It is January 3, 2011 and Wade Barrett finds himself in a triple threat steel cage match on Raw battling Randy Orton and Sheamus to determine the number one contender for the WWE Championship. CM Punk, who had taken over the leadership of The Nexus from Barrett that very night, gives Barrett another incentive: the opportunity to regain the leadership. Should Barrett win, Punk would not only give up the leadership, but work for Barrett’s Nexus. During the match however, Punk made his way down to ringside, attacked Barrett as he was about to win and took off Barrett’s Nexus armband, removing him from the Nexus in the process. Barrett lost the match, a shot at the title, a chance at regaining his leadership, and heads over to SmackDown just days later to lead The Corre, a not so subtle offshoot of The Nexus.
Three weeks later Barrett and Punk would cross paths again on Raw, this time facing each other with John Cena as the special referee. What should have been an excellent match given the animosity between the two men, particularly on Barrett’s side, turned out to be a two minute farce that accomplished absolutely nothing except to ensure that both Barrett’s and Punk’s respective teams would six days later take part in the Royal Rumble match. As a matter of fact, this would be the one occasion where the two rival factions crossed paths with each other and would have made for a compelling match if the foresight was shown to have them square off in an inter-promotional bout at WrestleMania XXVII. Surely this would have been better than having The Corre lose in a minute and a half to the put together team of Big Show, Kane, Kofi Kingston and Santino Marealla, destroying their credibility in an instant?
Another three months pass and, heading into Money In The Bank, CM Punk has now established himself as the most talked about figure in wrestling, as well as having transitioned into a fan favourite, thanks to his now famous ‘Pipebomb’ promo while Barrett, who is still well and truly over with the crowd as a villain at this point, struggles ever so slightly to stay relevant after starting his WWE run like a house on fire only a year earlier.
Those who watched the Money In The Bank pay-per-view, one of WWE’s greatest shows, know how it all unfolded. After CM Punk won the WWE Championship in the classic against John Cena in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois, rather than the happy ending we got, with Punk escaping through the crowd and out of the arena with his title intact, either one of two scenarios could have been played out. The first and most obvious: Barrett comes out immediately after Punk’s win, viciously assaults Punk, leading Alberto Del Rio to an easy cash in of his red Money in the Bank contract on the fallen Straight Edge superstar. The final image may have been Del Rio holding the championship above his head as the show went off air, but the biggest heat would easily have headed in Barrett’s direction. A much bolder and possibly inconceivable second option: Barrett is the winner of the ladder match opener instead Daniel Bryan. Del Rio comes out and ambushes Punk to make an attempt at a cash in. Barrett then makes his way through the crowd and prevents this by blasting Del Rio over the back of the head with his blue briefcase, swaps the two briefcases around, giving Barrett the red briefcase, with the confusion resulting in Barrett being the one to cash in on Punk. Barrett brings Punk up off the canvas, lifts him onto his shoulders and delivers the Wasteland, winning the WWE Championship, his relevance and notoriety immediately rising to heights not seen since his Nexus days only a matter of months earlier.
Either scenario leads in as a precursor to the next night on Raw. Barrett’s music hits and he comes out to atomic heat in the opening segment saying that he secretly negotiated a trade from SmackDown back to Raw – which would explain the switching of the briefcases – then going on to further detail his motives for targeting Punk: that of being unceremoniously replaced as leader, not getting his immediate revenge which left him burning and waiting in the shadows to pounce at the most opportunistic time, in front of Punk’s own fans no less, and finally giving Punk the comeuppance he had coming to him for six long months. This would set in motion a chain of events to set the stage for a huge grudge match at SummerSlam, with or without the title involved, and the rivalry could have continued with a series of matches for at least another two months up till Vengeance, an appropriate ending. It was booking that could easily have written itself had creative been bold enough to revisit the story and remind us of the events in January and thrown a spanner in the works for something completely different.
Now it is 2015 and much has changed considerably in the intervening years. CM Punk is retired from professional wrestling, having left WWE in acrimonious circumstances in January 2014. As for Barrett, despite all the repackaging to mould him into a main eventer, he has lost just about all the lustre he once had upon his first few months in the company. The pieces were all there and in place to capitalise on a feud that could have been ranked as one of the most memorable of 2011. Instead, apart from just that one throwaway match at the start of the year, they never crossed paths on a major level and it goes down as a monumentally missed opportunity.