Pepsi Plunge, much to the crowd’s dismay, and drags Pelle to the corner.

But before Punk can break Pelle, six men all come out and stand at ringside, glaring up at the reviled champion; Roderick Strong, Samoa Joe, Colt Cabana, Austin Aries, Jay Lethal and Christopher Daniels–six men who have traded blows and spilled blood against one another over the years, and are minutes from doing battle to determine the winner of the Survival Of The Fittest–stand side by side, their harsh glares saying everything that needs be said. Punk drops Pelle and slinks out of the ring, and back through the crowd. Halfway to the door, he stops when Joe clears his throat over the mic and holds up Punk’s forgotten Intercontinental Title. “Forgot something?” he says cheerfully. “Hey, guys, think we should keep it?” The other five guys rousing vote against such an action. “See, we got a little more class then you. So, why don’t you come here and get your belt and get the hell outta here?”

Punk comes back to the ring, hesitantly sliding in the ring; Lethal psyches out Punk by faking a lunge, sending Punk skittering back against the turnbuckle. “Oh, come on,” says Joe. “Did they cut off your balls when you got up to Stamford? Jesus, I don’t remember you being this big of a pussy six months ago.”

Punk sneers, but against six guys, takes no action against the slight. Cautiously, he inches forward and grabs the proffered belt … except that Joe doesn’t let go. Punk tugs, and Joe suddenly jerks the belt, and Punk, up close. “This belt,” he says, looking down at Punk with murderous eyes, “we’re sending back with you. But that other belt you have, that belongs to us. And believe me, no matter who wins tonight, know this–someone will be taking it from you. The longer you keep it from us, the worse your beating’s gonna be.”

Joe releases his grip on the belt. Punk wastes no time in leaving the ring, hopping the barrier and leaving the arena. In his absence, he missed Roderick Strong overcome his five opponents to win the tournament. Strong gestures at his waist, an obvious challenge to the absent Punk. As he’s celebrating, a very unexpected guest comes down the aisle, greeted by a hailstorm of jeers that he ignores. The six men in the ring watch as Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff enters the ring. Bischoff doesn’t bother with pleasantries, getting right down to business instead.

“I’m here for two reasons, and I’ll make ‘em both brief. First, I want to make sure that what I proposed on Monday Night Raw is a go. Um … Colt Cabana … that’s your name, right?” Bischoff shakes his head disapprovingly, but soldiers on. “I want Punk humiliated as much as you want the chance to do it. So, do we have a deal … you and your buddy, Bryan Danielson, against Punk and the WWE Champion John Cena?” Colt nods emphatically; Eric responds in kind. “Good. Don’t go thinking this is some kind of audition; it’s one-time-only. That’s all. Now, as for the other issue … this little drama with your title, it’s not only taking up time on my show, it’s causing outright chaos. I got WWE wrestlers fighting over who gets to fight Punk, there’s this street thug … what’s his name, Homicide? He attacks one of my talents with a fork, like this was a prison yard. Well, it’s done. No more. If he hasn’t heard by Monday, I’ll tell him myself; if he doesn’t come back and defend that belt at every Ring Of Honor show, I will send him down to rot in development hell. But in return, I want your solemn vow that these little invasions you guys keep running on Raw … they’re done. No more. After Raw Homecoming, I don’t wanna see another one of you guys on my show. Understood?” Before Bischoff can get his reply, he throws down the microphone and walks out.

Sep. 26, ’05: WWE Raw:

CM Punk comes out, once again in his designer suit and sunglasses. The crowd lets Punk know what they think of him with an “asshole” chant that Punk disarms. “I may be an asshole, but I’m a champion in two wrestling companies,” he says dryly. “Plus, I’m straight-edge, and that means I’m better then you.” Punk removes his sunglasses and puts them in his lapel pocket, then clears his throat. “There’s a couple things that need addressing. First, there’s next week, and Raw’s Homecoming show. See, I’m partnering with this company’s shining light, The Great White Joke, John Cena. Now, you look at who we’re facing, and who I’m partnered with, and who I am, and you realize one of these things ain’t like the other. I might as well be teaming with a kindergartner, or a paraplegic, for all the help he’s gonna be. Cena, I don’t like you, and I sure as hell don’t respect you; you’re a fraud, and a disgrace to any wrestler–any real wrestler–who’s ever held a championship. Do me a huge favor and stay on the apron next week; don’t tag in. I want to win next week, and I sure as hell can’t do that if I have to keep pulling your punch-kick-finisher BS out of the fire over and over again. These guys we’re wrestling are sharks, and you’re nothing but a guppy gushing blood. So just stay on the apron, and I’ll get the win for us, deal? Good.” The crowd chants for Cena, but Punk talks over them. “And then … and then there’s Eric Bischoff, and his supposed authority to order me to defend the Ring Of Honor World Title.” Punk gets up close to the nearest TV camera. “You don’t have the stroke for that, Eric. Outside these arena walls, your power dies. Not even Vince McMahon has the power to lord over other companies, no matter how delusional he may be.”

The music of Raw’s General Manager signals his arrival. As he walks to the ring, Punk shakes his head. “Please, Eric. Don’t embarrass yourself. You don’t have the authority, and you sure as hell don’t have the skills to take me on in a fight. I’ve seen your ‘karate’,” he says, making quotation marks in the air.

“Oh, I’m not here to fight you,” says Bischoff with all the good-natured pleasantry of an executioner. “But I am here to tell you that I do have the authority to make your life a living hell if you don’t go back to Ring Of Honor and defend that belt.”

Punk smiles. “Go ahead. Demote me. Send me to Heat. Send me to OVW.” Punk pats the belt on his shoulder. “But this comes with me.”

Now Bischoff smiles, and the smile makes Punk take a step back. “That’s where you’re wrong, Punk. You see, you may be right. I may not be in a position to actually command you to defend the Ring Of Honor Championship …” Bischoff’s smile grows even bigger, a fine counterpart to the evil twinkle in his eye. “… but I can strip you of the Intercontinental Title if you refuse to defend your other title.”

Punk stews a moment, shooting daggers from his eyes in Bischoff’s direction. Suddenly, the hostility disappears … only to be replaced by a fiendish gleam in his eyes. “You’re right. But you can’t strip me if I maintain my status with regular defenses and do not break my contract in any way.” Bischoff’s face twists in a sneer, one that just eggs on Punk’s smarmy attitude. “So I’ll defend this belt tonight, against the opponent of my choosing. If, that is, you have a couple seconds open on the schedule so I can dispatch with one of your hapless, incompetent sports entertainers.”

“Fine. But don’t think I’m going to allow you to pull what you did at the Ring Of Honor show two days ago and pick some rookie prelim guy so you have a cakewalk. Your opponent needs to be championship-caliber competition.”

“I can deal with that.” Punk’s crocodile smile is so large, it threatens to engulf his head. “Since I know he’s here tonight, my opponent will be … Mick Foley.” Punk shoves his microphone in Bischoff’s chest and walks away.

When Bischoff gets back to his office, he finds Mick Foley there waiting for him. “Mick, I–”

“I can’t wrestle him, Eric. I’m retired. Retired. If fighting Evolution taught me anything, it’s that I don’t have what it takes to get the job done anymore, no matter what name I go under.”

Bischoff sits in his chair, leaning forward with his hands steepled. “Let me see if I understand you, okay, Mick? What I’m hearing you say is that the WWE Intercontinental Title … a title that’s been around for the better part of thirty years… a title that CM Punk, a man you’ve made no secret of disliking, holds. You’re here before me, declining to participate in a match against CM Punk for the Intercontinental Title, the number-two belt of this brand, and the second-oldest belt in this company. The company you work for. You’d rather lay down arms when asked to help the company that signs your paychecks against this loudmouthed little prick … but you’re first in line to beat CM Punk’s brains in when the cause is helping another company. Am I hearing you correctly, Mick?”

Foley stammers, caught entirely off-guard. “I wouldn’t put it that way–”

“Of course you wouldn’t. From a guy that spit on the WCW Tag Titles, I shouldn’t expect better. Tell you what, Mick; you don’t want to wrestle tonight? Spectacular. I’ll just hand the shot to someone else.” Bischoff pauses for so long, Foley starts to move towards the door. “Oh, Mick. One thing. This kind of insubordination, I can’t let it stand. So I’m going to need to see you prove your loyalty. You can do that by refereeing the Intercontinental Title match.” Foley looks at Bischoff with mouth agape. After a few long, agonizing seconds, Bischoff makes a shooing gesture. “Run along now!”

CM Punk is the first one introduced for his Intercontinental Title defense, and as he enters the ring, his irritation at the switch of opponents–thereby short-circuiting his plan–is screaming from every pore. Foley, who can’t even be bothered to swear the traditional zebra shirt, looks just as annoyed. Punk and Foley trade pointed glares as Lillian Garcia stalls, asking the official if knows who the other wrestler will be.

Instead, Eric Bischoff comes out on the stage. “Lillian, I’ll handle it. The opponent, challenging for the Intercontinental Title is Ric Flair!”

The crowd explodes as the 16-time World Champion hits the stage, strutting and whooing up a storm. By contrast, Punk and Foley finally find something to agree on: hatred of the Nature Boy. Both Punk and Foley give Flair the evil eye as he steps in the ring, but Flair is too busy playing to the crowd to notice. When Flair finally acknowledges his two adversaries, he whoos in their direction and struts a little more.

Disgusted with Flair’s antics, Foley signals for the bell; Punk pounces as Flair is busy taking off his robe, giving Punk the advantage. Punk scores with stiff martial arts kicks and knee strikes, and after the flurry has Flair on the mat, Punk goes for the pin. Foley only looks down in disdain; Punk leaps to his feet and gets in Foley’s face. Flair crawls behind Punk and gives him a crotch shot and turns it into a roll-up, which Foley equally ignores. Now Flair jumps up and berates Foley; Foley regards Flair with all the attention one would pay to watching paint dry.

From there, the match quickly disintegrates, as Foley shows no effort to enforce anything resembling rules; Flair brings in a steel chair, while Punk brings in his title belt. The turnbuckle pads come off in all four corners. Rope breaks are ignored entirely, as is blatant cheating like holding the ropes or pulling the tights. But all pinfall attempts are ignored. The action spills to the outside, and the use of foreign objects becomes even more profound, as the ring bell and a cable come into play. With Flair and Punk oblivious to Foley’s actions, neither can protest his ultra-fast count, and only know the match has reached an official–if tainted–conclusion when they hear the bell ring and Lillian Garcia proclaim the match a double-count-out. Flair and Punk both gape at Foley, who gives the duo a pair of middle fingers. Punk, holding the ring bell, quickly swings it and connects with Flair’s skull, then takes off at Foley; Foley runs for the stage, but Punk catches him on the ramp and lays into him with his martial arts kicks. The kicks drive Foley to the ground, and when Foley manages to get to his knees, Punk unleashes with a buzzsaw-like kick that nearly sends Foley’s head into the cheap seats. Punk slaps Foley in the face a couple times and, upon getting no response, walks away, his enemies broken and battered.

Oct. 1, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Joe vs. Kobashi”:

The headlining match, pitting ROH legend Samoa Joe against Japanese wrestling titan Kenta Kobashi, is enough of a dream-come-true for wrestling purists and the ROH fanbase that the ever-present black cloud of CM Punk and his holding of the ROH World Title hostage is almost forgotten.

Until Mick Foley shows up at the very start of the evening.

The crowd, previously awash in the excitement from the anticipation of the main event, turns sour almost instantaneously. Foley lets them get their chants of “You’re not welcome” and “You got punked” out of their system. “I didn’t come here tonight to make you angry, or to cause a riot,” says Foley. “I know, especially the guys in that locker room, are getting pretty tired of seeing guys from the WWE come into their turf like they owned the place. But I can’t say enough how sincere my desire is to help this company get back what is rightfully theirs. I’m not like that lying son of a bitch Ric Flair; I can promise you, his only interest is in himself. He–”

The lights go dim, and the Godzilla intro fills the arena, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Samoa Joe saunters out, his eyes locked on Foley like a heat-seeking missle. As the sold-out crowd chants “Fuck him up, Joe, fuck him up!”, Joe gets in the ring; Foley extends a hand, which Joe greets with a chuckle. “You think I’m stupid?” he asks. “You bash me in the head with a chair months ago, you send your corporate puppet friends to try and collect our title, and then you have the nerve to come in here and say you understand how we feel when we see guys from the WWE coming into our events?” Joe’s false humor drops like a rock in a lake as he suddenly gets into Foley’s face. “Give me one reason–good or not–why I shouldn’t choke your ass into a coma right here and now.”

“Because I know what tonight’s main event means to you, Joe,” says Foley nervously, “and I’m here to help you with it. I’m here to help everyone.”

“And what makes you think I want your help? What makes you think I need anyhelp?”

“Well, I know that CM Punk hates you, hates this company and hates the fans, and that there’s nothing he’d like more then to come in here tonight and ruin your big night. And that’s why, out of my own piggy bank, I hired extra security that have orders to detain CM Punk if he tries to get into the building.”

With that, a batallion of fully-armed and armored SWAT-style security guards pour into the building through the front doors, taking up stations at every door, encircling the audience, and two posting at every corner of the ring. Joe seethes, pacing the ring as he turns over the situation in his mind. Finally, he points to the front door and says through clinched teeth; “Go. Now.”

Foley doesn’t even try to argue; he drops to the floor, climbs over the guard rail and leaves through the front entrance. But he stops when Joe calls out to him. “Foley! Be here tomorrow.” Foley nods and leaves.

As the evening unfolds, the guards, and the show’s opening incident are forgotten about amidst the show’s turns and twists; newcomer Claudio Castagnoli upsets Colt Cabana. New tag team champions are crowned in a major upset. The Embassy’s long-suffering valet, Jade Chung, finally turns her back on her abusers and joins the rival Generation Next stable, helping Survival Of The Fittest winner Roderick Strong beat Embassy “crown jewel” Jimmy Rave. And throughout the event, the company’s top names–Cabana, James Gibson, Christopher Daniels, Nigel McGuinness, Jay Lethal, and Strong–all state their case, either by actions, words or gestures that they should be next in line for Punk and his stolen title.

But the night’s sanctity is shattered after the penultimate match, a contest between Jack Evans and Homicide. Following Evans’ victory, Homicide leaves the ring in frustration, and as he passes one of Mick Foley’s super-security, the guard headbutts Homicide, the helmet hitting Homcide’s skull with a dull knocking sound that can be heard in the first couple rows. Every pair of eyes in the place whips around as the security guard gets on top of Homicide and jabs a tazer in his side. So stunned is Evans and ROH’s native security force–as well as the rest of Foley’s security team–that Homicide’s running buddies in The Rottweilers are on the scene before anyone else has even moved. The guard whips out his baton and starts laying out Homicide’s friends and gets in a few shots on Homicide before everyone’s stupor is broken and they detain the rogue security guard. As he struggles against the guards holding him back, the rogue guard’s helmet falls off, revealing him to be Matt Hardy, screaming for Homicide’s blood. The guards quickly remove Hardy from the arena as the crowd chants for Samoa Joe.

Joe comes out, sans music, with the members of James Gibson, Jay Lethal, Colt Cabana and several ROH training school students in tow; he talks to them all briefly, pointing in various directions. One by one, the collective goes to every one of Foley’s security guards and demands they remove their helmets. After confirming that no one else has infiltrated the squadron, Joe returns to the locker room so the preliminaries to his historic match can begin.

The historic match goes off without a hitch, leaving the crowd chanting “Match Of The Year” and Kobashi’s name. Kobashi, the victor, is showered with streamers from the crowd; Joe gives him a handshake and raises his hand to the delight of the on-their-feet crowd. So, with the thunderous noise of chanting and clapping, it is to no one’s surprise that the panicked screams of Jade Chung aren’t heard until she runs into the ring and begs for Joe’s help. Frantically, she points towards the front door; Joe follows, as does the crowd, out into the dimly lit parking lot.

Jade leads Joe and the crowd outside. Under the glow of the parking lights, the scene is revealed; the shared rental car by Generation Next has been hit. Roderick Strong and Jack Evans, the members of the stable at the event, are laid out on the concrete, bloody and clutching their torsos. Standing above them is CM Punk, brandishing a baseball bat, yelling at Strong that he won’t be getting anything. Joe yells out at Punk; the ROH Champion drops the bat, slides over the hood of his car, gets in and disappears into the night as Chung checks on her fallen friends. The rest of the ROH locker room arrives in time to see Punk’s taillights disappear into the night traffic.

Oct. 2, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Unforgettable”:

With a second huge dream match in as many days headlining Ring Of Honor’s show–this one pitting Kobashi and his selected partner Homicide against Samoa Joe and his selected partner, Homicide’s Rottweiler running buddy Low-Ki–the hope is high for another milestone event like the night before … minus the incursions of Matt Hardy and CM Punk.

It is with Joe that the night begins, but not his match. His approach to the ring is without either his normal laid-back bravado, nor fan-friendly fanfare; he simply walks to the ring, enters and gets a microphone. “I don’t know if anybody here was at our show in Manhatten last night, or if you read up what happened on the ‘net …” Joe trails off, scratching his head and rubbing at his face nervously. “Roddy Strong and Jack Evans got the shit kicked outta them by CM Punk in a parking lot with a baseball bat. He didn’t beat ‘em here in the ring, he didn’t wrestle them … he assaulted them out there, out in the street, like some kind of criminal. That isn’t how we do things here in Ring Of Honor! That may fly in Connecticut, but in Ring Of Honor, it starts and stops in this ring.” Joe pauses, looking out over the crowd. “See, far as I’m concerned, all this shit–whether we’re talkin’ the championship, or the Rottweilers turning into homicidal maniacs, or Bryan Danielson turning into a vigilante–it all started when Mick Foley first stuck his nose in this company. He’s the one that talked CM Punk into signing with the WWE, so if it hadn’t been for that fat sack of crap showing up here in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this hellhole we’re in now.” Joe stops pacing, turns to the ramp with almost murderous eyes and barks out; “Foley. Get out here. Now.”

Foley comes out to a now entirely hostile group; his shoulders are slumped and his general demeanor is defeated and broken as he approaches the ring. Hesitantly, he climbs under the bottom rope and mouths an apology. “No, I don’t wanna fuckin’ hear it, Foley,” snaps Joe, approaching Foley so fast, the hardcore icon is forced to back up into the corner. “I don’t wanna hear how you didn’t mean it. You meant it. You didn’t come to ROH as a friend or to put us over; you came here as Vince McMahon’s shill. You came here to get me and Punk to sign to the WWE. Admit it!

Foley cannot even mouth the words. When Joe screams it in his face again, Foley can only nod.

“So then all this … Punk taking the belt to WWE … Bryan Danielson stealing it and not bringing it back … Homicide and Matt Hardy … killing the friendship between Punk and Colt … everything … it’s all your fault. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?!

Again, Foley, unable to look Joe in the eye, can only nod.

“And now, now you’re gonna be our number-one crusader, huh? You’re gonna be our savior in Stamford. You’re gonna ride in on your white horse and clean up the mess, a mess you made.” Joe laughs without a shred of humor. “That cracks me up.” Joe steps back, giving Foley some breathing room. “You wanna do me a favor? You wanna do Ring Of Honor a favor? I want you to ride that white horse back up to Connecticut, right up to Vince McMahon’s office, and tell him Ring Of Honor ain’t for sale anymore. We don’t want to see his shills around here anymore, and we sure as hell don’t want his ‘talent’ showing up on our shows. And you personally … just stop. Don’t help us anymore. Don’t be our knight in shining armor. Don’t be our hero. No more security teams, no more proteges,nothing. And tell your buddy Ric he needs to keep his nose outta our business, too. Got that?” Foley nods, and Joe approaches him once again. “One more thing. I don’t ever want to see you here again. Ever. Not in someone’s corner, not chasing down Punk in the parking lot, not even signing autographs at the merch booth. The next time I see you at an ROH event is the next time your wife sees you in the hospital. Understand? Good. Now get to steppin’.”

Foley doesn’t hesitate for a second to leave, and doesn’t spare a look back at Joe or the audience on his way out of Ring Of Honor. The crowd serenades the three-time WWE Champion and hardcore icon with a rousing chant of “Don’t come back”.

The banishment of the unwanted Foley is the start of good news for the promotion on the second of their international-attention-getting shows. The only possible bad news–regarding the conditions of Roderick Strong and Jack Evans–is neutralized when they appear not long after Joe’s confrontation with Foley and both vow not only to deliver performances better then ever, but to win and move themselves up in contention for a shot at Punk.

But with a growing list of contenders for Punk’s title, and a champion missing in action, being “in contention” is a meaningless achievement … until, after the show comes back from intermission, the crowd is stunned by the appearence of former manager, promoter, booker and generally controversial personality, Jim Cornette. Cornette thanks the fans for their warm reception and proudly backs Ring Of Honor as carrying on the tradition of old-school wrestling at its finest.

Then, he drops the 10-megaton bombshell; “Now, I know none of you came here and paid your twenty bucks or whatever to listen to me yammer on about what you already know,” he says, “so let me get right to the point: the people who own Ring Of Honor, they need someone on the front lines to help keep this company from sinking. That’s why I’m here. Effectively immediately, I am the Commissioner for Ring Of Honor.” The crowd explodes at the announcement. “Now, now, I know you’re all excited, but I got a bunch of business to attend to, so if you’ll work with me here, we can get it done, and you can get back to enjoying the wrestling, okay? First? Samoa Joe. You don’t make the rules; I do. I say who comes and who goes, I say who can get in and who needs to be headin’ for the hills. Now, I happen to be of the opinion that Mick Foley’s done more harm then good for Ring Of Honor, but I don’t think he’s done it on purpose like you do. Still, the fans have voices their opinion, so I am going to ask that Mick Foley stay out of Ring Of Honor from now on. But Joe … I don’t ever wanna see you trying to be this company’s sheriff again.” Cornette straights his tie, and continues. “Now, second piece of business; Matt Hardy and Homicide. These two wanna tear each other apart, and I don’t care if Matt Hardy’s WWE or not, I don’t see why we can’t let ‘em do what they wanna. October 29th, at This Means War, it will mean war for those two–I’m authorizing an unsanctioned street fight between the two. And just in case you’re in the building, Matt, I will pull my okay for that match and ban you from ROH for life if you interfere in tonight’s main event. Now, third piece of business; Bryan Danielson. He comes back at our next show, on October the 14th. And as much as I don’t like CM Punk–and I hear you chanting, believe me, I’ll get to him in a second–he is the champion, and the champion should have his belt. So, bring the belt with you, because I’ll expecting CM Punk to be there, and I’ll be expecting you to hand it to him. And I say I’ll be expecting CM Punk to be there because my fourth and last piece of business is about him; starting at the next show, you’ll be defending that belt, and every show after that till you lose. I don’t care if you gotta skip a WWE house show, or your momma’s birthday, or Christmas or whatever your excuse is; you be here, you defend that belt, or I will strip you of the title. No excuses.”

Oct. 3, ’05: WWE Raw Homecoming:

In addition to a parade of former WWE Champions and Legends paying tribute, two major tag matches highlight Raw’s return to the USA network on a special three-hour episode: Edge and Kurt Angle team to take on Matt Hardy and Shawn Michaels in a falls-count-anywhere tornado tag, and, in the landmark inter-promotional main event, CM Punk and John Cena team up against Ring Of Honor’s Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana.

The show kicks off with a tribute in the way of the return of Piper’s Pit. Roddy Piper reminisces about Raw and his wilder times in the WWE, then gets to calling down his guest, Ric Flair. But instead of Flair, Mick Foley comes down. Piper looks at Foley with his normal wild-eyed stare and says; “Maybe I’ve been whacked in the head one too many times, but I swear, Ric, you’ve let yourself go! Did you get lost at a buffet?”

Foley ignores Piper and produces his own microphone. “I’m sorry to come out here like this and interrupt the show, but I have some important business to discuss. Many of you may not know that, over the weekend, I made an appearence at Ring Of Honor’s weekend shows, where I was promptly ordered never to return by one of their talent.” Foley shakes his head, leaning against the ropes, looking down at the arena floor. “I just don’t get it. I do the right thing, I try and help this little company out with their problem, and what do I get for it? I get beat up and sent packing. I get insulted and told I’m the cause of all the misery. And I get some old, washed-up, bitter, has-been who can’t let go of the spotlight, trying to screw me over every step of the way.” Foley paces back and forth a couple times, then, in a fit of anger reminiscent of his Mankind days, starts hitting himself in the head and pulling out hair. “Is this how I’m to be repaid? Is this my reward for years of service, for getting thrown off the Hell In A Cell and getting my brains smashed in by The Rock in front of my family? Is this what I get for getting Pedigreed on thumbtacks? What the hell good is it for me to do the right thing and try to stop some snot-nosed kid from pissing all over the company I gave my blood and sweat to rebuild, what good is it when I try to help save this company from self-serving sons of bitches like CM Punk and Ric Flair, and I get kicked to the curb like yesterday’s garbage? Everyone in this goddam building hates CM Punk as much as I do, and everyone in this building knows that Ric Flair can’t be trusted! What–”

Piper finally has enough of Foley’s tirade; he steps up and slaps him across the face, killing Foley’s rant dead in its tracks. Foley’s eyes radiate ice-cold fury, which Piper barely has time to register before Foley snaps and attacks Piper. Foley punches and kicks Piper to the mat before sliding out of the ring and grabbing a chair. Ric Flair runs down to save his old friend, but Foley turns in time and blasts Flair upside the head with the chair. Chair in hand, Foley starts swinging, going for Piper’s hip and Flair’s back at first, but within seconds, just going for whatever he can hit. By the time Foley is done, Flair is bleeding, Piper cannot stand, and the crowd is left speechless. Foley drops the chair and walks off, the mad gleam in his eyes all too familiar. As he walks backstage, he crosses paths with Vince McMahon, present to celebrate the show’s return to USA; Vince actually takes a couple steps back in shock and horror when he sees Foley approaching, looking disheveled, his palms covered in blood from grabbing Flair by the blood-soaked hair and screaming in his face. Foley stops in front of Vince, who looks horrified to even be near the crazed former WWE Champion. Foley reaches out and grabs one of Vince’s hands, clasping it in his blood-covered hands. Vince tries to squirm his hand away, but Foley clinches down.

“I want him, Vince,” says Foley in a drab monotone. “If you don’t give him to me at Taboo Tuesday, next time, I hand you a body part.” Foley releases Vince’s hand and walks away, leaving a horrified Vince calling for a towel.

Flair’s blood is only the first to be spilled, as the particpants of the tornado tag match quickly drop any pretense of wrestling and get right to brawling. By the time ten carnage-filled minutes have passed, Hardy has Edge’s forehead torn open, while Shawn Michaels’ forehead is split wide from a shot with the ring bell. Not a single pin attempt is made in the first ten minutes, however, as the desire to maim, punish and eviscerate is too much to resist. When attempts are finally made, it is done by the Hardy/Michaels team, although none are successful. By the time the match makes it to a commercial break, both announce tables are ruined, and virtually anything around ringside has been dented, broken, bashed or smashed … but no one will stay down for the three count and suffer the humiliation of losing to their long-time nemesis. And without rules or barriers, the ref has no choice but to let the match continue until a winner is declared.

When the end finally comes, it is sudden, dramatic and very frightening. As Hardy tries to put space between him and Edge to catch a breather, someone in the crowd leans forward and throws a cup of liquid on Hardy’s face. He immediately falls to the ground, screaming and writhing in pain. Edge capitalizes and scores the pin, but medics immediately hit the scene and check on Hardy, who holds his eyes, saying he can’t see. Security is dispatched to get the attacker as the medics rush Hardy to the back. By the time Raw comes back from commercial, moments before Vince McMahon is to head to the ring to talk about the homecoming, Jim Ross announces that, per the medics, Matt Hardy is blinded after being attacked with chlorine bleach; the attacker, in custody and being taken to the local police station, is identified as Homicide.

With this unspeakable act still looming overhead like a black cloud, Vince McMahon takes to the ring to, ostensibly, talk about Raw’s homecoming … but really, he talks about himself, his accomplishments and how great he is. Video clips are shown of his various “triumphs”, many of which are of him humiliating Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince proclaims that, despite the show’s track record thus far tonight, it is still a celebration, and the historic main event will be one talked about for generations to come, “something,” he says, “that Steve Austin could never provide!”

The sound of glass breaking shocks Vince, who does his trademark McMahon Exaggerated Gulp as Austin stomps down the ramp. After intimidating Vince just by being there, Austin makes with his own video clips, reminding Vince about the million-and-one ways he’d suffered his own humiliations, from the concrete in his Corvette to the beer bath to the hospital attack. “I’d say, Vince, that maybe we kinda did it … together,” says Austin. “You know … you and me … we kinda helped each other. You think so?”

“Hell, no!” barks Vince. “If it hadn’t been for you, the WWE wouldn’t have had the black smear on its record of having you as a WWE Champion! You brought misery and suffering to my life every second you were on Raw!”

Austin shrugs and says, “Well, Vince, for once and once only, you’re gonna hear me say ‘you’re right’.” Austin takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, pauses … and nails a picture-perfect Stunner on the Chairman. Before Austin can celebrate with a Steveweiser, Shane McMahon comes out, but he doesn’t even get to open his mouth before getting dropped with a Stunner. Stephanie follows, shrieking at Austin until he drops her too. Linda is last, excoriating Austin for ruining Raw’s homecoming and for attacking her family after spending the past two years getting them all on the same page. Austin apologizes and suggests a way to get them all on the same page again, which is a Stunner for Linda. Finally, Austin enjoys his beers, leaving the entire McMahon family laying in the ring, unconscious.

Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana are introduced first, with Danielson proudly carrying the ROH World Title over his shoulder. When CM Punk is introduced, he avoids getting in the ring, staying down on the arena floor, glaring up at Danielson and the (technically twice) stolen belt, who makes sure to hold it up for everyone to see. John Cena, however, marches right into the ring, virtually ignoring the man forced to be his partner. Despite the match being contested under WWE’s rulebook, Cabana and Danielson both show a measure of respect by approaching Cena and offering hands to shake; Cena reluctantly takes Cabana’s hand, but finds no double-cross. Danielson’s handshake also holds no treachery, although Danielson and Cena exchange hard stares. Punk, however, gets no gestures of respect when he finally gets in the ring.

Cena starts things off for his side, squaring off against Cabana in a surprising game of mat wrestling and reversals, showing a side of Cena rarely, if ever, seen by the fans. After a couple minutes of trading holds, Cabana tags out to Danielson. The self-proclaimed Best Wrestler In The World wows the crowd with stunning mat work and vicious kicks that sound like they should be field goal attempts. Danielson backs Cena into his own corner, but offers a clean corner-break; it is then that Punk tags in (and hard enough to be a knife-edge chop), telling Cena as he steps in not to “get in his way”. Punk points to the apron and tells Cena to stay there while he takes care of business.

And for a few minutes, Punk does indeed take care of business, matching Danielson’s offense hold for hold and kick for kick until he gets the advantage. But when Danielson is able to tag out to Cabana, Punk tries to tag out; Cena drops down and tells Punk to “keep showing me how it’s done”. Cabana seizes the opportunity and starts taking it to Punk, thus shifting the advantage to the Ring Of Honor wrestlers. Minute by minute, Punk is dissected, getting in only the most token of offense as Cabana and Danielson tag in and out. The crowd cheers, but in a restrained manner; seeing Punk beaten is pleasing, but a loss for Punk is a loss for Cena, and that isn’t pleasing to the audience. All the more confusing is Punk’s attempts to tag out, which Cena reacts to by stepping away and telling Punk he “doesn’t wanna get in the way”.

Finally, Punk manages to get in some desperation offense and drops both Danielson and Cabana long enough to demand Cena come in and help him. With the crowd chanting for the WWE Champion, Cena steps through the ropes as Danielson and Cabana pull themselves to their feet. Punk berates Cena for taking his time doing the right thing. Cena shrugs and says “You’re right”, then kicks Punk in the gut and delivers a ring-shaking F-U. Cena gestures to Danielson and Cabana, as if to say “He’s all yours”, and leaves. Bischoff comes out and argues with Cena, but Cena ignores him and keeps walking. In the ring, Cabana, the legal man, picks up Punk off the mat and nails his Colt .45 finisher and makes the cover. The audience counts along as the ref’s hand hits the mat three times. Danielson and Cabana celebrate as the audience cheers for Punk’s defeat. Cena stops at the top of the ramp and turns to face Danielson and Cabana; he points at them and gives them the thumbs-up, and gets the gesture in return.

As Bischoff fumes, Vince McMahon’s lackey Jonathan Coachman comes out. “Eric,” he says. “Eric! I have a message from Mr. McMahon.” Coachman clears his throat; Bischoff’s face goes sheet white and he falls to his knees. “He’ll be here next week. Your two months are up.” Coachman shoves the microphone in Bischoff’s hands and walks away, leaving Bischoff alone on the stage, shell-shocked. He doesn’t even notice as Cabana and Danielson laugh at him on the way to the back.

Oct. 10, ’05: WWE Raw:

The build to WWE’s interactive PPV, Taboo Tuesday, begins on Raw with CM Punk defending the Intercontinental Title against Ric Flair, and Edge–bragging that he retired Matt Hardy and thus deserves a title shot–faces Shawn Michaels.

But perhaps nothing is more anticipated then Raw GM Eric Bischoff’s confrontation with Vince McMahon, and Vince strides to the ring as soon as the opening pyro is finished. From the twisted snarl on his face, it is obvious the Chairman is not in the mood to mess around, and his words back that up; “Eric Bischoff, front and center now.”

Bischoff comes to the ring almost penitently, bowing just a little, averting his eyes and offering a handshake. Vince watches Bischoff’s prostrations with no discernable interest whatsoever. “Stop it, Eric, you’re making a fool of yourself,” growls Vince. “It’s far too late to be kissing my ass, so at least have the decency to face me like a man. Show me that respect, at the very least.”

Bischoff almost seems relieved, dropping the penitent act and adopting a mask of contempt every bit as obvious as Vince’s. “Fine, then, Vince. You want me to be real? I’ll be as real as you can get.” Vince makes a motion for Bischoff to continue, which he does without hesitation. “I know why you hired me. Everybody in this building, and everyone watching at home, they know the history; how I went from being a second-string announcer to Vice President, and how I brought WCW up from some second-rate rasslin’ company to a company that almost put you in Chapter 11. Everybody knows how I almost buried this company, and how Nitro kicked Raw’s ass in the ratings for 82 straight weeks. That’s an achievement I’m damned proud of.” Bischoff shrugs, a little grin spreading out on his face. “And that’s all well and good … but that’s the past. WCW’s dead. You killed it and bought the corpse. You went and fired a bunch of hard working men and women, made a few more million off some DVD’s, and then you got to thinking: ‘You know what would be great? If I hired Eric Bischoff!’ Not to help run your company, no; you wanted to hire me for the same reason you hired Dusty Rhodes when he got fired from the NWA–so you could humiliate me whenever you felt like it. You wanted the pleasure of having your greatest business nemesis, the guy who almost killed your company, under your thumb. That’s the kind of guy you are, Vince. You couldn’t care less how I could help your business. You just wanted to get some jollies kicking me around. Well, guess what, Vince? I know what’s coming, and it gives me such a thrill to take the wind out of your sails, because the truth is it’ll be a relief to be away from you. You’re sick, pathetic excuse for a human being, and the sooner I can get on with my life, away from you and your sick pathetic family, the happier I’ll be. So go ahead. Do it. Get it over with. Do it!

Vince blinks, an eerie smirk on his face, his head cocked to the side. “Why, Eric … how could you think I’d do such a thing? Why would I fire you?” Vince pauses and starts to count out fingers. “Is it because you’ve tacitly allowed WWE Superstars to go to another promotion and risk serious injury fighting against wrestlers who aren’t contracted WWE Superstars? Is it because you’ve created an environment where Matt Hardy can ram a metal spike in a woman’s face and Mick Foley can attack a WWE Legend that has an artificial hip? Or maybe how you allowed a hoodlum and his street gang criminal friends to invade our sanctity not once but several times, the last time causing injury to one of our performers that might result in his retirement? Or maybe how you allowed Stone Cold Steve Austin to show up, uninvited last week and gives Stunners to me and my entire family? Or maybe, just maybe, because your respect level with the Raw Superstars is so non-existant, that you allowed the WWE Champion to conspire with wrestlers from another promotion to defeat him and his partner in the main event of Raw Homecoming? Is that why you think I’d fire you?” Vince shakes his head and puts a hand on Bischoff’s shoulder. “Eric, Eric, Eric.” Vince’s demeanor suddenly grows very dark. “I wouldn’t dream of letting you go. You have an iron-clad contract, Bischoff, and I’ll be damned if I don’t every last damn dollar’s worth out of it. No, Eric, you’re sticking around … you’re just getting a demotion. From now on, you’ll be sitting alongside Jerry Lawler as Raw’s play-by-play man … since I’m firing Jim Ross.” Everyone, Bischoff included, gasps at once. “I heard your commentary, JR, how you cheered on your buddy Austin as he attacked my family. I can’t have that kind of insubordination, that kind of blatant disrespect for authority in my company. And since I can’t really punish Austin, I have to do the next best thing, which is to punish his best friend. So, Jim Ross, you’re fired! Eric, report to the booth.”

The stunning firing of Raw’s longtime play-by-play man puts everyone out of sorts. Mick Foley crosses paths with JR as he heads for his car to leave the arena. Foley is at a loss for words, and goes for a hug, but JR backs up. “Mick,” he says sternly, like a parent scolding a child, “pull your head out of your ass. You’re a hero to millions of kids, and you go out there and you attack Ric Flair, cause he wants to fight the same guy you want to? You attack Roddy Piper, why, cause he’s Ric’s friend? You oughtta be ashamed of yourself.” Foley tries to talk, but JR cuts him off. “Mick, you know I’m a friend, and that’s why I’m telling you this. CM Punk, yeah, he is a little punk. And maybe he does need to learn a lesson. But you’re goin’ about it all wrong, and you’re letting down the fans.” JR turns and walks away, leaving Foley in silence to contemplate JR’s words.

Edge comes out for his match with Shawn Michaels, his self-proclaimed first step on a campaign to get a title shot at Taboo Tuesday. Unfortunately for him, Michaels comes to the ring with the very same goal, and surprises the youngster with a showstopping performance that puts Mr. Money In The Bank on his heels. Without Lita to rely on, Edge has to find ways to cheat to take the advantage; fortunately for him, the opportunity presents itself when Edge ducks a Sweet Chin Music that connects with the ref. Edge uses his MITB briefcase to lay out Shawn Michaels, but without a ref to make the count, the cover is moot.

Suddenly, the crowd erupts as the TitanTron’s picture switches from a display of the in-ring action to a shot of Matt Hardy; he is lying in a hospital bed, bandages over his eyes, propped up to “look into” the camera. “Adam,” Hardy says calmly. Edge’s head snaps around at the sound of Hardy’s voice. “I bet you love seeing me like this, all laid up and out of action. Well, here’s some bad news; the doctors say I got lucky and I musta closed my eyes and blocked most of the bleach that Homicide threw in my face. I should be good enough to come back by Taboo Tuesday. Now, I was given a choice; I could either face you again, or I could go the Intercontinental Championship. And since I kinda owe CM Punk for cheating me outta the Ring Of Honor World Championship, and he’s got one of our WWE titles and you don’t, I’m going after him. But don’t think we’re done, Adam; I have this friend who’s gonna help me take care of you.”

Edge turns around, but doesn’t have much time to register who is standing before him. James Gibson, formerly Jamie Noble during a run with the WWE, kicks Edge in the gut, doubles him over, nails the Gibson Driver and heads for the crowd. The ref starts to stir at the same time Shawn Michaels does. HBK manages to crawl over, drape an arm over Edge for a pin, and three seconds later, Edge’s campaign is killed in the starting blocks.

Backstage, Mick Foley approaches Ric Flair’s dressing room, but when Ric opens the door and sees Foley, the door is slammed in Foley’s face. Undeterred, Foley knocks again, only for Triple H to open the door, step out, and close it behind him. “What?” growls Triple H.

“Listen, Hunter, I know we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye,” Foley says, looking at his feet, “but … well … I’m here cause I realize … um …”

“Come on, Mick, spit it out. I ain’t got all day. I’m going with Ric to the ring for his match with CM Punk. Make it quick.”

Foley takes a deep breath, steels himself and says; “I’m here to apologize to Ric. I shouldn’t have gone after his friend, and I shouldn’t have questioned what he was doing. We were both trying to help Ring Of Honor. It shouldn’t matter who beats some respect into CM Punk, as long as someone does. And I’m retired, so, better him then me.”

Triple H looks at Foley, looking in his eyes, replaying the words over and over in his mind. As he does so, Foley extends a hand and adds; “And, despite of everything that happened between me and Evolution last year, well … it’s nice to see you back.”

Triple H looks at Foley, then at his hand, and back to Foley. Finally, Triple H nods slowly and takes Foley’s hand. “Thanks. That means a lot. I’ll tell Ric what you said.”

CM Punk’s normal cocksure attitude is notably absent when Ric Flair comes down with Triple H in tow, and as he wrestles the 16-time World Champion, he spends a lot of it looking over his shoulder. The distraction of Triple H causes Punk to make costly mistakes that Flair capitalizes on to get the offensive edge. The crowd, already solidly behind Flair, really fires up when Flair starts targeting the knee, a sign the figure-four is drawing near.

But as Flair gets Punk on his back to slap on the signature submission finisher, Edge races down to ringside, comes around Triple H’s blind side and spears him almost out of his boots. Flair catches the assault on his friend out of the corner of his eye and becomes distracted, giving Punk enough time to floor Flair with a low blow. Punk calls for a chair; Edge tosses in one, and when Punk asks for another, Edge does so. Punk smashes Flair in the head with the chair, then, after Flair hits the mat, slides one under Flair’s head. Punk raises the chair to nail a one-man con-chair-to, but is stopped by Mick Foley, who comes in, snags the chair from Punk’s hands and blasts the straight-edge superstar between the eyes. Foley swings over the ropes at Edge, but he dodges, scoops up Punk and beats a retreat to the back. Foley watches the two head for the hills, yelling out a vow to exterminate CM Punk once and for all.

Behind him, Flair comes to, holding his aching head and sees Foley in the ring, standing at the ropes, holding the chair. Flair grabs the other chair, comes up behind Foley and blasts him in the back of the head. Triple H comes to and has to drag away Flair kicking and screaming, but after multiple chair shots and closed-fist blows to the head, the damage is done. Raw fades to black on the visage of Foley, laying face down in the ring, unconscious, as Triple H pulls Flair, practically frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog, away from the scene.

Part III

 

Our story continues at Ring Of Honor’s “Enter The Dragon” event, where CM Punk must defend the ROH Title under orders…against a mystery challenger…from ROH Commissioner Jim Cornette or be stripped of the title. Making Punk’s attitude worse is that he doesn’t have physical possession of the belt; it is in the hands of ÒAmerican DragonÓ Bryan Danielson, who is making his return to ROH tonight to forfeit the belt. With Punk in the building, and the possibility of Danielson coming back, the stage is set for ROH to explode … assuming Punk doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve …

Oct. 14, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Enter The Dragon”:

In the weeks building up to Enter The Dragon, the attention falls on two major events: Bryan Danielson’s return to Ring Of Honor, and whether he will adhere to forfeiting the physical World Title belt, and CM Punk’s first Jim Cornette-ordered ROH Title defense. Several articles are written on Ring Of Honor’s website, trying to speculate on what may happen based on the personalities, and what may happen if Danielson doesn’t relinquish the belt, if Punk refuses to wrestle, and what Cornette may do if either comes to pass.

Danielson’s first opportunity to do right comes at the start of the event, as Jim Cornette asks both Punk and Danielson to join him. Punk does, looking sullen and pissy, like a child forced to do something they don’t want to. However, instead of Danielson, “Copacabana” hits the PA, ushering in Colt Cabana. Cabana skips his normal dancing and fan-friendly entrance in favor of making a beeline for the ring, eyes locked on Punk’s.

“Colt, maybe I wasn’t clear as I coulda been,” says Cornette. “I wanted Bryan Danielson to come out now.”

“Mr. Cornette, I understand, but I got a small piece of business to take care of first.” Cabana looks at Punk, eyes seething with fury. “Business between old friends.” Cornette tries to reason with Cabana again, but Cabana will not be deterred. “See, for years, I had this guy’s back. I bailed him out when he needed it, and I took lumps that were meant for him. I bled for him. So I figure I’m owed a title shot.”

Punk clears his throat and takes a step forward, getting close to Cabana. “I don’t owe you shit.”

Cabana nods. “I thought you may feel that way.” Cabana turns to Cornette. “Mr. Cornette, I think I deserve a title shot.”

“Well, what makes you think you deserve one?” Cornette asks.

“He had to cheat to beat me The Final Chapter. And if that ain’t enough …” Cabana looks at Punk again and smiles, but he speaks to Cornette. “I did pin him, on Monday Night Raw, in front of the world.”

Punk steps up again, now almost bumping chests with Cabana. “If I remember correctly, it took that son of a bitch John Cena stabbing me in the back for you to even get the chance to pin me. So if you think you can take me down, sport, by all means, take your best shot, Colt.”

Colt never gets the chance to reply, as his opponent for the evening, Homicide, rushes the ring and ambushes him. Punk and Cornette quickly get out of the way, and just as quick, the bell is rung, starting their match. It isn’t long before Ricky Reyes, Homicide’s running buddy, jumps in and helps Homicide beat down Cabana, drawing the disqualification. But to the surprise of the Rottweilers, the sides are evened by the surprise appearance of James Gibson, who sends the Rottweilers to the floor.

“Hope you didn’t that just cause I was on Raw that I was done here,” says Gibson. “I don’t have a contract there yet, so until I do, I’ll be helping out my buddy Matt by beating your ass! So why don’t you and your lover there get in the ring, and me and Colt can put the boots to you?”

And just as quick, Homicide and Reyes slide in; the bell rings, making the brawl an official match, although any resemblance to a real tag match is only because there are four men. Otherwise, nobody tags, nobody leaves the ring, and weapons are used liberally. The brawl sprawls through the building, including a dramatic moment where Homicide attempts a Cop Killa on a chair in the audience, but Gibson slips out, spins Homicide around and nails the Twist Of Fate on the chair. Inside the ring, Cabana ducks a kick, nails a kick to the gut and hits the Colt .45 for the pin. Back in the crowd, Gibson taunts Homicide as he struggles to get to his feet, then picks up Homicide, tells him “this is for Matt,” and nails a Gibson Driver on the chair. Cabana and Gibson shake hands, leaving The Rottweilers laying broken and beaten.

Danielson gets a second chance to deliver the goods just after the intermission, as Cornette once again brings out Punk, now looking perturbed as well as moody. “So, here we are again. Would my guest come out this time?” says Cornette.

But instead of Danielson, Samoa Joe hits the ring. Punk stiffens and takes a step back as the longest reigning champ in ROH history steps into the ring. No sooner does Joe enter then James Gibson comes out, and behind him, Christopher Daniels, Nigel McGuinness, BJ Whitmer, Jimmy Jacobs, Jimmy Rave, Alex Shelley, Abyss, Jay Lethal and Steve Corino all file into the ring. Cornette stands with his mouth open, trying to make sense of what is in front of him. “I know I’m the new guy in the company,” says Cornette, “but I could swearI asked for Bryan Danielson, and I know for a fact that not a single one of ya right here is Bryan Danielson. So you mind explaining what it is exactly you guys are out here for?”

“Jim, it’s real simple.” Joe, the spokesman, gestures to the men behind him. “We’re all ROH to the core. No, Jim; we are ROH’s core. Some of us have fought Punk, a few of us …” Joe smiles and shrugs. “Well, a few of us have beaten Punk. But the bottom line is, we all–well, everyone except for Corino, but he’s proven his chops and he’s held gold most everywhere he’s gone–we all live for ROH. This is our home. This is our promotion.” Joe points to Punk. “And that son of a bitch went off and switched teams, which is his right. But he stole our property when he did it.”

“None of this is exactly news to me, Joe,” says Cornette. “So why don’t you stop circling whatever point it is you have like a dog lookin’ for a place to lay down and get to it?”

“Jim, all we’re doin’ is serving you notice. Personal grudges aside, the one thing we all agree on is that rotten, miserable bastard’s gotta pay, and there ain’t one of us who isn’t dedicated to getting it done. I sent Mick Foley packing because CM Punk is ROH business, and we’re ROH. So all I’m telling you is that we’re lining up for our shot. We don’t care who goes first, and we ain’t out to screw each other, because bringing home that gold means the same thing to every one of us. So you might as well get used to every World Title match being a lumberjack match, because that’s how it’s gonna shake until Punk’s staring at the lights for three seconds.” Joe turns to Punk, flashes a predatory grin, and adds; “Oh, and if your little buddy from Connecticut thinks he’s gonna be runnin’ in here and saving you from us, Punk … we’ll be sending him back to Stamford in a hearse. You dig?” Joe turns and leaves, leading the rest of the troupe out of the ring.

Cornette gives Bryan Danielson one final chance to come through, right before CM Punk’s title defense. With Punk in his wrestling gear, still unsure of his opponent, he and Cornette wait through an uncomfortable silence before, finally, the lights dim and “The Final Countdown” hits. The audience explodes as the American Dragon Bryan Danielson steps through the curtain, holding the ROH Title in the air. Danielson walks to the ring, making sure Punk sees the belt, pointing to himself as if he were the reigning champ. When Danielson gets in the ring, he marches right up to Punk, dropping the belt at Cornette’s feet without even looking. Punk and Danielson eye each other for a long minute; the audience, expecting Danielson to be the mystery opponent, starts to chant “let them fight” and “let’s go, Dragon!”.

Without warning, Danielson nails Punk across the mush with a huge open-handed slap. Before Punk can step back into Danielson’s face, Danielson walks over to Cornette and grabs the hand Cornette is using to hold the microphone. “That’s twice I’ve punked you out,” Danielson says. “Next time, I take the belt back.” Danielson leaves the ring as the crowd boos, upset that Danielson isn’t the opponent.

When Danielson is gone, Punk gestures for Cornette to get on with it. “Patience, son,” says Cornette. “This’ll take a minute, since you have three opponents.” Punk’s eyes go wide, and the crowd, only moments ago upset, is now excited at the odds being against the hated champion. “In a four-way elimination match, you will be facing these men!”

One by one, Punk’s opponents come out: Austin Aries, Jack Evans and Roderick Strong, three of the founding members of Generation Next. Together, they storm the ring and take after Punk for several minutes, until the referee orders everyone to corners or risk the match being thrown out.

Once the match gets under control, Punk finds that the greatest problem in the match–his being the odd man out against a group–is also his greatest asset; every time he is tagged in, he quickly tags out, never spending more then a minute or two in the ring, conserving energy and forcing the members of Generation Next to fight each other. When he does tag in, Punk maximizes his in-ring time with blind tags, swapping out with a fresh person against someone who’s been taking punishment, striking until the victim shows signs of life, and tags out again. The strategy pays its first dividend when Punk is able to take advantage of a Jack Evans mistake, tags himself in at the expense of Aries, and pins Evans.

But the elimination of Evans only means he’s down one opponent; his two remaining foes boast the credentials of being a Survival Of The Fittest winner and a former ROH World Champion. Aries quickly jumps in and goes after the man who ended his title reign, but Punk wisely drops back and tags in Aries’ friend and stablemate Roderick Strong. With the World Title, and the very sanctity of the company, riding on the line, Aries and Strong put aside friendship and take it to one another, each one wanting to be the man to reclaim Ring Of Honor’s crown jewel from the thief Punk. But as much as the spirit of competition captures Strong and Aries, teamwork and brotherhood still survives; so when Punk tries his “sneak in, hit quick, sneak out” strategy, Punk finds the duo too well-versed in his tricks and he ends up taking punishment. From there, Strong and Aries treat it like a handicap match, dissecting Punk much like Danielson and Cabana did on WWE Raw.

But unlike Raw, Punk doesn’t pour 100 percent of himself into staying on the offense, so that, when his opponent makes a mistake, he’s got enough to capitalize on the error. Namely, Aries misses a 450 splash, which Punk turns into a pinning attempt with his feet on the ropes. Strong tries to break it up, but Punk stands up and shoves Strong through the ropes, right at the feet of Generation Next’s rivals, The Embassy; with Aries in the ring and still alive, the faction disposes of any pretense of honor and puts the boots to Strong until the rest of the roster stops them. But with the distraction, Punk is able to use a low blow to set up a Pepsi Plunge and puts Aries down for the count. This leaves a beaten Strong, whom Punk is able to make easy work of, capturing a tap-out victory with the Anaconda Vice. Joe leads a brawl consisting of almost the entire roster against The Embassy on the outside, oblivious to the fact that once again, Punk is victorious and the nightmare continues.

Oct. 15, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Buffalo Stampede”:

Following the events of “Enter The Dragon”, speculation runs rampant for the following night’s “Buffalo Stampede” show as to who will be given the shot against CM Punk. Nobody expects anyone from the Embassy to get the shot after the debacle from the previous night, and indeed, Jimmy Rave gets slated against Colt Cabana, while Alex Shelley gets put against Nigel McGuinness in a non-title bout; both of these matches are met with mixed approval, as the matches deny both the undeserving Embassy members, but also tie up two potential contenders in Cabana and McGuinness. And a post-event interview with Punk, posted on ROH’s website, only fans the flames of ire in Ring Of Honor, as Punk proclaims to have “defeated every worthy contender on the roster” and that he’s contemplating retiring with the belt, just to make a break in the lineage out of spite.

When Punk shows up dressed up to work, the crowd is actually relieved to see the loathesome cretin. The crowd still spews hatred at him, which Punk brushes off with typical nonchalance. “See, you hate me, yet you’re glad to see me,” he says with more then a dose of smug superiority. “That, folks, is power; to be so hated, and yet so needed. Who else inspires that kind of loyalty, that kind of pure, unbridled emotion? Nobody in this company, let me tell you. And that brings me to my quandary tonight; see, I’ve done it all in this company. Raven … Jimmy Rave … The Prophecy … Generation Next … James Gibson … Colt Cabana … I’ve beaten just about every single big-money player in this company.” The crowd starts to chant for Danielson, which draws a chuckle from Punk. “Oh, don’t get me started on that guy. The guy’s ran scared from me for years. He’s never wanted a piece of me. That’s why he stole the title belt and then disappeared for a month; he’s a coward. He can’t take me.” Punk shrugs. “And besides, he’s busy tonight; your beloved Commissioner booked him in a six-man tag with Steve Corino and James Gibson against the Rottweilers. So who you got left? Nobody. So I’m gonna enjoy my night off by stealing one of your girlfriends and showing her a good time.”

Jim Cornette comes out and wastes no time in getting to the point. “Got a problem with that, Punk. I already told you that you’d be defending the belt atevery Ring Of Honor show until you lost it. I got an owner I answer to, and these fans sure as hell count as bosses, so you’ll understand if I take exception at you kicking back on your heels for the evening. Believe me, there’s more then a couple guys in the back who’d love a piece of you that you haven’t faced.” Cornette jabs a finger in Punk’s chest. “Lucky for you, I got someone for you. Someone you know well. Someone … someone you’ve never defeated one-on-one.” The crowd immediately falls on the answer and starts chanting “Joe’s gonna kill you!”. Cornette nods emphatically. “That’s right! One on one, tonight,you, CM Punk, will defend our championship against Samoa Joe!”

The announcement electrifies the crowd, who spend the evening on the edge of their seat in anticipation of the blockbuster main event. Colt Cabana once again bolsters his status as a top talent in the company and someone deserving of a title shot by taking out Jimmy Rave; afterwards, he cuts a promo, verbally underscores his intent on dethroning Punk and that he considers himself the rightful number one contender. The crowd chants for Cabana until the lights go dark and Europe’s “The Final Countdown” hits the PA, ushering out Bryan Danielson. Danielson gets in Cabana’s face, a shark-like smile on his face.

“You think you deserve a shot, huh?” Danielson says. “Who made him tap out, Colt?”

“Who pinned him on Monday Night Raw?” Colt retorts.

Danielson smirks. “See, that’s what I like about you, Colt. You can talk yourself into anything. Like overlooking how Punk already beat you in a two-out-of-three falls match a couple months back.”

Cabana never has a chance to reply, as the Rottweilers interrupt the confrontation, putting the boots to Danielson and Cabana. James Gibson and Steve Corino race to the ring in time to stop the street gang before they can escalate the situation, but as Homicide leads his troops away from the ring, Corino gets on the stick and challenges the trio to make their six-man a street fight. Homicide accepts the challenge, vowing to “kill every last one” of their enemies.

With the promise of a bloody, barely-contained riot brewing for the six-man tag, the ROH World Title match goes on just before the main event. Samoa Joe comes out to a thunderous ovation from the crowd, stamping their feet and chanting Joe’s name. And where the night before, Punk had trepidation over facing three opponents, when the champ comes out, he shows outright fear at facing the man he failed to beat on three occasions. And unlike the two legendary draws and the third match that ended in Joe victorious, Punk shows none of the calm precision or strategy this time; instead, he rushes headlong, almost in a panic, at Joe, hoping to score a quick knock-out blow. Instead, Joe counter-wrestles Punk, vexing the champ by evading or countering out of all of his offense.

But, similar to their other encounters, just as Punk could never find the killing edge to finish off Joe, a winning strategy eludes Joe, and it isn’t for lack of trying. This time around, Punk uses every cowardly short-cut, cheat and cheap stall tactic to keep from being defeated. Every time Joe gets momentum on his side, Punk ducks out of the ring, puts a thumb in Joe’s eye, or finds some other way to bring Joe’s onslaught to an unceremonious halt. The anticipation of the crowd goes from palpable to suffocating as the minutes wear on, and Punk keeps dodging Joe’s bullets. On three separate occasions, Joe gets the Kokina Clutch, but Punk manages to twist his body to the ropes to break the hold before the pain is too great.

Finally, Joe manages to catch Punk in a precarious position on the turnbuckles and busts out the muscle buster. The crowd is on their feet, screaming for the Clutch, but Joe puts Punk back on the turnbuckle and hits a second muscle buster. Joe leans over Punk’s nearly unconscious body and yells distinctly “You ain’t gettin’ outta this, motherfucker!”, then drags Punk to his feet, puts him back on the turnbuckle and nails a third muscle buster. The crowd, now on the borderline of anarchy, chants “Choke him out!”; Joe acknowledges the chant with an emphatic nod and yells back “You’re goddamn right, he’s getting choked out!”, then slaps on the Kokina Clutch. With Punk all but comatose anyway and not even fighting, the ref goes to check Punk’s arm. The crowd gasps as the hand drops the second time, being only one away from the end of Punk’s reign of terror … only the bell rings before the ref can perform the third and final check. So into the moment is Joe that he doesn’t even hear the bell, and only breaks the hold when he hears the voice of ring announcer Bobby Cruise proclaiming the match has reached its sixty minute time limit and is a draw. The crowd comes unglued, declaring the result to be bullshit, and no sooner is Joe on his feet, arguing with the ref, then Commissioner Jim Cornette is on the scene.

“Joe! Joe! Joe!” Cornette has to put himself in jeopardy by standing between the ref and Joe to keep the referee from being turned into putty. “Listen to me! Nobody’s more mad about this then me, Joe. It’s my butt if I can’t get that belt back here in this company around a Ring Of Honor wrestler, so believe me, I understand how you’re feeling right now. But I’m gonna make it better.” Joe cocks his head and asks how. “Our next show is October 29th, Joe, and I got an idea. Far as I’m concerned, you just beat that man lying on the mat, and if it weren’t for that clock, you’d be Ring Of Honor World Champion right this very second. So how about at This Means War on October the 29th, we do away with the clock?” The crowd erupts with approval. “No time limit, Joe! One last match, Joe versus Punk, World Title on the line, a guaranteed winner! How does that sound?” Joe smiles and seals the deal with a handshake; on the way out, as Punk is stirring, Joe bends down and tells Punk, still dazed and confused, he’ll be seeing him in two weeks. As Joe leaves, the crowd re-ups the “Joe’s gonna kill you” chant, much to Punk’s confusion.

The team of Bryan Danielson, Steve Corino and James Gibson–an odd trio, to be sure–is introduced first for the main event. Before the Rottweilers can be introduced, Gibson gets on the microphone and says that his mission tonight is take out Homicide and get revenge for his injured friend, Matt Hardy, and then dedicates the match to Hardy. With that, the Rottweilers storm the ring, bringing an hurried start to something that has almost no resemblance to a wrestling match, save for Low-Ki and Danielson trading submission moves and stiff kicks. In time, even they give into the brutal nature that surrounds them, as the six men pair off in brawls that take place in the ring and in the audience. Homicide introduces a fork, which he uses to open up Corino’s forehead, while Gibson produces a strand of barbed wire, which gets used like a whip across Homicide’s back. Tables, chairs, the guard rail and a bag of thumbtacks all get introduced and used to rend flesh, break bones and spill blood. The finale, amazingly, comes down to a wrestling maneuver, as Low-Ki nails a Ki Krusher on Gibson, from the top rope, through a table, but the three count doesn’t stop the Rottweilers from continuing the beatdown. Using every impliment available, Homicide conducts a violent symphony with his troops, tearing Danielson, Gibson and Corino limb from limb. And just when the crowd thinks the Rottweilers have finally tired of savaging their fallen foes, Homicide comes back to the ring, carrying a white t-shirt with the old Hardy Boyz logo on it. Homicide dips his fingers in the pools of blood in the ring and coming from the foreheads of his opponents, and, though misspelled, writes a very clear and distinct message over the Hardy logo:

DED MAN.

Oct. 17, ’05: WWE Raw:

An update on the condition of Matt Hardy, as well an all-star tag team match pitting Edge and CM Punk against Triple H and Shawn Michaels highlights Raw as the build towards Taboo Tuesday continues. But Raw kicks off with Mick Foley, who comes out without playing to the crowd.

“In my career, I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of,” begins Foley, “I tried to kill ECW by making Tommy Dreamer go to WCW … I tried to cripple Sting … I put on the Dude Love tights and sold my soul to Vince McMahon … so when I get the chance to redeem myself, dammit, I feel I owe it to my kids and my wife and to everyone who ever bought a ticket to see some doughy kid from Long Island live out his dream to be a pro wrestler to take that opportunity. And that’s what I did last week. I went back there, I sucked it up and I tried to apologize to Ric Flair. And when he wouldn’t listen, I tried to show him I’m sorry for what happened by saving him from getting his ass beat by CM Punk. And then … well …” Foley gestures to the TitanTron, where footage of the misunderstanding from the closing moments of Raw the previous week rolls. When the footage finishes, Foley shakes his head. “See, I wanna believe that this was a misunderstanding. It’s not like Triple H was there telling you it was me; you saw me, with the chair, and you got everything all scrambled. So I wanna believe that you’ve seen the footage sometime in the past week, or maybe someone told you what happened, and that you’re regretful. So, I’m asking you, Ric, I’m hoping you’ll join me here in the ring, and we can clear the air once and for all and put this all behind us.”

The music of Ric Flair hits, but the sixteen-time world champ fails to come out. “Come on, Ric, we’re both grown men, we both made mistakes. I’m out here admitting mine. The WWE needs us to fight together, not fight each other.”

A second cueing of the music brings out the Nature Boy, dressed in a classic Armani suit. But, in marked contrast to only a couple weeks prior, Flair’s entrance is greeted with hostility, and his casual, slow sauntering to the ring doesn’t inspire any faith that he’s here to mend fences. For the first few moments, as the two icons of the industry stand in the ring, Flair regards Foley with a gaze that screams out an air of smug superiority; then, Flair breaks it by grudgingly pulling out a hand and offering it to shake. Foley extends his hand in return, but before he can grasp Flair’s, the Nature Boy’s other hand comes out of his pocket and connects on Foley’s jaw with a crushing, brass knuckles-assisted haymaker. Foley crumples to the mat, out before his head hits. Flair slides out as the crowd unleashes the full force of their hostility; he searches under the ring for something, and pulls out something which makes both the announcers and the audience gasp in unison: a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat.

Flair slides back inside and picks up the microphone, yelling at the prone body of Foley in trademark staccato Flair style. “You think I trust a damn thing you do or say, Mick Foley? Do you think I’m that big a fool? You’re a liar, you’re a piece of crap, and you are a disgrace to this business!” Flair drops the microphone, raises the bat like an executioner’s axe and swings down, connecting with Foley’s back. Foley comes to immediately, clutching at his back; Flair pounces, shoving Foley onto his back and pushing the barbed-wire against Foley’s forehead, screaming all the while. “Is this wrestling? Is this what you call wrestling? You, you’re sick! You’re an insult! You make me sick!” Flair jumps to his feet, raises the bat again and brings it down into Foley’s midsection. He tries for a third blow, but officials storm the ring, led by Triple H and Arn Anderson, who pull Flair away so the rest can protect Foley or check on him. Triple H and Arn get in Flair’s face, demanding an explanation; when Flair won’t give one, besides frothing at the mouth over Arn’s shoulder, his longtime friend slaps him across the face. Flair responds by kicking Triple H in the groin and sucker-punching Arn. Officials keep Flair from getting to Foley, and reinforcements help drag Flair away.

Following the Flair/Foley fight, Eric Bischoff announces that, stemming from the fight last week and the intertwining histories of everyone involved, CM Punk’s Intercontinental Title defense at Taboo Tuesday will be a fatal-four-way, pitting him against Matt Hardy, Ric Flair and Mick Foley; fans will be able to vote on the match stipulation, with Falls Count Anywhere, Steel Cage or Elimination as the options. Shortly thereafter the news is broken, Matt Hardy appears via satellite from the hospital, and Jim Ross asks him about his feelings on facing not one but three opponents.

“Eric, let me tell you something: Matt Hardy will not die,” he says, sitting on the gurney, looking ready to check out. “They can throw whoever they want at me. Mick Foley, Ric Flair, I don’t care who it is. I came back to the WWE to revenge a wrong, and since I came back, it seems everyone wants to do me wrong, so I’m just gonna have to–”

Hardy’s sentence gets cut short as the janitor in the background, who had been mopping the floors, swings his mop and breaks it over the back of Hardy’s head. The janitor whips the hat and wig aside, revealing himself to be Homicide, then grabs Hardy and drags him off the gurney by the hair. “Where’s your boy, Jimmy?” Homicide yells into Hardy’s face. “He ain’t savin’ yo’ ass now, yabitch!” Homicide shoves Hardy head-first into the mop bucket over and over, fighting against Hardy until hospital security burst into the room and haul away Homicide in handcuffs.

Moments later, the door to Vince McMahon’s office bursts open as James Gibson, bandaged from his brawl with the Rottweilers over the weekend, comes into the ring like a tornado. Vince looks up from his paperwork long enough to register who has entered his office, then returns to work. “I don’t believe we have any business, Mr. Gibson,” says Vince.

“The hell we don’t! You hire Matt Hardy, he’s got no friends, no family around to protect him, and he’s gotta fend off psychopaths like Edge and Homicide. I can’t keep my promise to him to have his back if I can’t be there for him everywhere. Here and Ring Of Honor.”

“And what am I supposed to do about it, hmm? Hire you? Give you a job, just because Matt Hardy isn’t enough of a man to handle his own problems?” Vince comes around the desk and looks down on the smaller Gibson, who shows not a sign of intimidation. “This isn’t a charity, Mr. Gibson. I don’t hand out jobs to every simpleton who can stumble through my door and ask for one. This is awrestling company.”

Without missing a beat, Gibson retorts with: “Then let me earn a job.”

Vince chuckles. “And how do you propose that?”

“Matt Hardy was just attacked by a man who does not work for this organization. He’s a criminal, a loose cannon–he just tried to murder Matt. If he isn’t stopped, what’s to say he doesn’t go after someone else, just to make a name for himself? Maybe he goes after John Cena next. Or Kurt Angle. Or Triple H.”

Vince stews for a minute, a snarl frozen on his lips. “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Gibson; let me make a phone call. If everything goes as I expect, this is what I will offer you: if you can wrestle, and defeat, this thug Homicide at Taboo Tuesday, I will hire you on as a member of the Raw roster. And we will let the fans choose the stipulation: a regular match, a submission match, a parking lot brawl. Fair enough?” Vince doesn’t wait for Gibson to answer. “Good. Get out.”

As if the big tag match wasn’t big enough, right before it begins, the bombshell is dropped that the main event of Taboo Tuesday will be a triple threat WWE Championship match, pitting John Cena against Kurt Angle a third participant selected by viewers–either Triple H, Shawn Michaels or Edge. The two people who don’t get the title shot will be partnered against the Tag Team Champions in a Tag Title match that same evening.

Bischoff and Jerry Lawler speculate on the tensions that might exist now on the team of Triple H and Michaels as they come out to the ring. Edge and Punk come out together, cocky as if they just won the Super Bowl. When the bell rings, neither man’s bravado falters in the face of the two former world champs. In fact, for the first several minutes, Edge and Punk dominate not through chicanery, but through wrestling with something to prove: that they can hang with living legends like Triple H and Michaels. Before long before the long-time veterans are able to take control, but surprisingly, nobody manages to solely dictate the pace, which frustrates Michaels and Triple H more then it does Edge and Punk.

As the contest reaches the twenty-minute mark, cameras catch numerous superstars watching on monitors backstage, including Cena and Angle. As the match stretches towards an astonishing thirty minutes, it becomes obvious that it will come down to a matter of timing and that one crucial mistake for either team to fold in on itself. Ric Flair provides that mistake, as he comes down and makes a beeline for Punk. Triple H drops down to stop him, giving Edge and Punk the opening to double-team Michaels. A spear by Edge puts Michaels on his back for the three-count; when the bell rings, Triple H’s attention is drawn back to the ring, which Flair uses to shove him head-first into the ringpost, then slide into the ring and go after Punk. Flair gets one brass-knuckle punch on Punk, sending his eyes rolling into the back of his head, before Foley, looking like someone who got thrown through a plate-glass window, stumbles down the ramp, steel chair in hand. Edge cuts Flair in half with a spear as Foley slides in. Edge eyes Foley and, when Foley points to Flair and says “Get out”, Edge wastes no time in doing so, taking Punk with him. Foley watches Edge and Punk leave, then turns to Flair and starts to lay waste to Flair’s leg. After a few whacks, Foley adds insult to injury and slaps on a figure-four leg lock. When Triple H comes to, he starts to pull Foley off Flair, but gets interrupted by Sweet Chin Music from Shawn Michaels. Raw fades to black as Shawn stands over Triple H, seething with anger, while Foley, having let go of the hold, does the same thing over Flair.

Oct. 24, ’05: WWE Raw:

A Raw very heavy on wrestling kicks off the final week before Taboo Tuesday, featuring CM Punk in a non-title match against a mystery opponent chosen by Mick Foley, the in-ring return of Matt Hardy, and the collision of all three candidates for the triple threat match at Taboo Tuesday as Edge wrestles Shawn Michaels with Triple H as the special referee.

As Hardy makes his way to the ring to open Raw, he is stopped backstage by Jonathan Coachman, Vince McMahon’s assistant. “Matt, Matt, hold on!” Coachman catches up and puts a hand on Hardy’s shoulder. “Mr. McMahon wanted me to tell you a couple things. He spoke to the Commissioner of Ring Of Honor, and they came to a deal; your friend, James Gibson, will wrestle Homicide at Taboo Tuesday for a WWE contract, if you will go to the next Ring Of Honor event this weekend and face Homicide.”

Hardy nods his approval. “I’ll be there.”

“Good. Oh, and Matt? Just so you know, Mr. McMahon also decided that he’s not entirely sure you deserve an Intercontinental Title shot based on losing to CM Punk in another promotion, so if you want to wrestle CM Punk at Taboo Tuesday, you have to defeat your opponent tonight.” Coachman starts to walk away, then stops, turns and smiles. “Oh, wait. Did I say ‘opponent’? I meantopponents. Good luck.”

The opponents turn out to be three: Shelton Benjamin, Big Show and Carlito. And with the rules being one-pinfall-to-win, Hardy has to not only overcome nearly a month’s worth of ring rust, but three opponents–one of whom towers over them all at seven feet and five hundred pounds–all looking to get their Taboo Tuesday ticket punched at the same time. And it is Big Show who ends up dominating the match, swatting away the other three wrestlers like mosquitos. It isn’t until Benjamin and Hardy work together that Show finally shows some weakness. But once Hardy shows signs of making the comeback, Edge comes flying from the back, intent on ruining Hardy’s chances.

But Edge never gets the opportunity, as from out of the crowd, James Gibson leaps over the railing and tackles Edge before he can get into the ring. Gibson wraps up Edge’s legs in the Trailer Hitch, as, inside the ring, Show roars back and levels Benjamin and Carlito with chokeslams. But Hardy fights off the chokeslam by kicking Show in the ribs as he’s brought up for the killer finisher; when Show drops him, clutching his chest, Hardy snaps off a Twist Of Fate and punctuates it with a top rope leg drop for the three-count. On the way out of the ring, Hardy stops by where Edge is laying, standing aside Gibson, laughing. Microphone in hand, Hardy says; “If you want revenge, come to Ring Of Honor’s ‘This Means War’ this weekend.”

When CM Punk gets to the ring for his match against Mick Foley’s hand-picked mystery opponent, he grabs a microphone. “So … come on, Mick. Let’s get this over with. I have to get back to my strict regimen of training so I can beat your fat, old, crippled ass this Sunday. I’m trying your training methods: sitting on the couch, watching Young & The Restless, eating gallons of ice cream all day.”

Foley steps out onto the stage, waving to the receptive crowd. “I want you to know, CM Punk, that I’m taking our match at Taboo Tuesday very seriously; I’m eating frozen yogurt!” This gets a chuckle from the crowd, and a scowl from CM Punk, who twirls his finger in the “move on” gesture. “Listen, Punk, I was wondering … would you be willing, tonight, to, say, change the rules a bit? Say, perhaps, make it no-disqualifications?”

“You know, Mick, you shouldn’t announce you’re gonna run in on my match ahead of time. Kinda ruins the element of surprise.”

“Oh, no, I’m not gonna run in. I think this guy can take care of himself. He was just curious if you’d like to go no-DQ. To liven it up.”

“Fine, sure, whatever, just get on with it?”

“Good. We’re both glad you said yes. He’ll be much more in his element, because, CM Punk, your opponent is the man who took a caning from The Sandman and asked for more … he’s the guy who beat the living hell out of Raven for two years …” The crowd, seeing where Foley is going, explodes so loudly, Foley has to shout to be heard. “He was the heart, soul and spirit of ECW, and he gave you your first beer … The Innovator Of Violence, Tommy Dreamer!”

Wearing an old-school “E C F’n W” shirt, and pushing a shopping cart full of weaponry, ECW’s stalwart hero, Tommy Dreamer, steps through the curtain. Punk protests that he was tricked, but it’s too late; Dreamer slides in the ring, the bell rings, and Dreamer waffles Punk in the head with a cooking sheet. From Dreamer’s corner, Foley cheers on his old ECW colleague as Dreamer unloads the cart on Punk. The crowd shows a particular bloodlust as Dreamer unloads on the mouthy champion, chanting for Dreamer to “hit him again” when he uses a Singapore cane upside Punk’s head. But as he picks up Punk to do so, Punk manages to drop Dreamer with a shot to the balls. The breather allows Punk time to roll outside and shake out the cobwebs; when he comes back, he brings two steel chairs with him, opening both and positioning them together. Punk puts Dreamer through the two chairs with a belly-to-back suplex, the quickly collapses one of the chairs, and nails the Devil Lock DDT on it for a three-count. Though visibily in pain from the beating, Punk manages to give Foley the finger as he leaves, while Foley checks on his friend.

In the back, Ric Flair and Triple H watch on monitors; Flair shakes his head. “The minute that tub of crap, that sick joke gets out of the ring, I’m going down there,” says Flair through gritted teeth.

“Ric, I know you’ve been edgy lately. I know Mick’s been getting to you. I’m willing to overlook that kick in the boys last week. But, really … let it go. Mick’s trying to let this wound heal, and you keep pouring salt in it.”

Flair’s eyes go so wide, they look like moons. “Is this what I’ve taught you? That when your enemies decide to give up, you just let it go? You grew up idolizing me and the Horsemen, and this is how you act?” Flair steps up to Triple H and catches him off-guard with a stinging slap in the face. “Overlook that,” he snaps, then leaves the room.

When Raw comes back from commercial, Flair is in the ring, all by himself. “Did I just see what I think I saw? What I just saw makes me ashamed to even be standing in this ring, because, by God, this is a wrestling ring! Chairs and Singapore canes and stop-signs and cookie sheets aren’t, whoo!, wrestling!” Flair rips off his sport coat, throws it on the ground and drops an elbow on it. “Whoo! That’s a wrestling move! I didn’t put on sixty-minute matches with Ricky Steamboat all across this country so you could drag out some idiot with a steel chair and call him a wrestler, Mick Foley! I didn’t fight guys like Kerry Von Erich and Lex Luger and Dusty Rhodes so you could jump off cages! CM Punk may need the taste slapped out of his mouth, but at least he wrestles! You, you’re a joke, a fat joke that nobody wants to see! And it makes me goddamn sick to my stomach to think that I have to share a ring with–hell, being in the samebusiness as that sick excuse for a–”

Flair ends his own tirade when his eye catches sight of his friend, Roddy Piper, coming to the ring. Piper puts a hand on Flair’s shoulder as he tries to adopt a soothing tone of voice. “Ric, calm down. If there’s someone who knows something about losing it, it’s me, and brother, you’re around the moon! I accepted Mick Foley’s apology; the guy called me two weeks ago and said he was sorry. If I can forgive him, why can’t you? Let it go, man!”

I will not let it go!” Flair screams, his face turning as red as a stoplight. “That son of a bitch makes a mockery of this sport, of this company, of this business! I will not have him pissing all over this company! Over my legacy! I won’t! I won’t!”

Without warning, Piper loses it; his face flushes with color as he advances on Flair, sending him backing into a corner. “Who the hell do you think you are, Ric? This ain’t your company! This ain’t the NWA or WCW, Ric! Wake up and smell the new century, baby! You’re a dinosaur, just like me! You’re an old man, just like me, just like Mick Foley! You’re just the only who won’t step outta the ring, and you’re calling Mick Foley the glory whore! Did you forget, old man, that WarGames, the sickest spectacle this industry has ever seen, was made foryour Horsemen?” Piper cocks his head from side to side, glaring at Flair. “Am I getting through to you?”

After staring at Flair for a few more seconds–who stares back as blankly as a statue–Piper shakes his head and starts to walk away. Flair rushes out from the corner, clocking Piper in the back of the head, then sets to stomping at Piper’s artificial hip. After a few kicks, Flair quickly grabs the leg and cinches in a figure-four. He doesn’t let go until officials physically untangle Flair’s legs from Piper’s. Arn Anderson hauls Flair to his feet and starts to berate his old friend until Flair slaps Anderson. When Anderson’s head whips back, the look in his eyes is nothing short of murderous; Flair recognizes it, but has no time to beg for mercy before Anderson clocks him in the jaw. When Flair staggers back, Anderson reaches out, grabs him by the wrist, whips him into the ropes, and, with officials watching, slackjawed, plants Flair on the mat with a textbook Double-A Spinebuster. Officials quickly move to keep Anderson off Flair, but Anderson himself backs off, dropping to the arena floor to help Piper to the back.

With his friend going nuts, tensions running high between himself and Shawn Michaels, and Edge seemingly targeting him as a stepping stone, Triple H’s attention is obviously not on officiating as he enters the ring for his refereeing duties in the Edge/Michaels match. Edge, meanwhile, enters the match with a hobble, and a tendency to look over his shoulder for an ambush from Matt Hardy or James Gibson. Only Michaels comes in fresh and focused.

As the match progresses, Triple H’s troubled mind is manifest in his actions; he leans back in the corner, not making any attempts to break up disqualifiable offenses, and taking his time in going down to make counts. Both Michaels and Edge lodge protests in the way of yelling and getting in Triple H’s face, which Triple H all but ignores. The only time Triple H makes anything more then the minimum-necessary movement is to take a steel chair away from Edge, which gets him another dressing-down. Triple H at first ignores Edge’s rant, but then Edge shoves him. When Triple H perks up and snarls, Edge does it again, daring Triple H to take action; he does, in the form of a kick in the gut and a Pedigree. Michaels, now on his feet, makes the cover, but Triple H refuses to count; Michaels starts to mouth off, and this time, Triple H doesn’t even wait to be physically provoked before breaking out the Pedigree. Triple H eyes them both, shrugs and walks off, leaving the match a no contest and the two men he is up against in the fan voting unconscious.

Oct. 29, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “This Means War”:

The day after Raw, Ring Of Honor’s website posts a special announcement: in addition to Homicide vs. Matt Hardy and CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe in a no-time-limit-there-must-be-a-winner match, two huge matches are announced for This Means War. The contentious pairing of Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana team up against the ROH Tag Team Champions Sal Rinauro and Tony Mamaluke with the titles on the line, and, in a stunning inter-promotional grudge match, James Gibson faces off the WWE’s Edge.

The first of the four marquee matches to occur is the ROH Tag Title match, where, if there is any partisanship on the part of fans in the ongoing debate over who between Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson deserves a title shot, it never manifests. Everyone cheers on the two beloved superstars in their bid to win the tag titles, and though they show no signs of friendship, they work well as a team, keeping up with Mamaluke and Rinauro. And with size and experience on their side, the Cabana/Danielson dominates much of the match, until the two egos finally collide over trying to score the winning pinfall. As they interrupt one another’s attempts to get the victory, Mamaluke and Rinauro are able to collect themselves and put up a fight that rocks the erstwhile number-one contenders on their heels. It isn’t until Mamaluke goes for a high-risk maneuver and comes up empty that the momentum switches back. With Cabana brawling with Rinauro on the outside, Danielson is able to capitalize and slaps on Cattle Mutilation for a quick tap-out, capturing the tag titles for his team. Cabana joins his teammate, and now co-champion, in the ring, and has to physically rip one of the belts from Danielson’s hand to claim it. The crowd celebrates the victory, and while both men look happy to have won, they don’t acknowledge one another in their celebration.

Homicide comes to the ring for his showdown with Matt Hardy with Julius Smokes and Ricky Reyes in tow. While everyone knows that where one Rottweiler runs, the others follow, it is still a clear sign that Homicide has no intention of stepping into this showdown with honor. So when Matt Hardy steps through the curtain for their showdown and looks behind him, the crowd realizes that Hardy expected the very same and has brought back-up. For Hardy, his back-up comes in the form of James Gibson and, in a total surprise to everyone, Tommy Dreamer, armed with his familiar cane. Homicide’s face twists into a mask of rage as Hardy comes to the ring, flanked by his reinforcements, his obvious plan of a gang attack now flushed down the toilet. Homicide shows his disdain for Hardy when the ref orders them together for the customary hand-shaking, and Homicide spits in Hardy’s face. Hardy responds by clocking Homicide with a wild haymaker, and from there, the “match” progresses, although any resemblance to a wrestling match is passing at best. Sensing that trying to keep the two within in the confines of anything like rules is pointless, the ref gives Homicide and Hardy plenty of leeway as they try to mangle, maim and cripple each other with just about everything they can find laying around, or slid into the ring by the corner teams.

But when Smokes brings out a bottle of Clorox, Hardy’s back-up circle the ring and physically go after the Rottweilers. Gibson catches Reyes and they trade chops. As Homicide prepares to splash bleach in Hardy’s face again, Dreamer slides into the ring behind him and introduces the Singapore cane to the back of the Notorious 1-8-7′s head. Julius Smokes comes in and hits a low blow from behind, dropping Dreamer. From there, the match disintegrates entirely, as all six men end up brawling throughout the arena, and the ref is forced to throw out the match as a no-contest. But the fighting doesn’t stop until, one by one, Hardy’s group leaves the Rottweilers beaten. The final Rottweiler to fall comes for Homicide, who falls off the bleachers, through a previously set-up table, after being blasted in the head with five rapid-fire cane shots from Dreamer. Though the crowd is full of ROH loyalists, the vile attacks by the Rottweilers are enough to make the fans cheer for Hardy and his friends as they decimate Ring Of Honor’s most dangerous stable.

Unfortunately, having gotten a thorough workout (and his fair share of lumps) in the fight with the Rottweilers leaves James Gibson weakened when Edge comes out for his grudge match. And though Gibson will be fighting for a WWE contract in a couple days, the crowd backs him all the way as he mounts a valiant stand against the obnoxious and universally hated Edge. Unfortunately, having fought with the Rottweilers not long before proves to be the difference-maker, as exploits Gibson’s state to score a pinfall after a spear. After the match, Edge grabs a microphone and launches into a short but memorable diatribe on Matt Hardy.

“Matt … you need to rethink your choice to keep screwing with me. You don’t have the best record in making good choices. Hooking up with Lita bit you in the ass. Having this jobber-for-life be a soldier in your war ain’t exactly paying dividends. You think buddying up to Mick Foley and his old, decrepit friends is gonna save your ass? By the time I’m done with you, Matt, I’ll make you question ever coming back to wrestling … and whether or not you’ll be able to handle the physical therapy you’ll need to learn to walk again!”

Samoa Joe and CM Punk approach the ring with a solemnity befitting the epic feeling that surrounds the main event. The ring announcer reinforces what everyone in the building already knows: there will be no time limit, and in the event of a disqualification or a count-out, the match will be restarted. The champ and the challenger meet in the middle of the ring, scant millimeters between them as the ref asks them to shake hands; neither brings up a hand, and after several long moments of waiting, the ref just signals for the bell.

The second the bell rings, Joe lays into Punk, cycling through every form of strike in his arsenal. Punk is left reeling, with no avenue of escape, as Joe follows him out of the ring, through the crowd, and back again, peppering Punk with every conceivable punch, kick, chop or strike known to man. But Punk manages to stop Joe’s onslaught when, on the outside, Punk deftly avoids a strike, and drop-toe-holds Joe into the ringpost. From there, once Punk catches his breath, he begins a methodical break-down of Joe’s strengths, going after the legs to eliminate the kicks and to destroy his vertical base. But the larger and stronger Joe proves a difficult tree to fell, and, despite having a bum wheel, brings the fight right back to Punk with an intensity seen in none of their prior encounters, not even the most recent. An attempt by Joe to get the submission on the Kokina Clutch, as well as Punk going for the Anaconda Vice, happen about twenty minutes in, but neither man shows even a hint of being ready to throw in the towel. Fans are left stunned, however, when, after forty minutes, Joe and Punk are both able to hit impact finishers (the Island Driver and Devil Lock DDT, respectively), and both only lead to two-counts–and barely two-counts at that. So astounded at the will to win is the audience that, when Joe gets Punk in another Kokina Clutch, the crowd actually chants “Please don’t tap”, not out of preference for Punk, but as a staunch denial of the idea that such an amazing match could be over.

But it doesn’t end, and, in fact, passes the sixty minute mark–the time limit of their previous matches–with both men, worn down and beaten, refusing to lose and no sign of stopping. After every variant on a suplex, every finisher in their arsenals (many several times), and an uncountable number of strikes, Punk and Joe, exhausted, fall back into their corners, unable to catch their breath, and beaten beyond comprehension. When they catch the eye of the other, somehow, they find enough in the tank to rush at each other, unleashing with thoroughly unscientific punches out of frustration. Punk brings an end to the fist-fight by jamming a thumb in the Samoan’s eye, then starts laying in more kicks on Joe’s severely weakened knee. Joe manages to push off Punk and comes at him with a Yakuza kick, but Punk catches the leg, drapes it over his shoulder and sits down, snapping it in a Stunner-like move. With Joe down on the ground, Punk crosses Joe’s legs, and slaps on a combination STF-Dragon Sleeper. With his legs immobilized and tied up, and the nearest rope several feet away, Joe is left trying to find a way out of the move on his own. But every second he stays in the hold brings him a second closer to passing out, and before he can figure out a counter, Joe’s eyes roll back. The ref checks Joe’s arm three times; when the arm hits the mat for the third time, the epic, nearly 70-minute encounter comes to an end, with Punk having finally defeated, via knockout, his most difficult challenger. The crowd claps out of respect, and labels it the match of the year, but nobody is happy with the result.

Least of all, Jim Cornette, who comes out as the ref helps Punk to his feet and hands him the belt. “CM Punk! Congratulations!” exclaims Cornette. “I didn’t think you could do it, but by gum, you beat Samoa Joe! Good for you! Not good for us here in Ring Of Honor, and that’s why I’m out here right now! See, my boss wants you to know who your next opponent will be. Now, our next show will be in Detroit on November the 4th, but see, CM Punk, you’ll be defending beforethat.” Punk looks at Cornette as if he’s speaking Latin; Cornette smiles like he’s just swallowed the canary. “The owner has given me special authorization–no, in fact, he ordered me to do this, because he’s just as tired of your BS as I am. Your next title defense will be at WWE’s Taboo Tuesday against Matt Hardy, Mick Foley and Ric Flair!”

Oct. 31, ’05: WWE Raw:

The go-home Raw before Taboo Tuesday features three marquee matches, as well as a special announcement by Jonathan Coachman. Two of the matches serve as potential previews for Taboo Tuesday: a one-on-one, non-title meeting between CM Punk and Matt Hardy, and a six-man tag, pitting Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Edge against Kurt Angle, and the WWE Tag Team Champions, Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch.

But it is the third match that hits a raw nerve with everyone, and as Raw begins, Ric Flair visits Triple H warming up in his locker room to discuss it.

“Hunter,” says Flair.

Triple H looks up and regards Flair with thinly veiled disgust. “What do you want, Ric?”

“I’m just makin’ sure everything’s okay between us. You know I got that match tonight with Piper, and, uh … Arn’s gonna be in Piper’s corner. I wanted to ask if you’re gonna come out with me.”

Triple H stops his warm-up exercises and gets in Flair’s face. “Let me make one thing straight, Ric: we are not ‘okay’. I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you these days. Mick Foley’s done everything he can to make right and put the past behind him. Piper’s done nothing but be a loyal friend to you, and so have me and double-A. You got CM Punk tomorrow, Ric, for two titles. That’s what you wanted. That’s how this all started, and you got what you want. Call it off with Piper, and make peace with Mick, and then we’ll be cool. If you can’t do that, then we have nothing more to talk about.” Triple H turns away, putting an end to any arguments before Flair can give birth to them.

With that, Flair comes out alone for his match against his longtime friend, Roddy Piper. As the announcers bemoan the terrible situation, Piper comes down the ramp, with Ric Flair’s best friend Arn Anderson by his side, hobbling thanks to the attack by Flair not so long ago. The hope of a Cinderella story, that Piper can overcome the injury and his artificial hip, is in the air–or even a last-minute reconciliation. But the hopes are dashed when Flair chop blocks Piper as he steps through the ropes, and sets to work on Piper’s bad wheel like a shark smelling blood in the water. Methodically, Flair reduces Piper to a one-legged man, screaming in so much pain that, from the outside, Arn Anderson begs Piper to quit. But the resiliant Scotsman refuses to give up, even when Flair, after having dominated for 100% of the match, slaps on the figure-four. The ref is ready to call the match, despite Piper’s steadfast refusal to tap, when Triple H explodes from the back and pulls Flair off Piper and starts to help Piper out of the ring. Triple H manages to get Piper out of the ring before Flair confronts him; Triple H pushes Piper off on Anderson and takes a stand against Flair. But they can do anything, CM Punk and Edge race out and ambush the two; Triple H gets thrown into the steel steps and split open, while Punk unloads his arsenal of kicks on Flair, pummelling him into unconsciousness.

Cameras quickly switch back to the back, where Jonathan Coachman is standing in the backstage interview area by himself. “I am actually glad that what we saw occur happened,” says a smug Coachman, “because it gives me yet another example of the ineptitude that this show suffered during youradministration, Eric Bischoff. This show has seen one brutal, heinous, nearly criminal attack after another, and what we just witnessed we only the latest situation to spiral out of control because of the atompshere you fostered. Well, that ends next week, ladies and gentlemen, because next week, Mr. McMahon will be here himself to personally restore the pride of the WWE’s flagship show!”

Matt Hardy enters the ring for his showdown against CM Punk, his buddy James Gibson standing in the corner. CM Punk approaches the ring with caution, as the announcers discuss that not only is Punk facing a monumental challenge against three opponents tomorrow, but if he should get by that, Punk will have two defenses of his Ring Of Honor Championship on their shows this weekend, against none other then Hardy and Gibson. Having wrestled a few times already, the two know each other’s tendencies and maneuvers, and thus begins a breathtaking display of counters and counters to counters as they try to outsmart each other without exposing a weakness. For ten hot minutes, the two put on a stunning clinic that has the crowd chanting for more; but with Gibson standing in the corner, arms crossed, and Hardy going move-for-move with him, Punk finds his concentration rattled. Punk manages to nail a crisp German suplex, but he wastes time jawjacking with Gibson, giving Hardy enough time to collect his wits. Hardy spins Punk around, surprises him with a Twist Of Fate and makes the cover for the three-count, giving hope that, perhaps as early as tomorrow, Punk’s nightmarish parade of ego will be stopped.

Backstage, Todd Grisham introduces Mick Foley to the interview set and asks him his thoughts on coming back to fight for two titles in a fatal-four-way at Taboo Tuesday. Foley stares at Grisham for so uncomfortably long, Todd starts to slink away, fearful that Foley may be about to snap. Finally, Foley beckons him back with a gesture.

“You don’t have to be afraid, Todd,” says Foley calmly, though not reassuringly. “I just find it … well, I don’t know what kind of response you were hoping for. You see, I didn’t want to wrestle CM Punk. I had every intention of finding someone else, someone young and hungry and someone who isn’t retired with three kids at home, to do it. I sure as hell didn’t expect to be ordered to wrestle, let alone in a fatal-four-way. And I sure as hell didn’t think I’d get sucked down into the seventh circle of Hell with Ric Flair over something that, to be perfectly honest, Todd, I don’t even remember what the hell we’re fighting about anymore. All I know is, I didn’t want any part of this. I had a plan, and it all came apart, and now, instead of staying at home, watching Taboo Tuesday with my kids on pay-per-view, I’m wrestling on it.”

“Well, since you mentioned him, what about Ric Flair? He has gone through a startling transformation in the past month or so, and he become quite the aggressor in your war with hi–”

“Todd, let’s get one thing straight: the only person at war is Ric Flair. Whether he wants to accept it or not, I’m done with him. I’m trying to put our issues in the past and move on. Ric is the only one who keeps perpetuating this. He’s got himself so worked up in a frenzy, he’s alienating his friends. He’s–no, you know what, Todd? I am not letting Ric Flair be the center of my life, even as a topic of discussion. I said I was putting him in the past, and I mean it. You have this as my solemn promise; I have no intentions of wrestling Ric Flair at Taboo Tuesday. If he comes near me, I’m getting away. My focus will be on CM Punk and CM Punk alone. And after Taboo Tuesday, I’m going home. I’m done. Win or lose, after tomorrow night, I’m done. I’m done with CM Punk, I’m done with Ric Flair, and I’m done with Raw.” Foley turns and walks away, leaving Grisham and the audience shell-shocked.

The existing tensions in the six-man main event of Raw is made all the more difficult when WWE Champion John Cena comes down to ringside to watch the match, and his potential opponents, first-hand. Predictably, the team of Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Edge takes very little time to self-destruct, with Edge abandoning his teammates in after taking a pounding for the bout’s opening minutes. Now a glorified handicap match, the former D-Generation X friends do their best to fend off the trio of Kurt Angle, Trevor Murdoch and Lance Cade. But when Angle comes around to attack Shawn Michaels as he stands on the apron, Triple H is left alone against the tag champs. However, with the ref busy trying to stop the double-teaming by Cade & Murdoch, Cena is able to interject himself, grabbing Angle and F-U’ing him through a nearby table. The assistance gives Michaels the time to slide in and help even the odds, fighting off Cade while Triple H nails Murdoch with a Pedigree for the victory. But Triple H gets no time to celebrate, as Edge, laying in wait in the corner, nearly takes The Game out of his boots with a spear.

As Edge backs away, Matt Hardy rushes out and blindsides Edge; the appearence of Hardy draws out CM Punk, which draws out Ric Flair, and pretty soon, everyone is either in the ring or at ringside, trading punches with whoever’s at hand, providing viewers with the final visage of Raw in total chaos as it fades to black.

Nov. 1, ’05: WWE Taboo Tuesday:

The WWE’s annual internet-interactive pay-per-view kicks off with the cross-promotional special attraction of James Gibson, fighting not only for his friend but for a WWE contract, against Ring Of Honor representative (and borderline criminal thug) Homicide. Just before the participants are announced, the results are read for the match’s stipulation: a straight match comes in last with 3% of the vote, and a Parking Lot Brawl gets 41% of the vote, with a Submission match winning with 56%. With that, Gibson comes out to a respectable amount of cheering, while Homicide–who comes through the crowd–is greeted like a chicken in a fox den.

Immediately, Gibson begins to wow the crowd with exceptional scientific skills, confounding Homicide. Many times in the opening minutes, Homicide has to squirm out of precarious situations, leaving the Rottweiler leader on the defensive. But while submissions-only obviously favors the more technical Gibson, the flipside of the stipulation is a lack of disqualifications, and that works in Homicide’s favor. When given the first opportunity to do so, Homicide crosses this boundary and bludgeons Gibson in the head with the ring bell, turning the match into a bloody brawl in the blink of an eye.

However, Gibson surprises both the audience and Homicide and stands toe-to-toe with the Notorious 1-8-7 in the brawling department, showing no hesitation in using foreign objects to get the advantage. Homicide fights back by getting sicker and sicker, trying to strangle Gibson with cable and cripple him with innovative uses of steel chairs. But Gibson refuses to quit, and keeps making small but meaningful strikes at Homicide’s legs, weaking them until Homicide tries to use a front-facelock to put Gibson on a turnbuckle; instead, Gibson kicks at Homicide’s leg until it buckles. Then, Gibson picks up Homicide in the same suplex position and drops him, leg first, on an unfolded steel chair, bending the entire thing backwards as Homicide’s weight crushes it. Gibson quickly capitalizes, using a second chair to Pillmanize Homicide’s leg a couple times before applying the Trailer Hitch. Homicide fights, but the pain wins out, and he has no choice but to tap, giving Gibson the victory … and a job.

WWE Tag Champions Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch enter the ring full of swagger, even though they have no clue as to their opponents. With the fate of not one but two matches hanging in the balance, everyone listens as Lilian Garcia announcers the results: Edge has 7% of the vote, and Triple H 46% of the vote, leaving Shawn Michaels with a narrow victory, and a berth in the main event against John Cena and Kurt Angle, at 47%. With that, Edge and Triple H, separately, come out for their opportunity to take the WWE Tag Championships.

From minute one, the outcome looks all but academic, as Triple H and Edge show nothing but unbridled contempt for each other, which Cade & Murdoch are able to exploit easily. Edge outright refuses to tag in, stranding his partner to double-teams and blatant cheating. Triple H spends several minutes on the defensive, scoring a few glancing blows, but nothing that swings the momentum, until he turns an attempted back body drop by Murdoch into a quick Pedigree. But the fatigue from the beating prevents Triple H from making the immediate tag. Edge climbs in and picks up Triple H, then kicks him in the gut and nails an implant DDT, puts Murdoch on Triple H and leaves. Confused, but duty-bound, the ref makes the count. When the ref’s hand hits three, the crowd almost gasps in unison at the shocking upset. Murdoch and Cade celebrate like they’ve won a gold medal, but when Triple H comes to, he grabs a steel chair and hammers the tag champs into unconsciousness.

By a vote of 50%-25%-25%, the fans vote for the WWE Intercontinental/Ring Of Honor World Championship fatal-four-way match to be decided under Falls Count Anywhere rules. Ric Flair waits like a dog salivating over a treat for Mick Foley to come out, but when he does, Foley keeps his distance as promised. Flair attacks Foley from behind, which prompts Matt Hardy to jump on Flair, while Punk squares off with Foley. Two referees are needed to track the four combatants as they travel and trade-off on one another, although whenever Flair tries to get near Foley, Foley manages to put either Hardy or Punk between them. Near-falls get counted almost everywhere imaginable, from the ring to the bleachers, to the stage and the back halls, and one (despite shrieking protests) in the Divas’ locker room. And, as the match travels through the halls of the arena, anything handy–from pallates to dished on catering tables to the building itself–gets used in the four-way war, but despite the hellacious beatings and the copious amounts of blood being spilt, nobody will stay down for the three.

The climate changes when Punk, on the run from a steel pole-wielding Foley, heads into the parking garage. One by one, the other three competitors pour into the open area. Once everyone finds their way into the common area, the back doors on a nearby van burst open; from the van pour out The Rottweilers, who descend on Matt Hardy. Homicide jabs a fork into Hardy’s head repeatedly, tearing flesh away from bone and spilling what looks like gallons of blood in the process. Foley, forgetting about the match, comes to Hardy’s aid and manages to take down Ricky Reyes and Julius Smokes, but Homicide nails Foley with the fork right between the eyes. With Hardy down and out, Homicide jumps on Foley and starts jabbing at him, much to the delight of Flair, who acts like a cheerleader, screaming “Kill him! Fucking kill him!” at the top of his lungs. He doesn’t even notice Punk behind him, and doesn’t know, until he is told later, that Punk grabs him and throws him head-first into and through the window of a nearby car. Three seconds later, Punk is the winner; he shakes hands with Homicide as the rest of his gang puts the boots to the bloodied Flair, Foley and Hardy.

But the celebration is short-lived, as, from the darkness, three figures emerge swinging baseball bats. Smokes is left on the ground, clutching his ribcage, and Reyes is knocked unconscious, leaving Punk and Homicide to make a break for it on foot as they are chased off by Bryan Danielson, Colt Cabana and James Gibson. Gibson takes off, looking for medical personnel, while Cabana and Danielson take off in the other direction, chasing Homicide and Punk into the darkness of night.

Nov. 4, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Showdown In Motown”:

In the three days between the chaotic events of WWE’s Taboo Tuesday and Ring Of Honor’s Showdown In Motown, CM Punk admits in an article on ROH’s website that, in exchange for his assistance at Taboo Tuesday, he is granting Homicide an ROH World Title shot on December 3rd.

A day later, and obviously in retaliation, ROH Commissioner issues a statement:

“The actions taken by CM Punk and Homicide at WWE’s Taboo Tuesday will be the last time the make Ring Of Honor look like fools. The match CM Punk has so graciously scheduled for himself at Ring Of Honor’s December 3rd event has been changed to a triple threat match that will also include Steve Corino. As for this weekend, I have contacted WWE officials, and have gotten permission to book the following matches: for Showdown In Motown, WWE Superstar Tommy Dreamer has asked for a street fight against Homicide, and that will happen as well as James Gibson taking on Ricky Reyes. The following night, Homicide, you will team with WWE’s Edge against Matt Hardy and a partner of his choosing, from either Ring Of Honor or WWE. I understand these matches may anger some wrestlers in Ring Of Honor, and may anger some fans as well; to the fans, I can only apologize and say I believe this is the best way to try and bring these problems to a close quickly. To the ROH wrestlers who don’t like how I’m doing things, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I won’t sit around and watch wrestlers try and rule the wrestling company. I am the authority figure in Ring Of Honor. If you don’t like it, ply your trade elsewhere.”

Thus, when Showdown In Motown finally begins, there is a mood of tension at the breaking point in the air. And it doesn’t help matters that, before ring announcer Bobby Cruise can thank the crowd for attending, CM Punk strolls to the ring, looking as cocky as ever. He snatches the microphone out of Cruise’s hand and shoos him away. The crowd breaks into a “Shut the fuck up!” chant; Punk lets the chant exhaust itself before finally speaking.

“I take this belt, this pawn shop piece of shit toy to places it’s never been …” The chant picks back up; Punk tries to talk over it, but the crowd is too loud, and he has to let the chant pass again. “I take this belt on pay-per-view … I defend it against guys like … well, okay, they’re over the hill and probably incoherant with senility, but still, Ric Flair and Mick Foley … I take this beltacross the country … I give it a higher profile then it will ever get here, and you guys boo me? Ring Of Honor has never had so much exposure. This company is on the tongues of every wrestling fan, from New York to New Zealand, from Sydney to Switzerland to Seattle to Siberia, all because of me. You owe me respect, if for nothing else then for dragging this two-bit, glorified group of yard-tards out of circus tents and fairgrounds and into international prominence!” The crowd disagrees, showing Punk nothing but disdain; Punk responds by shrugging. “I figured you ungrateful bastards would feel that way. Just as I know that, despite the fact it was on my back that James Gibson got a job in Stamford … despite the fact that it was through me that guys like Samoa Joe and Alex Shelley were able to get jobs down in Orlando … I know those guys hate me, even though I’ve given each and every one of them the opportunity of alifetime. That’s okay, though. See, the way I figure it is, I have busted my asshelping build this company from day one. I’ve bled, I had beer poured down my throat–which is a slap in the face to my being straight-edge–I left TNA when I had the chance to stay on for more money … and now, like it or not, I and I alone have shoved Ring Of Honor into the national spotlight. So I think I’m due a little something back, don’t you?”

Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” hits, ushering out one half of the ROH Tag Champions, Colt Cabana. But before he can get halfway down the aisle, the music switches to Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, the theme music of Cabana’s co-champion and rival, Bryan Danielson. Punk, strangely, looks amused to see two of his most consistent and vocal detractors enter the ring.

“The only thing you’re deserving is getting your ass kicked,” says Cabana without a trace of his normal humor.

“And the only thing I wanna know is when I’m getting the title shot I deserve from making you tap,” adds Danielson.

“Not before mine,” Cabana retorts.

“Gentlemen, please! Please!” Punk steps in between the two. “I hate to see two close, dear friends–tag partners, even!–fighting! It breaks my heart!” Punk steps back and smiles; it’s a smile no one likes the sight of, like the smile of someone who has something on their opponent when they shouldn’t. “I’m actually glad you two are here, since it all kinda ties in to what I was saying about being owed something. You see, I know you two clown-shoes think you have something coming to you for pinning me in tag matches, and if that’s what helps you sleep at night, then good for you. But for having worked an exhausting schedule in not one but two wrestling promotions, and for all I’ve done for this company in terms of increasing ticket sales and DVD sales, I think my needs come before yourneeds. Now, your esteemed commissioner has seen fit to stuff my dance card full; I got Matt Hardy tonight, I got James Gibson tomorrow. For some reason, I’m wrestling Christopher Daniels on the 19th; don’t know what he’s done to deserve a shot, but hey, whatever. And then, on December 3rd, I got Homicide and Steve Corino. That’s a pretty full schedule, on top of my WWE commitments; Raw, Survivor Series, house shows. So, I’m just letting you know that, if you two wanna tear each other apart trying to get to me, hey, whatever floats your boat. But you’re not getting me this year. I’m taking the holidays off. That means, no Final Battle. And unless Cornette wants a lawsuit that’ll do nothing but bleed this company of badly-needed money and dump a shitload of bad press for trying to make a wrestler work through the Christmas season, there’s not a damn thing any of you can do about it!”

Punk claps both men on their shoulders with all the humor of a funeral and walks to the back, leaving Danielson and Cabana in a state of befuddlement. Unfortunately, their opponents for the evening, Sal Rinauro and Tony Mamaluke, don’t give them any time to collect their thoughts before charging to the ring. Unfortunately for the former champs, the frustration in Cabana and Danielson is far too sharp an edge for Rinauro and Mamaluke to blunt; it takes a whole three minutes, the entire of which is spent with all four men in the ring, for Danielson and Cabana to dismantle Rinauro and Mamaluke. As Danielson ties up Mamaluke in the Cattle Mutilation, Cabana nails Rinauro with the Colt .45; the ref counts the pinfall, although just beside him, Mamaluke’s hand practically punches through the mat, he is tapping so much. Danielson and Cabana raise their belts in the air in celebration, but the glares they throw at one another betray the “bond” of their “team”.

As Danielson and Cabana leave the ring, they stop at the corner of the aisle and the ringside area, eyes locked on the man seated in the front row. Slowly, he stands up, hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket. Just as slowly, a smirk spreads over the lips of Raw’s former General Manager Eric Bischoff; he nods, pulls out a hand and extends it, mouthing the words well done. Danielson and Cabana tentatively accept Bischoff’s gesture and continue back to the dressing area.

Matt Hardy and Tommy Dreamer stand in James Gibson’s corner for his match against Homicide’s lieutenant, Ricky Reyes, putting The Rottweilers on notice that they won’t be allowing them to get away with their normal tactics. Without his back-up, Reyes handles himself adequately, but between his nerves and Gibson’s fire, Reyes is left reeling. When Homicide and Julius Smokes approach the ring, Dreamer and Hardy step towards them, giving Reyes the opportunity to use a shortcut–a shot to the groin–to shift the momentum. But Reyes’ cockiness bites him when he lackadasically pins Gibson, and Gibson grabs on and turns the pin into a front-face chokehold. Gibson wraps his legs around Reyes’ torso and holds on tight as Reyes struggles, but with his body trapped and his head caught in the vice-like grip of Gibson, he has nowhere to go but asleep. Reluctantly, Reyes taps, and Gibson quickly lets go, drops to the arena floor and joins Dreamer and Hardy in confronting the Rottweilers.

And like the gunfight at the OK Corral, all it takes is one little spark–a glint in Dreamer’s eye–to light the powder keg. When Homicide and Dreamer end up in the ring, the ref rings the bell, bringing an official start to the wild brawl that has been raging for several minutes prior. Neither man bother with the pretenses of wrestling and rely strictly on weapons and fists to beat the living hell out of each other. Early on, Dreamer takes the advantage, using his Singapore cane to rend the flesh on Homicide’s bald skull, and puts dents in more then a couple chairs, too. But Homicide, no stranger to bloody brawls, is able to get in his own licks, bringing in tables, more chairs, and his ever-present fork. By the time fifteen minutes have passed, both men are are soaked in blood and sweat, and the ring looks like a hardware store exploded in it. Unfortunately for Dreamer, his experience in many a hardcore war serves also as a weakness, as his oft-injured back–something that everyone knows of–becomes a bullseye that Homicide targets more and more. Dreamer manages to introduce a roll of barbed wire, with which he scores some decent shots on Homicide, even whipping him with it across the back. But the barbed wire ends up being Dreamer’s own undoing, as Homicide places it on a steel chair and nails the Cop Killa on it for the three-count.

As soon as the ref signals for the bell, the aisle suddenly fills up with Ring Of Honor’s entire locker room, led by Jim Cornette. “Alright, that’s it! I have had it with this street thug bullshit!” Cornette gets in Homicide’s face, with everyone from Samoa Joe to the Ring Of Honor training students all standing behind him. “I won’t tolerate shit like this from CM Punk, and I sure as hell won’t tolerate it from you! I’ve told every guy in that locker room, every guy standing behind me, that I expect them to be around the ring for tonight’s World Title match to keep guys like you and your meathead friends out, and I swear on my mother’s grave–so help me God, after they get through beating the living hell out of you, I’ll make sure you’ll never set foot in a Ring Of Honor ring again! Do you understand?” Homicide barely has time to sneer before Cornette gets right in Homicide’s face. “Do you understand, boy?!” When Homicide doesn’t answer, Cornette shoves Homicide. “I asked you a question, ya miserable piece of shit! Iwill have order in my fed, and I will not tolerate punks like you thinking you’re in charge! Now you save your piss and vinegar for your match tomorrow, and you keep your nose out of the main event, or the only belt you’ll be fighting for is made of tin foil and styrofoam and sells for ten bucks at a toy store! Are we clear?” Finally, almost imperceptibly, Homicide nods. Cornette turns sharply and leads the troops to the back in preparation for the main event.

True to his word, before either of the participants in the main event come to the ring, the locker room empties; wrestlers take positions around the entire ring and down the aisleway, forming a living corridor. Despite being a WWE employee, most of the Ring Of Honor locker room gives Matt Hardy a pat on the back and wishes him well as he walks to the ring. The only ones that don’t are Bryan Danielson–who ignores Hardy entirely–and Samoa Joe, who stands in front of Hardy before he enters the ring and stares daggers through the challenger. Hardy doesn’t back down, even as Joe runs him down verbally; when Joe finishes telling him what he thinks of him, Hardy tells Joe to step aside. Joe chuckles, fakes going for a punch, then steps aside and lets Hardy by.

CM Punk, however, gets his normal reaction from the crowd and the gathered ROH wrestlers. But when he gets to the end of the aisle, Danielson and Colt Cabana step out of position and block Punk’s path. The crowd perks up as Punk stands toe to toe with his two biggest rivals. For long, agonizing minutes, everyone waits to see if they will come to blows, but eventually, they step aside and let Punk into the ring.

As soon as the bell rings, Punk and Hardy begin a clever, cautious dance, picking up where their counter-and-re-counter encounter left off. Wisely keeping his desire to avenge his loss in check, Punk calmly matches Hardy move for move, going for measured, surgical strikes instead of seeking the big knockout blow. Likewise, Hardy doesn’t let hius recent victory against Punk go to his head, and makes clever, strategic moves instead of taking the big risks. The result is a brilliant, psychological game of chess, with neither man taking a distinct advantage, but never knocked off kilter either.

As the match moves to the fifteen-minute mark, the pace begins to quicken, as Punk and Hardy begin looking for that one mistake to land the killing blow.       But knowing that one another is looking for that descisive strike leads both to be wary, and the game of cat-and-mouse continues, with the high risk moves doing more damage to the executor then the intended victim. But the match-turning mistake is made by Hardy, who gets caught with a dropkick in the gut as he attempts a spectacular moonsault on Punk as he plays possum. The crash landing sucks all the life out of Hardy, and Punk quickly capitalizes by nailing the Pepsi Plunge for the three count. Punk looks James Gibson, standing outside by Hardy’s corner, and gives him the finger, then adds a pair for Danielson and Cabana before climbing the ropes and celebrating just to annoy the crowd.

As the lumberjacks file into the back, the crowd suddenly comes alive again, but this time with righteous anger, as Homicide storms through the crowd and invades the ring. As Hardy gets to his feet, Homicide comes from behind and wraps a plastic bag over Hardy’s head, twisting it shut in a knot in his hands. Gibson turns and sees the attack and starts for the ring, which is enough to send Homicide back into the crowd. Gibson yells at Homicide from inside the ring, forgetting the fact that he isn’t alone; he is rudely reminded of that when Punk spins him around and plants him with the Devil Lock DDT. Punk tells the out-of-it Gibson that he can’t hang with him and leaves the ring, his challengers for two nights left broken and defeated behind him.

Nov. 5, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Vendetta”:

The morning of Vendetta, Ring Of Honor’s website makes two updates regarding the card for the evening: the addition of a tag title defense by Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana against former tag champions BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs, and the main event tag match is turned into a Fight Without Honor. An article is also posted with comments from Matt Hardy, in which he says that win, lose or draw, after his match with Homicide and Edge, he will be done with Ring Of Honor. Upon hearing Hardy’s comments, Homicide responds by saying the war won’t be over until he says it is.

The uneasy partnership of Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana continues as they defend against the challenge of former tag champions BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs. Accompanied by the annoying but beautiful Lacey, Whitmer and Jacobs dazzle the tag champs with their cohesive teamwork, a combination of power and speed, and, when Danielson and Cabana fight back, Lacey interjects herself into the match. The champs primary advantage, however, is their deeper base of experience, which they use to keep the challengers off balance. Jacobs and Whitmer adjust and start throwing out the high-impact double-team maneuvers, rocking the champs on their heels. The tipping point happens when Jacobs and Whitmer, having thought disposed of Cabana, hoist Danielson up on Whitmer’s shoulders to go for a Doomsday Contra Code; instead, Cabana chop blocks Whitmer, which causes Jacobs to miss Danielson and crash to the mat. Cabana shoves Danielson off Whitmer’s shoulders, rolls up Whitmer and scores the three-count, much to Lacey’s shrieking dismay. As Lacey berates her team on the way back to the locker room, Danielson and Cabana yell at each other over the finish, blaming one another for allowing themselves to almost get defeated.

Neither of them notice the person in the black leather coat salt-and-pepper hair casually hop the guardrail and slide into the ring until he taps them on the shoulder. Danielson and Cabana are just as stunned as the audience to see Eric Bischoff, a living symbol of corporate bureaucracy in professional wrestling, in a Ring Of Honor ring. Bischoff’s smile is large enough to swallow a small car, a stark contrast to the confusion on the faces of the ROH Tag Champs. Bischoff reaches into his pocket, pulls out two business cards and offers them to Danielson and Cabana; they take them, albeit more out of reaction then anything else. “Call me,” says Bischoff. “I think we can help each other.” With that, Bischoff claps the champs on the shoulders, drops to the floor, hops back over the guard rail and leaves the arena.

Like every match since Samoa Joe’s promise to do so, the locker room empties to serve as a human shield against incursions, and to keep CM Punk from dodging the bullet of a title defense. Once again, Punk gets the death glare from the gauntlet of wrestlers, and, like the day before, Danielson and Cabana take position to block the end of the aisleway. Punk doesn’t so much as blink in the face of his rivals, until Danielson’s face splits in a crocodile smile. “See you soon,” says Danielson, then steps aside. Cabana adds a wink and steps aside, too. Punk passes by, a solitary eyebrow arched in confusion.

Once the match begins, Punk is initially caught off guard by how well-versed Gibson is in countering his arsenal. Soon, Punk falls into the groove, and the two trade counters and reversals, along with stiff kicks and chops that could cut down redwoods, at a pace even more dizzying and impressive then the night before. But unlike the night before, Gibson wisely sticks to a ground game, trying to exhaust Punk overall so he can either go for the Gibson Driver, or zero in on Punk’s legs. Punk’s attacks are all over the map, trying more to just weaken Gibson overall then setting up a future attack.

As time wears on, Punk has to change his gameplan, as Gibson’s surgical strikes on Punk’s leg start to hamper his offense. Unfortunately, the weakening of his leg cuts the strength of his trademark kicks, and makes any aerial offense, or anything involving picking up Gibson, difficult to achieve. Still, Punk grits through it and gets off as much as he can, but as time wears on, Punk shows more and more weakness. The crowd’s fever grows, as Gibson continually zones in on Punk’s bum wheel. Even the wrestlers around the ring can sense the course events are taking, and start pounding on the mat to cheer on Gibson. When Gibson manages to get Punk in the middle of the ring with the Trailer Hitch, the crowd comes out of their seats, screaming for Punk to tap; likewise, the wrestlers around the ring do the same, leading the audience in a chant of “tap, Punk, tap”. But before Punk can do so, the timekeeper rings the bell; the official announcement is a time limit draw. The crowd boos and demands five more minutes. Gibson, barely able to breath, asks for a microphone.

“I wasn’t able to get you tonight, Punk,” says Gibson in between panting for breath. “But I know I can beat you. And since we’re both full-time WWE Superstars, it isn’t fair that I ask for a rematch for this company’s top prize. But it is fair that I demand a rematch … on Raw … for the WWE Intercontinental Championship!” As Punk hobbles out, the crowd chants “You can’t beat him!”; Danielson and Cabana smile at Punk and gesture at each other, saying, “you can’t beat us, either.”

Following the previous night’s attempted asphyxiation, there is no illusion that the main event will be anything but a blood-soaked nightmare, the kind of match that shortens careers and inflicts scars on both the flesh and the soul. Edge and Homicide ensure the scarring of flesh by bringing a cart full of objects designed strictly for maiming, including a length of a bag of thumbtacks, several metal forks, a plastic bag, a Singapore cane, a staple gun, and yards and yards of barbed wire, both free and wrapped around various impact weapons.

When Matt Hardy steps into the aisleway, he is alone, hands on his hips as he looks at the two men who have spent the better part of the year ruining his life, derailing his career and attempting to cripple him. Hardy smiles and looks to the entrance, awaiting his mystery partner. When the doughy, stringy-haired man steps through the curtain, a shredded flannel covered a “WANTED: DEAD” t-shirt on his pudgy torso, the crowd almost audibly gasps; for Edge and Homicide, the sight of Cactus Jack–not Mick Foley, for sure, but Cactus Jack–registers shock and abject horror. When Hardy and Cactus rush the ring, Edge actually bails through the ropes, leaving Homicide to be the victim of a vicious two-on-one attack, sneaking in only when he can attack Hardy from behind.

With virtually no rules, normal tag rules are thrown out the window, meaning that two very bloody, very violent brawls rage at the same time, without cease. It doesn’t take long at all for the hardcore plunder to be used, and not much longer before all four are bleeding. The crowd chants “please don’t die” as all four continually up the ante on each other in the name of inflicting pain on each other: Cactus Jack nails Homicide with the Cactus elbow off the apron, holding a chair, driving Homicide through a table at the same time. Edge uses two unfolded chairs to for he and Hardy to stand on, then hits a DDT off the chairs into a chair covered in barbed wire. Cactus is stapled in the forehead by Edge, then gets hit in the forehead with a sledgehammer, driving the staple deeper. Hardy wraps Homicide’s hand in barbed wire, then stomps on it repeatedly. When, late in the match, all four men find themselves dragging themselves up by the ropes, all in opposing corners, the crowd applauds their heroism in enduring the hell of the match, but backs it up with another “please don’t die” chant.

The bloodbath comes to a conclusion when Edge, lying on a table on the outside, rolls off as Cactus comes off the apron for a senton. Edge grabs two chairs, one being wrapped in barbed wire, and hits a one-man conchairto. He slides in the ring and rescues Homicide from a top-rope chair shot by spearing Hardy, folding him like a lawn chair. Homicide grabs the plastic bag, wraps it around Hardy’s skull and tightens his grip. With no air to breathe, Hardy has no choice but to tap out. Homicide holds the bag for couple seconds more, until the ref can pry it from his hands. Paramedics immediately rush out and carry everyone away on stretchers. But though Homicide and Edge are successful, as they are wheeled out, Hardy puts one fist in the air, a testament that he will not, in fact, die.

Part IV

Our story continues on WWE Monday Night Raw. Mick Foley, having walked away from wrestling, is set to conduct a farewell interview. One person who isn’t going anywhere, however, is the man who acted as catalyst for Foley’s departure, as well as the mental disintegration of Ric Flair, the deterioration of Flair’s relationship with Triple H, and the firing of Eric Bischoff: CM Punk. Punk is knee-deep in enemies from all sides, be it James Gibson in the WWE, or virtually the entire Ring Of Honor roster, who are shadowing every move Punk makes …

Nov. 7, ’05: WWE Raw:

Despite the hellacious beating taken by Edge and Matt Hardy a mere 48 hours prior, both are not only scheduled to compete on Raw, but in the main event, a tag match partnering Hardy with Triple H against Edge and Kurt Angle. An interview via satellite with Mick Foley from his home, is also scheduled for the evening, as is Vince McMahon’s “taking of the reins”.

Leading off the show is the fulfillment of James Gibson’s promise made at Vendetta, a match for the Intercontinental Championship with CM Punk. Punk hobbles to the ring, his leg still sore from the 60-minute attack it withstood two days prior. Unfortunately, the limp acts as a big bulls eye for Gibson, who goes right back to work on the leg. Punk has to go downstairs to stop Gibson’s onslaught, but his advantage is short-lived, when he catches sight of two men sitting in the front row. Punk yells over the ropes at Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson, who sit perfectly still, smiling as Punk derides them as losers. Cabana makes the “blah, blah, blah” gesture as Danielson gestures at his own waist and yells out, “kiss it goodbye, Punk.”

Suddenly, Punk is spun around and kicked in the gut. Gibson drags him to the middle of the ring and quickly hits the Gibson Driver, then transitions it into the Trailer Hitch. Punk tries to reach for the ropes, but Gibson pulls him back to the center of the ring. Gibson wrenches down as tight as he can on the hold, making Punk scream for mercy, something Gibson is in no mood to grant. Finally, the pain becomes too much for Punk to bear; the crowd comes unglued as Punk slaps the mat and the ref signals for the bell.

But before Lilan Garcia can announce Gibson as the new Intercontinental Champion, Edge races down the aisle and tackles Gibson. Before Edge can help his friend get to his feet, Triple H is behind him, spinning him around and laying into Edge with fists to the jaw. Gibson joins in, double-team clotheslining Edge to the floor. Triple H and Gibson drop out, chasing Edge to the back as Raw goes to commercial.

When Raw comes back, Punk is still in the ring, now holding a microphone in one hand, and his head with the other. “I am sick of this! This isn’t fair! James Gibson couldn’t beat me in sixty minutes two days ago, and now, he beats me because I let myself get distracted by two indy scrubs, and you idiots cheer for him?!? What, does Vince McMahon have buzzers under your seats to cue you to cheer? Don’t you realize who I am and what I represent? I am the future of this business! I’m better then you! Then all of this! This isn’t fair! I deserve better!”

“You know what’s really not fair?”

The attention of everyone in the building is suddenly drawn by the other voice filling the arena. The voice’s owner, Eric Bischoff, stands up from the broadcast booth, throws down his headset, and strides to the ring with pride and determination. Bischoff snatches a microphone from ringside and gets in the ring.

“Let me educate you on the definition of ‘unfair’, Punk,” says Bischoff as he paces around the ring. “‘Unfair’ is when you spend five years building a company for someone else, and when they decide to sell it, they cancel the television programming that comes with it, killing the deal. ‘Unfair’ is when you get hired by someone you spent a lifetime opposing, and you take that job with the intention of burying the hatchet because you love the business … but your new boss hired you just so he can humiliate you on a regular basis. ‘Unfair’ is when, despite being put in the most difficult of circumstances, despite having obstacle after obstacle and handicap after handicap thrown in your way, you succeed at your job, you excel at it, in fact … until someone else comes in and messes everything up, and you get thrown under the bus for it. And ‘unfair’ is when you get stuck in a piss-ass, go-nowhere job like play-by-play commentary next to some lecherous old man, calling the action on a show you used to run, all because your boss would rather torment you then just put you out of your misery. That’s unfair, CM Punk. And believe me, as much as you hate Vince McMahon for what he’s done to the industry, nobody has been made to suffer like I have by that rotten, miserable son of a bitch! So, Vince, let me right now tell you that you can take that job and shove it up your ass!” The crowd cheers, since Bischoff is attacking possibly the most reviled man in the company. “And, and, hey, I’m willing to admit where I made mistakes. I let Hulk Hogan get too big for his britches. I shoulda pushed guys like Chris Benoit and Raven. I’m big enough to admit that. But when it comes to my getting fired as General Manager of Raw,” says Bischoff, now jabbing a finger in Punk’s direction, “I place the blame squarely on you. Because, until you showed up, I had Raw under control. Until you showed up, I didn’t have wrestlers from other companies coming onto my show, attacking them with forks and throwing bleach in their eyes. I didn’t have my Raw Superstars going to other companies, risking injury competing for another company’s belt. I didn’t have two legends in this business trying to tear out each other’s throats. There wasn’t a single problem I didn’t have a handle on until you showed up. And for that, I owe you.”

“And what do you owe me?” says Punk, stepping forward.

The answer comes from behind, as Danielson and Cabana leap the barrier, slide in and blast Punk from behind. Cabana and Danielson stomp away at Punk as Bischoff watches. “This is what I owe you, CM Punk! A life of torment! A career spent scared of what’s around the corner!” Danielson puts on the Cattle Mutilation; Bischoff gets down on the mat, as close to Punk as he can get, and speaks in a calm, but scary, voice. “You cost me everything, CM Punk. So now, I am going to get my revenge on you by haunting your every move, and spoiling any possibly glorious moment in your career that you will ever come across. I will make you resent yourself for ever signing with the WWE, CM Punk. I will be there, lurking over your shoulder, until every achievement, every treasure and every trophy you have is tainted.”

Bischoff stands up, looks down at Punk as he screams in pain, smiles, then looks at the camera. “And most of all, I’m going to use you, CM Punk, the same way you used me. You used me as a door to get into the WWE, and now, I’m going to do the same. Because, while you may deserve a hundred percent of my hatred, Vince McMahon, you deserve just as much, if not more. So, by getting revenge on CM Punk, by enlisting the aid of men like Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana, I will undermine your precious Raw. I will corrupt it from the inside out. I will eat away at it until you either come crawling on your hands and knees, begging me to call off the dogs and repair this show, or until you stick the dagger in your own heart. Either way, I will win, Vince. I kicked your ass before, and I will do it again!” Bischoff gives a nod to Danielson and Cabana, and they all leave through the crowd.

As Raw comes back from commercial, Michael Cole steps in for Eric Bischoff in time to explain to the home viewers what they are seeing: cameras following WWE officials, security and paramedics racing to a reported disturbance backstage. When they get to the site of the disturbance, cameras are able to catch a glimpse of Edge and Homicide running away as the authorities approach. Hardy is lying face down in a pool of blood, unconscious. Among the interested parties looking on is Triple H, who watches in frustration Hardy, his intended partner for the evening, is carried away. Vince McMahon approaches, and Triple H immediately confronts him.

“This is how you take the reins, Vince? This is how you make Raw a better place? Who the hell am I supposed to partner with now?”

“So find a new partner, Triple H,” says McMahon. “I’m sure a charming man like yourself has plenty of friends in this company.”

Triple H smirks, then unloads with a vicious right hand to McMahon’s jaw, putting the Chairman on his backside, and walks away in search of a new partner. Vince barks at a stagehand to help him up, and, once on his feet, marches to his limo and leaves.

Live, via satellite from his home, Michael Cole welcomes a very bandaged and beaten Mick Foley. Cole welcomes Foley, then asks about his injuries.

“Well, Michael,” says Foley, “I partnered with Matt Hardy two days ago at a Ring Of Honor event. He asked for my help, and since Homicide stabbed me in the forehead at Taboo Tuesday with a dinner fork, I figured I owed him a receipt. As you can see, we took a pretty good butt-kicking. None of my injuries are serious; lots of cuts, abrasions, stab wounds from barbed wire. I’m pretty bruised up, but I’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

“Now, you said on Raw last week that, once you wrestled at Taboo Tuesday, you’d walk away from wrestling and from Raw. You were putting the events with Ric Flair and CM Punk behind you. Is this still true?”

“Unequivocably, Michael Cole. As I said last week, I’m done. If the problems I’ve had with Ric Flair and CM Punk have taught me anything, they’ve taught me that sometimes, it’s better to leave things well enough alone. I should never have stuck my nose in Ring Of Honor’s business with CM Punk, and I should never have let Ric Flair get to me. What happened between us in WCW is as dead as WCW is, and letting it, and him, get under my skin ten years later is just ludicrous. And I don’t need to wrestle anymore, Michael Cole. I retired, five years ago, as a matter of fact. I don’t need the money, I don’t need the beatings, and I don’t need the f–”

The sound of feminine screams coming from another room kills Foley’s sentence dead. He gets to his feet and runs into the kitchen, where he sees his door kicked in and his wife being backed into a corner by Ric Flair, screaming in her face.

“You make that fat son of a bitch fight me! You make him fight me, you tramp!” Flair screams as Foley runs into the room. Foley grabs Flair by the shoulder and spins him around, but Flair catches him by surprise and stops Foley in his tracks with a can of pepper spray. As Foley staggers back, Flair snatches a frying pan off the stove and brains Foley. “Make him fight me, Collette!” he yells, stomping on Foley. “I want a match at Survivor Series! Make him fight me!” He wheels around and gets in Collette’s face again, his face a twisted mask of rage. “You make him fight me, or next time, I’ll make your kids see what a fat, worthless sack of crap he is by beating him in front of them!” Flair stomps Foley one more time, and spits on him as he leaves through the broken door.

As Edge and Kurt Angle make their way to the ring for the main event, the home viewers get a special surprise; a phone call is patched in from Homicide. The call is short and sweet, with Homicide running over Michael Cole’s attempts to ask questions, or to chide him for such a cowardly attack.

“I don’t care what you gotta say, bitch,” snaps Homicide. “I only callin’ in for one thing; I told Hardy it wasn’t done between us until I said it was. I wanna end it, and I wanna embarrass his ass one more time, in his company. You and me, Hardy, at Survivor Series. You talk to your boss when you get out the hospital, and we’ll go one more time.” The phone disconnects abruptly, leaving Cole and Jerry Lawler to speculate on whether or not Vince McMahon will allow the match.

With that, Triple H comes out and, instead of going through his normal intro ritual, waits on the ramp. Triple H gestures to the entrance; the sound of the pop from the audience is enough to break glass as the WWE Champion John Cena steps through the curtain. Cena and Triple H shake hands, then race to the ring. The match never officially starts, however, as the four pair off in fistfights in and around the ring, Cena taking to Angle while Triple H brawls with Edge. Cena gets tossed into steel steps, which allow Angle and Edge to double-team Triple H and stomp him to the ground. As Triple H weathers a barrage of kicks, Edge grabs a microphone.

“Remember how you used to have a theme song called ‘My Time’?” Edge says between kicks. “Well, it’s my time now, Hunter! Your day is over, and I’m putting you out to pasture once and for a–”

Edge’s whiny rant gets cut off with a stiff shot from a steel chair to the skull, courtesy of James Gibson. Gibson puts the edge of the chair into Angle’s ribs as Cena gets to his feet. CM Punk races down the aisle, but stops when Gibson dares him to get closer, brandishing the chair. Cena grabs a steel chair for himself and, after fishing around under the ring, grabs a sledgehammer and hands it to Triple H as he gets up. Together, as Angle and Edge try to regroup, Triple H and Cena introduce their steel to the skulls of their enemies. Only Punk is wise enough to stay away, but as he backs up the aisle, he vows he’ll make Gibson pay.

Nov. 14, ’05: WWE Raw Eddie Guerrero Memorial:

In honor of the sudden passing of Eddie Guerrero, WWE suspends all normal programming, and dedicates both Raw and Smackdown to memorials of Guerrero. No storylines are advanced.

Nov. 19, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “A Night Of Tribute”:

With a solid card of wrestling featuring Bryan Danielson & Colt Cabana defending the ROH Tag Titles against Austin Aries & Roderick Strong, Homicide taking on James Gibson in his final match in the company, and CM Punk defending the ROH World Title against Christopher Daniels, Ring Of Honor is set to pay tribute to Eddie Guerrero in the most honest, decent way possible: by wrestling.

But to start things off, following a ten-bell salute, ROH announcer Bobby Cruise introduces a special surprise guest: Mick Foley. Foley waves to the crowd, however stunned they are, and takes the microphone from Cruise when offered.

“Thank you,” says Foley sheepishly. “I gotta admit, even though I wrestled here a week ago, I didn’t think I’d get a phone call asking me to come back.”

Immediately, ROH Commissioner Jim Cornette comes to the ring. He shakes hands with Foley, then asks; “Say, Mick … you said you got a phone call?”

“Yeah. From, well, from someone from your office.”

Cornette chuckles. “Mick, I know you’re used to how things go up in Stamford, where even the secretaries have secretaries. And I know it’s been a few years since you worked down here in the indies, so, let me clue you in on something; I don’t have an office, let alone a staff of people beneath me. There’s me, and there’s the owner. Whoever called you, it wasn’t me.”

The Godzilla intro cues up and the lights go down, signalling the arrival of Samoa Joe, who comes to the ring with a sick, evil smile on his face. He hops in the ring and gets right up in Foley’s face. “I called you,” says Joe. “I wanted you to come here, because I wanted to see if you could lie to my face one more time.”

Foley is speechless in his surprise. “Joe, I, uh … I … I’m not sure …”

“You know damn well what I’m talking about, Foley,” Joe says with more then a dollop of uncharacteristic anger in his voice. “I told you at Unforgettable not to come back, or I’d put your fat ass in a wheelchair. You walked outta here, and the crowd told you not to come back. and you even said on WWE TV, that you were done with Ring Of Honor. You can put on an old t-shirt and call yourself by another name, but the bottom line is, Mick Foley, you broke your own promise. You don’t see me on Raw, screwing up your show, and yet, even when you say you won’t be back, you keep coming back and fucking up my company. So you got exactly three seconds to open that yap of yours and give me one good reason why you broke your promise, and why I shouldn’t break every bone in your body alphabetically.”

“I was asked to come and tag with Matt Hardy by Matt himself,” says Foley quickly and sternly. “I called the owner, and I called Jimmy Cornette here and made sure it was okay that I come back for the one match. So believe me, the last thing on my mind was coming back here … but Matt needed a partner, and to be honest, I wanted a little piece of Homicide for mistaking my head for a pork chop. But, except for one match in the WWE, I’ve kept my promise not to get involved in the business with CM Punk.” Foley gets right up in Joe’s face, which makes Joe take a step back out of surprise. “And what in the hell kind of man are you to lure me here so you can run me down? Shouldn’t you be concerned with trying to get a match with Punk, or do you really have so much free time that you can screw with an old, washed-up, retired wrestler? Is this how you get your kicks? You’re pathetic!” Foley turns to Cornette and extends a hand. “Jimmy, good to see you. Hope things work out around here. You may wanna have a talk with some of your wrestlers, though. Seems some of ‘em are taking this just a little too seriously.”

Foley turns to leave, but before he can step through the ropes, Joe lunges like a snake, snatching Foley back and locking on the Kokina Clutch. Joe ignores the yelling of Cornette to release the hold, tightening the grip until Foley is almost unconscious. Just as quick, he released, gets to his feet, snatches the microphone out of Cornette’s hand and says; “You’ll come out of retirement to wrestle Homicide, you’ll fight CM Punk, but you won’t fight me? You’re the pathetic one, Mick! Fight me! Get off your fat ass and fight me!” Joe drops the microphone and, as quick as a hiccup, is down on the mat again with the Kokina Clutch on Foley until Foley blacks out. It takes 10 wrestlers and a cadre of referees to pry Joe off Foley and escort him from the ring, all the while Joe telling Cornette to tell Foley he wants a match.

Despite being not only a WWE employee, but the WWE Intercontinental Champion (which he wears to the ring), the audience showers James Gibson with streamers for his last match with the company. It is a far cry from what Homicide gets, which is a deafening display of raw hatred by the audience. From the opening bell, Gibson keeps Homicide off-kilter by switching between superior technical skills, and a surprisngly able brawling strategy. Homicide, however, is willing to go a step further in brutality, and uses the ringside area and the tables around it to wear down Gibson. Gibson manages to come back, using Matt Hardy’s Twist Of Fate to draw a near-fall, and a Gibson Driver for another near-fall, but Homicide’s corner man Julius Smokes proves the difference maker, distracting the ref so Homicide can use a chair to bash in Gibson’s skull. Homicide follows it up by climbing to the top turnbuckle and, with a little Guerrero shoulder-shimmy, nails a nice frog splash for the victory. Before leaving, Homicide puts his Eddie Guerrero “Cheat 2 Win” shirt on the steel chair and points at the sky, which gets draws an “Eddie” chant. After Homicide leaves, Gibson gets a standing ovation; when the applause dies down, Gibson takes a microphone and announces that, for WWE’s Survivor Series, he’s issuing a challenge to CM Punk and Edge to face him for the Intercontinental Championship.

CM Punk’s ROH World Title defense goes on as the semi-main, something that annoys Punk enough to share it before the match begins. “I am the World Champion of this two-bit, bullshit, glorified backyard fed! How in the hell can anyone justify me getting bumped down to the semi-main in favor of a tag team match two events in a row?!? I cannot wait to be done with this company!”

AC/DC’s “Back In Black” hits the PA, the theme music for Eric Bischoff. With a wry smile, Bischoff approaches Punk. “There’s a reason you’re not headlining tonight, Punk,” says Bischoff matter-of-factly. “See, you’re not a businessman, so you just don’t get it. Let me break it down for you: in this business, you lead with your big money draws. You headline with the guys people want to see, and Punk, nobody wants to see you anymore. You’re not wanted here. They wanna see guys like … well … like them,” he says, pointing to the entrance, where Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson appear. The ROH Tag Champions approach the ring and take seats at ringside, big smiles on their faces. “They are the guys these people wanna see. They bring in the fans, they sell the shirts and they make the fans cheer. You make the fans puke. You wanna headline here? You wanna be the draw?” Bischoff shrugs. “Just sign on the dotted line, Punk.” Bischoff leaves the ring, stopping briefly to shake hands with Danielson and Cabana, before leaving, although the ROH Tag Champs stay in their seats.

The challenger and ROH original, Christopher Daniels, along with his valet Allison Danger, enters the ring to a tremendous ovation. When the ref instructs the wrestlers to shake per the Code Of Honor, Punk extends a hand … only for the crowd to chant “Don’t shake his hand” at Daniels. Daniels puts his hand out to shake, much to the dismay of the crowd, then pulls it back when Punk goes in to shake it and flips off the champ. Before Punk can snarl, Daniels starts kicking and chopping, every move as crisp as a new dollar bill. Punk decides discretion is the better part of what he thinks is valor and tries to high-tail it from the ring, but Daniels gives chase into the crowd. An entire section of folding chairs is wiped out in the brawl, mostly from a back body drop on Daniels, a Punk reversal to an attempt by Daniels at his finisher, the Angel’s Wings. With Daniels laid out, once again, Punk tries to walk away, but this time, Danielson and Cabana chase him down and stand in his way. Punk tries to get around them, but Danielson and Cabana keep cutting him off, until Daniels is recovered enough to attack Punk from behind and drag him back into the ring.

Once back in the ring, Daniels manages to dictate the pace, wearing him down with his precision attacks. An attempt at the Koji Clutch almost draws a tap-out, but Punk is able to angle himself so his feet touch the ropes. When Daniels looks to finish off Punk late in the match with his Best Moonsault Ever, Punk comes up from behind and clubs Daniels in the back, interrupting the jump to the top. Punk climbs up from the outside and looks to set up the Pepsi Plunge, but Daniels is able to back body drop Punk down to the mat, and follows it up with a moonsault. Unfortunately, Punk rolls out of the way and Daniels’ moonsault eats mat. Punk quickly rolls onto Daniels and applies the Anaconda Vice. With nowhere to go, Daniels has no choice but to tap. Punk snatches his belt from the ref and books it out of the arena, flipping off Danielson and Cabana on the way out.

Once Punk leaves and Daniels goes back to the back, Danielson and Cabana step into the ring for their tag title defense against Austin Aries and Roderick Strong. Unlike Punk and Daniels, everyone shakes hands before they begin wrestling, although Danielson and Cabana eye each other cautiously. For an amazing forty minutes, every combination of of the four squares off, trading offense and defense at a breathtaking pace. But for all their individual prowess, the format favors the cohesive team, and with Aries and Strong being founding members of Generation Next, the duo of Danielson and Cabana, at obvious cross purposes for months, slowly breaks down. When Cabana hits the ropes, unaware that Danielson is on the apron about to attack Strong, he sends Danielson flying into the guard rail. The shock of the mistake distracts Cabana long enough for Aries to grab Cabana, hit the brainbuster and the 450 splash for the three count. The crowd cheers for the new champs, showering them with streamers, even as, on the outside, Danielson and Cabana argue about the loss. Arguing leads to pushing, but before pushing can lead to punches, Eric Bischoff steps between them and tells them to cool their jets. He tells them the situation couldn’t be better and, though Cabana and Danielson scowl at each other, they both walk away with Bischoff to the back.

Nov. 21, ’05: WWE Raw:

The final Raw before Survivor Series opens not with fireworks in the arena, or with the opening graphic and music, but on Vince McMahon, in a pre-taped message from his office.

“Good evening,” begins McMahon. “Tonight, I have three issues on which I feel the need to address directly, and they all relate to the rampant lawlessness and disregard for the rules that have poisoned this company for the past several months. The first regards the final moments of the main event of Raw two weeks ago. The unprovoked and heinous attacks perpetrated by many men, both those involved and not involved in the main event, have convinced me to book two matches for Survivor Series to settle these issues: James Gibson will defend his Intercontinental Championship a four-way elimination match against Triple H, Edge and CM Punk, while John Cena will defend the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle. Secondly, in response to the overwhelming demand shown by both WWE fans, and the two men in question, I am authorizing an unsanctioned match between Matt Hardy and Ring Of Honor’s Homicide; this will be the one and only time these two will meet in a WWE ring and, win, lose or draw, if I see Homicide at a WWE event after Survivor Series, I will see him bankrupted and imprisoned. Lastly, as it relates to the previous issues, the lawlessness in this company has grown to proportions that, frankly, sicken me as a human being, and embarrass me as the owner of this company. I cannot, and will not, abide it. There have been too many attacks that border on criminal action, and too many occurences of wrestlers from another organization setting foot in my company without prior approval. Next Monday, I will introduce a new General Manager for Raw, who will bring Raw back to the glory it was before Eric Bischoff tainted it. I defeated Bischoff once before, and as God as my witness, Iwill not fail in crushing him again.”

With that, Raw begins with a surprise in the announce booth to replace Eric Bischoff: Joey Styles. Styles runs through the card for the evening, featuring a non-title main event between CM Punk and John Cena, an Intercontinental Title match between James Gibson and Edge, and a hardcore match between Ric Flair and Tommy Dreamer.

Raw’s in-ring action kicks off with Matt Hardy squaring off against Carlito, but, before the match can get underway, cameras pick up Eric Bischoff sitting in the front row. Bischoff smiles and waves to the camera, then pantomimes McMahon’s gestures and blustery delivery in his message. Hardy spares Bischoff a cautious glance, but doesn’t get distracted from the task in front of him. Carlito provides a decent challenge, but Hardy is able to dispatch him in a few minutes. But as Lilian Garcia announces Hardy the winner, the TitanTron goes live to the parking lot, where Homicide is outside the arena, yelling for Hardy. Hardy takes off as Raw goes to commercial. When it comes back, Hardy gets outside to where Homicide is, only to find him and Edge and laid out. From behind Hardy, Bryan Danielson, Colt Cabana and Eric Bischoff step out of the shadows; Danielson and Cabana are holding tire irons.

“Hope you don’t mind,” says Bischoff. “Edge was hiding off to the side. You oughtta know better, Matt.” Bischoff looks at his clients and says; “Let’s get going, gentlemen. Our night isn’t over yet.”

Back inside, the action continues with Ric Flair, vowing to send a message to Mick Foley by way of his old ECW friend Tommy Dreamer. With no rules, the Innovator Of Violence is free to get in touch with his ECW roots and get extreme as possible. But between Flair’s psychotic temper and intentions to send a message through Dreamer, the Dirtiest Player In The Game once again shows how he got the moniker, by using pepper spray to stop Dreamer dead in his tracks. Incapacitated with burning eyes, Dreamer is an easy pin for Flair, but Flair keeps beating on Dreamer after the bell has rung on his victory. The referee tries to pull Flair off Dreamer, but Flair kicks the ref in the crotch and goes right back to stomping on Dreamer. Within seconds, Triple H is racing to the ring; he tears the pepper spray out of Flair’s hands and tosses it aside.

“Ric,” says Triple H, “what in the hell are you doing? You blind a guy with pepper spray, you, you break into a man’s house and terrorize his wife? What the hell is the matter with you? You’ve gone over the line, Ric! This, what you’re doing, it isn’t right, it isn’t how we do things! If you want a match with Mick Foley, you don’t go like this!”

The look in Flair’s eyes is cold and dead, the look of a maniac deep in the throes of his madness. “I will beat the living hell out of his children if that’s what it takes! Now help me put the boots to this piece of trash, or get outta my way!”

For a few seconds, Triple H is too shocked to do anything but stare, slack-jawed, as Flair stomps away on Dreamer. Finally, Triple H snaps out of his fugue, grabs Flair by the shoulder and cocks back a fist. But Flair surprises him by pulling a tazer out of his tights and jamming it right in Triple H’s torso. Triple H drops like a sack of rocks, and keeps jittering as Flair keeps the tazer on him.

Suddenly, the crowd comes alive as Mick Foley races out of the back, slides in the ring and lays into Flair. Flair drops to his knees and begs for mercy, but Foley doesn’t buy it for a second and kicks Flair in the face. Foley scoops up the pepper spray and, as Flair staggers to his feet, sprays it in Flair’s face; Flair falls from the ring, screaming in pain, holding his eyes and walking into whatever is around him. As Flair stumbles around, Foley grabs the microphone off the mat. “You want a match, Ric? Survivor Series … as the late Gordon Solie once said … ‘Two words, five letters: I Quit‘! And I promise you, you sick son of a bitch, I will take you to a hell you’ve never seen before! I will beat respect into you if it’s the last goddamn thing I do!”

From the opening bell, Edge shows James Gibson visible disdain, treating the smaller Gibson like an inexperienced scrub instead of someone worthy of being the Intercontinental Champion. Gibson quickly corrects Edge’s misconception when he peppers his challenger with stiff chops and targeted strikes against Edge’s legs, setting up for the Trailer Hitch. Rocked by Gibson’s unrelenting and precision attacks, Edge tries every shortcut and evasive maneuver he knows to stop Gibson, but the IC Champ is relentless, taking Gibson to the proverbial woodshed. With certain humiliation only seconds away, Edge resorts to grabbing his Money In The Bank briefcase and blasting Gibson in the face, drawing the blatant disqualification. Edge’s temper gets ahold of him and he lays into Gibson a few more times with the briefcase, all the while screaming “This is you, Triple H! This is you!” Edge leaves Gibson in the middle of the ring as medics rush to check on him, laughing and smiling like it’s his birthday.

As CM Punk comes down the aisle for his match with John Cena, he is subject to an unusual barrage of heckling and garbage being thrown at him. When Punk looks at the source, his face twists in a scowl at the site of Colt Cabana. Punk walks up to the barrier and is about to berate Cabana when the jovial Cabana splashes a cup of beer in Punk’s face. Punk’s eyes go wide with fury and indignation, but, with a great effort, he walks away, wiping the offensive alcohol off his face as he climbs in the ring.

When the bell rings, Punk is stunned by Cena, who shows off a more technical, mat-based wrestling style. Determined not to be shown up, Punk throws in his kicks and high-impact maneuvers, and although Cena mixes it up with his more standard brawling, he starts to lose ground to the Ring Of Honor World Champion. Punk turns on the heat, working over Cena with a flurry of offense both legal and shady, all the while keeping an eye on Cabana, who watches with mask of stone.

But Punk’s offense is derailed when he sees someone in the front row, a young lady with striking black hair and pale white skin. His eyes go wide at the sight of Lucy, his once-upon-a-time girlfriend, watching Punk with blank eyes. Suddenly, her eyes perk up when a bucket of popcorn is placed in her lap; the supplier of the snack, Bryan Danielson, kisses her on the cheek, then turns and waves to Punk with an evil grin.

Punk’s face flushes with rage, all his attention now focused on Danielson and his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t notice Cena up on his feet behind him, waiting impatiently for Punk to turn around. As soon as he does, a kick in the gut leads to an F-U and the three count for the WWE Champion. Cena’s celebration is short-lived as Kurt Angle rushes the ring and attacks him, and the brawl takes the two out of the ring.

As they clear out of the way, Eric Bischoff comes out of the audience, jumps the barricade and gets in the ring. He stands above Punk as the ROH Champion tries to clear the cobwebs out of his head. “So,” says Bischoff, “you can either give my clients what they deserve, or next time … well …” Bischoff smiles and lets the end of the sentence hang in Punk’s mind as he walks away, leading his clients and Lucy out of the arena.

Nov. 27, ’05: WWE Survivor Series:

Survivor Series gets off to a violent start as the unsanctioned confrontation between Matt Hardy and Ring Of Honor’s Homicide takes the opening match slot, and before the two can even get to the ring, they’re trading fisticuffs in the aisle. The set is used as a bludgeon for the two to throw each other against, as are the audience barricades, the walls of the arena itself, and anything else they happen to see. Homicide is bleeding in short order after Hardy grabs a coffee pot off a catering table and breaks it over Homicide’s head; likewise, Hardy ends up with his head flesh torn, courtesy of Homicide’s fork and several jabs to the forehead. Hardy manages to put out Homicide’s lights by finding a loose cinder block and breaking it across Homicide’s head, but from behind, Edge scrambles Hardy’s brains with a steel chair. But before he can do any more damage, Triple H and James Gibson hit the scene and chase Edge to the back.

With the playing field re-levelled, Hardy and Homicide drag themselves to their feet and take their blood-soaked carnage towards the ring. A number of items get pulled from under the ring and turned into weapons, and the amount of broken wood in the ring from tables could stoke a campfire for a month. But Homicide’s crucial mistake comes in mis-timing a leap at Hardy as he leans against the ropes; Hardy ducks and Homicide’s twisting leap gets him tied in the ropes, hanging outside the ring by the neck, two of the ring ropes wrapped around his neck. Hardy, grinning through a curtain of blood, slides out, grabs a steel chair and tees off, hammering Homicide over and over and over again. Homicide tries to reason with Hardy, but after months of assaults with plastic bags, bleach and attacks in the hospital, there is no room for negotiations. Hardy climbs the nearest turnbuckle, chair in hand, looming down over Homicide as he tries to get out of his ring-rope prison. Hardy raises the chair high over his head, like an executioner preparing for a beheading, and steps into the air; the meaty knocking noise the chair makes as it impacts Homicide’s skull almost reverberates off the ceiling. Homicide’s eyes roll back and he goes limp, but before the ref can signal for the bell, Hardy slides back in and stops him; he gets Homicide loose, drags him into the ring and pins him. The crowd counts along with the referee, and there is almost a sigh of relief when the ref’s hand hits the mat for the third time. Medics and trainers help Hardy to the back, but Homicide refuses the assistance and is helped out by his buddies in The Rottweilers.

One by one, the participants of the four-way elimination match for the Intercontinental Championship come out, and Edge, having already made friends earlier, draws the short straw and comes out first. As soon as Triple H comes out, Edge drops out of the ring, almost hiding behind Joey Styles and Jerry Lawler. CM Punk comes out third, holding up his ROH World Title and crowing about being wrestling’s “real” champion. It doesn’t get half the reception from the partisan crowd as does James Gibson and his Intercontinental Title.

As soon as the bell rings, Edge rushes Triple H, but The Game is ready and pops Edge in the jaw with a haymaker. Gibson and Punk step back and let Triple H and Edge have it out. For the first couple minutes, Triple H overwhelms Edge, but when he tries for a Pedigree, Edge counters with a low blow and quickly tags out to CM Punk. With Triple H doubled over holding his aching crotch, Punk tries to roll him up, but Edge breaks up the pin. Punk is on his feet instantly, asking what Edge is doing; Edge points at Triple H and growls “He’s mine.” Punk’s expression is one of incredulity and dismissal, but when he turns around, Triple H socks him in the jaw like he did Edge. Triple H tags out to Gibson, who goes after Punk with a strategy similar to the one that got him the IC Title, but tags back to Triple H when Punk wises up. But Punk manages to get the upper hand when, again, Triple H goes for an early Pedigree that Punk turns into a back body drop. Punk and Edge trade offense on Triple H for a bit until Edge goes for a back body drop on a throw to the ropes, and Triple H makes him eat a knee; Punk runs in and tags Triple H with a kick to the back of the head, which gets the ref’s attention. Edge uses the distraction to snatch his briefcase, clobbers Triple H in the head and makes the cover, stunning the crowd by eliminating the match’s odds-on favorite.

But Edge’s celebration comes to an abrupt halt when Lita, looking healed and healthy, enters the ring. Edge holds out his arms to welcome his partner in crime, but Lita stuns him and everyone else by hauling off and punting him in the nuts. The referee grabs Lita and starts to haul her away, even as she shrieks at Edge about being forgotten and left behind. When the ref turns around, CM Punk is covering Edge. Three seconds later, Edge is eliminated, leaving Punk with the man who took the Intercontinental Championship from him, James Gibson. The two stare at one another for a few seconds, waiting for the other to flinch first … and then rush each other simultaneously, lashing out with chops, kicks, punches and every other conceivable strike.

Having faced so many times before, many of the strikes whiff or are blocked, and many of the moves they attempt are countered or reversed. But Gibson is able to keep his emotions in check, and trips up Punk by pushing him until his temper makes him make careless mistakes. Punk’s only recourse is to use shortcuts to keep himself out of trouble; once in control, Punk moves at such a methodical pace as to almost be lazy, or toying with Gibson. Eventually, Gibson uses Punk’s cockiness against him and gets him in a number of pinning predicaments, but on a back body drop attempt, Gibson gets caught by the Devil Lock DDT. Punk makes the cover and gets the three-count, giving him the Intercontinental Championship once again.

But when the timekeeper goes to grab the belt to hand it to the ref, the belt is gone, taken by Eric Bischoff. Bischoff looks at the belt, smiling, then at Punk. “Oh, did you want this?” says Bischoff. “Well, see, we have a problem now. I’ve had to go in search of new clientele and new allies to help bring down Vince McMahon, and just yesterday, I landed quite possibly the biggest client I could hope for.” Bischoff smile gets so big, it could swallow a 747. “See, my client has decided it’s time to fight fire with fire. In this case, since Vince McMahon is more then willing to allow one of his contracted WWE Superstars to steal the property of another company, my client, Ring Of Honor, has asked me to do no less. So, if you want this …” Bischoff holds up the belt. “… you’ll just have to come to–oh, wait. I forgot. I won’t be at Steel Cage Warfare. I forgot, I have a meeting in Hollywood that evening. I’m only available on the 17th … oh, wait, that’s Final Battle. You were gonna take that day off, weren’t you? Well …” he says, shrugging and turning around, “good luck explaining to Vince how you went on vacation instead of retrieving his property.”

Punk almost trips over himself running towards the side of the ring Bischoff is on. “Fine, fine, what do you want? What do you want?”

“Why, I told you already, Punk.” Bischoff’s smile could light up a black hole, but any shred of humor is strictly ironic. “Come to Final Battle, and do the right thing.” With that, Bischoff climbs over the barricade and walks away, the Intercontinental Title under his arm.

Before heading to the ring for his historic confrontation with Ric Flair, Todd Grisham catches up with Mick Foley, and asks how he feels. “I feel … well, I feel a lot of things, Todd,” says Mick. “I feel a sick sense of glee when I think of what I’m about to do to Ric Flair. Then I get nauseous, because I’ve worked hard to drive that part of me, the part that likes the sound of ripping flesh and the sight of pools of blood, I’ve worked hard to kill that part of me, and it makes me sick to know it’s still alive. And then I get mad at Ric Flair for making me find that place in me again. And then I get ashamed.”

Grisham looks perplexed. “Why, Mick? Why ashamed?”

Foley looks at Grisham, his expression blank. “Do you have children? I do. And before I drove to the airport to come here yesterday, I had to sit down with my kids and tell them not to watch my match. I had to tell my wife that under no circumstances are they allowed to see what I’m about to do, and that’s because, frankly, what I’m going to do to Ric Flair would land me in prison if it wasn’t happening in a wrestling ring. I want my children to look up to me, and I can’t very well expect them to think of me as their hero if I’m raking barbed wire across someone’s forehead. This is all my fault, I set this all in motion, and tonight, I have to become a monster. I have to extinguish everything about me that is Mick Foley if I am going to survive out there, Todd Grisham; I have to go to a place even Cactus Jack would be afraid to look. I have to find the deepest, darkest hole in my soul, and dig beneath that. And to do that, I have to shut out my children, and hope they don’t hear about tonight from one of their friends at school. That’s why I’m ashamed, Todd Grisham. And for that,” Foley adds, looking in the camera for the first time, his eyes cold as the core of Anarctica, “I hate you, Ric Flair, more then anyone has ever hated anyone else.” With that, Foley turns and walks to the ring.

From the opening bell, Flair and Foley display their raw hatred in ways that border on the criminal. Wrestling moves are entirely abandoned in favor of punching and anything they can lay their hands on. While the crowd is soldily behind Foley, they can’t help but be horrified when Foley pulls a pen knife out of his boots and goes for Flair’s head, twisting it in the open wound, yelling at Flair to quit. Numerous tables are reduced to kindling, chairs are dented and outright broken, and a monitor from the announce booth is turned into a heap of broken electronics and glass over Foley’s head. A Pillmanizing by Flair sets up a figure-four attempt, but Foley gets out of it by grabbing jabbing at Flair’s knee with the pen knife. A table is set up in one corner, covered in thumbtacks, which Foley tries to use for a superplex on Flair; Flair manages to shove Foley off, and through the augmented table. The disastrous turn of luck for Foley gives Flair a big opportunity; he reaches under the apron and produces a tazer, which he jabs into Foley’s side and leans on the trigger. With Foley twitching uncontrollably from the electrocution, Flair demands Foley quit, regardless if Foley can form words or not. When Foley doesn’t give up, despite almost 30 seconds of electrocution, Flair goes outside again, pulls some barbed wire from under the ring, grabs a chair, and spends a minute wrapping the wire around the chair.

The time spent making the weapon gives Foley some time to catch his breath. When Flair comes back in, holding the chair aloft, Foley snags Flair with a drop toe-hold; Flair comes down face-first on the chair. Foley gets to his feet first and from his tights produces a pair of handcuffs, which he uses to bind one of Flair’s hands to one a ring-rope. Foley grabs the barbed wire chair, heads outside, and starts sifting under the ring. What he pulls out makes literally everyone in the arena go silent with shock and horror: a can of gasoline. Foley takes off his flannel, douses it in gas, wraps in in the barbed wire, then gets back in the ring, bringing the chair and the gas with him. Flair’s horror turns to shrieking terror when Foley starts splashing gas on him; when he pulls a lighter from his tights and ignites the chair, the crowd starts chanting “please don’t do it”, but the cold, dead glare in Foley’s eyes says reason will not reach him. Even the ref begs Foley not to do it, but Foley ignores him. Foley cocks back the chair, ready to smash, rend and burn his helpless prisoner all in one shot. It takes Flair less then half a heartbeat to scream the two match-ending words, and he does so over and over and over again. Foley glares at Flair, still holding the chair ready to swing, as Flair officially quits; Flair’s submission turns into pleas of mercy, but Foley still holds up the chair. Finally, even though the fire is burned out, Flair screams out; “What do you want from me?!?

Foley speaks without a shred of emotion; though it is a shout, it is only to be heard, not out of anger. “Are you sorry? Are you sorry for what you’ve done to me and my family?”

“Yes, for God’s sake, yes!”

Foley drops the chair, pulls out the handcuff key, hands it to the ref and walks away. For a brief moment, he turns around and regards the crowd, who give him a polite round of applause. He waves once, turns back again and leaves.

Dec. 3, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s “Steel Cage Warfare”:

The week between Survivor Series and Steel Cage Warfare sees CM Punk silently going about his wrestling career; minus the title belt, he successfully defends the Intercontinental Championship on Raw, and says nothing when he is dressed down by Vince McMahon for losing the belt. Even when Eric Bischoff shows up in the parking garage by Punk’s rental car, Punk goes about his business with cold silence.

When he gets to Steel Cage Warfare, it’s another story entirely.

The opening contest, a match between two ROH students is interrupted by Punk, who dispatches with both of the rookies easily. Once the students are tossed out, Punk stands in the middle of the ring, holding the belt above his head. The crowd boos, but Punk just nods. “Just remember: it’s me taking an ass-kicking over this piece of crap belt that put every one of you in these seats,” he says with a smile. “But the fact of the matter is, this back-and-forth bullshit is getting old. Eric Bischoff harasses me steals my belt, I humiliate your wrestlers on a near-weekly basis … I’m done. It’s time to end this, once and for all. Now, I know I said I was taking the holidays off, but between Bischoff, McMahon and the old cranks who run this one-ring circus blackmailing me from every direction, I’m kinda forced to cancel my big Carribbean cruise and show up at Final Battle. But since I hold the gold, that means I still make some rules, and here it is: whoever I face–and believe me when I say I’ve proved myself as superior to everyone back there so many times, I couldn’t care less if I face everyone all at once–it will be the last match I have in Ring Of Honor. If I win, the belt goes with me. Forever. You can strip me, vacate the title, but I will always havehave the distinction of being Ring Of Honor’s only undefeated champion. You have two chances to get the job done: tonight, and at Final Battle. If you can’t get it done by then, you never will. You can send every lawyer, agent, promoter and fan after me; I’ll retire if I have to. So, Commissioner Cornette, since you’re Mr. Matchmaker … send your best. Just keep in mind, how matter good your best is, I’m better then them.”

A grudge match pitting student versus teacher bows, with Samoa Joe taking on his backstabbing protege Jay Lethal. Turned on recently by Lethal, Joe goes after his former protege with a vengeance, looking to end the match quickly. But Lethal is able to counter his former instructor’s tactics, setting off a brilliant cat-and-mouse match of Joe having to break out of his normal patterns, and Lethal having to adapt to Joe’s shifting gameplan. Unfortunately, the stunning game of attack/counter/re-counter comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying halt, when Joe gets taken down from a chair shot from behind, not from Jay Lethal but from Mick Foley. The crowd, never able quite to settle on a feeling towards Foley in the past, unites against him as he plasters Joe with shot after shot, drawing the DQ victory for the Samoan submission machine. Lethal hands Foley a microphone when he demands one.

“You want a fight, Joe? You got it! Final Battle! No holds barred, no ref stoppage, no more bullshit! You and me, one and one, one time and one timeonly!” Foley gets down on the mat, up next to the ear of Joe. When he speaks, his voice is monotone … but a cold, malicious kind of monotone. “I hope you watched Survivor Series, Joe. I hope you saw how far I was willing to go to beat Ric Flair. And I hope you realize that I’m willing to do that to you, too.” Foley gets up, spits on Joe and leaves through the crowd, leaving Lethal to get a few more stomps on Joe before walking away, too.

Another surprise for the night comes as ring announcer Bobby Cruise is doing the duties for the long-awaited confrontation between Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson. What was expected to be a spirited, semi-grudge match suddenly takes on new gravitas when Cruise announces the 30-minute time-limit bout is for a title shot at Final Battle. Punk immediately comes out to protest, barking at Cruise, who can, as the messenger, only shrug. Jim Cornette comes out and argues all the way to the back with Punk about how “fair” it is to have turned Cabana/Danielson into a #1 contendership match. Cabana passes Cornette and Punk as he heads to the ring; the normally jovial Cabana flips off his former best friend and enters the ring without his normal fanfare, too focused on the opportunity before him for dancing and goofiness.

Once the bell rings, the former tag champs begin a tense, hard-hitting dance, with Cabana’s size and power a counter to Danielson’s speed and superior mat work. Cabana shows a stunning versatility, not going hold-for-hold with Danielson, but holding his own nonetheless. Likewise, Danielson doesn’t let Cabana’s size or strength advantage stop him from fighting like a man twice his size. The crowd, evenly split, chants for both as they trade moves and strikes, suplexes and holds, always keeping things above board. Not once does the match spill into the crowd in a brawl, nor do take it outside and use the ringside environment to weaken each other. The action remains soldily in the ring, as each man tries to prove themselves the better wrestler–and thereby the better candidate to relieve CM Punk of the burden of being Ring Of Honor World Champion, should he make it past the three-way dance later on.

But as the match winds on, the audience starts to get nervous; likewise, more then a couple heads pop through the curtain to take a nervous peek. With less than five minutes on the clock, Jim Cornette comes out and stands at the end of the aisle, hands wringing together as Cabana and Danielson give each other everything they have in the closing minutes. Danielson kicks out of a Colt .45 with a half of a half an inch between the ref’s hand and the mat. Cabana gets to the ropes during a Cattle Mutilation that he endures for almost a minute and a half. Somehow, even with aching arms and a sore back, Cabana manages to pick up Danielson for a second Colt .45, but Danielson kicks out again. Bobby Cruise announces the one-minute mark to a rabid crowd on the edge of their seats.

With less than thirty seconds left, Danielson and Cabana fight on the top turnbuckle over a superplex; Danielson wins, but the impact of the move takes just as much out of him as it does Cabana. The ref begins a standing 10 count, but never reaches the end, as the timekeeper rings the bell. The crowd immediately boos as Cruise confirms what everyone already knows: the match is a time-limit draw. The crowd chants “five more minutes”, but Cornette walks away, shaking his head.

When CM Punk comes out for his World Title defense–coming out before his theme music plays, and before his opponents come out–he laughs as he approaches the ring. Punk snatches the microphone from Cruise and holds up the title belt once again. “Get a good look, folks,” he says as he turns so all sides of the venu can see the centerplate. “Get a real good look. Cause tonight is the last time you’ll see it. Oh, I’d be at Final Battle, probably sipping on a Pepsi at the concession stand or something, cause it seems they don’t have anyone for me to fight. Joe? Beat him. Generation? Beat them. Hell, beat three of them at once. Chris Daniels? Beat him, too. Jimmy Rave? Beat him a long time ago. I even beat guys from the WWE for this thing. Face it; Ring Of Honor had their chance. They’re throwing Homicide and Corino at me in just a minute, and their last two great hopes, my old buddy Colt and a guy who quit the promotion because he wasn’t getting what he wanted, they just had fizzle and die. So, get a good look; come Final Battle, they’ll need to … oh, I don’t know. Tournament? Battle royal? Whatever they do, however they decide a new champion, they’ll always be looked at as a fake champ, because they never beat me.”

With that, Homicide and Steve Corino are introduced, and the two resume their blood feud as soon as the bell rings. Seeing no place, and no reason to make a place, between the long-feuding pair, Punk steps out of the ring as Homicide and Corino try to kill each other and takes a seat beside the timekeeper. Homicide and Corino don’t even notice that Punk is gone, so focused are they on maiming each other, and Punk is all too happy to let them continue their path towards mutual annihilation. But as he sits around, Julius Smokes, Homicide’s corner man, starts verbally berating Punk. Punk takes it for only so long before getting up and barking right back. He doesn’t notice that Homicide has managed to stop Corino for a minute and is coming up behind him. He only notices when Homicide grabs him by the hair and throws him into the ringpost, finally bringing Punk into the action after almost five minutes.

Fortunately for Punk, just as he finds himself in serious jeopardy from Homicide’s onslaught, Corino comes right back into it and inadvertantly saves him by going after Homicide. But Punk’s fortunes quickly reverse when Corino, having sent Homicide to the outside, comes after him, putting Punk on the defensive again. Once again, Punk’s second opponent provides the unintentional rescue, but this time, Punk goes after retribution on Homicide. The three trade moves with each other, scoring a hit before being hit themselves, one after another in a loop, until Punk suggests to Corino they pair up on Homicide to eliminate him. Together, they’re able to beat Homicide to a bloody mess and pin him simultaneously. Smokes retrieves his friend and leads him away, leaving Corino–no friend to ROH–and the universally despised Punk as the final two.

The two put on a decent clinic of strong-style wrestling, with Punk dictating the pace, keeping Corino on the defensive. When Punk tries to take it to Corino in a brawl, though, the self-proclaimed King Of Old School rocks Punk back on his heels. A couple near-falls by Corino get the audience counting along, even if the result of a three-count is so fundamentally loathesome. But as Corino looks to be taking it home, Homicide runs back out, brandishing his familiar fork; he slides in and stabs both men in the forehead. And, for his longtime nemesis, Homicide puts a punctuation mark on the attack with a Cop Killa, before leaving. Punk is the first to move, draping an arm over Corino; the ref makes the count, and three seconds later, Punk is victorious once again, with seemingly no challengers left to take him on, and the ruination of Ring Of Honor only a matter of time.

Dec. 17, ’05: Ring Of Honor’s: “Final Battle 2005″:

No less than 24 hours following Steel Cage Warfare, Ring Of Honor posts a bit on their website announcing that they are discussing a proper challenger for CM Punk in light of the no-decision between Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson, with the leading candidate being a three-way dance. CM Punk is quick to send a reply through his agent;

“Ring Of Honor has thrown everything they can think of to take this title off my waist, and nothing’s worked. Three-way dances, four-way dances, guys from other federations, matches with no time-limit … none of it has worked. If the best they can do is to book another three-way dance, I’m very disappointed in them. If you’re so intent on getting the belt off me, why not have me face Danielson and Cabana in individual matches at Final Battle? That still isn’t really a challenge for me, but still … be original.”

The very next day, Ring Of Honor accepts, officially announcing that CM Punk vs. Colt Cabana will open the show, and that the winner of Punk/Cabana will face Bryan Danielson will close it. Punk, predictably, cries foul in posts and missives sent through his agent, saying he didn’t really mean what he said, but ROH refuses to budge.

With great reluctance, Punk shows up at Final Battle and, as promised, is confronted at the opening bell with his former friend and Second City Saint running buddy, Colt Cabana. Despite the ref’s orders to shake hands, neither man makes any motion to follow the Code Of Honor and are more then content to snarl at one another. The ringing of the bell does nothing to make the two spring into action, as they stand stock still, saying everything they need to say with their eyes.

Suddenly, Punk kicks a field goal between Cabana’s uprights, dropping him to the mat instantly. Punk pulls a pair of knuckles out of his tights and jumps on Cabana, connecting several blows before there are enough officials to pry Punk off Cabana. The ref has no choice but to throw out the match, much to the chagrin of the fans, who let out with a chant of “bullshit”. As soon as the ring is cleared and Cabana is taken away, ROH Commissioner Jim Cornette comes out to address the fans.

“I know y’all are upset, and you have every right to be,” says Cornette. “We promised you a match between CM Punk and Colt Cabana, and now, we can’t deliver on that. But I am damn sure not gonna allow that to happen again when CM Punk gets back in this ring tonight to face Bryan Danielson, because I am here to tell you that CM Punk will be thoroughly searched, I will make sure that this ringside area is secured just in case he’s thinking of bringing in one of his buddies from Connecticut, and I’ll be at ringside myself to make sure this match has a finish. Cause I promise you all this; if CM Punk tries to get himself intentionally disqualified or counted out, I’ll restart the damn match! You will see Danielson and Punk throw down tonight, and there will be a winner, or so help me God, I’ll quit right on the spot!”

As Mick Foley approaches the ring, a hush falls over the crowd; despite not carrying any kind of weaponry, and never having been in any sort of physical shape that could be construed as intimidating, and yet, just his posture is enough to send a very clear message about what to expect. The crowd erupts when Samoa Joe comes out, but his demeanor is just as cold and lethal as Foley’s. When the two meet in the ring, standing nose to nose, the crowd is on the edge of their seats, screaming for the bloodshed to come.

And as soon as the bell rings, Joe and Foley deliver, working a stiff, borderline sickening blend of styles, combining Joe’s technical skills and brawling ability with Foley’s reckless abandon and hardcore legacy. It isn’t long before blood is flowing on the foreheads of both men, and a section of the audience is cleared out equally quick when the two come barrelling through. A few of the plastic seats on the chairs are reduced to shards as the two heavyweights use them to either swing at one another or as props to slam each other on. The fight finally gets back to the ringside area, although not in the ring, as Joe dismantles a ringside barrier and places it across the gap between the ring and another barrier and manages to powerbomb Foley onto it. But when Joe pulls in Foley’s near-lifeless body, he kicks out at two.

From there, Joe, firmly in control, unloads his arsenal of heavy-hitter moves; the Island Driver, the STJoe, and the Muscle Buster are all used, and Foley somehow kicks out of all of them. Joe’s frustration starts to show as everything he throws at Foley gets pushed off when it comes time for the pin. Foley is able to get a brief reprieve when he executes a drop toe-hold that sends Joe face first into a chair, but the beating suffered is too great for Foley to mount a much of a comeback. Joe absorbs a couple of weak chair shots from Foley, and on a third attempt, hits a Yakuza kick into the chair, sending it into Foley’s face. Joe pounces immediately, locking on the Kokina Clutch. After almost thirty seconds in the hold, limply, almost imperceptibly, Foley does the unthinkable and taps. The crowd comes out of their seats, but as the ref holds up Joe’s hand, Foley gets to his feet and demands a microphone.

“I didn’t … I …” Foley winces, succumbing to a fit of coughing. “You beat me, fair and square. I didn’t even get the chance to bring my worst before you beat me.” Foley extends a hand. “I’m man enough to admit who the better man is, and when I’m wrong. You are, and I was. I’m sorry.” Foley holds out his hand, looking earnestly at Joe, who regards Foley with skepticism. After a bit of hesitation, Joe takes the hand; Foley gives it a couple firm shakes, raises Joe’s hand, and then leaves, giving Joe the moment all to himself.

The tensions in the building run at an all-time high as Bryan Danielson makes his way to the ring for his one and only shot at CM Punk and the Ring Of Honor World Championship. A shower of streamers welcomes Danielson to the ring when he steps in the ring. As has become custom for Punk title defenses, the ROH locker room assumes their positions around the ring and in the aisle. But before Punk can come out, the parade of lumberjacks is joined by more–these representing Raw’s roster. From Eugene to John Cena, the Raw superstars mingle into the line of interested onlookers, including a bandaged Mick Foley, who shakes hands once again with Samoa Joe before taking up station at ringside, right next to Matt Hardy.

With the ringside area now at capacity with wrestlers who loathe Punk, the embattled ROH Champion makes his way to the ring with a sneer on his face, not deigning to give anyone the satisfaction of showing anything but disdain. This time, the referee doesn’t even bother trying to enforce the Code Of Honor and, after the introductions are done, signals for the bell. Immediately, Danielson goes after Punk, lighting into him with a blizzard of chops and hard elbows to the head. Punk finally answers back, and the striking battle becomes a hit-me-with-your-best-shot contest. Ultimately, Danielson’s elbows and chops win out, and the minute Punk is slow to get up from the mat, Danielson jumps and tries for the Cattle Mutilation, but Punk slips out, only to run into the lumberjacks. Quickly, he gets back and Danielson is right there to take him down. But Punk, sensing just how much is at stake, reaches down deep and fights back, taking the fight to Danielson as much as Danielson does to him.

From there, Punk and Danielson spend the match chipping away at each other, with Punk showing the brilliance he had eschewed for months in favor of being a cheating coward, and Danielson showing a relentless fire never before seen. The submission finishers of both men are attempted numerous times, and both find counters, reversals or escapes. The lumberjacks watch closely, visibly upset when Punk gets the upper hand, delighted when Danielson does. But when Danielson comes on again with another onslaught of strikes, Punk snaps and deliberately punts Danielson in the groin. The ref signals for the bell, but Jim Cornette comes out, climbs in the ring and tells the ref not to ring the bell. Punk gets in Cornette’s face and spits; Cornette responds by kicking Punk in the balls. The wrestlers around the ring erupt in cheers; Cornette grabs a microphone and says; “Now it’s even! Re-start the match!”

Danielson is the first one to his feet, and doesn’t wait for Punk to get up before laying into the champ with stiff shots to the back and arms. Before Punk can even think to respond, Danielson cinches in the Cattle Mutilation, but being too close to the ropes, Punk easily gets a foot on the ropes to break the hold. Danielson holds on until four, telling the ref emphatically that he has until five to break, then drags Punk’s carcass to the middle of the ring and puts on a crossface chickenwing. After enduring it for an amazing amount of time, Punk stands up and rams Danielson backwards into the corner to break the hold. Punk lands a couple stiff kicks to Danielson’s head to daze him, then starts to drag him up to set up the Pepsi Plunge. But Danielson blocks by coiling a leg around one of the ropes, while Punk goes sailing up and over Danielson, crashing into the mat. Danielson turns around, jumps off, nailing an elbow in Punk’s back, then pulls Punk forward and slaps on the Cattle Mutilation again. This time, Punk has nowhere to go; he tries rolling through, but Danielson resists. Powering out gets Punk nowhere. The crowd chants “tap” over and over; the wrestlers at ringside bang on the apron, chanting in time with the crowd. Both Punk and Danielson scream, with Danielson yelling for Punk to give up, while the champ’s screams are ones of agony. When Punk refuses to tap, Danielson breaks the hold himself, props Punk sideways in his lap and starts laying in repeated elbows to the side of Punk’s head. After about ten of these, Danielson reapplies the Cattle Mutilation.

This time, Punk cannot resist.

The crowd’s roaring is so loud, no one can hear Bobby Cruise make the official announcement of Bryan Danielson being the new Ring Of Honor World Champion. The wrestlers around the ring hoot, holler and applaud, then break into a round of “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye”, in which the audience quickly joins. Punk cries and moans, screaming about how unfair it is, but nobody listens; the relief of the nightmare finally, finally, being over is too much to deny.

And then, the moment is halted, as a very unexpected visitor steps through the curtain and looks at the ring from the entranceway. Dressed in a nice suit, he surveys the crowd for a moment, soaking in how his very appearence is enough to cause roomfuls of grown men and women to stop in their tracks. He smiles, then raises the microphone in his hand to his mouth, his smile as toothy as a crocodile’s, and as friendly, too.

“CM Punk,” says Vince McMahon, “now that this is all over and you’re exclusively a WWE Superstar … come this Monday, on Raw … your ass ismine!

The End

Written by

Creator, editor and semi-sorta-retired original author of Rewriting The Book, husband, father of three, gamer, lover of 90's MTV animation.

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