The Concussion That Changed Everything, Or, Why Mark Henry Beat John Cena

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The other day, Mark Henry's salmon suit promo popped up on my radar.

It's a bloody good promo, and an impressive bait-and-switch that could have easily led to a Mark Henry title run. Of course, we all know that it didn't because Daniel Bryan beat John Cena at Summerslam that year and became WWE Champion for about two minutes, until Randy Orton cashed in. This, of course, led directly to Daniel Bryan winning the WWE title in the main event of Wrestlemania 30.

Of course, if Henry had beaten Cena at MITB, that wouldn't have happened. I mean, he couldn't have won if they were going to push Bryan, which they both were and did, but let's suppose fate dealt Bryan a bad hand before the PPV.



I like Sheamus as a wrestler, I really do. He's stiff as fuck and beats the shit out of most everyone. That's the thing though: he's really fucking stiff. He gave Christian a bad concussion in an Intercontinental title match before WM30, forcing him to retire; he gave Daniel Bryan a horrible concussion in his last match for three years, temporarily forcing him to retire, and in 2017 he kicked Jeff Hardy in the head while he was stationary, breaking his teeth. I wouldn't call him an unsafe worker - like everyone else in the company, he's overworked every year - but he works a really stiff style with the potential to fuck everything up. That's where this timeline's going.

Let's suppose that the match between Bryan and Sheamus on July 8th 2014 - a fairly unexceptional match by all accounts, earning ***¾ from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and sitting at a 7.52 on Cagematch at the time of writing - ends badly for Bryan. Sheamus gets tired and boots Bryan in the wrong spot, giving him a pretty major concussion. This alone is enough to sideline Bryan from the next two PPVs, but in the following medical checkups, the doctors discover the origin of the neck injury that sidelined him for half a year IOTL. He is forced to take the rest of the year off, which kinda fucks up the WWE's plans for fhe rest of the year. Of course, they're not completely fucked - they have a hot main event angle, an excellent main event roster, and a month to put something else together - but without a goat to bury, what can they do?

...well, in the first instance, they could take the belt off Cena.

This TL will be structured like Megafighter3's collection of wrestling TLs (https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/tonight-in-this-very-ring-a-collection-of-wrestling-timelines.467979/). It'll run from the middle of 2013 to whenever I feel it runs its course, which'll probably be around Wrestlemania 31. Unlike my last attempt at a wrestling TL (which I promise is not dead, I just lost confidence in it and I will bring it back at some point, even if only for a little while), I won't change up the rosters or anything like that, so Sheamus isn't losing his job and replacing Devitt next year for this or whatever. Hell, Vince probably wouldn't punish Sheamus for the accident, especially since he wasn't doing much at this point anyway. That said, late 2013 without Bryan has the potential to be very different indeed, and I'm keen to see just how different it could be while making the upcoming scenarios somewhat plausable.

As with A Phenomenal Hire, updates will be inconsistent, but I'll try not to make the gaps between updates too big. I'll mostly skip Raw and Smackdown, because realistically they'll suck just as hard ITTL as they did IOTL, but if there are any significant changes, I'll mention them in the post. Otherwise, each post'll cover one PPV at a time, with a brief summary of how each match has changed, if at all. With the exception of a couple of necessary changes, I'll hopefully try and book things as Vince would have ITTL, and we'll see just what that means in a world where butterflies are already flapping like buggery.

For now, however, the point of divergence is set in stone, and Mark Henry's about to become the second black WWE Champion of not just 2013, but of all time...
 
I: Money In The Bank 2013
Money in the Bank 2013

Venue: Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 15,000
Announce Team: Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler/JBL​

You wouldn't expect the WWE to be panic booking after Bryan's injury, and really, if you didn't know what was planned, you wouldn't think they were panic booking at all. But, uh, they kind of are.

Dean Ambrose d. Damien Sandow, Antonio Cesaro, Cody Rhodes, Fandango, Jack Swagger and Wade Barrett in a Money In The Bank Ladder Match for a World Heavyweight Championship contract

Surprise! Without Bryan, they kinda need to do something with the WHC as a backup, so who better to keep the next babyface champion in check than the Shield's pet psychopath? The Rhodes Scholars? Pfft, who cares about those midcarders? No, we have to get serious here: there will be a successful cash-in before the unification, damnit. It just so happens that Fandango doesn't stand in Roman Reigns' way ITTL, but you know who does? Damien Sandow, trying to hide away. He eats a spear, and despite his best efforts, he's out of the match. In the end, Ambrose isn't thrown into his brothers and his brother's usos, because Fandango reaches Cody first, throws him onto the mat, climbs over his prone body, and eats a fist to the face at the top of the ladder, sending him crashing into Cody as Ambrose unhooks the briefcase. Dean Ambrose is Mr. Money In The Bank!

Mark Henry d. John Cena (c) for the WWE Championship

As I said. Without Bryan, Cena has no reason to win this, and they realise it. Cena has Henry in the STF, and being the World's Strongest Man, ITTL he actually reaches the ropes and breaks out. This doesn't faze Cena, and he waits to lift him up for an AA, only for Henry to answer it with a clothesline! Cena eventually hits an AA, but the ref is in the wrong spot, and he takes the brunt of Henry's weight on top of him. Cena has Henry pinned for what seems like a minute, but Henry powers out and hits Cena with a World's Strongest Slam, just as the ref comes about! Henry wins!

Christian d. Randy Orton, CM Punk, Rob Van Dam, Sheamus, and Zack Ryder in a Money In The Bank Ladder Match for a WWE Championship contract

Oh hey, instead of Bryan in the match, we have the guy who got over without WWE's permission and was buried for it! Hooray, I guess. He doesn't win though, but he's enough of a spoiler that he prevents Orton from winning himself. In the end, Ryder focuses on Sheamus over Orton, meaning that Orton goes for the briefcase, but Curtis Axel knocks him down. From there, Punk GTSes Axel, Heyman betrays Punk, and RVD climbs, but instead of Orton intervening, Christian gives RVD a Killswitch as a receipt for the Five Star Frog Splash earlier, and he wins! Randy Orton is still turning heel, and Christian has the briefcase going into Summerslam!

So what now? Well, we have the customary WWE title rematch to get through, and that'll happen at Summerslam. However, we also have a couple of interesting butterflies that'll shake things up nicely. What butterflies? You'll just have to wait and see.
 
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Honestly, having Bryan be hurt during the Wrestlemainia period might actually help him get even more over. After all it was only after Austin broke his neck and had to spend months doing nothing but backstage bits and promos that he really took off as a face. Having a story be built around Bryan being hurt and forced to mess with the Authority behind the scenes while building towards his triumphant return would turn him from simply being really really over into being nova hot face of the company.

Also, I think it'd be a huge personal achievement for Mark Henry to be the first black WWE champion. For all, he did for the company it'd be a great way to pay him back.
 
II: Summerslam 2013 New
Summerslam 2013

Venue: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
Attendance: 17,739
Announce Team: Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler/JBL​

Well. There's no need for the WWE to force their hand, because however intentionally they wanted it, they're on fire here. Most matches on the card are the same, with a few notable exceptions;

Dean Ambrose d. Rob Van Dam to retain the World Heavyweight Championship Money In The Bank briefcase

On the preshow. Ordinarily this was for the US title, but ITTL RVD challenged and defeated Ambrose for the title on Raw after some Usos fuckery kept Roman and Seth from saving him! (This, of course, grants him the Grand Slam under the new format, but that doesn't become a thing until 2015.) That said, Ambrose doesn't want a title rematch tonight, yet RVD wants the damn briefcase, because he knows that he can beat Ambrose one-on-one now. The match is mostly the same, but with the addition of a ref bump before the FSFS and Roman's spear, meaning the Shield goes to town on RVD while the ref is out. When the ref comes to, Ambrose hits Dirty Deeds for a three-count, and he remains Mr. Money In The Bank!

The Shield (Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins) (c) d. The Usos to retain the WWE Tag Team Championships

Cut fifteen minutes from Cena/Henry, because they really don't need half an hour, and place this before the WHC match. The Usos are much more aggressive this time around, and they nearly win it all, but Jimmy once again falls victim to a stray spear from Roman. One of the Usos' best matches up to that point though, and the Shield staggers to the back, utterly battered.

Alberto Del Rio (c) d. Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Championship by submission

Orton has one last shot at making it as a face, and he fucks it up. The match finishes with an attempted RKO reversed into a Cross Armbreaker, to which Orton submits. After the match, Orton goes for the handshake, but he RKOs ADR and beats the crap out of him, ending with a punt to the head. Mask off, Randy just goes apeshit, and he's booed out of the building. Suddenly, Ambrose appears at the top of the ramp, without his brothers, but- oh my, it's Dolph Ziggler! Ziggler Zig Zags Ambrose, and he stares down Orton as he leaves. He helps up ADR, and this seems like Del Rio's face tur- oh, wait, nope, Del Rio has him in a Cross Armbreaker. Refs run down to separate Ziggler and ADR. Well, that's gonna be a match.

Mark Henry (c) d. John Cena for the WWE Championship

Henry sends Cena off for surgery with another World's Strongest Slam. This isn't Cena/Bryan, this is a battered Cena being exploited by the World's Strongest Man. In particular, they play up Cena's legitimate triceps injury during the match, and as Cena sells the arm after a slam, Henry lifts him up and wrenches that fuckin triceps like he's Hideki Suzuki. At some point, Cena recovers and tries to go through his five moves, but he whiffs the Protobomb due to his arm damage, so Henry escapes and hits a sidewalk slam! Eventually Cena hits the Protobomb and works through the pain to hit the Five Knuckle Shuffle, but he collapses out of pain while Henry's on his shoulders, and Henry recovers enough to hit a World's Strongest Slam for the three count. Welp. Henry proclaims himself the greatest wrestler in the world, and Christian appears on the ramp, determined to cash in, but- Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger? Oh, bugger. Henry's hired himself some real American protection. Looks like Christian won't be getting his title as easily as he thought.

So! Night of Champions next, and we don't have an Authority to cock things up for everyone. What we have in its place is a heel champion that people actually like and a main event scene that isn't just Bryan and Orton going at it over and over again. What happens now though?
 
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III: Night of Champions 2013 New
Night of Champions 2013

Venue: Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan
Attendance: 10,500
Announce Team: Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler/JBL​

The next show of a Bryan-less 2013 is still Night of Champions, and it's probably a lot hotter than it was IOTL. All the titles are being defended tonight, so let's see what we have in store!

Curtis Axel (c) d. Kofi Kingston for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Same match, just moved it to the preshow and cut the tag team turmoil match. The Real Americans have something bigger than that tonight.

Christian & Zack Ryder d. The Real Americans (Antonio Cesaro & Jack Swagger)

That something bigger is jobbing to Christian and, in his first PPV win for almost two years, Zack Ryder! Cesaro and Swagger put up a great fight, but Christian pins Swagger with a Killswitch, and he remains strong leading into a potential cash-in tonight. Speaking of potential cash-ins:

The Shield (Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins) (c) d. The Prime Time Players (Darren Young and Titus O'Neil) for the WWE Tag Team Championships

Moving this match up the card for reasons that'll become abundantly clear soon enough. Same match as IOTL, but seeing as the PTP aren't wrestling their second match of the night, they're a bit fresher and last about five more minutes. The Shield decisively retain, but they're exhausted, leading into:

Alberto Del Rio (c) d. Dolph Ziggler for the World Heavyweight Championship

The piss-break match. Let's not delude ourselves into thinking this will be in any way exciting - it's two of the most boring wrestlers in the world, for God's sake. ADR wins it quickly. Ambrose appears alone at the top of the ramp, but as he moves to cash in he's grabbed by Ryback and given a Shell Shock for his troubles. Ryback declares that he wants to challenge ADR for his title at Battleground. Okay then.

Rob Van Dam (c) d. Damien Sandow for the WWE United States Championship

Eh, why not? Sandow's kinda elevated here. RVD takes it with a Five Star Frog Splash, and after that, Randy Orton appears and both RKOs and punts the shit out of him. Welp, you had a nice run there.

CM Punk & Goldust d. Curtis Axel & Paul Heyman in a No Disqualification match

Since Triple H isn't a heel authority figure ITTL, he makes this a tag team match, and seeing as Axel is working double duty tonight and Heyman isn't a wrestler, this becomes a fun wee comedy match. In the run-up to this match, Punk would team up with Cody Rhodes, but on the Raw before NoC, Axel gave Cody a storyline injury that wrote him off for a few weeks for his wedding. So now we have Goldust teaming with Punk. Of course, Punk and Goldust win, and we now have ourselves a reinvigorated Punk who's ready to go after the world!

Mark Henry (c) d. Big Show for the WWE Championship

Show returns on the Raw after Summerslam, and he goes straight after Henry! It's a hoss fight, and they somehow improve on their lauded match at Vengeance 2011 by throwing slab after slab of beef at each other like they're goddamn Shibata and Ishii. It's a great sprint, but oh Lord does it take a toll on Henry, as his muscles ache by the end of it and he can hardly move and...oh, fuck.

Christian d. Mark Henry (c) for the WWE Championship

Welp. Henry attempts a token World's Strongest Slam, but Christian easily wriggles out and counters into a Killswitch for three. Three time world champ! Christian ends the night high and mighty, and Mark Henry has finally been defeated! He has his mandatory rematch at Battleground though, and oh my goodness, this is going to be a tricky one for Christian. Can he find a way to defeat the World's Strongest Man?
 
IV: Battleground 2013 New
Battleground 2013

Venue: First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York
Attendance: 11,700
Announce Team: Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler/JBL​

In their yearly awards, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter deemed Battleground the worst major show of 2013 IOTL. I can't promise that this version will be much better, but it should be more promising than what we got.

Alberto Del Rio (c) d. Ryback for the World Heavyweight Championship

Told you I couldn't promise you better. It's a boring match, and ADR wins it without too much trouble. Now, the Shield surround the ring from all three sides so Ambrose can cash in, but they're all blocked along the way - Dean by CM Punk, Seth by Goldust, and Roman by- holy shit that's Kassius Ohno! 'Not today,' says Punk. 'He's mine. You want to cash in, you've gotta go through us.' A massive brawl ensues between the two teams, lasting long enough for Del Rio to get away up the ramp!

On Raw the next night, Punk makes his intentions clear. He didn't fight the Shield to protect Del Rio, but to prevent the monster he created from taking over the WWE. Justice? Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins were brought together to beat the crap out of Punk's enemies, and there was nothing just about that. This time last year, says CM Punk, I was an asshole. Power corrupts, and he was in power for 434 days - the longest reign of the modern era! - and for every day that passed, he became even more of a bitter, protective asshole. That's why he formed the Shield - because he knew Ryback could beat him, that John Cena could beat him, that even The Rock could beat him in the middle of the ring, one, two, three. But once you let the genie out the bottle, you can't let him back in, and that genie nearly destroyed everything. So once he had Heyman out of the way, Punk knew what he had to do next: break the Shield.

He was grateful to Goldust for helping him fight Heyman, so he asked him to stay and help him take down the Shield, to which he agreed. From then on, he picked out Kassius Ohno from NXT, who was on the verge of leaving the company before he was given his big break. Finally, he picked out the new Intercontinental Champion:

Cody Rhodes d. Curtis Axel (c) for the WWE Intercontinental Championship in a No Disqualification match

Oh yeah. Cody's back from injury, and he's pissed the fuck off. As the sweetest revenge, Cody challenges the man who injured him to a No DQ match for his title, and this match is fucking intense. Cody shows so much babyface fire here, and one Cross Rhodes onto a chair later, Cody gains his second Intercontinental title!

The Rhodes Brothers, reunited by fate. Kassius Ohno, the new hero on the scene. CM Punk, the vengeful destroyer. Together, they seek to break the Shield, once and for all, and to stop their looming reign of terror. Once Punk beats Del Rio, he will retire the title, making Ambrose's briefcase as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Will it work?

Well, we'll see in the next update. For now:

The Real Americans (Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger) d. Zack Ryder and The Miz

Oh hey, it's The Miz! Things haven't been too different for him so far, except that instead of Randy Orton attacking him, he came to Ryder's defence after Cesaro and Swagger thought it'd be a good idea to gang up on him and beat him the fuck up as revenge for Night of Champions. One thing leads to another, ending in this tag match where Ryder falls to a Neutralizer. Welp.

Randy Orton d. Rob Van Dam (c) for the WWE United States Championship

And there it is. Young Randal has his first US title, and all he needed to win it was to become an aggressive bastard again. One RKO finishes it, and he beats the shit out of RVD after for good measure. Nobody approaches him after, which gives him an air of dominance or some shit like that.

Big Show & Kane d. The Shield (Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins) (c) for the WWE Tag Team Championships

After his loss to Henry, Show spent the next month on Raw interfering with Roman and Seth, and he promised that he and a mystery partner would knock them both out and win their titles at Battleground. The mystery was slightly spoiled on the day when a fan tweeted out a photo of the pyro attached to the ring posts, but it was still exciting to see Kane back as a face nevertheless. Ambrose, of course, attempted to interfere, but Punk caught him on the way down, allowing Kane to reverse Roman's spear into a Tombstone and Show to knock out Seth for their second set of tag team titles!

Christian (c) d. Mark Henry for the WWE Championship

Close one, this. Christian and Henry go for about 20 minutes, and at the end Christian narrowly escapes a World's Strongest Slam, replying back with a Killswitch for the win! Finally, Christian proves himself as a top babyface, as the man who took down the man who took down John Cena!

...Wait, what are those horns?

Oh, no. The boos rain down. Guess we have Christian's next challenger, and it's none other than John Cena, back from injury. Fuck. God knows, he's not a heel, but he's sure as hell getting the heel treatment against Christian. At least we have our main event at Hell In A Cell!

...fucking Cena, though.
 
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