So the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw -- after all of the to-do, the pomp, the circumstance, the build, the parade of legends -- ended with WWE Champion CM Punk standing tall over the beaten bodies of The Rock, The Big Show, and John Cena.
Not only that, Punk is quite possibly going to end up at least the second longest reigning champion since 1994, second only to John Cena's 380-day run ended by his torn pectoral tendon injury.
Also, Punk is on the cover of the WWE '13 video game and the focus of its ad campaign in addition to having a new DVD coming out. Those sentences positively surreal to write. You'd think, reading this would mean Punk is a made man and WWE is set on making him a long-term mega star.
Somehow, though, the heel turn managed to leave a sour taste in my mouth, and made me question whether Punk may end up floundering around the midcard, at least for a little while.
Think I'm insane? I don't blame you.
But if you want to know why, read more after the jump...Since I tend to be a positive guy, I think I'm going to start with the positives of this situation.
The Good News
The primary plus to this whole thing actually doesn't have to do with Punk directly. One good part about this whole turn is that Punk is really putting the focus back on the WWE Championship.
Even though Punk has been champ for the better part of a year, and it's been a reign that has a pretty good chance of being the second in over a decade and a half, the run itself has been playing second fiddle to Cena's Feud Of The Month.
There have been a lot of reports lately Triple H is taking over more and more behind the scenes, and that he is very keen on having longer title reigns to make the changes mean more when they do happen. That's definitely something that I support.
For all of Triple H's flaws as a performer, I've always felt as though he has a tremendous mind for the business, and that a Triple H-run WWE has a lot of promise. Frankly, assuming the stories of what he's been responsible for are correctly sourced, I've been a fan of pretty much every signing and behind the scenes move he has made (that didn't involve himself).
With this in mind, I think there's a possibility Punk will in fact retain the WWE Championship until the Royal Rumble and battle The Rock for it. I really don't find it likely, since that reign would actually eclipse John Cena record and would be the longest reign since the multi-year reigns of yore. If that did happen, you could honestly throw all of my concerns out the window, to be honest. If that actually happened, my brain would absolutely have trouble comprehending it.
Additionally, none of my trepidation actually comes from Punk's ability in and of itself. Though I absolutely adored Punk's face run at the top, there can be no denying that Punk is an absolutely tremendous heel. Not only that, but Punk should be allowed to have more edge on the microphone as a heel, so we're likely to see more genuine "pipe bombs" like we saw at the beginning of Punk's rise last year. That, much as I disagree with the direction that Punk's character seems to be going, is decidedly a good thing.
If the WWE really is building to a Punk/Rock feud (which I'd almost consider an inevitability, given how much WWE seems to be focusing on that prospect), there's no doubt Rock would ultimately put Punk over. Frankly, Rock sold a running forearm from Punk harder than Cena has ever sold any of Punk's offense, let alone the actual GTS, which Rock sold like a car wreck.
The Bad News
Having said all this, there is some bad news to go along with it. The primary piece of bad news is that in Cena-era WWE, with only a handful of exceptions, every single heel follows the same exact pattern. Heel is a whiny, if not straight up cowardly jerk whose only real purpose is to eventually be fed to a top face (generally Cena).
I was actually extremely optimistic they'd add some layers with Punk in his opening promo last night and his exchange with Cena in the back about the whole thing not being personal, but WWE got rid of pretty much all that goodwill with me when Punk proceeded to do the generic heel move of trying to get out of having a number one contender and then being shocked and appalled when the "brilliant" plan backfires. Now I will say that the issue is not Punk's performance. His delivery, body language, and emotion are all top notch.
The problem, then, lies with WWE's booking. Punk shouldn't be a "Best In The World" who seems afraid to back it up. Now admittedly, if he didn't show any cowardice or trepidation, he wouldn't be a heel, so I do understand that much (of course, I think Punk should be a tweener anyway, but if wishes were fishes, eh?).
However, all WWE would need to do to get the crowd to boo Punk is have him be overly smug in his mannerisms and then actually work heel in matches. Take him from just "Best In The World" to "Best In The World AND Better Than You". It's not that hard.
Between WWE's general pattern with heel booking combined with the fact that Punk is such an unlikely story anyway merely leaves me concerned that WWE is about to take this year plus of building up a new mega star and turning him into a generic, whiny heel who looks like a dweeb every step of the way until Cena gets him in an actual fight. At which point RAPADOO and Punk gets his Attitude Adjusted back to the midcard.
It's probably not likely, and I'm being incredibly pessimistic, but it's not exactly unprecedented. I really just think WWE has a tremendous blind spot when it comes to Cena, and while I don't blame Cena himself (it's WWE's fault for the booking, not Cena's), there's a long list of monsters that have been built up only for the status quo to be restored by leader of the Cenation.
Much as I dread the prospect of it happening to Punk and acknowledge it's far from certain, I could quite easily see it happening.
The Bottom Line
I realize I'm probably being overly paranoid. WWE has made Punk a Superman for the past year: he's the posterboy for the new WWE video game, has a new DVD coming out, and will quite possibly be responsible for a new belt design if certain rumors and hints dropped by Punk himself are to be believed.
Additionally, I'd be shocked if Punk didn't still sell a lot of merch among the smarky "Cena sucks" set who I think are likely to continue cheering him even as a heel. That all points to Punk remaining a top guy, maybe even THE top heel.
Also he's still WWE Champion, has been for almost a year, and the fact that SummerSlam is a triple threat bolsters my hopes that he'll retain again, even if it's through some manner of heel chicanery.
And even if my worst case scenario happens and Punk falls down the card, it probably wouldn't be permanent. Punk is such an amazing talent, and all it would take for him to rise again would be one more meteoric pipe bomb.
The reason I call Punk's turn "make or break" is not because I think that Punk would be unable to recover. It's make or break because the WWE has an opportunity to do something really special here, just like they did with Money In The Bank last year.
When was the last time that someone turned heel and didn't lose any momentum? The three I can think of in recent history are Mark Henry, Randy Orton, and Batista. Henry and Batista are both absolute monsters physically, and Randy is a third generation golden boy.
CM Punk is, well, CM Punk.
If the WWE really allows him to soar even as a heel, it can further cement the fact a straight edge indy darling from Chicago can truly make it and be a long-term mega star in the biggest professional wrestling company in the history of the business. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it would completely destroy the "glass ceiling" and eliminate WWE's penchant for body builder types, but it'd certainly be a step away from it.
If the WWE really sticks with this, then before long, Punk will regularly be mentioned in the same breath as names like Shawn Michaels, Bob Backlund, John Cena, and Hulk Hogan.
But I'd be lying if I said WWE wouldn't have to buck my expectations in order to follow through with that. Punk is already on a very very short and elite list. But the part that's both exciting and worrisome is that WWE can bring him to even higher places, and they absolutely should.
I'm just not sure they will.