And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
CM Punk has always been known for his pride, his stubborn streak and his strong views on what constitutes effective professional wrestling. It is also hard to deny that the man has an enormous ego. When he came into the company in 2005 and was dispatched to Ohio Valley Wrestling for “seasoning” amidst murmurs from the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels that he “didn’t know how to work”, the Straight Edge Superstar was described by Paul Heyman, head booker at OVW at the time, as “pissed off beyond belief” at this perceived slight. As the “king of the indies”, perhaps a throwback or unlikely resurrection of the old fashioned territorial wrestler of yore, Punk had expected to walk through the door of Titan Towers and be used in a meaningful fashion immediately. If the Best In The World DVD documentary feature is to be believed, Chicago Made was only saved from being cut from developmental because ECW was being resurrected under the WWE umbrella as a Heyman booked ‘C’ show and Punk, much to the indifference of Laurinaitis or McMahon, was his first draft pick.
The outspoken Chicagoan had to then endure a tumultuous rollercoaster up and down the card for the next three and a half years, encompassing Heyman’s departure from the company in an argument over Punk’s booking inside the December to Dismember elimination chamber match, an abortive first run with the World Heavyweight Championship which he was booked to “vacate” in an injury angle rather than drop in a match, and finally a punishment de-push for no selling Undertaker’s advice to represent WWE correctly by wearing a suit while in possession of the big gold belt. Given all of these setbacks, it is unsurprising that Punk developed a mighty chip on his shoulder. By early 2011, saddled with the New Nexus albatross, he was angry, sad, bitter and burnt out. Rumours surfaced that he would let his contract run down and leave the company. Ultimately, he felt he was the best heel in the business and that his talents were being wasted in the midcard.
What happened next is well known; the short version is that Punk was placed in a “heel challenge du jour” programme with WWE Champion John Cena which suddenly caught fire when the Voice of the Voiceless was told to deliver a worked shoot airing his grievances with millions of viewers. It was wrestling alchemy, put simply, and suddenly the Straight Edge Saviour was hot property that WWE could not afford to lose. Interestingly though, the infamous “pipebomb” promo denounced Triple H as Vince McMahon’s “doofus son-in-law” and this is where the story takes an interesting turn to coincide with current events. Triple H, ever since the year 2000, has played an establishment character of sorts, whether face or heel. The McMahon-Helmsley faction, The Two Man Power Trip, Evolution, and The Authority are all shades of the same idea. Even the resurrection of DX smacked of the establishment; underneath the neon green baseball caps stood two ageing main eventers dominating younger peers. Of course, it isn’t just in kayfabe that Triple H represents order; that’s the crucial thing here. After marrying into the McMahon clan for real, Paul Levesque gained ever increasing stroke backstage, actually moving into an active executive role by the close of the last decade.
On the face of it then, Punk and Trips were light years apart in their outlooks, which was why a mooted feud between them in the summer of 2011 seemed like such an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, WWE rather botched the angle, and although I personally have never been able to get on board with the cries of “buried”, I think an opportunity was missed in not turning the C.O.O heel and subsequently setting him against the crusading wielder of the pipe bomb. Even more fascinatingly, for all their superficial differences, CM Punk and Triple H share certain qualities, in both kayfabe and in real life. A mighty ego. A degree of backstage influence. A desire to force their own way no matter what.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
Ever since the advent of The Authority storyline, the insertion of Punk has seemed a certainty, because his fiery anti-establishment character would surely not stay kayfabe silent about Trips throwing his weight around for long. Sure enough, the indy darling was placed in a programme with The Shield, who were working for The Game, then suffered a double cross at the hands of former DX Army members Road Dogg and Billy Gunn and finally got pulled out of the Rumble by Corporate Kane. All signs pointed towards a Wrestlemania match between Punk and Hunter, with the outspoken Chicagoan having to fight past rank upon rank of lackeys to finally lay his hands on the boss. It was, on paper, a perfect story, one fans wanted to see in 2011 and would be just as pleased with in 2014. Opportunity beckoned; all of the history from their interaction during the “Summer of Punk” could be used in the feud, as could the origins of the former ROH’s tenure with WWE.
We still do not know anything concrete about Monday night. It seems that the episode was re-written, perhaps due to the crowd reaction to the Rumble controversy involving Bryan, and an angle involving Punk having a spot in the chamber denied him due to Kane interference was nixed. Allegedly, this led to the Best in the World “going home” and it may be that he won’t be back. Now, the first thing to say is that this may be the best work of all time, better even than the contract storyline from 2011 or the Outsiders invasion of Nitro. If that is the case, all of the discussion to follow is perhaps moot; I’ve just come out of a recording session for The Right Side of the Pond where we discussed the idea of kayfabe being rebuilt through relentless trolling of smart fans in order to win back some unpredictability in the product.
But what if that isn’t the case? Punk is volatile, proud and not afraid to cut his nose off to spite his face, but even so, the scenario remains confusing. One report suggests that he was angry that the Triple H match that has been hinted at for months has now been transferred to Daniel Bryan in an attempt to appease the fanbase who desire a huge ‘Mania moment for the American Dragon. Another directly contradicts it, suggesting that Punk was incandescent with rage at not being given the closing title match. This last one makes little sense given that the Hunter bout has been on the cards since at least November, and if he had a problem with it, I imagine the wheels would never have been set in motion. The most compelling theory to this situation being legitimate is actually the one which states that the Straight Edge Superstar has but one ambition left in wrestling; to close Wrestlemania. Punk has headlined the Showcase of the Immortals but he’s never been in the true main event. When you consider that The Miz, of all people, has been, then you start to see his point. An interesting side angle is Cookie Monster’s nagging injuries and general sense of dissatisfaction with wrestling, something increasingly evident in his Twitter interactions with fans. He may be burnt out. He may need a break, although it must be said that one does not take a break at this time in the WWE calendar, another aspect of the story which is puzzling to say the least.
If we have a genuine shoot on our hands, we can see it this way; Punk takes Triple H and Vince on, gambling on his importance to the company, popular as he is with a key WWE demographic. He throws the dice, walks off in a huff, and trusts that any plans he is dissatisfied with will be redrawn. Such a strategy is fraught with risk and surely unsustainable in the long term. Just ask Stone Cold Steve Austin, who found that he was not as irreplaceable as he perhaps thought he was. On the other hand, maybe the Voice of the Voiceless has genuinely walked out intending on never coming back. This is even more dangerous. Bret Hart was like a son to Vince McMahon, but within weeks of Montreal, a midget version of himself was being mocked by DX on Raw and his family members were being jobbed out mercilessly. Worst of all, the video tape of Bret’s treasured life’s work was under McMahon lock and key, all of it, from Stampede all the way to WCW. As Chris Jericho once remarked to Randy Orton in a kayfabe promo “the McMahons are vengeful people”.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o'er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
One thing nobody could possibly deny about CM Punk is his passion for professional wrestling. He didn’t leave WWE in 2011 because he was promised the opportunity that he would get to consistently display his talents in a more high profile card position and that was all he ever wanted, or so his DVD leads us to believe. Assuming that this news story is 100% legitimate, a man who lives and breathes the business in the way that Punk does will almost certainly listen to any overtures or concessions WWE make to him; walking out would be a bargaining chip rather than a permanent state of affairs. The bright lights of the main event call to Punk like a siren song, and if he may well look at himself and say “if I’m not a professional wrestler, what am I?” When it comes down to it, the egotist, the attention seeker, is only ever happy if they have the spotlight. Watching some baseball and attending a few Rancid gigs may seem like paradise compared to WWE’s murderous road schedule, but without the wrestling public, he may soon find that he is a man without a country.
Similarly, the Straight Edge Saviour has stated on numerous occasions that his legacy matters to him. You’d have to assume that he would not want his last actions on WWE television to be an incomplete storyline exit from the Royal Rumble. You would also have to think that Punk would not wish to be “buried” in promos and commentary or have his matches hidden away in a vault. If this walk out is not work- and I still feel that it may well be a very well-disguised twist in the Road to Wrestlemania- then Punk may soon find out that today’s Best In The World is tomorrow’s fallen angel.
Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.