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What Might Have Been: Looking back on CM Punk and the state of WWE

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This is a guest post by Mat Burnz.

Remember what it felt like, when you first realized, "Oh...this is something CM Punk....shooting here?" It still somehow feels like a short time ago. Why? Is it because it's the last moment that really made us remember what we loved about WWE? Or, is it because, as a fan, the feeling of total disappointment about how the "Pipebomb promo" was followed by tone­deaf, self­serving, myopic booking? A total refusal to tell the logical, but grandiose story of a new Anti­Hero of the people saying what everyone in the room was thinking, and proceeding on a year long mission to bring down the establishment, and go over as the newest legend in WWE's canon, in the main event WrestleMania? For me, like you, it's all of the above.

Never before, did one promo lay out an invitation to the management of the company, in more stark terms, to cure its ills. It also begged the company forward creatively, through story­telling, to re­imagine itself for the 21st Century, by elevating a man who would prove to be the most significant Superstar, and pop cultural figure WWE would produce since Rock, and Austin, in one CM Punk.

The story goes like this. WWE suffered from a disease of a homogenizing corporate culture, which encouraged flat, stale characters, Romper Room level, intelligence-insulting stories. A supposedly fan-friendly, but painfully dumbed down product, ready-made, and safe enough for the investor class to incorporate into their portfolios, but one which ultimately debased itself, and bored the piss out of fans who remembered what it once was, when it was great. An bland era that didn't sit well, with a brash, ultra­talented, honest to a fault, take no shit young Superstar who still believed in what made him fall in love with Pro Wrestling as an alienated teenager in the back yards of Illinois. A product exemplified by what the core audience perceived as its hypocritical, plastic, posing, poster boy, John Cena. A man who made his name with vulgar, suburban rap shtick, but now was fashioned by WWE's image­makers into the ultimate Ronald McDonald­like ambassador. Squeaky clean, kissing babies, and ALWAYS saying JUST the right things.

These characters, this promo, this premise screamed for a year, plus, of a feud that would, just like Punk's promo, begin to flip the script of perception. The Anti­Hero would be proven right. The poster boy would be exposed as the Authority's front for its agenda to enrich the McMahon family at the expense of the WWE, and its fans. The Punk would be proven the heart, and soul of the company. The Voice of the Voiceless. The vanguard of a locker room dreaming to put their bodies on the line for something meaningful. The conscience of the Pro Wrestling spirit, and the everyday fan's conduit for their frustrations, and ultimate revenge on the dark forces that had befallen all we loved. On the course of his mission, all manner of challenge, conspiracy, and pitfall would confront him. He would fall. He would lose. But he would rise from certain defeat from the overwhelming odds. He would insult Stephanie, he would defeat HHH. He would spit in the face of Vince McMahon, and he would expose, and dog Cena. Make him question himself. Make him fear losing his position. Make him distrust the McMahons loyalty to him. The pressure would cause Cena to betray himself, by desperately embracing the darkness of the McMahons to ensure his future, only to lose it all on the grandest stage of them all. Punk would emerge the conquering, every man's hero. Cena would be left at a crossroads, from which he could re­emerge as a true babyface hero himself, in his own struggle with the Authority. It COULD have been one of the greatest stories WWE ever told.

But it wasn't, was it? No. We know how this all turned out. And 5 years later, none of us, fans, Pro Wrestling, nor WWE are better from the conscious path of self­sabotage dictated from the boardroom in Stanford, Connecticut. Why? Simple. This story would've hit WAY too close to home. It would've exposed what seems to be the actual corporate strategy of the McMahon family. Their sacrifice of the on­air product, the talent of their roster, and the entertainment of their fanbase on the altar of this business model. They know it conflicts with what their fans want. That played out during Punk's unceremonious exit from the company, and the refusal of the "WWE Universe" to accept a Randy Orton v Batista WrestleMania main event. Daniel Bryan exposed this, but now we're back in the same pattern of disposable stories, 3­hour Monday Night funeral dirges, and the same old, same old shit. Here's the truth. They have boxed themselves into this place. They cannot give you what they want, while getting what they want. They have no financial incentive to please you. Examples of this abound, and saturate every weekly show, and every "Network Special". But what Punk said as he admonished the cheering Vegas crowd was true. We'll all keep sipping out of those souvenir cups, and buying tickets in our longing for the stories they refuse to tell.

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