Okay, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the sport and the art of professional wrestling has been on pretty shaky ground, especially within the past year. The storylines of both WWE and TN....er...Impact Wrestling, have left much to be desired. For one shining moment things looked as if they were getting interesting. WWE introduced Nexus, a cranky and violent bunch of indy veterans who went straight from being the contestants of NXT Season One to the most shocking and feared group since the early nWo. TNA (it was still TNA then) countered with Immortal, another nWo clone that was doomed to fail to attract an audience. As for Nexus, though, I was jacked. They had no regard for anyone, and they were pissed off and out to prove their point. Unfortunately, the brass began to snip away at Nexus's balls from the very beginning, deciding that Daniel Bryan's attack on ring announcer Justin Roberts was too violent and graphic (really, because it's fucking professional wrestling?), giving him a release for doing too good of a job. Then, as the months passed, Nexus went from being a bad ass group to a bumbling bunch of fools. C.M. Punk pretty much himself playing a part in the group's demise when he took the group over.
The latter part of last year the business began a slump that slowly lead downhill. I became so disillusioned by this sport I've been watching since I was in middle school that I even stopped writing and speculating here on this blog, because it had reached the point that it was nearly unbearable to even sit through. WWE gave the same rehash week after week, and it's only smart move was making The Miz WWE Champion. TNA/Impact Wrestling has been nothing but a sad rehash of the declining days of the nWo and WCW near the end of Eric Bischoff's first tenure with that company.
There was one shining light in the WWE aside from The Miz's championship reign. That was C.M. Punk being sidelined due to an injury. No, it's not that I was happy he was injured. It was the fact that Punk ended up behind the announce table for a couple of months. Not only was he great at color, but he brought to the table a great deal of knowledge about the history of the sport, as well as a disregard for WWE revisionist history. He took the words right out of my mouth during the King Of The Ring tournament when he reminded his fellow broadcasters that Harley Race was actually the first King Of The Ring, due to the fact that he had won the first two WWF King Of The Ring tournaments in the days before it was a PPV. Punk did not seem like the model WWE broadcaster at all, sitting and wearing t-shirts that obviously did not come from WWEShop.Com, such as his Colt Cabana tee.
Well from there anyone following WWE Raw knows the story. Upon John Cena being brought back after being "fired" by Wade Barrett, it was C.M. Punk who would blindside him with an attack. In the weeks that followed Punk would join Nexus, taking over the group after betraying Barrett and causing him to loose in a match that had the stipulation that if he lost he would be traded to Smackdown. Then Punk took over Nexus, weeding through (and pretty much weakening) the group until he had a team loyal to him. What followed were months of feuds with Cena and Randy Orton. Then following the WWE Draft Punk found himself in line for a title shot against John Cena at Money In The Bank. Punk announced that the match would be his last match in WWE as he contract was going to expire that day, and that he had no intention on resigning. He promised he would win that match and leave the company with the WWE Championship belt.
To the shock of many what was considered the unthinkable happened. C.M. Punk won his match against John Cena, and indeed he left the arena that night with the WWE's coveted championship belt. In the weeks after he taunted WWE Officials at ComiCon. He appeared at a Cubs game and was photographed with several members of the team, proudly posing with the belt. He even put "the holy grail of professional wrestling" in his refrigerator and took a picture of it to post on Twitter with the title, "THE CHAMP IS HERE!", attached to it.
Well this as we know, lead to a chain reaction. Citing no confidence the WWE Board of Directors voted to remove Vince McMahon from power and replace him with his son-in-law, Triple H. The result of a tournament, one of Vince's last acts, to crown a new WWE Champion, saw Rey Mysterio capturing that championship for the first time, only to loose it later that same night in a PPV worthy match to John Cena. And of course, as Cena celebrated, C.M. Punk returned with the championship belt he had taken in hand as the ink dried on his new contract. Triple H made the decision that both men, for the moment, are WWE Champion, the issue to be resolved in an undisputed championship match tomorrow at Summer Slam.
Since his return Punk has claimed he returned to be the voice of the voiceless. Triple H and John Cena have been quick to point out that the only reason Punk returned was that without the WWE behind him and as an outlet, that he had no voice, and that basically his return came with perks, including a C.M. Punk ice cream bar.
It's been edge of your seat drama for the past couple of months. Phillip Jack Brooks, C.M. Punk, walked away from the biggest sports entertainment company in the world with it's championship belt, and thumbed his nose at convention. His actions and antics between walking out of Money In The Bank, and walking back onto Raw are the things of legend. You couldn't write a better storyline.
Or could you?
The fact of the matter is Vince McMahon, Triple H and C.M. Punk have pulled off perhaps the greatest work in the history of the business. It has been rumored and talked about for nearly a year that Vince was planning on stepping down and retiring from actively involved in the day-to-day operation of WWE, and that his son-in-law, Triple H was going to replace him. Of course I never had any doubt that this would not happen in the most theatrical fashion as possible, and in true Vincent K. McMahon style. Really, Mr. McMahon removed from office due to no confidence because he had made several "bad decisions" recently? Has all the carp, the pulling the plug on ECW, the rise and instant wussification of Nexus, the train wreck that is NXT, Snooki teaming with Trish Stratus and John Morrison at Wrestlemania when Morrison should have been in the main event, Sin Cara, The CORRE, Kane changing sides more often than a villain on 24, John Morrison being exiled to FCW, John Cena being drafted to Samckdown and Raw on the same night, sorry match and sorry feud after sorry match and sorry feud... Was it all part of the long con? Has the past year, what's been an especially bad year in WWE, been designed for the sole purpose of providing Vince with his Vincent K. McMahon exit?
I think that the answer is a resounding yes. But that isn't all....
There's that little issue of C.M. Punk. Is he the man who will save sports entertainment?
I think the answer again, is a resounding yes.
You see, this has happened before. During the depths of the Monday Night War and when the WWF was on the loosing side, an anti-hero rose who made all eyes turn to the WWF, not only generating higher ratings, but also drawing in new fans. The WWF's Attitude Era began with Stone Cold Steve Austin becoming a proxy face and Bret Hart becoming a heal, switching roles in the course of the same match. In the years that followed the WWF edged past WCW so effectively that their competition was bankrupted, abandoned by the conglomeration that had ended up owning it, mismanaged by those in control, and dropped from its television network. Due to the outcome of a suit filed by the WWF against WCW in the beginning of the Monday Night War, the WWF had the right to bid on WCW's assets should they ever become available. The WWF indeed acquired WCW, and within a year the stagnation of sports entertainment began.
As the Attitude Era stars began to retire and head on to other things the company was turned over to a bumper crop of new talent. The nature of the company began to change, moving from wild and violent pro wrestling who's stars were foul mouthed and over the top, to a kinder and gentler WWE, that was a responsible member of the community and kid friendly. Over the past five years or so there's been some growing backlash as long time fans and talent have hoped for a change that would make pro wrestling awesome again. There was only one thing missing. There was no Stone Cold Steve Austin within the new crowd. Or was there?
For the past several years WWE has silently worked to make Randy Orton into the new Stone Cold. His finishing move is a variant of the cutter, also Austin's finisher. Orton would attack heel or face whenever it suited him, just like Austin. He's a loner who has little use for partners, just like Austin. He has the nickname of the Viper, an obvious play on Austin's "Texas Rattlesnake" moniker.
The only problem has been that as popular as Orton has been in the role of the anti-hero, he's no more the new Stone Cold, as Cena is the new Rock. Orton and Cena are so much on the same level that when they face one another the fans are pretty split down the middle. Whenever Cena and Orton were in the ring with a championship at stake I always had the feeling that most people didn't care who won. Those who did either wanted Cena to prevail, or for Orton to kick Cena's ass and walk away with the belt.
If you've been watching Raw over the past three weeks then you know that this is not the case when it comes to C.M. Punk. Punk is the only person other than the Rock to get a bigger fan reaction that Cena. Punk is also the first WWE Superstar to come along in a very long time who actually has some mic skills. Like the Rock he can galvanize a crowd in his favor, even to the point that they're still chanting his name, even right after he admits that he sold out for the perks.
There is one reason that Vince McMahon was known as the first evil genius of wrestling. He has always had an eye for talent. He's always known what direction to go to draw in the fans, even if it takes time for them to get there. Despite the decline that WWE has been in over the course of the past few years I have a feeling that Vince knew that C.M. Punk was the ticket to returning the WWE to it's glory days of the Attitude Era, he just waited until the time was right to really spring him on the world.
Again, is C.M. Punk the man who will save sports entertainment?
I believe he already has, or at least he's in the process of doing so. For me, for the first time in over a year, I'm actually looking forward to watching WWE Monday Night Raw. Maybe a C.M. Punk in the WWE will also make the old farts dragging their heels on 20 year old story lines in Impact Wrestling wake up and realize that they have to step up their game.
Is Punk going to beat John Cena tomorrow night? Yes. He may not walk out of the arena as the champion, factoring in Alberto Del Rio and Money In The Bank, but he will beat Cena. And even if Del Rio becomes the champion C.M. Punk will still walk away from Summer Slam as the big winner, and perhaps the next PPV main event will feature Punk, Del Rio and Mysterio for the WWE Championship with John Cena nowhere in sight.
Yes, C.M. Punk is definitely the man who will save sports entertainment by making it watchable again. He is the right anti-hero at the right time, and it is also a time when the company is filled with several hot newcomers, and guys who like Punk have been almost at "that level", the main event level, who just like Punk are going to break out and become some of the biggest names in the business. After all, Austin needs a Rock. Punk needs a worthy adversary, and it's more than likely to be Mysterio or Morrison than it is John Cena.
So, I'm very interested to see how things will play out over the next several months. And for the first time in a long time, at least in WWE, I'm optimistic that the action in the ring and the talk on the mic are going to be things that I want to see and hear.