Thursday, 1 November 2012

CM Punk: Best in the World (DVD Review)

Reviewing DVDs isn't usually something I'm terribly interested in. When you buy a wrestling DVD you largely know what you're getting. It will either be an event that's already happened with a few extras tossed in for good measure (usually taking the form of short, bland interviews and an extra match) or a biography of a star, perhaps with some matches thrown in again. There are shoot interviews, fantasy booking plans, historical accounts, and various other oddments out there but for the most part a wrestling DVD is going to fall into one of those first two camps.
The CM Punk: Best in the World DVD falls into the second camp. It is a look at the career of the current WWE champion from the beginning of his career until the present. I wanted to write something about it because there has been a lot of anticipation for it and it's one of the few WWE DVD releases I've bought in a long time. WWE and Punk himself have done a great job hyping the release.
Despite not buying many of these releases I'm aware of the usual format. A selection of WWE road agents and wrestlers talk about the star of the release, glossing over or ignoring their shortcomings and embellishing or just plain lying about their accomplishments and abilities. Some truth gets mixed in too, but not as much as you'd think. Talking head footage is spliced with match highlights, promo clips, and childhood photos along the way.
This DVD immediately stands out as different because it’s clear Punk has been given the creative control he was promised on the release. The interviewees are far more relevant than on your standard release with all of them being important figures in Punk's personal or professional life. Not all of them are under contract to WWE either, which is out of the ordinary. Colt Cabana and Ace Steel both pop up, as does developmental talent Kassius Ohno under his former ring name Chris Hero. All three provide insight on the young Punk's beginnings in the wrestling business.

Clips are shown of what seems like dozens of different clashes between Punk and Cabana, and highlights are shown of a particularly wild TLC tussle between Punk and Hero. It's acknowledged that the latter helped Punk and Hero gain bookings all over the country and that Punk and Cabana wrestled each other hundreds of times over a two or three year period.
Thought has gone into the WWE staff that are interviewed. Kofi Kingston, Bryan 'Daniel Bryan' Danielson, Joey Mercury, Michael Hayes, Zack Ryder, William Regal, and, inevitably, John Cena all crop up. As noted above the standard approach is for the star of the release to be endlessly lauded. That doesn't happen here.
Joey Mercury admits that when he first met Punk he didn't like him. By the end of the documentary we know the two are very close now (and that Punk was instrumental in getting Mercury rehired for the Straight Edge Society) but such candidness is rare on a WWE DVD. John Cena states that when Punk first signed he heard a lot of hype about him but he felt underwhelmed when he watched him wrestle.
Perhaps most interesting is Michael Hayes. He had been on the writing team the entire time Punk has been with WWE and he admits that the reason Punk spent so much time in then-satellite federation Ohio Valley Wrestling was because Paul Heyman was singing his praises. The writing team’s logic was that Heyman couldn’t be trusted and it was believed he had selected someone mediocre in an attemp to sell them as better than they were. It was believed Heyman would go to those lengths in order to display his prowess as a booker and wrestling creator. An admission of wrestling politics existing on a WWE DVD? Yes, it happened!
Paul Heyman's comments are a predictable highlight. His opening statement is that he was “salivating at the opportunity to work with him.” He talks about being aware of Punk's work prior to meeting him in OVW and pushing him even though the office wanted others prioritised. He acknowledges that Punk was the first guy he asked for when put in charge of the revived ECW "brand". He apparently had to fight for that, despite the RAW and SmackDown writers admitting they had no plans to use him themselves. Heyman also gives Punk high praise when he says he wanted to make him the heir of the ECW legacy.
It's that section of the DVD that provides the most insight into Punk behind the scenes in WWE, as well as WWE's developmental process. Hayes, Heyman and Jim Ross all acknowledge that Punk was just killing time in OVW and the belief was that he would be released from his contract as a cost cutting measure before debuting on RAW or SmackDown. That WWE had a talent like Punk in developmental and had people in positions of power considering firing him because they didn't know what to do with him shows what sort of dreadful state the system is in. Why was he signed in the first place if there was never any intention of using him?
Punk took the opportunities working alongside Paul Heyman presented to him. He attended open sessions every week where they (and anyone else in attendance) would talk about TV storylines and character development. It's interesting to note that Punk refers to this as him "helping to write the show". Later on in the doc Michael Hayes mentions that the higher up the card Punk has risen the greater amount of creative input he has sought. It's an interesting insight into both Punk and the WWE system, which is often criticised for not allowing its stars a loud enough voice.
Punk's time in Ring of Honor is covered well and the group deserves credit for contributing a significant amount of footage. It's clear that Punk very much enjoyed his time there and anyone who is unfamiliar with it should get a sense of how highly Punk was regarded by the group's fans.
The way in which Punk's first several years in WWE are presented is a strength. It’s acknowledged that Punk was not treated terribly well during his first World Heavyweight title reign, and a fair chunk of time is given over to Punk’s feud with Hardy and the Straight Edge Society gimmick. It’s fascinating to hear that the SES came about as a result of Punk being insulted that the writing team didn’t have anything planned for him after he’d dropped the World title to the Undertaker. Instead of treading water he wrote fourteen weeks’ worth of television for himself and gave it to Vince McMahon. According to Punk the angle only began going downhill after the writing team began scripting the group.
The documentary is not without its faults. “Punk was wrestling guys like Raven because all these older guys who were good at interviews they wanted to work with him. His interviews were so fresh, so exciting,” says Daniel Bryan. This is not entirely accurate. Raven stated in numerous interviews in 2003 (and several since) that he saw nothing in Punk when he first came across him. Punk talking about Raven sitting him down to discuss ring psychology sounds more like a disgruntled veteran trying to install old school values in a young guy than a passing of the torch.
Comments from John Cena are predictably stupid. Probably his most absurd statement is that Punk “built a name for himself like, I guess, the last territorial wrestler.” Cena does not qualify this remark and the interviewer naturally doesn’t push him on it.

For some reason Cena seems to think of himself as having an eye for young talent, hence his comments about not seeing anything in Punk after he'd heard him talked up so much. Cena has his strengths, chief among them knowing how to market himself. This does not qualify him as an assessor of young talent. His comments and Punk's subsequent success make me hope that Cena doesn't stick around as a road agent after he hangs up his boots (or sneakers).
Considering Punk had free rein when it came to match selection I find some of his choices odd. Punk v John Morrison, Punk v Mysterio and Punk v Hardy are all excellent but his ECW debut against Justin Credible and outing opposite Chris Jericho from WrestleMania XXVIII are utter clunkers (although in fairness the debut match needed to be included for its significance to Punk’s career).

Perhaps better bouts are being reserved for future releases (although shouldn't a man claiming to be "the best in the world" be producing enough scorchers over the next few years to make it necessary to cram in everything now and leave room free on later sets?). The lack of indy and ROH bouts is understandable and it's nice that we get something from Punk's stay in Ohio Valley. That was the only bout I hadn't seen before and I thought it was an enjoyable display.
On the whole I'd say this is one of WWE's best releases in a long time. It provides a comprehensive overview of Punk's career so far and features interviews with relevant people. His childhood friends are a particularly welcome addition as their views haven't been expressed to wrestling fans before. We find out what drives Punk, how close he was to walking before Money in the Bank 2011, and what he enjoys outside of the ring.
I'm still not convinced Punk is the best wrestler in the world. But he certainly has the best DVD.

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