By now everyone has heard the news that top WWE performer CM Punk walked out on the company prior to WWE RAW on Monday night in Cleveland, Ohio. As is the case quite often, I find the feedback from the internet wrestling community both interesting and entertaining. There are those who chime in as if they know Punk like a brother, noting he’s “constantly being screwed” or “Batista screwed him over by taking the WrestleMania main event.” There are the typical bunch that claim they will be “boycotting WWE” because of this situation. Those are usually my favorite. Finally, there’s the ever-popular “it’s a work” group. Those are pretty entertaining as well, especially when they elaborate and explain months of their personal fantasy booking scenarios, somehow convincing themselves in the process that “it all makes sense.”
Here’s the bottom line: CM Punk is gone, and I’m bummed the hell out. As a pro wrestling fan literally since birth, there are few things about the current product that personally entertains me. Considering my job, I have to watch all of it regardless of personal preference, something I’ve been doing for nearly 15 years at this point. In that span of time — which stretches across three decades — this is one of the lowest points in wrestling history that I can ever recall, from a fan perspective. As a fan, few things still entertain me. One of them, up until Monday night, was anything involving CM Punk.
I’m a traditional internet wrestling “mark.” Guilty as charged. I dig Punk promos, I dig Paul Heyman promos, I dig Daniel Bryan matches. Punk is gone, Heyman is only around when Brock Lesnar is doing one of his few-and-far-between matches and Bryan is being booked horribly wrong. There isn’t much left for the fan in me to grasp onto. Will I be “boycotting” wrestling as a result? Of course not. It’s my job, so technically I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But even if it wasn’t my job, I’d still tune in hoping for something in a three hour show to give me the feeling of being a kid again, suspending my disbelief and enjoying the sports entertainment product I grew up loving.
So while I process the fact that there will no longer be any “clobbering times” on Monday night’s and I prepare for my “pipe bomb withdrawals,” the last bit of CM Punk-related entertainment I can consume is the reaction from the internet public. Seeing fans react to this situation as if they’re Punk’s personal business manager, claiming “good for him” for finally “sticking it to WWE” (something tells me they’ll be just fine without him, by the way) is at least somewhat of a form of entertainment I can personally enjoy.
If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to join one of the aforementioned conspiracy groups, I guess I would hop on the “it’s a work” bandwagon. If I did, it would be strictly out of hope. I’m a fan first and foremost and the idea of this being a work — if true — would be a pretty clever story line. And hell, it’s pretty damn likely that Punk will return at some point in the future, so I could always chime in with an “I told you so” whenever that moment comes.
The Punk situation also impacts the Daniel Bryan craze that has picked up incredible momentum as of last Sunday night, when 15,000 fans in Pittsburgh decided to hijack the second biggest annual WWE pay-per-view event in protest of his exclusion from the Royal Rumble match. If the rumors are true, then Bryan is going to be moved over to Punk’s original spot on the WrestleMania XXX card against Triple H. It’s an easy transition for WWE to book, and in all actuality, makes more sense with Bryan in the role of the “Superstar standing up to The Authority” than Punk would have.
Bryan is the guy the fans have been vocally rallying behind in droves, so it makes more sense for him to use their encouragement to “stick it to the man.” Unfortunately for WWE, I’m not sure if they realize that seeing Bryan “beat up” Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a fake fight probably won’t satisfy the vocal majority of the “WWE Universe.” Clearly those fans want Bryan in the main event picture and will likely not settle for anything short of Bryan at least being involved in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture at the biggest show of the year. If they think having Bryan trash-talk “The Game” and eventually beat him up at WrestleMania will keep the fans from hijacking another major event, I think they’ll be in for a rude awakening when the bell rings on April 6th for the Batista vs. Randy Orton match (assuming that match still ends up as the title bout that evening).
These two situations can combine to really become a bigger issue than WWE needs at a point in time when they are completely restructuring their business model with the launch of the WWE Network in just a few weeks. At the same time, one can benefit and greatly camouflage the other.
Reports coming out of Thursday’s WWE NXT television taping in Winter Park, Florida note that the fans in attendance continued the recent tradition of the “WWE Universe” hijacking WWE live events by voicing their displeasure. Instead of Daniel Bryan, this time the hijacking came because of the Punk situation. Apparently many fans ignored what was going on during the show and chanted “CM Punk, CM Punk” as a result of reading on the internet that Punk had walked away from the company. The fact that Punk shouldn’t even be expected at a NXT show to begin with spells potential disaster for future WWE events.
If WWE were to finally give Daniel Bryan a legitimate main event push as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, one would assume that it would decrease the possibility of continuous hijacking of events from their own fans. If they don’t, and continue towards either the rumored Sheamus vs. Bryan or Triple H vs. Bryan “road to WrestleMania,” then the hardcore fans of WWE now have two glaring situations to complain about, thus increasing the chances of future hijacking incidents. It seems obvious that the Bryan “Yes Movement” isn’t going away until the fans get what they want. If a “Punk Movement” of sorts is added to the mix, then the situation with fans crapping all over WWE live events in theory doubles in intensity. Maybe if they get what they want with Bryan, it will please enough of their audience that they will forget the “Punk Movement,” or at the least forgive WWE for it since they got what they asked for with Bryan.
The bottom line with both situations is that they emanate from the same issue: the way WWE is handling their booking and creative. I don’t know Punk personally, so only Punk can speak on why he left. One would have to assume that creative played at least a part in things. Punk himself noted at the Wizard World Q&A that he gave up fighting WWE on creative. He said it got to the point where he simply shows up — does what he’s told — and leaves. Punk has made it clear in the past that he has an issue with part-timers coming in and leap-frogging the guys who make all of the towns, work year-round, and lose the opportunity to be rewarded by being in the main event of the biggest show of the year because a “Johnny-come-lately” decided they wanted to come back for a bit.
The Daniel Bryan situation is clearly similar. Proof of that was made abundantly clear last Sunday night when 15,000 fans realized after the 30th entrant came into the Royal Rumble, and wasn’t Bryan, that Batista was going to win and go on to headline WrestleMania. Once that became clear, the fans turned on the show. For good measure, they crapped all over the John Cena vs. Randy Orton match earlier in the show, again making it clear that they felt that match — the title match — is where Bryan deserves to be.
So, if you’re WWE, this is a pretty easy problem to fix. All you need to do is listen to your fans. If they make it clear what they want, maybe you should just give it to them. I know it sounds crazy! God forbid a live touring entertainment company lets their audience dictate how they want to be entertained, and who they’re entertained by. Just for shits and giggles, maybe they should give that a try and see what happens. Something tells me top performers wouldn’t walk out 30 minutes before show time. Something tells me 15,000 people won’t be chanting in unison: “this is awful” and “we want refunds.” Something tells me it just might work!
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