Jackson Ball looks back on CM Punk’s infamous words on Colt Cabana’s podcast last year…
Since he left WWE’s employment nearly 2 years ago, CM Punk has become something of a martyr for pro wrestling fans. His name is still regular chanted at live events and he is often used as the benchmark that modern-day main-eventers are measured by.
The idea that he could have prevented the company’s current slump in quality is a dubious one – after all, there are so many issues with the current product that it is unlikely one man could change them.
However, it is easy to forget just how good Punk was at his peak. He had a connection with the crowd that others could only dream of. He was one of only two superstars who have truly gotten ‘over ‘ with the fans in the past decade (Daniel Bryan being the other). Like Bryan, Punk elevated anyone who was in the ring with him; his list of great matches outshines that of wrestlers with twice his tenure.
Such was the extent of the fans’ allegiance to Punk, he was able to send shockwaves through the wrestling industry several months AFTER he left the company.
Just over a year ago, Punk made a guest-appearance on The Art of Wrestling podcast, hosted by his long-time friend Colt Cabana. The episode was an overnight revelation, easily becoming the most listened to wrestling podcast of all time. Punk held nothin back when revealing the story behind his separation from WWE, lifting the veil on some shocking backstage politics.
In this article, we will be taking some time to look back at on a selection of Punk’s comments, and whether or not they are (still) applicable to the modern wrestling industry…
On Part-time Wrestlers:
Why are we taking a guy that you know is going to be every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday; why is he losing to all the part-timers, who you’re showing are the real superstars. Now people are only going to buy Wrestlemania, which is going to affect my pay, year-round, and now this network is coming in and that’s going to affect my pay year-round, and I have to make all these other guys, for lack of a better term, look good. Which in turn makes me look like sh*t.
In the context of the podcast, CM Punk is referring specifically to the like of Triple H and The Rock. Both men briefly feuded with the Punk upon both their temporary returns to the ring, and both men defeated him at high profile events (Triple H at Night of Champions 2011, The Rock at the Royal Rumble 2013).
It’s easy to argue that CM Punk is a little bitter, and even easier to argue that he is entitled to be, but it is undeniable that his words here are transferrable to WWE’s current product. For example, in the past year alone, no less than six of the major pay-per-views featured at least one ‘part-time’ wrestler in its main event (Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania 31, Battleground, Summerslam and Hell in a Cell, Undertaker at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell, and Sting at Night of Champions). That’s half of 2015’s events.
Ultimately, many critics point to this over-reliance on part-timers as one of the key problems in the current WWE landscape, seemingly agree with Punk’s opinion. It’s not hard to see why either; just consider the roster crisis that has stricken WWE in recent month. Franchise player John Cena has taken some long-overdue time off, while other main-eventers like Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins have been out due to injury. All this has coincided with a period in time in which high-profile part-timers, such as Lesnar, Rock and Undertaker, have no real obligation to appear on programming. This has left a ‘bare bones’ roster which relies heavily on its few remaining ‘stars’.
CM Punk goes onto reiterate this issue, when he discusses the lack of ‘Wrestlemania-tested’ talent on the roster:
When you look at the roster, how many of the active members of the roster have been in the Wrestlemania main event? How do you expect anybody to get f*cking better? NHL hockey players have to play with NHL hockey players in order to get better. I needed the experience of a main event at Wrestlemania, with somebody was equal or better than me so I could learn; so I could further become an asset to the product.
Here, Punk is referring to WWE’s controversial decision to greenlight an Orton vs. Batista main event for Wrestlemania 30, completely shunning a ‘white-hot’ Daniel Bryan in the process. As we now know, the WWE Universe vocal protests eventually forced the creative team’s hand, and Bryan finally got his deserved moment in the spotlight. Punk, as he is the first to point out, never received that luxury.
A year later, not much has changed. In WWE’s defence, Wrestlemania 31 did see a new edition to the list in the form of Roman Reigns. However, it seems very unlikely that Reigns’ inclusion is a sign of a climatic shift in the main-event scene, and is rather an early indication of his Cena-like domination of future events. Further to this point, it seems very unlikely at this juncture that any new talent will be introduced to the main-event at next year’s event, especially given the company’s concern over filling the 100,000 seater stadium in Texas.
If they don’t hit their target of a live-capacity record however, there’s a fairly good chance that WWE will immediately look for a scapegoat of sorts, as Punk implied last year:
I don’t give a f*ck, Wrestlemania is the draw, not The Rock. I don’t what anybody says… And if you want to talk about numbers and ratings and sh*t like that; my first main event as champion was TLC and it was a John Cena-less pay-per-view and we did more buys than the year before. The pay-per-view where Rock came back, it was an awful buy-rate compared to the one before, and they blamed it on Miz and Truth. That’s what they f*cking do.
Again, you may want to take CM Punk’s words with a pinch of salt, given the ‘unfriendly’ relationship he currently has with the company. Despite that though, there’s certainly some credence to this quote.
This year WWE has seen its worst ratings-plummet since before the Attitude Era. For several months this summer, the Raw ratings seemingly decreased on a weekly basis. How did the organisation explain this dramatic downfall? Well, WWE Corporate described it as an ‘unfortunate by-product’ of the ‘transitional’ phase they were currently in. What does a ‘transitional phase’ mean exactly? Many fans took it to mean that the company had zero confidence its current roster, and in particular, it’s then-champion Seth Rollins. Much of the Internet Wrestling Community took exception to this, given that Rollins was one of the only consistently entertaining elements of the programming during this lull.
From these select quotes, it is pretty clear that many of Punk criticisms remain valid to this day. If anything, some of the negatives he outlines have even been exasperated in the past twelve months. It’s clear that the main problems currently facing WWE have been deep-rooted for some time, only now they are visible for the whole industry to see, not just those involved with the company’s inner workings.