Before the Monday Night RAW of the 20th June, the big thing in WWE was the rise of R-Truth. People were excited because Truth was a fresh character and a fresh face at the top of the card, but one vanquished the night before by the status quo aka John Cena. I love the WWE for the most part, but it would be stupid to deny that aspects of the product at that time were stale. CM Punk, however, ended the show by claiming that he was going to win the WWE Championship and leave the company with it. Interesting, especially in the hands of Punk, and certainly more interesting than any other storyline in some time, but it wasn’t yet a possibly era-defining angle. What came at the end of the next RAW, when CM Punk seemed to hijack the show and venture forth with a brutal and familiar honesty about himself and the WWE that we, the fans, related to more than anything else we had seen in some time, and that night, CM Punk became a figurehead, ‘the Voice of the Voiceless.
Since then, Punk has only cemented his position as a shaman for the people, and with John Cena, was the heroic protagonist of one of the best wrestling matches of our generation.
There are seemingly countless reasons why the so called ‘Summer of Punk’ has grabbed the attention of seasoned and casual fans alike, as well as the mainstream media. The idea of this post is to try and collate a cross-section of opinion, not to try to explain why it is so successful, but to try and share our enjoyment of it in a positive way, and show how this angle has captured the hearts of so many people for so many reasons. That said, I have collated the testimonials of several friends and contemporaries about how the angle has interested and fascinated them.
Many thanks to twitter follower Jessica Hill (@JessiJ116) for her two cents. For years, the internet has provided fans with the ‘smart knowledge’ to be wise, for the most part, to what is a work, and what is not, and few wrestlers have been consistently sincere and convincing enough to transcend those binaries. With that in mind, Jessica’s comment sheds light on why some people have found the Punk storyline a refreshing departure:
“I think just the fact that people have to ask “Was that a work or was that real?” That blurred line is what makes this special.”
For creator of cultural blog The Oyster’s Earrings http://theoystersearrings.wordpress.com/ and presenter of the ROYGBIV podcast http://www.mixcloud.com/hello_roygbiv/ Luke Healey, part of the success of the Summer of Punk is in the natural and raw connection Punk has rediscovered with the fans, and the fact that, for the first time in a long time, we saw a man become a star before our eyes, allowing us to witness a truly iconic moment:
“This year’s Wrestlemania was the first I had ever watched start to finish, and aside from everything else, one of the things that stood out to me was the powerful presentation of the wrestlers’ entrances to the ring, from Alberto Del Rio’s awesome pomposity to Triple H’s ‘King of Kings’ get-up to the ambivalent roar which greeted Cena. In each case, it was a combination of performance prowess, impressive stage-setting, crowd reaction and VT packages (in some cases). Punk’s entrance into the Allstate Arena at last week’s Money in the Bank PPV, in my mind, blew all of these away. What’s more, and besides the favour-garnering Chicago-themed t-shirt that Punk had chosen to unveil for the occasion, there was very little need for any dressing up of the situation – this was a pure connection between performer and (an albeit partisan) audience. Punk’s entrance truly vindicated the label ‘Sports Entertainment’ – here was a spectacle as vivid and as frenzied as any world cup victory, the sort of spectacle that makes your organs feel light. As Punk continued to circle the ring, to lap up the freshly-minted adulation and the more long-term respect of his fans, it became clear that we were witnessing something truly special, something on a par with, say, Triple H’s return to the ring in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 Invasion angle. Regardless of what came before, this may well have been Punk’s legend-making moment. And, regardless of how the company treat Punk from here on in, they can never erase that moment.”
Daniel Swain, who will be a guest presenter on the RBR Weekly Wrestling Talk podcast (http://bit.ly/pCc8Mt) this Saturday , loves this angle because it is the true culmination of a long journey which saw Punk fly in the face of the image of a typical WWE ‘superstar’, and on the back of sheer and awe-inspiring talent reach the position he deserves, as the biggest star currently in professional wrestling:
“I was first exposed to Ring of Honor in 2005, and one of the first things that stood out to me was CM Punk. Ring of Honor always had big characters who were also good wrestlers, but Punk was the biggest character, and the best wrestler. Everything about him was outrageous, his radical, anarchistic appearance, his forceful, preachy promos and his on-screen antics. From calling a pole-dancer a whore in a Falls Count Anywhere match, to dressing up as Christopher Daniels to fool a crowd. I was in. I was a 15 year old who delighted in underage drinking and even I loved CM Punk. What did CM even stand for? I didn’t even care. After he left ROH following the amazing Summer of Punk, I began to lose interest, I’d stopped watching WWE since Jericho left, TNA was shit and I’d lost another of my favourites.
I started watching again in 2009, I turned on Smackdown and there he was. CM Punk – World Heavyweight Champion. My old favourite from ROH was feuding with Jeff Hardy, it was odd but man was it awesome, he was calling out Hardy on taking Drugs as if it was Homicide. However, then Undertaker returned, buried CM Punk, and my old favourite became a main event whipping boy for John Cena, Big Show and Randy Orton. It was pretty sad.
Then he got his break, and brought us a storyline where CM Punk got to do what the biggest star in company couldn’t do in 1997, leave the WWE with it’s most prestigious title, the WWE Championship. He got to say what no-one had ever been allowed to say before, and in a way that only he could. And then, had an absolutely classic match at Money in the Bank with John Cena. I’m a mark for CM Punk, and that’s why I loved this angle. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Jack Davison is a one-time wrestling skeptic turned casual (and evermore interested) fan. For him, CM Punk represents what makes pro wrestling sublime, and the antidote to what can make it seem a cynical and puerile circus at times:
“It has taken a long time for me to ‘get’ wrestling. As a child I didn’t watch any due to my parents (they simply felt wrestling was a bad influence, probably because of the violence) and through that a resentment grew in me towards wrestling. I never thought I would enjoy it or any of the features that make it what it is, especially when I grew up with many friends who disliked the way it ‘faked’ being a ‘real’ sport. I place emphasis on the words, or what is meant by the words, ‘get‘, ‘fake‘, and ‘real‘, because they are essentially the three aspects that people misunderstand or fail to acknowledge when it comes to professional wrestling.
Now I have a great appreciation for what the pros do, and the intense atmosphere it can create; not only for the fans but wrestlers themselves. CM Punk has only gone on to reiterate that in the most recent weeks.
Even now I still struggle to fully grasp what the professionals try to create outside of the ring, such as the storylines, acting and relationships. While that may seem strange to those who adore wrestling, for someone who would still consider themselves an outsider to the universe it can often be tedious or simply off-puttingly poor. But not with Punk. For the first time ever in my short time period with the world of WWE I have been gripped by the intense verbal aspect (or ’out of the ring aspect’) of Wrestling. For the first time ever I wanted to truly stay up to watch a wrestling match in order to see what would become of Cena and Punk in “Money in the Bank” setting, and it was totally worth my while. The emotion, storyline, and abilities of Punk have shone through and, for myself, have set the bar very high for anybody wanting to make their name in WWE. There are wrestlers I admire, love, dislike, and hate, but Punk has gone on to show the standard I almost now expect throughout all aspects of wrestling entertainment, not just inside the ring. Bring on “The Summer of Punk”. I am waiting to be entertained.”
I think what I would add that, for the first time, possibly ever, I and the rest of the fans feel genuinely connected with a superstar. Punk is consistently (and rather ironically) compared to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and it’s difficult to think of a superstar since Austin’s time who has caused the crowd to erupt with such vigour, even when he isn’t there, but Punk doesn’t use catchphrases that the crowd can repeat back, they just agree with what he says, and shout as loudly as they can for him. Punk has always beat to his own drum, a characteristic which has possibly held him down the ladder somewhat until now; he has for years disregarded what creative tell him to say, and spoke from the heart (of his character). That is one of the main reasons he has been so successful in this role as ‘the voice of the voiceless’ – people believe what he is saying, and connect with it, because they know he is sincere. It’s a special quality, one that only the best ‘sports entertainers’ have, and one which has invited the fans to follow Punk in his quest to reinvigorate the business and be the best that he can be.
It is still early days in this angle, and indeed, some might think it remarkable that a wrestling angle can excite people so much and so vigorously, but that is the power of pro-wrestling at its best, and CM Punk is pro-wrestling at its best. There’s still so much yet to see, but we can hope that this is the beginning of a new ‘real’ or ‘sincere’ era (someone really needs to name it!) in pro wrestling, and we can rest assured that it is the creation of a new and electrifying ‘top guy’ in pro-wrestling. It’s clobberin’ time.
Feel free, of course, to share what you like about the Punk story in the comments, and otherwise, feel more than free to follow me on twitter (@RTVWOW)