Pipebomb: Where to now for CM Punk and the WWE?
On June 27, 2011 CM Punk sat cross legged at the top of the ramp of Monday Night Raw and changed the wrestling landscape. He gave the wrestling world a shot of adrenaline, brought back a lot of WWE fans that had drifted away after years of monotony and grabbed the attention of the mainstream consciousness that had long since forgotten that wrestling still existed. It was that night when he adorned a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt and began to outline, as the character CM Punk, what he thought was wrong with the WWE and promised that he was leaving the company for good, such was his contempt for the WWE product in the 21st century. Fast forward two and a half years and it appears that all the things said in that promo, coupled with wrestlings all too notorious toll on its wrestlers bodies, has caught up with Punk as he finally ‘split’ the company hours before an episode of Raw and a day after the Royal Rumble. This time the real life CM Punk has remained very quiet and while CM Punk the character went out with a momentous bang in 2011, the 2014 Punk has disappeared without a trace at all but still managed to get the wrestling world talking again.
Even before his game changing promo, Punk was a fan favourite. His work with Jeff Hardy and later the Straight Edge Society were both the most entertaining storylines in the WWE at the time. Punk was praised by fans because he was something different from the neverending dance between John Cena and Randy Orton as they hogged the spotlight and the WWE force fed this eternal routine down the throats of a jaded fanbase. During his time with the Straight Edge Society Punk was without a doubt the hottest bad guy in the WWE and his work with Rey Mysterio reinforced the crowd’s venom towards him when he walked down the ramp. But just like what has become an all too frequent occurrence with the WWE, upper management did not capitalise on Punk’s popularity and hatred from the fans. It was almost like he had been given free reign on the B show (Smackdown) that no one really cared about but as soon as the higher ups realised he was catching fire, they scrambled to put an end to it; quite literally as it turned out when Big Show single handedly killed the Straight Edge Society and Punk’s momentum.
The pipe bomb established Punk as the antihero and began the most engaging time in sports entertainment since the halcyon days of the Attitude Era. After being moved to the primetime show (RAW) in late 2010, Punk was shunted up and down the card and thrown into different feuds and storylines with mixed results, until Punk was settled into a program with Orton leading into Wrestlemania. If you believe the murmurs at the time, this shuffle that saw The Miz and John Cena headline Mania irked Punk considerably as he felt more deserving of The Miz’s spot on the grounds that the Wrestlemania main event should be between the best bad guy, which he certainly was at that point, and the best good guy at the time. This idea of ‘more deserving’ wrestlers being overlooked is something that had plagued Punk since his debut and would continue to until his 2014 exit. It’s also something that directly led to his original dissatisfaction in 2011 when he was so unhappy that he had every intention of leaving the WWE until, as Punk described himself, WWE officials handing him a microphone to air his grievances on live worldwide television, in the main event slot no less.
The pipebomb itself was not only one of the best promos of all time ,it was one of the best wrestling segments period. In it he was able to tap into the die hard wrestling fan’s consciousness and give bullet points to why fans had grown exhausted with the product and why a guy like Punk was being underutilised. The central idea in the six minute, uninterrupted diatribe towards Cena and the WWE was that Punk wanted change in the company and its culture. The promo touched on what fans had felt for a long time, a boredom with being told who to like and who to dislike, while their actual favourites continued to play second fiddle to whoever the WWE wanted to promote.
The promo was important and Punk cemented himself a spot in history because it legitimately changed wrestling though perhaps not in the way Punk may have hoped. While more ‘deserving’ wrestlers, guys with stronger work ethics, more polished ring work or dedication to storylines began to get more spotlight, it was aesthetic window dressing as the WWE continually resorted back to its formula of tired beefcake. Even so the change that is not debatable is the transformation in the fans and most specifically the live audience. The fans, whether WWE will admit it or not, are part of the ‘show.’ The performance is completely based around making the audience care and after the pipebomb the fans were more vocal than ever. Fans felt more invested in the product than ever and became increasingly determined to vocalise their displeasure with the product. CM Punk became more than an anti hero, he was the anti Cena or more specifically the anti WWE machine.
In 2014 Punk is still the anti Cena and the fans are as rowdy as ever but not much else has changed. Punk went on to hold the WWE championship for 434 days but did so awkwardly as he continued to be in the shadow of John Cena and then the returning Rock. For most of the last year, apart from his great match with Brock Lesnar and his progarm with Paul Heyman, Punk has been drifting with no real purpose or agenda as he slipped further away from the main event. For the last four months he has completely treaded water as rumours about his deteriorating body and general dissatisfaction gathered steam. On top of his own lack of direction he also had to sit and watch his friend Daniel Bryan also be overlooked for the main event of Wrestlemania in a year Bryan became wrestling’s hottest commodity as Punk once was two years ago. Once again a returning superstar, this time the animal Batista, was inserted directly into the biggest match of the year upon his return and deliberately killed the momentum of upstart fan favourite..
Despite the endless speculation and discussion from the Internet Wrestling Community over the last few weeks, it’s no real mystery as to why Punk walked away from the company. Punk is banged up after spending the majority of his 35 year life in a wrestling ring and was even talking about early retirement this year due to nagging injuries and general soreness the business has tolled on his body. He is genuinely unhappy about the way WWE works and has made this clear to management which has seemingly ignored his concerns. By all accounts the diabolical fan reaction to January’s Royal Rumble and WWE’s horrible foresight and planning coupled with his own character’s direction meant enough was enough for The Best in the World.
And it all comes back to that pipe bomb promo that acted as the prelude to his storyline split from the company in 2011. Punk explained how he was just another spoke on the wheel of the WWE machine, a wheel that continues to turn no matter what, with the fans continuing to tune in each week and Vince Mcmahon continuing to make money despite himself- a funny coincidence in a fortnight where a worldwide PPV event was being rejected by its entire live audience, past WWE superstars were in the headlines for nefarious circumstances and one of its top superstars walked out the same time that the WWE stock price rose to its highest peak ever due to the release of it’s WWE Network. CM Punk accepted he was just another piece of the machine but one that would rebel against what was being offered to him and presented to the fans. The fans ate it up, after all Punk was fighting for cause and for change, not to mention sticking it to his billionaire boss that would have made Stone Cold proud. Just like Punk Rock was once seen as a dangerous symbol of youth rebellion when it first emerged in the 70s and 80s, CM Punk gave people a reason to care and take notice of what was being given to them. Then some record executives took its popularity and figured out a way to defang it, make money off it and absorb it into the mainstream.
The same thing has happened to CM Punk and happened probably sooner than he might like to admit when as soon as that pipebomb finished WWE capitalised on the mass popularity and began really manipulating the Internet fan.
So now the self proclaimed voice of the voiceless is gone from the WWE for the time being. This might yet turn out to be another example of WWE manipulating the Internet fan but in any case the machine will roll on with some initial backlash from it’s live audience. Daniel Bryan will fit into Punk’s anti establishment storylines and will be more popular than Punk would have been anyway. People will chant for CM Punk, no question, but WWE have their Bryan card to play at all times now unlike 2011. WWE will continue to tell its fans who to cheer and who to boo and there is the horrible feeling nothing will have been learnt from the whole last month of controversy.
Still, this is the best thing CM Punk could have done for his career. Stone Cold Steve Austin among others have passed comment on the situation and said that Punk has made a mistake by walking away and leaving money on the table. But heading into Wrestlemania 30 Punk was an afterthought and a shadow of that guy that sat cross legged at the top of the ramp. All his Punk rock counterculture and anti authority motifs had been worn away from years of being a spoke on the wheel of the Mcmahon soap opera. Not only was real life Punk’s body and mind tired but so was his character. Yet with one silent move, Punk has reestablished himself as everything that promo made him out to be and more. He became the biggest headline in wrestling again and reinforced the fans distaste of the current product. He has every die hard wrestling fan waiting to see what happens next.
And all with no pipebomb.