Sunday, July 8, 2012

Best In The World: Looking At The Year of C.M. Punk

Whenever you start a job, there's one constant everyone will tell you. Your boss, your wife, your parents. Anyone. "Hard work pays off." Most of the time, people just aren't handed things on a silver platter. You have to bust your butt to get somewhere in today's world. It may take a long time, but if you stick to it you will get the recognition you deserve. You can't let people get you down. You screw up once? So what. Build on that mistake and let it help you in the future. People don't like quitters. They like hard workers.

When it comes to hard workers in the wrestling business, I can't think of anyone else that works harder than C.M. Punk. C.M. Punk fits the mold of everything I described in the first paragraph. He's a hard worker, He's busted his butt for years to get to the top spot in the WWE. Punk has had numerous detractors and people who said he could never be a main event talent, and he's proven each one of them wrong. It may have taken a long time, but C.M. Punk is finally one of the top stars in the wrestling industry. He's the perfect combination of everything you want in a wrestler. He can work in the ring and he can talk on the mic. And he loves the wrestling business. What else can you ask for?

I'm not going to go on and rave about C.M. Punk's indy career. I don't follow indy wrestling or have seen enough of Punk's work to talk about it. I've seen some things and heard about him as he was coming up the ranks. From the stuff I saw, I think it was pretty obvious that some day he was going to find his way to the WWE. While he may not have had the typical WWE look, he was a guy that knew the wrestling business and could entertain the crowd.

When C.M. Punk debuted in the WWE, people were expecting big things from him. Punk had almost a cult like following that came along with him to the WWE. Punk debuted on the WWE's version of ECW. While he put on good matches with various wrestlers, nothing ever really came out of his time there. Paul Heyman always saw something in Punk, but the WWE brass did not see the same thing. Heyman wanted Punk to win the ECW Title in the December to Dismember Elimination Chamber, but that didn't happen. Punk won the ECW Title once and that was it. I was never a fan of the new ECW and I can't speak too much about it. I saw most of Punk's matches in ECW and they were good.

Punk's first break in the WWE came at Wrestlemania 24, where he won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. After he was drafted to RAW in June of 2008, Punk cashed in the contract and defeated Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship. I wouldn't call Punk's first World Title run memorable. He never main evented a PPV (hmmm sounds familiar). He also was never beat for the World Title. He was punted in the head by Randy Orton and couldn't compete in the Championship Scramble match at Unforgiven. After that, Punk went back to the mid card and won the Tag Titles as well as the Intercontinental Championship.

At Wrestlemania 25, Punk made history by winning Money in the Bank for the second year in a row. This time, Punk's cash in lead to a change in the direction of his character. Punk cashed in his contract on an unsuspecting Jeff Hardy, minutes after Hardy beat Edge in a Ladder Match to win the Title. This lead to a great summer storyline between Punk and Hardy, where Punk would eventually turn heel. Punk claimed to be better than Hardy not only as a wrestler, but also a person. Punk called out Hardy for his lifestyle which many know involves drugs and other various personal demons. Punk's smile as he walked away from Hardy at The Bash while holding his hand over his eye was great. This program with Hardy was the first time I truly thought Punk could be a big star in the WWE. Punk's promo work was fantastic and his matches with Hardy were the highlights of the summer.

Punk's heel turn was a pleasure to watch. His promos as leader of the Straight Edge Society were great. Who didn't enjoy his work in the 2010 Royal Rumble? He had a good series of matches with Rey Mysterio. I wish more could have been done with the SES, but the group disbanded by the end of the summer and Punk was suffering from a hip injury so he started commentating on RAW, which was great. Punk then took over leadership of Nexus and began a brief feud with John Cena, then went on to Randy Orton. Punk started to go on a bit of a losing streak. He didn't seem to be enjoying himself and rumors of his discontent started to make the rounds. Punk finally won a match, defeating Rey Mysterio at Capital Punishment. After the match, Punk stated that it was only the beginning. Little did we know, he was right.

Punk became the #1 Contender for the WWE Title. And at the same time, word came out that Punk's contract was expiring and that he would not be renewing it. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much out of his WWE Title Match at Money in the Bank. I expected Punk to lose then leave the WWE. But then it happened, the "Pipe Bomb" was dropped. It was a promo that wrestling fans love. Punk took the mic and spoke his mind. He tore everyone in the WWE a new one and single handily sold the Money in the Bank PPV. He let out his frustrations with the WWE and its structure. Now how much was a shoot and how much was partially scripted is still a matter of debate. I still feel like some of it was ok'd by Vince McMahon and Co. while some was Punk just expressing his feelings. All I know is that it finally looked like the WWE was using C.M. Punk the right way. Punk always had main event potential to me, it was just a matter of the WWE getting behind him. The problem was that we knew Punk was leaving. Or was he? Why would the WWE just let Punk cut a promo like that on his way out of the company? I can't remember the last time a PPV match had so much intrigue going into it.

The build up to Money in the Bank was fantastic. Finally seeing C.M. Punk in the main event scene was great. Both times he was World Champion still didn't feel like he made it to the top. This time it did. His exchange with Vince McMahon on the last RAW going into Money in the Bank was good. Watching everything, you thought Punk was actually getting underneath Vince's skin like Steve Austin used to do during the Attitude Era. Then Money in then Bank happened. It was one of the best atmospheres a wrestling PPV has had in quite some time. The Chicago crowd made the event so much more special. Then the actual match happened between Punk and John Cena. It was the Match of the Year in the WWE, hands down. Everything about the match was great. You actually couldn't predict what was going to happen when you were watching it. After C.M. Punk won, you wanted to tune in the next night to see what would happen. As far as everyone knew, Punk was gone. With the WWE Championship. It most likely meant Punk was coming back, but when was the question.

Now despite how much I've liked everything Punk has done, I'm still in the camp that he was brought back too soon. I would have kept Punk off TV for a few months. I also would not have brought back a replacement WWE Championship. It would have been interesting to see the WWE in turmoil for a few months. No one in control and no WWE Champion. How many times has that been done in the WWE before? None. But the WWE wanted to strike while the iron was hot, and Punk was brought back one week after leaving. And as much as I would have done things a bit differently, if it wasn't for Punk, who knows how bad WWE TV would have gotten if it weren't for C.M. Punk.

I thought Punk's time after SummerSlam up until he won the WWE Title was a gross mis-use of him. Punk was jobbed out and didn't look like the reckless rule breaker he looked like in July. His program with Triple H tried to blur the line between kayfabe and reality too much. The match was good, but I just thought they confused fans too much. And then, one month later, Triple H and C.M. Punk were tag team partners on a PPV. While Punk was still spitting off some good one liners and speaking out, he wasn't made to look like the legit star that everyone wanted him to be.

Then finally, at Survivor Series, C.M. Punk's time finally came. In front of a sold out, rabid crowd in Madison Square Garden, C.M. Punk won the WWE Championship. The crowd gave Punk the respect that he deserved with a great reaction. It seemed like the WWE was finally transitioning from John Cena at the top to C.M. Punk at the top. Since then, Punk has been the best part of WWE TV, hands down. He's put on the best matches in the WWE the entire time he's been WWE Champion. Now there's some people who will put down Punk because he hasn't main evented a single PPV in 2012. He main evented TLC in December but hasn't in 2012.

As far as I'm concerned, its not about who goes on last on the show. It's about who was the best part of the show. Who was the most memorable. Who put on the best match. That is what I define as the main event, the best part of the show. That is what C.M. Punk has been for every PPV in 2012. He's put on the best match on every single one. Wrestlemania had Rock/Cena and Undertaker/HHH, but what was the best match on the show? C.M. Punk vs Chris Jericho. It was also the best built program heading into Wrestlemania. Better than Rock/Cena. Extreme Rules had Brock Lesnar/John Cena go on last, but what was the best match? That would be C.M. Punk/Chris Jericho. They've put on the feud of the year so far in the WWE. Those two took a program that I thought was going to end at Wrestlemania, gave it more legs, and had a great conclusion at Extreme Rules.

Now there will be some people who will tell you that Punk's WWE Title reign has been a bit disappointing. He doesn't draw well in the ratings and despite being WWE Champion, he still hasn't been the go to guy in the company. I will tell you that there hasn't been a moment where I wasn't entertained by C.M. Punk as WWE Champion. I'm pretty sure he's been the savior of WWE TV in the calendar year. Yeah, the WWE has brought back The Rock and Brock Lesnar to help. But Punk has been the best full time performer that the WWE has had. Sure Punk doesn't have the main event look. He's smaller than John Cena, Brock Lesnar etc. But the fans like him. I've always said that fans like the smaller guys more because they can adopt to them. They aren't overly muscular and look like very few people in the world. They look like every day people.

So we are a little over one year removed from C.M. Punk dropping the infamous pipe bomb on RAW and since then his career has taken off. So where do we go from here? The WWE apparently still has big plans for Punk heading into the summer and the rest of 2012. Of course, the same was said about the Miz when he was WWE Champion. I would love to see some feuds with Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett. Then of course, there is the long awaited dream match between C.M. Punk and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Will it happen at Wrestlemania 29? I would say the odds are against it. If I were a betting man I would say the match eventually happens. I would love to see a C.M. Punk/Rock match somewhere down the line, simply to see what the crowd reaction would be. I think Punk would garner at least a 50/50 split, much better than what John Cena received. The possibilities and programs are still there for Punk. He still has a bright future ahead of him at the top of the card.

To finish this up, I just want to thank C.M. Punk for what he has done in the last year. As someone who enjoys writing and talking about pro wrestling, he's made my job a little less crazy the last year. If it weren't for C.M. Punk, my reviews and blogs might have been about as negative as they could get. But Punk has been so enjoyable to watch this last year that its been a lot easier to write about. C.M. Punk calls himself the Best in the World, and every time he steps in the ring, he shows why he deserves that title.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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