Monday 3 February 2014

CM Punk Has Left the Building

Over the course of the last week it’s been revealed that CM Punk has walked out of WWE. The most commonly cited reasons are that he wasn’t pleased with the direction of his character, that he was burnt out (wrestling speak for exhausted), and that he wasn’t happy with his planned WrestleMania match (most commonly cited as being against Triple H). Reasons one and three are similar but distinct. The former pertains to the use he’s seen over the last few months, things that have happened. The latter pertains to the biggest show of the year and something that can still, theoretically, be changed.

The first thing that should be addressed when discussing this subject is whether or not it’s a work (that is, something fabricated by WWE as part of storylines but presented as being legitimate1). That this even needs mentioning does not reflect well on WWE’s current product. Wrestling fans are always going to have an interest in what’s going on behind the scenes, but right now that’s the primary focus for many people following WWE. Punk and the perceived burial of Daniel Bryan are of more interest than the supposed lead plot that is the return of Batista. WWE have been getting a lot of things right for the last year or so but presenting compelling lead storylines has not always been among them.

Maybe he can change things from his couch
Personally I think the Punk situation is real. It could be a plot but then you’d have to ask who would benefit from it. And the answer to that would be nobody. Punk’s character is already well established as someone who’ll speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in. Pretending he’s walked out would do nothing to enhance that. In fact he noted (when he returned from his mishandled worked walkout in 2011) that he couldn’t change WWE from his couch. Storyline Punk is someone who wants to be a part of the show because he wants to make a difference.

WWE wouldn’t benefit from the worked shoot approach either. It’s not a question of having done it before: repetition never stops them doing anything. It’s more the fact that the period between January and late March-early April is the time of year at which they enjoy they’re highest viewing figures thanks to WrestleMania. A storyline walkout is something that would generally be held off for a quieter time of year when it could be more of a talking point on TV with more time dedicated to it. The addition of Batista and Brock Lesnar to RAW, and the imminent return of The Undertaker and possibly Hulk Hogan, will make RAW a packed weekly show and there won’t be the time to present the story of a man quitting in the way it needs to be to have the desired impact.

So, yeah, I think it’s real. Which makes the next question how will WWE address Punk’s absence? To get an answer to that we could try looking to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin’s walkout in 2002 because on the surface it’s a similar situation. WWE’s response was to have The Rock cut a scathing promo about Austin “taking his ball” and going home. That could indicate that WWE will have someone acknowledge Punk’s absence in a promo. The frontrunners there would probably be Triple H, as lead antagonist, Kane, as the man who was seemingly going to face Punk at Elimination Chamber, and Batista, if WWE decided to do what could be considered the sensible thing and turn him into a bad guy, aligning him with the crowd’s reactions to him. Randy Orton is said to have made a comment along the lines of “If at first you don’t succeed… quit” over the last week so perhaps he’ll do the honours. That would seem unlikely though. The preference has been to present ‘The Viper’ as generally ineffective over the last several months.

In actuality I don’t think the Punk and Austin situations are that similar. Austin had a very specific reason for going home: he didn’t want to lose a match to Brock Lesnar on RAW with no build-up to it (a stance I completely understand). If we are to believe the rumours Punk has no such gripe, he’s just generally fed up. There’s also WrestleMania on the horizon now, something which was around ten months away when Austin left. As troublesome and irritating to deal with as he probably is CM Punk is one of the biggest names WWE has under contract. Those in charge would want to work out differences with him to ensure he appears on the card. They may not have planned to have him wrestle in a top match, but that’s how WWE, and wrestling in general operates. There are only so many slots available on even the biggest of events and not everyone can be in a huge match. Having all the big names on the bill and omitting lesser regulars creates the feeling that a show’s special, and that’s something WWE are always very keen to do with ‘Mania.

If I had to guess (which I don’t, but I will) I’d say Punk’s absence will be acknowledged on RAW before Elimination Chamber, because it would be strange for a major name to simply stop appearing. I’d expect some generally heelish, snarky remarks, especially if it’s Triple H delivering the “news”, but an undisguised burial of Punk would surprise me. If they want to re-sign him to a contract in the summer, and they absolutely will want that, and have him appear at WrestleMania they won’t be able to trash him. That would risk making the situation worse and, in theory, devalue him. Why do that to someone you’re hoping to rely on to attract viewers to an important, landmark event?

If the situation is genuine and Punk doesn’t return I don’t think we’ll see him wrestle elsewhere. He’s stated in interviews that he’s financially secure and the rumour that he’s claimed to be burnt out would indicate that he wants to step away from the grind of working matches for a while. Should this prove incorrect I think matches in New Japan, the second biggest wrestling company in the world, or EVOLVE, where his old boss Gabe Sapolsky works are likeliest (and even EVOLVE seems far-fetched). Ring of Honor’s a possibility but there have been a lot of changes in the nine years since Punk last worked there. Anyone saying that Punk wants to leave WWE to go to TNA has been smoking funny cigarettes.

For the most part I agree with Punk’s walkout, assuming the rumoured reasons for it are true. But I say this as much because I’ve been bored with his character since last summer as for anything else. Although that’s not to say he’s earned time off, because he has. Punk hasn’t been used well since his programme with Undertaker ended (his stuff with Heyman didn’t reach its full potential in my view) and the best thing the Punk character, and Punk the man, can do is take an extended break, returning when there are new people for him to face. His absence at WrestleMania would be noticeable but his participation isn’t necessary for the show’s success. There will be enough big names on offer with or without his involvement. He absolutely deserves to wrestle on the show, but WWE aren’t denying him that chance. He’s denying it to himself, and for reasons I can understand. But his absence will give WWE and other wrestlers the chance to raise some statuses. If I had the choice of that action being taken or watching CM Punk wrestle I’d pick the new names every single time. WWE’s future requires new marketable stars, not nicely wrestled matches featuring CM Punk.


1 It would be more accurate to say “worked shoot” but, honestly, who cares?

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