First thing is first: CM Punk is fantastic. Ever since his pipe-bomb in July of 2011, Punk has been one of the most overrated superstars in the company, whether he was a face or a heel. This has provided him unbelievable equity with the vaunted WWE Universe.
This is a problem.
WWE fans have gotten a lot of credit lately for ‘hijacking’ shows with their chants and general disapproval with the status quo, Batista being the most recent example. Fans look to two specific people to carry their torch for them in the ring. Daniel Bryan is, of course, the wrestler du jour currently holding the flag, but Punk is unquestionably the leader in the clubhouse.
That is what makes his walk-out after the Rumble so frustrating, angering and insulting. Working under the assumption that this is not a work and that it was legitimately him taking a ‘sabbatical’ as Vince McMahon stated shortly after his departure, his leaving was a hijacking of a whole different sort.
Reports are that he left because he was not booked to be in the championship match at Wrestlemania and was being scheduled to enter a feud with Triple H, among other concerns (the annual return of part-time stars being primary among those). When he felt disrespected by this, he decided to leave, likely in hopes that the audience would demand his return and use it as leverage to get what he wants.
In any other field, this would be malpractice and breach of contract. No employer would ever bring someone back to their company, let alone give that person exactly what he wants, if that person got up and left because he felt ‘disrespected.’
Punk wisely wagered and put his future in the hands of the WWE Universe demanding his return. When Punk lost the Royal Rumble and Batista emerged victorious, they predictably booed him mercilessly to the point that the current Wrestlemania Main Event is between two legitimately ho-hum heels.
This no doubt forced McMahon to bring Punk back almost entirely on his terms. The WWE fans are by and large blue-collar folk who do not have that type of leverage when it comes to their employment. This is not how the working world works, and it is not how the working world should work.
One of the benefits of the Reality Era in wrestling is that the storylines, and by proxy the superstars, are closer and closer to the fans. This has given wrestlers and fans never-before-seen proximity. Punk in many ways cultivated this type of relationship, claiming to be the voice of the voiceless. What Punk seems to have forgotten, however, is that it is two-way street. With our support, we expect our favorite wrestlers to show up every week and perform for us. This is why the marks out there continually support the likes of Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro and deep down even have a respect for John Cena. Punk’s most recent absence is an affront to that trust.
Notably, this screws over one Daniel Bryan. How, you ask? The past six months have been a whirlwind for Bryan as he has become the face of audience discontent on a level not seen since the summer of Punk. If Punk hadn’t left, there is a good chance Bryan would have been elevated to the main event at ‘Mania. Now, due to Punk’s rushed departure and forcing creative to rewrite everything, Bryan is ticketed to take Punk’s former place in a feud with Triple H while he co-oped Bryan’s momentum and opportunity for himself.
Jealousy? Maybe. Narcissistic? Likely. Selfish? Definitely.
If all reports are true, CM Punk will return to Raw tonight amid a raucous hometown crowd in the Windy City. Fans will cheer and viewers will tune in. Include this author among those who will be excited to see his return and pray that he saves the ‘Mania main event. It could be an unforgettable night.
But let us not forget what this is. Surely other superstars have been frustrated with their status within the company, but they didn’t throw a hissy fit and leave. We will cheer and rejoice his return, but as a result we will become part of the story-line that we have been booing for the past six months.