Yes, that’s right, this is a wrestling post and if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you have likely seen the volume of wrestling tweets dramatically increase lately (actually, some of you have likely muted/unfollowed me because of it). Fact is, I’ve been a wrestling fan all my life, including the times in my youth when my mother banned it from my household along with the Simpsons. Needless to say though, it has been quite a while since wrestling, for any promotion has been a weekly stop-down event that I must watch live to avoid missing something great.
Sure, the WWE and TNA (recently re-branded to Impact Wrestling) have had a home on my DVR more times than not, and I’d catch the occasional PPV if it seemed interesting enough, but that was about it. There wasn’t really anyone or anything that grabbed my interest like Hogan’s turn to the nWo in WCW and his feud with Sting or the “I can’t believe that just happened” moments that littered the Attitude era of RAW. The WWE was able to lure fans like me back in though with returns of Stone Cold and the Rock for its Wrestlemania push and young talent like the Miz were keeping me around on a more regular basis. However, it was hard to get overly excited for Monday Night Raw and very little surprised me and gave me those moments when I would be on the edge of my seat.
In general, the PG-era that the WWE has been stagnant. The “big names” like Undertaker and HHH would return for Wrestlmania or another big PPV, a young talent would get a decent push here and there, and John Cena would find the WWE Title around his waist more often than not despite a severe love/hate relationship with fans, which is never quite good for your top face (but hey, the kids love buying his stuff!).
The WWE needed someone to shake everything up. Enter CM Punk.
I loved CM Punk’s wrestling talent and knew he had some good mic skills as well; however, the majority of his time in the WWE was spent mid-card leading a heel stable. During these runs, he proclaimed he was a savior as the leader of the Straight Edge Society and reminded his most recent stable, the New Nexus, to have faith his plans would succeed. As his contract with the WWE moved to its expiration (legitimately, by the way), CM Punk proved to be his own prophet.
Punk was given a shot to face John Cena at the Money in the Bank PPV for the WWE title and in Punk’s hometown of Chicago no less. Despite the fat his contract would’ve actually expired sooner, Punk signed an extension to have that match be his final match. Behind the scenes, there were several reports that Punk would indeed not resign, citing frustration with his role in the company as well as wanting to take a break from the demanding WWE schedule. The WWE decided to go ahead and use Punk’s contract situation as the build. Punk went out and announced that he would be departing the company, but being a good heel he added that he would be doing it with the WWE title. Later on, Punk was allowed to “shoot” (basically speak his mind and go “off script”) on why he was leaving the WWE and vent his legitimate frustrations.
After costing Cena a main event win on RAW, Punk took this opportunity and cut a promo that got everyone’s attention:
All of a sudden, Punk became the voice of all the WWE fans that were tired of Cena’s continued push and upset with the WWE’s direction in general. Fans, like myself, who couldn’t understand things like how the Rock could be booked in the main event of WWE’s biggest event despite not wrestling in the company for years. Not to mention, he managed to pull this off in character as well as he made sure to take jabs at the fans to keep the heat on him.
Taking such candid shots at Vince, HHH, and the rest of the McMahon family got everyone talking. Twitter exploded with tweets from not only wrestling fans, but former WWE talent as well. Jim Rome of ESPN even invited Punk to come on his radio show to finish his promo.
Punk had blurred the lines of reality. Was his promo 100% shoot? Was the indefinite suspension that came after a legitimate reaction of a pissed off Vince? Was this all a complete work? It didn’t matter, RAW catapulted back into must-see-TV. Not only that you better catch it live because everyone will be talking about it on Tuesday if you miss out. The Money in the Bank PPV all of a sudden had a huge draw despite Summer Slam, WWE’s traditional big summer PPV, being one month later.
Two weeks after Punk’s suspension, he was back on RAW. He cut an opening promo and had a “contract negotiation” segment with Vince to end the show and continued his momentum. Both segments are below (quite a bit of footage, but well worth a watch), but his scathing words aren’t the highlight. Simply take a look at his face throughout the segments–he had the WWE by the balls and the crowd was putty in his hands and he knew it. Armed with his pipebomb, he continued to push his character to heights he’d never been as he applied his craft to near perfection. In keeping with his heel character, he started making absurd contract demands of Vince, including that Vince bring back a discontinued ice cream line and put his face on it, prompting chants of “we want ice cream.”
Yes, he got a wrestling crowd, longing for the days in which they had a hero proudly display his middle fingers to them followed by a beer chug and a people’s champion that spoke of shoving several objects up people’s rear ends (after a thorough buffing first of course), the same crowd that consistently jeered what they considered a PG, kid-friendly champion was screaming for a children’s treat.
Part of Punk’s heel gimmick in the WWE has always involved him trying to lead people, to have them submit to his views, boasting that his straightedge lifestyle placed him on a higher plane to lead them. It was very easy to hate or love to hate Punk and the stables he led. And here he was doing the exact same thing, saying he knew best, that he was the only one in touch with the wrestling fan, the “voice of the voiceless.” He was a complete asshole, making unreasonable demands of Vince, insulting the hometown sports teams, and even comparing Cena to the New York Yankees
The result? Vince apologized and lost his cool. Cena’s own hometown turned on him. The crowd stood behind Punk, despite the fact he tore up his contract extension in front of them, cementing that he would leave them. Punk was even interviewed by GQ the same week. He had formed a new stable, but its membership was comprised of the fans.
Then came the climax, Money in the Bank. It was the first WWE PPV that I had bought in years, but I just had to see how the final act would play out. I definitely feared a let down, as the PPV’s namesake involved a match that would allow its winner to challenge for the WWE title at any time. It was the perfect cop-out to see Punk win the belt and literally lose it seconds later as he exited the company.
The title match itself did not disappoint and Cena and Punk squared off in a forty-plus minute match that was simply fantastic. As the match came to its conclusion, Vince and his “yes man” as Punk called him, John Laurinaitis came out to the ring. Cena slapped on his signature submission and Vince called for the bell a la the Montreal Screwjob on Bret Hart. The thought “great, I just paid to watch history repeat itself” definitely crossed my mind.
But just as soon as I started to fear that such a crappy end would soil the story, things took a drastic turn. The timekeeper “didn’t see” Vince’s call, so Vince sent Laurinaitis to ring the bell himself and end the match. Cena seeing this, broke his hold, and took out Laurinaitis, telling Vince that wasn’t how this would go down. Cena returned to the ring, was immediately hit with Punk’s finisher and lost the title, causing the Chicago crowd to give one of the loudest pops I can ever remember hearing.
Of course, Vince still had the ace-in-the-hole-cop-out of the Money in the Bank match. Vince tore off the King’s headset and called for Alberto del Rio to cash his title shot in immediately and get the title away from Punk to pretty much no one’s surprise. Punk though, drilled ADR with a kick, and ran off into the crowd, blowing a kiss to McMahon on his way out, belt in hand.
Next week’s RAW was a strange one. The entire show was comprised of a tourney to crown a new champion and a segment in which Vince was to fire Cena for losing the belt. The show failed to crown a champion as Vince interrupted the final match before it started so he could send Cena packing. Before he was able to do so, his “doofus son-in-law” came out, informed Vince that he was relived of his duties and that a replacement had been made: HHH himself.
With no champion crowned, Cena still with a job, and HHH in charge, it seemed that everything Punk had spent the last month speaking out against was happening right before our eyes. It was as if the WWE had taken all the momentum from Punk’s storyline and slammed the brakes.
Punk though, wasn’t done. He decided to have a bit of fun of his own and crashed the WWE Q&A session at Comic-Con to confront HHH, title in hand:
Punk was again blurring the lines of reality as this appearance began to build the hope that he would soon return to the WWE.
The next episode of RAW, however, didn’t lend much hope to that. It seemed that the WWE was once again reverting to business as usual. The show opened with the conclusion of the title tourney as Rey Mysterio claimed his first WWE Championship victory. That win seemed short-lived though as HHH later announced that Rey would defend the title later that night against John Cena, citing that Cena was denied his rightful rematch with Punk’s departure and Vince’s attempted firing. Once again, the WWE was placing Cena right back on the “you are the best” tier.
Quite predictably, Cena won and I started to wonder why I even bothered with RAW anymore. As Cena celebrated his 11th title victory, his music was cut off by Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”. A confused Cena looked around wondering what was happening and I was wondering who in the hell would be coming out. Then out strolled CM Punk:
Wrestling’s savoir has returned. If his new theme song is any indication (well, not really new, he did use it while in Ring of Honor), Punk will be building on the superb work that he’s put together the past few weeks. He is indeed the “Cult of Personality” using his influence on the microphone to attract loyal followers with his every word.
The brilliant part about this angle though is that, while it makes for a very compelling heel role (which this will likely stay), Punk could turn face as well if he wanted to. He can be the lying asshole leading people into a web of deception or he can truly be “the voice of the voiceless” and save the WWE. Hell, he could probably still claim he is “saving” the WWE by being a lying asshole while trying to achieve his own goals. No matter how you slice it, he is now the leader of a large section of the WWE Universe who will hang on his every word and action. This could seriously go several different directions and I cannot wait to see it evolve.
The Joker had a great quote in The Dark Knight, “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” As stated before, Money in the Bank is far from a big summer PPV draw, and, with its main event headlined by a mid-carder facing off against the defending top-dog champ, the WWE needed Punk to give fans a reason to care and purchase the show, opening the door for Punk to vent his frustrations. With just his pipebomb and a some razor-sharp words, Punk made his match a must-see event, became the most talked about wrestler in years, and has now thrust himself into the main event of Summer Slam where he will face off against Cena yet again.
In keeping with great Joker quotes, “This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m gonna give it to them.” The WWE has deserved a better class of heel for sometime now, and you can be damn sure Punk is ready to deliver.