Saturday, 2 July 2011
YESTERDAY, I was watching CM Punk’s astonishing Raw promo for about the twentieth time, and something came to me – CM Punk was wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt.
Now I wasn’t by any means the first or only person to spot this but, as I wrote on Twitter(@RobMcNichol) at the time, I am surprised more people are not commenting on Punk’s sartorial choice.
Those who follow both Austin and Punk on Twitter will know that their small face-off on screen a couple of weeks ago on Raw was a reference to their jokey rivalry, but moreover it is a nod to a very obvious level of respect between the two men.
That is surely why Punk wore a Stone Cold shirt, along with the idea that by wearing someone else’s shirt it was an extra thing to persuade viewers that what they were witnessing was ‘real’.
But there is an extra, perhaps unintentional, parallel between the two men, and the reason came fifteen years ago almost to the day.
On June 23 1996, when CM Punk would have been a seventeen year old wrestling fanatic, Steve Austin won the King of the Ring and told Jake Roberts “You talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16? Well Austin 3:16 says I just kicked your ass.”
The industry, at that point, changed.
Although they would trail WCW and their hot nWo angle for some time, the WWF had seen the genesis of the man that would be their most successful character in their history.
The main reason, long term, for Austin’s popularity was that it came against a back drop of the WWF becoming stale, and then he found the perfect antagonist in Vince McMahon who stood for everything the fans hated about safe, boring TV and the caricature of the evil boss.
CM Punk’s tirade, however worked and scripted, hit on many points that people actually feel. Some people are tired of John Cena being considered the best, and do have concerns about the company’s use of guys like CM Punk.
In 1996, a groundswell of fans was growing tired of guys like Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart and Diesel being ‘safe’ heroes. Austin wasn’t an old-fashioned role model, but he was someone who had an edge that left fans thinking ‘I wish I could be like that’.
Punk has that, and it shone through his speech. Like Austin and his big moment, the character and the promo contained that elusive x-factor that leaves fans saying ‘That was cool’. Save for about a fortnight when The Rock came back, WWE hasn’t had a moment like this since the Nexus debut, and that more shock value than anything else.
And here’s the most important point about the CM Punk promo – it was done to draw money. TNA, like WCW before them, have had a host of angles which have hinted to a viewer that it is unscripted, but none have hit the mark. In fact, it is attempted so often that it has no (pardon the pun) impact any more. In fact, if Samoa Joe, for example, literally broke character and slated the company, it would cause barely a ripple because we’d all assume it was another Vince Russo swerve.
This angle is carefully cultured to draw. There is enough time to draw some TV ratings and to tell a story in the build to a Pay Per View, which fortuitously happens to be in Punk’s home town of Chicago. Expect an atmosphere of which we haven’t seen the like since the famous “If Cena Wins We Riot” match with Rob Van Dam at the Hammerstein Ballroom at the second One Night Stand PPV.
There is actually scope in all of this, down the line, to turn John Cena into a heel and change the direction of the company, if they so wish. Perhaps we can go into that more next time.
But for now, we need to revel in the fact that we have seen something very special. As always, it is the follow up that is oh-so-crucial. If handled correctly, this could be industry changing.
CM Punk just stepped into a world that very few wrestlers before him have entered – and that truly is the bottom line.