Most people in the wrestling business are out to make a name for themselves and blaze their own trail, but being compared to a former great is never a bad thing. Current WWE Champion CM Punk is unique in many ways, but one past great he reminds me of is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
That isn't to say that Punk has stolen anything from Piper nor that he is trying to emulate Piper, but many parallels can be drawn between the two of them. The most obvious strength that they both have always had is the ability to captivate the audience on the mic.
Piper was probably the best promo man of his time, and many consider him to be the greatest of all time in that regard. His Piper's Pit segments were the stuff of legend, and he is one of the big reasons why being able to speak and fire up the audience is just as important as actual wrestling ability nowadays.
Hot Rod was a heel throughout the early part of his career, and while he was hated by many due to his famous feud with Hulk Hogan, he had a legion of fans in his own right. It was very rare for fans to support heels in the 1980s, but Piper made being a heel cool and smashed wrestling norms to some degree.
The same can be said for Punk, as he is constantly cheered despite his heel tactics. Punk, like Piper, is simply so entertaining on the mic that it is difficult to despise him. That ultimately led to Piper becoming a face, and the same was true of Punk, although he reverted to his heel status on the 1,000th episode of RAW and has been establishing himself ever since.
While Punk's feud with John Cena still has a lot of developing to do, you could say that he is to Cena what Piper was to Hogan. While Hogan was favored in every feud by the fans, there were definitely legions of fans that supported Piper. Crowd reaction is a bit more split for Cena than it was for Hogan in the '80s, but he is generally beloved as well. Even so, Punk may be more universally liked as a heel.
There aren't many guys in the history of professional wrestling who have been able to thrive as both a heel and a face, but Piper and Punk are two guys who have. Piper wasn't as entertaining as a face as he was during his time as the WWE's top heel, but the fans were absolutely crazy for him, and he was easily one of the most over wrestlers in the company.
Punk has been heel a bit more than he has been face, and I believe he is more compelling as a heel, but there is no denying the success he had from last year's pipe-bomb promo until the 1,000th episode of RAW. Punk went from a guy who was generally liked by Internet fans to the No. 2 superstar in the company with fans from all age groups as a face.
Piper and Punk are both so entertaining that they transcend face or heel status, and that is what makes each of them such special performers. The vast majority of superstars currently and during Piper's heyday struggled to get over regardless of their gimmick or whether they were heel or face, but both Piper and Punk have the special ability to make fans hang on their every word.
The only glaring difference between Piper and Punk is in-ring ability. Piper wasn't a technical marvel by any means, as his maneuvers were meant to either garner him heat as a heel or get the crowd going in a positive way as a face. Punk, on the other hand, may very well be the best in-ring worker in the business, so he is truly the total package.
Ultimately, Piper is always going to be Piper and Punk is always going to be Punk, but I doubt that they would be against getting compared to each other. Punk has probably always striven to be like Piper in some respect, and I'm sure that Piper has hoped that a guy like Punk would carry on his legacy in some way.
Piper is one of the all-time greats, and Punk is well on his way to being one as well, so they'll likely be mentioned in the same breath by wrestling fans for years to come.