Very rarely does pro wrestling give you something you haven’t seen before. The evil General Manager. The undefeated babyface monster. The chickenshit heel. Everything gets repeated, over and over.
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For the WWE, this has posed has a significant problem in the recent years as the only game in town and 6 hours of TV to produce every week. The WWE has not been creative. The WWE has been stale. They have their formula. They mash through it every month. They keep their stock price afloat. They make money. They move on.
CM Punk has been champion for more than a year, since November 2011. On Sunday, he will face the Rock for the title in what has to be one of the most anticipated non-WrestleMania matches in years. People I follow on Twitter who never talk about wrestling have been discussing this match.
Last July, during the Raw 1000 episode, CM Punk smacked the Rock in the forehead as he was giving the People’s Elbow. The match was set in stone – a 7-month buildup in an era of pay-per-view matches being announced mere weeks before.
Let’s not lose sight of why this match is so hyped – it’s because the Rock is the freakin’ Rock and he’s wrestling his first match since last WrestleMania. And if that were the only hook, this match and this show would still garner far more attention than any recent Royal Rumble has.
But it’s the opponent that has taken the hype from big to potentially company-altering.
CM Punk is the oldest of the old-school wrestlers, with the only exception being his disdain for drugs and alcohol. Like Randy Savage, or Mick Foley, or Steve Austin before him, Punk toiled in the independent scene and the mid-card for years before being given an opportunity in the Main Event. And even after getting that shot, he was still shuttled off to the side while Vince McMahon’s perfect star, John Cena, remained the top guy.
Through sure force of will, Punk has become the top guy, despite being cast as the heel in this feud with the Rock. His WWE title win in 2011 after his famous “pipe bomb” interview gave him mainstream attention. His Twitter is a constant source of amusement. He is the embodiment of pro wrestling in the 21st century – tech-savvy, hard-working and brutally honest.
Like most great stories in pro wrestling, the chance for greatness usually comes by accident. The grand schemes almost never work – the ones that aren’t planned turn into gold. When CM Punk won the title more than a year ago, I doubt anyone in the Stamford offices of the WWE gave much thought to how long he’d be champion. In fact, most assumed he’d drop the title to Chris Jericho at last year’s WrestleMania.
Instead, we stand on the precipice of history. I want CM Punk to win on Sunday. I want CM Punk to be champion rolling into WrestleMania, for his rumored match against the Undertaker. I want CM Punk to end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak and roll into the summer as champion. I want CM Punk to be champion until this year’s Survivor Series, so he can be the first wrestler since Hulk Hogan to hold the title for 2 full years.
I want to see history. And who doesn’t? Pro wrestling is still sports entertainment, with emphasis on sports, and what do sports fans go crazy for? Records. History. Things they haven’t seen before. It’s why no one batted any eyelash when Mark McGwire bashed 70 home runs with a head the size of a Volkswagen. It’s why Lance Armstrong’s 7 straight Tour de France victories were lauded at the time, instead of questioned. It’s why the Patriots’ 2007 run at perfection enraptured this entire country and somehow boosted even the incredible strength of the NFL.
The WWE is in a constant state of survival for what it craves most – mainstream attention. I can guarantee right now that CM Punk beating the Rock, and then the Undertaker and being champion for 18 months would be a story that would captivate not only the wrestling world, but the mainstream media.
Why? Because it’d be new. It’d be fresh. It’d be exciting. It’d be historic.
It would be so ridiculously easy to promote. Take a moment to imagine the reaction on Monday Night Raw, the night after WrestleMania, as CM Punk strolls to the ring after being the first man in history to defeat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Think about that moment. Think about the grandeur. Think about the magnitude of that moment.
Think about how the WWE could book the next 6 months on auto-pilot – CM Punk’s reign vs. anybody would be money. And if he got through Survivor Series, he’s within shouting distance of another Road to WrestleMania as champion – approaching Hulk Hogan’s holy grail of modern title reigns, in the 80s when he brought pro wrestling to the masses.
I know none of this will happen. I know the WWE is hell-bent on giving us Rock/Cena 2 at WrestleMania for the WWE title. I know the Rock is beating Punk. I know Punk’s reign is almost over. I know the potential for greatness will remain a fleeting thought running through my imagination.
But I will be watching the Royal Rumble. And when the Rock wins, I’ll probably be disappointed.
It won’t be the first time. Everything in pro wrestling repeats itself, over and over and over…
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