The big story that has dominated the WWE universe off-screen over the last month is focused around one man: CM Punk. We haven’t seen or really heard from him since the Royal Rumble, and WWE hasn’t commented on him either. What we have gathered though, is that Punk walked out because he wasn’t happy with the creative direction of the company. It has been his ambition to headline a Wrestlemania, and with his contract expiring in the summer this year could have been his last chance. When, at the Rumble, it became clear that Punk wasn’t going to be in the main event of Wrestlemania 30, Punk had had enough. He walked out hours before Raw the next night, and has maintained a radio silence since. I could write an article about how I agree or disagree with what he did (and yes, I think there’s enough on both sides to warrant an article). But let’s face it, most of what we “know” hasn’t been confirmed by either side, and could very easily be wrong. That includes the reports that Punk says he is done with the company. What we know for sure is that WWE aren’t mentioning him on or off screen, they are removing him from clips, taking fans’ signs away, and generally doing all they can to erase Punk from the company. Much as though I admire what Punk did, I can’t see it making much of a difference. Here are some reasons why I don’t think the WWE will miss him at all.
It’s Wrestlemania Season
This is the time of year when the product is generally at its best, the fans are at their best, and there are more eyes on the company from mainstream media. Therefore one of their top stars walking out should be the worst thing that could possibly happen, right? The thing is, because there are so many more mainstream eyes on the company than usual, WWE takes in names that have mainstream appeal. This can be celebrities, legends or part-timers. Just look at last year, you had Brock Lesnar, HHH, Undertaker and The Rock coming in for Mania. The year before had Maria Menounos, Booker T, Undertaker, HHH, Shawn Michaels and The Rock who weren’t regular performers. This year you could expect even more with it being the 30th Wrestlemania, and WWE wanting to promote the WWE Network. All these big names coming back are enough to distract the crowd for long enough to forget that CM Punk isn’t there.
Sad though it may be to admit, CM Punk isn’t the proverbial “indy darling” anymore. He isn’t the second top guy in the company. Hell, in Vince and Triple H’s mind Punk probably isn’t even the top “smaller” guy anymore. That mantle has been well and truly passed on to Daniel Bryan. Part of this is Punk being a victim of his own success, the IWC (even though every member seems to hate that term) used to see Punk as an indie guy who deserved some success in the big league. Well, he got that success. He was the top guy for 434 days. Now those same fans, while they still love Punk, are focusing their efforts on rooting for Bryan to get the same success. Because Punk has already been there, there’s not the same passion for him to be at the top of the card while somebody like Bryan hasn’t had a real chance there yet. In a lot of ways Punk and Bryan are too similar – in their histories at least – for them both to properly thrive at the same time. Even since Punk left, it looks like Bryan has picked up his rivalry with the authority. In the WWE’s mind, these two were interchangeable.
He wasn’t in the main event
If Punk had just lost the WWE Championship and then walked out knowing he wasn’t going to get his chance at regaining it in the main event of Wrestlemania then this would be a totally different story. But look at where Punk has been since last Wrestlemania: missing, to recover from injuries; feuding with Paul Heyman (and facing the likes of Curtis Axel and Ryback), and then feuding with Triple H (but mostly confronting Kane). And most of the time while he was doing this, he was playing third or fourth fiddle on the card. He was behind whatever John Cena was doing, whatever was happening with the WWE Championship, and at times even behind The Shield or the resurgent tag team division. He was absolutely a top guy in the company, but he wasn’t in major storylines for most of the time, and he wasn’t in a major spot on the card. It might not have the same effect, but there were so many people being made to look more important than him that they could easily replace him with another good, mid-card worker and have had the same matches. It could easily have been Curtis Axel being given a chance to shine having just been dumped by Heyman, and it could easily have been Cody Rhodes or Dolph Ziggler playing up against the authority. We may not have had the same emotional investment as viewers when these guys have less history than Punk did, but it would have accomplished the same thing, and WWE wants us to have more important things to be emotionally invested in anyway. There was very little that happened since Wrestlemania 29 that you would say only worked because it was Punk, but you can’t say the same about John Cena or Daniel Bryan.
The roster is so talented
In the WWE environment you kind of have to expect this anyway, but there is so much talent in the WWE right now just waiting for their chance to shine. The problem more often than not is booking rather than lack of ability. If somebody is given the chance to step up into Punk’s spot, you have to believe they will take it. Whether that’s a fellow indie legend like Cesaro, or a future World Champion like Roman Reigns; in fact anybody from the Shield, they will take it. If somebody breaks out and becomes a new sensation before or at Mania (I’m looking at you Reigns) then people will be talking about them, not Punk’s absence. As John Cena said on Steve Austin’s podcast recently: “WWE is on the cusp of having a true all-star roster for the first time in a long time.” And it really is so true. There is no reason why Wrestlemania 30 can’t be one of the best ever in terms of in-ring action, which is something fans have looked to Punk to provide for years now. But the best thing about a lot of the roster is that they’re young. We have a crop of at least 6 or 7 that could easily carry the company for the next decade. Getting them in that spot now and letting them thrive at a time when the main event desperately needs fresh, young faces could actually be what’s “best for business”. Not that I’m saying it’s a good thing that Punk’s gone for a new generation to come through, but in much the same way Cena’s injury after Summersam was an opportunity to someone to step up in unfortunate circumstances, Punk walking out could accelerate the rise of the next big star of sports entertainment.
The fans are already forgetting about him
This is one that may not sound quite so convincing. There is still a lot of talk about Punk online, and the very existence of articles like this one shows that we are not forgetting the best in the world. But the crowd went from chanting his name in most segments the week after he walked out, to starting feeble attempts at chants that die out almost as soon as they start. You know that video where JBL, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler mock the fans for chanting Punk right before Raw? Everything they said in it was true. “This won’t last” – seconds later the chants stopped. That’s not the kind of passion that’s sending a message to the WWE, that’s only telling them that eliminating Punk from our consciousness is working. Now, it may look like I’m talking a load of rubbish over the next few weeks. But keep in mind that the March 3rd show is in Chicago, who are always hot for Punk since it’s his hometown, and Wrestlemania weekend always has really smart crowds. If Punk still isn’t back, listen to the crowd two or three weeks after Mania, and I highly doubt you will be hearing many, if any, sustained CM Punk chants. If it weren’t for the smart crowds WWE were going to be in front of in the near future, I would say in two weeks the crowd would have forgotten about him. It’s just something that happens in the WWE universe. Do people chant for Undertaker throughout the year? No. That doesn’t mean he’s any less popular than ever, it means they’ve forgotten about him for the time being. The same happens with people who leave the company – Jeff Hardy comes to mind. Jeff was rivalling Cena in the popularity stakes, but it wasn’t too long after he left that the crowd had moved on to their new flavour of the month. I’m not criticising them for that, it’s just what happens. And I don’t see any reason why the exact same thing wouldn’t happen to Punk.
So there you have it. 5 reasons I think the WWE will move on without Punk without a hitch. He is probably a lot of people’s favourite wrestler, so I can understand a lot of people being disappointed, or just not agreeing with me out of loyalty. That’s fine. The best thing that can happen as far as I’m concerned from my columns is a huge discussion where everybody’s trading ideas. Not everybody’s going to agree with everybody else, and that’s what makes wrestling so special.
Do you think I’ve missed anything out? Or do you think I’ve gotten anything completely wrong? Was Punk right to do what he did? Feel free to leave a comment below, or get in touch by email or on Facebook. What’s next here at the Plebs of Wrestling? Well I’ve had sudden bursts of inspiration 3 days in a row now, and nice as it would be to make it a full week of writing I wouldn’t bet on anything else until the Elimination Chamber predictions go up at the weekend. Keep an eye out though, as they say in the wrestling industry: never say never!