WWE | Pro Wrestling

Daniel Bryan, CM Punk & Change: The Shattering of the WWE Image Archetype

WWE champsThe stereotypical view of WWE’s talent selection process is that Vince McMahon obsessively wants bodybuilder types as his top stars. We’ve seen that over the years with varying degrees of success. Stars like Brock Lesnar and Hulk Hogan have made him a ton of money, while flops like Heidenreich and Ludvig Borga ended up falling flat on their faces. The obsessive pushing of these behemoths has sometimes come at the detriment of the smaller wrestlers. Either they were ignored, or in the cases of guys like Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit, had to become jacked to the gills before they would get faith from the front office.

That makes the rises to the top of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in WWE all the more fascinating. Neither man fits the mold of super jacked behemoth, and both profess to live drug free lifestyles that preclude them from using steroids. Not coincidentally, both hold the WWE’s top two Championships, and I’d also argue that they’re both succeeding in their roles. Punk, as a top babyface, sells a ton of merchandise and draws great fan reactions no matter what he says or does. Bryan, conversely, is putting in some of the best work outside of the ring in his life to go with the excellent wrestling, and Smackdown is doing really good in all the conventional metrics.

The story here isn’t size that sells, it’s that talent does. Wrestling ability, charisma, the gift of gab, facial expressions, body language and all the other intangibles are the things that make people connect with a crowd. We’re seeing that proven right now with Punk and Bryan. They’re making organic connections with fans, and those fans are reacting in kind. This isn’t anything new, because Chris Jericho was doing it from the point when he debuted in WCW and was ignored because he wasn’t a former WWF employee. Steve Austin was doing it his whole life, and made WWF/E a poop-load of money in the process. Shawn Michaels has been lauded as Mr. WrestleMania for his exploits despite being a cruiserweight in size.

So, why does McMahon always go back to the hosses, regardless of their talent level? It has to be a neurosis, because it’s not based on fact. Once upon a time, Hogan, all 6 feet, 7 inches and 300 pounds of him, made McMahon a ton of money. It almost feels like McMahon saw those stats and not the fact that Hogan was at his peak the most charismatic man in the history of professional wrestling at the time for being the reason of his popularity.

Forget that his company was helped out by smaller men like Roddy Piper and Randy Savage. It was the hoss that got him through to the national stage. Conversely, forget that it was a steroid trial and the fact that Hogan left for WCW without passing the torch to the next guy. Nope, it was the fact that Michaels and Bret Hart were both not the size of Hogan that there was a lull between the Rock ‘n Wrestling and Attitude eras.

While I hate looking at the business side of things as validation for my likes and dislikes in wrestling, I really do hope that the next “boom” period in the business is brought about by this current movement in WWE. Punk, Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Alberto del Rio and Sin Cara all represent the future of WWE, and all are under the superheavyweight threshold that has been the perceived standard Vince McMahon seems to like. Obviously, I’m not saying there’s no room for hosses at all. Guys like Sheamus, Jack Swagger and when they come up, Antonio “Claudio Castagnoli” Cesaro and Chris Hero will all play big roles in WWE. The thing is though, all of those guys are talented, as was Hogan, as was Lesnar, as is John Cena.

“Size doesn’t matter” is best known as a sexual cliché, but it works in wrestling too. If size was the only thing that mattered, then there’s no way that Daniel Bryan and CM Punk would be among the best in the world at what they did, legit. However, they’re the best that WWE has, and they’re showing it on the biggest stages. If this doesn’t usher in change in WWE philosophy? Yeah, then WWE deserves any further drop in business they’re going to get from here on out.

Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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