Ever since my childhood sports entertainment in the form of the WWE has been an interest of mine - in more recent times this had faded to be but a very cursory interest. My oldest and fondest memories come from the so-called Attitude era of the late 1990s - who can forget when Mike Tyson turned on Shawn Michaels for Austin to win championship gold at Wrestlemania XIV all framed by JR's strained yelling of 'TYSON TYSON RIGHT HAND TYSON TYSON RIGHT HAND TYSON' like a southern vulture suffering from tourretes. However, as with all good things, this attitude era came to an abrupt close. The flagship figure of the Attitude era Stone Cold left the WWE for The Rock to take his place as the face of the company by which the whole brand would model itself. While The Rock is no stranger to delivering some brilliance on the mic, in terms of raw attitude, Stone Cold Steve Austin he is not. Then when The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) eventually decided to pursue what would turn out to be a tepid acting career, none of the remaining characters burned incandescent enough to fill the void left by the end of the Attitude era. Staples remained like Triple H and The Undertaker but these character's personas are fundamentally very conservative when compared to those who had left the company - Triple H the quieter, more physically daunting member of the DX mob and 'Taker presenting a creepy yet ultimately fantastical threat (this wained greatly with his shift towards the American Badass persona). Alongside these conservative top-tier wrestlers were a gaggle of uninteresting, yet physically impressive brutes who could all probably bench press a small car yet not string together a sentence with too many long words. Yes, I'm talking about you; Brock Lesnar, Golberg, Batista. In turn these wrestlers were replaced by even more uninteresting muscular husks; when Batista left the WWE the strikingly similar yet completely forgetable Mason Ryan took to the ring.
|Mason Ryan and Batista. Or is it Batista and Mason Ryan?!|
This movement towards dull wrestlers which never challenged the boundaries of story telling in sports entertainment led to the PG Era in Wrestling. I completely lost interest for a solid few years and - after doing some brief research for this article - it seems the viewership moved increasingly towards being dominated by women and young children. While I'm sure most women would love to see John Cena flex his ridiculous traps in seemingly endless iterations of 'John Cena Vs Randy Orton', I - and it seems most of the more discerning wrestling community - would sooner experience some of the explosive, anger-fuelled, pioneering Wrestling of the 1990s. Increasingly the WWE began to seem like a beached salmon writhing for air with veteran characters being reintroduced to the WWE to try and breathe life into the ailing franchise. Even Cena who had debuted as a character of at least some interest with his edgy, 800-penis jokes a minute raps conformed to the PG Era's principles by donning the persona of that most celebrated American figure, the US Marine.
It was only after watching his documentary Best in the World which was only released a couple of weeks ago that I fully comprehended the impact Punk had had on the WWE Universe. Punk is by no means what wrestling fans expect from a man to hold championship gold. His physical condition compared to the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior is lacklustre, standing little taller than me at 6'1 he is dwarfed by the likes of Kane and Khali and his heavily tattooed torso alienated him from those fans who would sooner cheer the clean-shaven 6'8 Adonis. In the documentary it is revealed how even after winning the belt the first time he was never really respected as the champion as other rivalries were given higher billings, with the belt itself all but forgotten about. Eventually this title reign ended not with a bang but with a whimper as Punk was stripped of his championship belt by default. Punk only emerged as a top tier wrestler after his now notorious mic promo on RAW where he aired all his grievances against how he had been 'villified' by the WWE franchise. He complained how little the company sought to promote him despite his being the best wrestler in the industry before directly attacking the fans for creating this culture in which alternative, indie wrestlers can never make the poster of Wrestlemania. He even savagely criticises the McMahon family, slamming Vince and suggesting that upon his death the company will be in disarray when it is owned by his incompetent offspring.
For the first time this explosive, genre-testing mic promo put the spotlight firmly on Punk and saw his emergence as WWE's top tier heel. With Punk rapidly garnering more and more publicity and respect in the WWE following the promo, he was given more and more creative licence within the show to act as he saw fit. This irrefutably has seen a Renaissance in the WWE and a return to the way things were done in the 1990s. With Punk whose snobbishness is matched only by his arrogance, the people finally found a heel who they could hate while simultaniously admiring his utter demolition of the shackles of the PG Era. Indeed in the documentary Punk explains how he was originally attracted to professional wrestling by Rowdy Roddy Piper - the weirdo in a dress who pissed people off. Punk reasoned that he was very effective at pissing people off and so reasoned that he may as well make money out of it. He shocked fans out of the slump of the PG Era by challenging them about sensitive and potentially offensive issues; even the delicate subject of Christianity in America was attacked as Punk pronounced that he was the devil incarnate. It is important also to point out that Punk by no means excels only on the mic, and is also a very technically proficient wrestler - his series of matches against Triple H are hailed as some of the finest technical showcases in the history of the WWE.
I must admit before seeing Best in the World I was very much in two minds about Punk. On the one hand I respected his craft but on the other I couldn't help harbour some resentment at the fact that my girlfriend had admitted she liked him ('only a little bit'). However, upon viewing the documentary I was powerless but to become a fan. Punk was handed nothing on a plate - he worked tirelessly starting in his friend's backyard before touring the country on the Indie Wrestling circuits before finally hitting the bigtime. It is very much an American tale of the diligence and persistence of a bluecollar man working tirelessly to eventually realise his goals. One can almost see it on the cover of Time magazine - 'From his Neighbour's garden to Madison Square Garden - The CM Punk Story'.