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by James Swift

August 5, 2011

SPECIAL REPORT: Why the “CM Punk” Angle. . .Sucks?

Over the last two months, I’ve received quite a few e-mails from readers asking me what I thought about this summer’s big “CM Punk angle.” Now, it’s no surprise that I’m not really in the WWE game these days, so I kind of brushed off all the comments, until it started becoming a weekly occurrence.

The thing that really strikes me about a lot of the messages I received was that they all carried this victorious tone, as if CM Punk’s push was somehow a victory for the Internet Wrestling Community as a whole. After the tenth e-mail I got praising the storyline, I decided to hit up the YouTube and do some research on this year’s biggest angle ever, and after about a week of observations, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

It sucks.

OK, that’s probably the most unpopular opinion imaginable to lug around on a professional wrestling site, but I stand by it. Despite the massive praise the angle has received, I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid here, and have several legitimate gripes with the whole storyline.

To begin with, we have to talk about CM Punk as an all around wrestler. Many, many moons ago, I used to write for a website whose owner once called Punk “the single most overrated wrestler in North America,” and at this juncture, I’d have to disagree with my (and Steven Rivera’s) old shot-caller W.P.: CM Punk isn’t the most overrated wrestler in North America, he’s the most overrated wrestler in the world.

Look, I’m not saying that Punk is a horrible performer, it’s just that he gets WAY too much credit for having a fairly limited repertoire. Punk basically works a pseudo-Strong Style, uh, style, which doesn’t work because no one can look at Punk and assume that he can hit with the force of an old school Japanese heavyweight like Kenta Kobashi or Toshiaki Kawada. If you think Punk has a unique technique, you’re only right if you have no access to pro wrestling outside of the United States, as his playbook is almost exclusively attacks and holds swiped from junior heavyweights like Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji and ESPECIALLY KENTA (from whom Punk stole his trademark Go-2-Sleep finisher.)

When you look at the absolute best wrestlers in North America, they have one thing in common: they have the ability to wrestle great matches with a variety of opponents. A really good historical example of the great North American wrestler is Bret Hart, who could have an outstanding match with Mr. Perfect on one night and then have an equally excellent (although completely different) match with Bam Bam Bigelow an hour later. The contemporary greats all have this in common: Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Brian Danielson (or whatever the hell he’s called these days) all possess the talent to carry out a variety of match formulas against diverse opponents, which is something you really CAN’T say about Punk. Sure, he may be able to pull off a good match here and there (usually when it’s an elimination chamber type deal where he ISN’T carrying the brunt of the in-ring action), but you’d have to be a bona-fide MASOCHIST to go back and watch his ECW-WWE stuff from 2007 and 2008. If you have claims of being the best in the world, then I’d strongly advise finding a way to have those stinkers against Chavo Guerrero and Elijah Burke erased from the company video vault.

Although it’s pretty safe to say that Punk isn’t a technician on par with Malenko or Eddie G., you really can’t argue against his mic skills. The guy is downright tremendous on the stick, but. . .

. . .considering the confines of the storyline, who wouldn’t be? You see, the WWE has been in a vortex of conglomerate-centric booking since 2008, when Vince and Co. decided to go into all of these joint business ventures with Mattel and Wal-Mart. That means our storylines have been more-or-less crap intended to sell action figures and DVDS, so when we get something that seems to be central to an in-ring product, we freak the hell out. Remember the “NEXUS invasion” angle from last year that EVERYONE thought was the biggest, hottest storyline to hit the airwaves since the N.W.O.? Because we had become so used to capitalistically driven drivel, the idea of anything being “serious” or “shooty” had the Internet nerds drooling like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the backroom of a Taco Bell (because I hear that unattractive, somewhat elderly Latin-American women often frequent such venues). Well, that storyline may have had an immediate impact, but it didn’t have a prolonged one.

For a sustainable, long-term storyline, you need a couple of elements in place, and looking at this CM Punk one, such elements are incredibly lacking. The N.W.O. angle worked because it happened during a specific point in time where WCW and the WWF were locked in a real life struggle for industrial superiority. The in-ring action may have been “fake,” but the ratings war was anything but. The New World Order shtick was basically the physical manifestation of that real-life struggle, and it paid dividends for World Championship Wrestling, coming THIS close to putting Vince McMahon out of business.

Flash forward two years later, with the ascension of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Although the “N.W.O.” may have almost put the WWF out of business, the Austin vs. McMahon angle succeeded in putting WCW out of business. The Austin angle worked as a long-time storyline because it was something that was fresh, and even more importantly, relatable to the viewer. I mean, hell, who among us hasn’t wanted to drive over our boss’ car with a monster truck at least once or twice? The Austin-McMahon storyline turned American class warfare into the single most lucrative merchandising putsch in the history of pro wrestling, supplanting the jingoism of Hulkamania with a much more desirable sense of Proletariat, working class rage. The N.W.O. embodied a real-life industrial warfare, and Austin embodied real-life, blue-collar hostility, and as a result, both storylines were able to uphold the long-term interests of their respective companies.

So, if the CM Punk story is to have long-term weight, what the hell is it supposed to symbolize? At the absolute best, I guess you could say that the angle is just another “us vs. them” ploy which, to be fair, has worked rather well in the past (the Steamboat / Flair rivalry of 1989, the Hart Foundation vs. USA storyline of 1997, etc.) The thing is, those storyline only work for finite periods of time, and if you try to drag them out any longer than they can and should be, the result is something extremely trying, boring and sleep-inducing. And seeing as how the E trotted out D-X redux for almost TWO WHOLE YEARS, I think it goes without saying that the company is completely capable of refusing to abandon ship even when the boat is scrapping the bottom of the seabed.

As such a storyline, Punk is supposed to represent the voice of the common Internet Message Board dweeb, whereas Cena represents the squeaky, prepubescent voice of the casual, anti-smark. The thing is, this isn’t ECW fans vs. the establishment circa 1997, it’s heavy WWE consumer A versus heavy WWE consumer B. Most hardcore “Punk fans” have never actually seen an ROH match, and I highly doubt any of them can tell you what “IWA” stands for. Punk, in this scenario, doesn’t represent a pure form or wrestling as much as he represents all of those damn high school kids with vague recollections of the Monday Night Wars. You know, the guys that are always playing Farmville and talking about how much Call of Duty: Modern Urban Suburban Combat Warfare 3 is going to “kick ass.” At the end of the day, the Punk vs. Cena rivalry isn’t so much a “counter culture versus the culture” deal as it is the high school kids picking on the middle school kids. If you had to compare Punk to anything, he’d have to be the oldest kid on the school bus - the type of guy that torments the sixth graders before getting his ass handed to him in the showers by the high school seniors.

That, in a nutshell, is why the storyline just doesn’t have enough gas in it to exist as a long-time attraction. Punk and Cena, ultimately, represent the same body of people, although individuals within Camp “A” and “B” may appear to be different kinds of fans. It’s not new school versus old school or tradition versus technology, it’s shirts versus skins, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t represent anything.

Now, the thing that perhaps most infuriates me about the undeserved hype this thing has received can be traced back to the Money in the Bank main event. Now, I thought the bout was a good match, but that was about it - a good, not great, match. To be fair, the crowd was hot and the finish was pretty entertaining, but the Punk / Cena showdown also had a lot of negatives, including a boring opening half which consisted almost entirely of rest-holds, the fact that Punk was botching moves left and right (the dude couldn’t land on his feet if you tied magnets to his boots and threw him in a submarine), and the Montreal Screwjob-lite finale featured some of the worst acting this side of the latest Bruce Campbell offering.

So, imagine my surprise when I found out that Dave freaking Meltzer, a guy that is perhaps the most respected guy within the industry, gave the match a full five stars, calling it one of the “greatest matches of all time.” Now, maybe the WWE has Davey on the dole and shipped him a couple of grand to talk day-in, day-out about the angle on the Wrestling Observer, or maybe he’s suffering from a brain contusion brought about by watching too many UFC on Versus events, but to call that match one of the greatest ever is not only stupid, but a freaking insult to the performers, companies and fans that have attempted to support the dying medium over the last ten years.

Has American wrestling gotten so bad that a mildly above average bout is considered best of all time just for having a hot crowd? All I can say is that if having an into-it audience is good enough to overlook a ton of botched spots, boring ass planning and insultingly lame sports-entertainment finishes, then you’d have to retroactively give half of the matches held in the ECW Arena circa 1996 five stars, too. Now, you IWC turks of today have the excuse of not being around for U.S. wrestling’s heyday, but when a guy like the Meltz says something so unforgivably stupid, you know the industry as a whole has a massive, massive problem.

The popularity of the Punk storyline, and most definitely that Punk/Cena match, is demonstrative of how low our standards for excellence are these days, and not just in regards to wrestling. Giving Punk/Cena a full five stars puts it alongside such all time classics as Misawa / Kawada and Flair / Steamboat, which to me, is kind of like saying The Dark Knight is as good a movie as Schindler’s List or Citizen Kane.

The reality is, there is a ton of amazing wrestling out there today, it’s just that you have to go out of your way to find it. Seeing as how a good 99 percent of the American wrestling-watching audience has access to just the WWE and TNA, that means a lot of us have come to embrace lackluster products as the absolute best in the world..

Rather than moan and complain for another couple of miles of bandwidth, I’ll conclude by showing you two relatively recent matches that I consider indicative of wrestling’s best in the modern era. The first bout is from late 2008, and the match I consider to be the absolute best I’ve seen in the last decade.


The above match is a four-on-four elimination tag bout featuring four guys from Pro Wrestling NOAH (a stable called, simply, Team Burning) taking on a collection of Pro Wrestling NOAH malcontents called Kensuke Office. The match is basically emblematic of a real life rift in the promotion, as half of the roster sided with the then-current management and the other half sided with an insurgent booking committee. There’s a couple of other elements to the story, but that’s beside the point: the end result is, this match effing rules.

I’ve never seen a more beautifully booked match in my life, and the emotion in this one is so off-the-charts that I dare say that it’s a match ON PAR with all of those million-billion star All Japan matches from the 1990s. The bout weaves an intricate story involving eight competitors: to begin, a couple of young up-and-comers (you don’t care, but there names are Akihiko Ito, Atsushi Aoki, Kento Miyahara and Takashi Okita) get to show their stuff, and then, in come the legends. I’m not really spoiling it for you when I say the match boils down to a tag bout between Kenta Kobashi and KENTA (his heir apparent) taking on Kensuke Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima (Sasaki’s heir apparent), but how the match gets there, and especially the story it tells when it gets there, is absolutely unparalleled in modern pro wrestling. You don’t need to understand a word of Japanese to see that Kenta Kobashi really does care for the safety of his star pupil, and the iron man job KENTA puts on in this bout makes him unquestionably worthy of the title of world’s greatest wrestler. This match is what happens when you mix WarGames with a five-star All-Japan tag bout, and the result is one of the single greatest matches you will EVER have the opportunity to see.

Now, here’s another match, from last year. It took place in Mexico’s AAA in early December, and it features L.A. Park (not the La Parka, but a guy with a VERY similar gimmick) taking on El Mesias, whom was in TNA for about five minutes in 2008. Anyway, the first time I saw this match my head almost exploded: the crowd intensity was off the charts, the storytelling was as good as you could possible imagine a story about Satanic Antonio Banderas fighting a skeleton pro wrestler could be, and dear lord, the bumps these two maniacs take. When Mesias slams L.A. Park into the soda barrow as hard as a human being can, I literally jumped out of my chair and marked out for the first time in ages.

If you are interested (and you should be), both of these matches, in their entirety, are posted on YouTube, so the next time you have some downtime, I’d highly suggest kicking back with your favorite soda and watching these two underappreciated gems unfurl before you. As it is, you may have noticed that these two bouts had something very much in common, besides kicking several dozens kinds of ass, and that’s the fact that NOBODY ever talks about them. Despite being an eight man, all time classic war and a Spanish version of that one Hart-Austin match from WM 13, respectively, these bouts NEVER got picked up and widely distributed around the IWC water coolers, because? Well, it’s because most people don’t have access to them, and that’s because people don’t know that they exist. If all you know of pro wrestling is WWE and TNA, then what do you know? You end up thinking everything they do is great, and you buy into the hype because you never had the opportunity to see what else was out there.

So anyway, if you’ve gotten this far into my totally unimportant spiel, you’re probably awaiting some grand observation that explains why I felt the need to yell and yammer on and on about something so inconsequential to the world at large. Well, you know me, and you know that I like to use the world of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts to comment on larger social issues, and if there’s one thing this whole CM Punk angle demonstrates, it’s the overbearing power of hype on our day-to-day lives. Every day, we are told what’s important on TV, and the Internet, and on our message boards, but very rarely do we think about who it is that is actually telling us what they think is so important to begin with. There are a lot of predators out there that feed on our herd mentalities, and until you are able to think as an individual, you might as well bend over, yank out your wallet, and drop trou for a good old fashioned maize holing.

Right now, everybody in the world, seemingly, thinks that the CM Punk angle is the absolute best thing since sliced bread (the foodstuff, not the convoluted, kayfabe-murdering pro wrestling maneuver.) If there’s one thing life’s school of war has taught me, it’s this: where there is no dissent, there is most certainly shenanigans afoot. Unless there’s arguments, bickering , yelling and name calling, there really isn’t a proper Democracy going on, and unless you want pro wrestling statism, now would be a good time for you to develop your own outlook and mentalities without having the corporations, the dirt sheet editors and the forum nerdlings telling you what’s cool this week.

Send feedback to James Swift

James Swift is a freelance writer and author of two books, “How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions” and “Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks“. Follow him on Twitter at JSwiftMedia, or subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/JSwiftMedia.

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November 2006


by Sean Carless

With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).