Writing a captivating angle has been something that the WWE has been struggling with since the early 00’s. With the departure of big names like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, the move to part time for people like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Triple H, and the shift in programming to TV-PG, as well as the big elephant in the room, the internet, has left the WWE product stale and almost unwatchable.
Personally, I watched solidly until around 2006, at which point the combination of a flopped ECW relaunch and the death of Chris Benoit rendered things uninteresting to me. I tuned it out completely until earlier this year. And the only reason I tuned back in this year was because of the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin to host WWE Tough Enough.
In recent weeks, a good amount of mainstream media buzz has been focused around CM Punk, a talented wrestler who has had trouble finding an audience since he joined the WWE in 2006. On June 27, 2011, during the closing segment of Raw, CM Punk came out and gave a shoot-style promo, bashing the WWE product, John Cena, and Vince McMahon. Punk had already decided that he would be leaving WWE on July 17, 2011, after he faced John Cena for the WWE Championship. Punk threatened to take the belt to the independent circuit. Punk was ultimately muted during the promo and subsequently suspended for his actions. On a later Raw, Cena lobbied with Vince to reinstate Punk, and Vince did so with the stipulation that if Punk leaves the Money in the Bank PPV on July 17 with the championship, John Cena is fired. For someone who has pretty much seen it all in wrestling, this whole thing screams angle.
I would like to focus on the WWE championship and how Vince McMahon is trying to use years of history along with the buzz around CM Punk to bring viewers back to wrestling. Over the years, the WWE championship has been important to the WWE product. It was the championship that Bruno Sammartino held. Bob Backlund held it for over four consecutive years. Hulk Hogan held it, on and off, for 10 years; him winning it ushered in the Rock and Wrestling movement which took wrestling to the mainstream. Attitude era wrestlers, Stone Cold, The Rock, and Bret Hart have also held it.
Let’s stop at Bret Hart. In 1997, with WCW sapping talent away from WWE during the Monday Night Wars, Bret Hart decided he was leaving WWE for WCW, as the financial deal WCW was giving was far too lucrative. Vince McMahon had a quandry on his hands. Bret Hart held the WWE Championship, and was set to defend it in Montreal at a PPV on his last night with the company. To Vince, the worst thing that could happen would be Bret showing up on WCW Nitro the next night with that belt; it would piss all over the history of the company, and Vince could not have that. So he staged (I am of the opinion that all parties were involved in plotting the Montreal Screwjob) a scenario where he personally screwed Bret out of the belt in his home country. McMahon literally gave Shawn Michaels the belt that night, and it created a whole ‘nother controversy.
In this CM Punk angle, in 2011, 14 years later, nothing would be worse than CM Punk walking out of the WWE with the WWE Championship, and that’s what they want you to believe. But that’s exactly what happened last night. On July 17, 2011, on his final evening with WWE, CM Punk defeated WWE Golden Boy, John Cena, for the WWE Championship. McMahon tried to interfere and have someone cash in their Money in the Bank chance to defeat Punk, but Punk escaped through the crowd.
I believe that this has been some genius booking behind the scenes, and I didn’t feel this way until Punk escaped through the crowd. Clearly this is all an angle, but using the apparent significance of the WWE Championship, a championship which, in my opinion, hasn’t been significant since around 2000, Vince McMahon and CM Punk have managed to create a story that is interesting and historically significant. Never before has someone taken a major title away from a company, well not since Ric Flair did with the “Real World Championship” in 1991, but that was different.
In a perfect world, to me, Punk takes a tour around the indie circuit, defending the WWE Championship against other similarly talented individuals. This would do much to elevate the indie circuit, and even have the guys there, who are probably just as talented if not more so than people in the WWE, step up their game. Maybe down the line, the indie guys stage a takeover of WWE; this is wishful thinking.
At the end of the day, WWE has taken a wrestler I didn’t care about, CM Punk, and a title I stopped caring about, the WWE Championship, and made me not want to miss Raw tonight.
That hasn’t happened in a while.
(…and I hope this doesn’t end soon.)