Saturday, February 1, 2014

Punk is Dead, but CM Punk is Alive and Well

Ever since June 27th, 2011, the world of professional wrestling (specifically WWE's) has crossed the line between reality and storylines. On that day, CM Punk (clad in a nostalgic Austin 3:16 shirt) sat Indian-style on RAW's rampway in Las Vegas, Nevada. John Cena was lying in a heap in the corner of the ring after being driven through a table, courtesy of R-Truth. Punk sat quietly with microphone in hand while taking a big sigh. It was the calm before the storm.

The storm was a six minute promo that launched Punk into the top tier of WWE superstars. That tier included the Undertaker, HHH, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar, the Rock, Randy Orton and most notably, John Cena. In it, he crossed the "fourth wall". That figurative wall is when reality intersects with storylines in the WWE universe, a definite no-no. The thing is, WWE wouldn't have let him speak a word if they hadn't given him permission to do so. So he spoke. Up until he mentioned Vince McMahon's doofus son-in-law (HHH) and eventual death, he had the crowd and viewers at home in the palm of his hands. HHH would later admit that they knew of the whole promo and had planned to stop it there, but skeptics think WWE officials sensed Punk was a little too far to the edge of a very big verbal cliff. During that six minutes of sheer unpredictability, Punk mentioned "reaching for one of Vince's non-existent brass rings". Essentially having the carrot of main-event stardom dangled constantly but having it pulled away right when Punk would close in on it- all the while, McMahon would be using Punk's marketability to make money hand-over-fist.

Therein lies the issue between Punk (also known in real life as Phillip Brooks) and the WWE.

On Monday evening around 7:30 pm, Brooks walked out after a heated discussion with WWE officials. He reportedly got on a plane headed for his hometown of Chicago and took himself out of whatever plans the company had for him. This comes at an odd time, as the Royal Rumble was the night before and kicked off the "road to Wrestlemania".

In 2011, when Punk won the WWE title at Money in the Bank in Chicago, he ran out of the arena and was whisked away into the night. People had no idea if he had re-signed with the company, or if he was actually hi-jacking the title. He eventually would come back, and WWE's buzzer-beater of a gamble on putting the belt on CM Punk at the time paid off big. Viewership increased, and most of all- it garnered mainstream attention. Casual fans were brought back by sheer curiosity. Eventually they would screw it all up, involving Kevin Nash and giving the belt to the flatter-than-soda Alberto Del Rio. But that edge of reality and wrestling gave fans a refreshing feeling. New ground had been found, and the company could build off of it. But within months, the totem pole of superstar hierarchy was reset and John Cena was champion again, cliche catchphrases and generic feuds included.

So Punk suffered through a feud with Nash and HHH, eventually being rewarded with the longest reign (434 days) in 25 years. His return at Over the Limit last year was anticipated, but would later feel underwhelming. He battled Jericho in a less than impressive feud between two of the better mic workers in the business (a testament to how far Y2J has regressed). Then he moved on to a vicious feud with Brock Lesnar, yet it still seemed to not lead towards progress. He was placed opposite of Ryback, which held him back more than helped the Goldberg clone. And in the last few months he's done the one thing a creative mind like himself despises: he's spun his wheels. Sure, he's fought the Shield and the Wyatts. But it seemed to be more filler than anything.

It's not only the lack of creativity that warrants Punk's displeasure and exit. It's the wear and tear of a career full of thousands of miles flown and driven. Sleepless nights. Long, physical matches. Broken bones, torn and strained muscles. And as rumored most recently, concussions. It could be part of the reason why his offensive moves have lacked any crispness or accuracy and make Kofi Kingston look like Daniel Bryan. His trademark kicks to the head look sloppy. And that top rope elbow- originally a tribute to the "Macho Man" Randy Savage- should be retired from Punk's arsenal.

The physical part would be worth it to Punk if he was rewarded with a more permanent top spot, specifically the main event at Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans. But with Batista's recent return and Randy Orton as champion, that vision is just a pipe dream for the master of the pipe bomb promo.

The latter part being the extended reasoning for Punk's untimely leave. After seeing the Rock waltz in for the last two 'Mania main events, Punk believes he has earned his way to that spot. To have Batista come in out of shape and out of sorts with no crowd backing him at all at the Royal Rumble is what the Chicago-born star perceives as a slap in the face, and rightfully so. Even if one believes stars like Punk, Bryan, Ziggler and others should be rewarded with the company's actual brass's one thing for the Rock to saunter in. It's a total other thing for Batista to come back in and act like he's THE man. While Rock helps with everyone's payday, Batista's star simply is not big enough to warrant a main event spot at the grandest show of the year.

It especially is dimmer alongside the reigning champion, Randy Orton. For now, the two are set to square off in the main event as Daniel Bryan fans scream foul. Orton was reportedly "irate" at the fans' disapproval and disinterest in the title match between him and John Cena at the Royal Rumble last Sunday. Why he is surprised no one cared is beyond me. But it is telling of the company's current landscape. The top tier of active stars is Cena, Orton, Punk and Bryan in that order. There are plenty of rising stars such as Ziggler and members of the Shield. But until WWE allows them to take the forefront and the older stars (Lesnar, HHH, Rock, Jericho) take a backseat, the company is doing more harm to itself than good.

But right now fans and even Punk's fellow wrestlers are to wonder if this is real or a work. Current storylines for the biggest show are being re-worked each day. If it is a work, then kudos for making Punk fresh again, and an even bigger kudos if the storyline involves him returning after Mania.

Then again, if this IS real and Punk has left the company, WWE takes a big-time hit and will have to look in the mirror and re-evaluate their gameplan for creating stars.

Thank you, CM Punk.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

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