The contrast between the infamous 2014 Royal Rumble and present WWE programming is a stark one. On the one hand, watching a DVD of this year’s Rumble is akin to viewing the videotape in The Ring; you could actually be found dead within a week via its horrors.
Where do the changes leave us? Daniel Bryan is the WWE Champion. The Shield transitioned successfully into babyfaces with their soldier-of-fortune hellraiser act in tact. Cesaro has become a villain of escalating stock, thanks to a high-profile WrestleMania win, and a new-found alliance the company’s most watchable baddie, Paul Heyman. The Wyatt Family have yet to see their standing drop, as godfather Bray continues his psych war with John Cena.
Everyone considered a detriment to WWE’s youth movement, namely Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton, has been quarantined into the Evolution group once more, where they can draw heat together, and put over the new class together. NXT just churned out the sultry anti-Diva Paige, and has the dementedly-affable Adam Rose on his way. Focus is currently being put on the Intercontinental Title, via a tournament of recognizable names for top contendership.
All seems to be going well, and all manner of things are–
Wait, hang on; the populace has a message for all of us. Let’s take a listen–
“CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!”
If you watched Raw on Monday, you heard a sizable chant for the long-since-departed Punk during Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett’s quarterfinal-round matchup in the third hour. Although a spirited effort from both men led to the Birmingham fans buying into the near falls by the end, the fact remains: Punk chants still rang out, as they have for ten weeks.
Maybe it’s just me, but as a Punk fan, I was quite alright with Punk taking a walk. This isn’t because I hate WWE, because I don’t (in spite of my reasonable critiques). I just feel that no star is particularly capable of hurting the company by leaving.
If anything, I think Punk leaving was a massive wake-up call. Because now, the media company who lives and dies by how they’re able to portray themselves to sponsors, stockholders, and the media machine that spoon-feeds the lowest common denominator, had to answer to the fact that one of their most heavily-marketed stars hit his ejector seat button.
To me, the proliferation of ‘CM Punk’ chants in the coming weeks were less a demand that WWE bring back their hero, and more an indictment of a conglomerate that needed to take its blinders off and turn its head the full 360. The chants didn’t stop, despite the company downplaying it like a congressman would a fund-raising scandal, and when the threat of the March 3 Chicago hijacking came to be, WWE soon configured their product to match fan demands.
Well, sans having Punk in the fold, anyway.
The changes to me are quite satisfying, and it led to probably the best WrestleMania since the well-received WrestleMania 23 seven years ago. No matter how you feel about Brock Lesnar thwarting Undertaker’s streak (and I’m alright with it), it was a stellar WrestleMania, almost top to bottom.
But yet, there were the Punk chants, finding their cone to be heard of out of. In spite of the positive alterations listed, there’s still a segment of the audience spoiled enough to not be satisfied until Phil Brooks peels himself away from the comic books and Walking Dead DVDs, as well as his Chicago Blackhawks run toward a Stanley Cup title defense, shows up on Raw, and does something. Or other. Or something AND other, who knows?
Far be it from this longtime Punk supporter to say it, but it’s true: the WWE does not need CM Punk at this time.
Go back to the Attitude Era, and of course many of you would like to, since that was the holy grail of everything (or maybe it was just a time in your life where you had less responsibility, and thus it acts as a metaphorical security blanket). Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, two of the top ten WWE stars of the WrestleMania era, were gone before the company turned the tide against WCW. Hart left after Montreal; Michaels was finished after dropping the belt at WrestleMania.
And yet here’s WWE, destroying Nitro on an increasing basis behind three men that never held a World Championship until 1998: Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. Where were Bret and Shawn? Bret was toiling through murky WCW plot points, while Michaels was icing his back with a fishing pole in hand.
It’s the presentation, less so the names, that make a wrestling promotion fun. Would Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania title win have been as sweet had he not faced Randy Orton and Batista? The fact that he went over on two performers commonly identified as honorary ‘fortunate sons’ of the McMahon Empire, downing Batista by submission, made Bryan’s victory much, much more enjoyable.
Yes, I’d rather watch a Punk match from a ‘purist’ standpoint than I would a Batista match, but if the primary option is “Batista tries to beat Bryan, but the undersized hero kicks his head in for 20 minutes”, sign me up.
If Punk comes back one day, great. No sense in forcing it, though. WWE’s got a good balance going, with no need to rethink the current direction one bit.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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