It’s been one year since CM Punk gave his famous ‘pipebomb’ promo on Raw, starting the switch from a heel to a face. Weeks later he went on to defeat John Cena at Money in the Bank and leave the company as the champion, much to the chagrin of Mr McMahon, whose newest onscreen stooge, John Laurinaitis, was making his WWE debut. The reaction from his native Chicago crowd solidified his position as the new major face of the company. But how did it go so wrong?
A little over a month later he was facing Cena at Summerslam, where, despite beating the leader of ‘CeNation’ to unify the WWE Championships, he was pinned by Alberto Del Rio cashing in his MITB briefcase, following a powerbomb by a returning Kevin Nash. He then entered a feud with Nash and Triple H, which didn’t come to any great conclusion, before having a feud with John Laurinaitis, which again seemed to die out. And now the boos ring out every time he calls for respect, turning him back to the heel side, where Punk himself admits to being more comfortable.
I think I see the logic of the change. While the respect angle has been used for a heel change before (Undertaker 2001/02), it is always a sure-fire way to get the crowd on your back. I think this is leading up to a CM Punk/Austin match at WrestleMania 29. Austin admitted on Twitter that his absence at Raw 1000 was because he was healing from leg surgery, perhaps getting prepared for one more battle, while he has also previously stated in interviews that while he would like to feud with Punk, it would have been better if it was using the traditional heel/face angle. Maybe I’m looking too much into it, but it is a possibility.
But why did the face change and the huge cheers die out so quickly? Was it because of people waiting for more ‘pipebombs’?
No. While last year’s big promo was impassioned, it wasn’t a ‘shoot’ at all. What did he say that was so shocking? He called Triple H a buffoon and talked about Vince dying, but much worse has been said on air about the pair by Austin. He spent a while saying he was the best in the world, which is obviously in character and commented on how he wasn’t used on intro videos and such, which was all true, but not shocking.
So, why did the crowd support him?
John Cena. The man lying on the canvas while Punk delivered the promo. People loved Punk because he wasn’t Cena. He had ‘Attitude’ and was an outsider, not a company man; everything that Cena wasn’t. They were the exact opposites. Cena is one big merchandise stand, while CM Punk is ‘straight edge’, not because it’s his gimmick, but because he is. The two fit together perfectly.
The minute that the much-overrated Kevin Nash and the egotistical Triple H put him in as the third wheel in their feud, it killed all his heat and took him away from Cena.
A good example of how the Cena/Punk types of feuds are useful in the long term is Stone Cold. People often make the mistake of thinking that the ‘3:16’ line shot Austin’s career into the stratosphere and ushered in the Attitude Era. It didn’t. It only got a mild crowd reaction at the time. Austin didn’t feature in the next PPV and at the one after that, Summerslam, he had the first match with a win over Yokozuna. Austin gained popularity because, like Punk, he feuded with someone who was the opposite of everything he stood for: Bret Hart.
While Austin was the anti-hero, using any means to win and not answering to authority, Bret was the hero, a trusted veteran who won his matches honestly. The crowd was ready for some ‘Attitude’ after years of Doink the Clown, Adam Bomb and the Godwinns, and Austin was the answer. When they had their legendary match at WrestleMania 13, it was their conflict of character that fuelled the feud, the same way that the crowd loved Punk for not being Cena.
CM Punk could have been the people’s face of the company but the WWE were too interested in trying to forge Punk into the new Austin by having him feud with the modern version of McMahon, John Laurinaitis. But that didn’t work because the crowd didn’t truly hate Laurinaitis, they hated Cena. But they would never have the nerve to turn their golden boy heel and so now they are feuding again, Cena is still the face and Punk is back being the heel, as if last year didn’t happen.
The year-long face role did do wonders for Punk’s career. He’s probably the WWE’s second biggest star now; a huge change for a wrestler who was ready to leave last year, partly down to the fact that he felt under-appreciated. But looking back at it, it feels like a chance missed. Unfortunately, one year on from Punk’s so-called revolution, little has changed and the WWE is still based around Cena. The more things change, the more they stay the same.