The Night of Champions main event between CM Punk and John Cena for the WWE Championship will offer a very interesting dynamic, as it will be contested in front of Cena's hometown crowd in Boston.
Despite that home-field advantage, however, Punk will still receive a favorable reaction.
Over the past several weeks, the WWE has done everything possible to get Punk heel heat, as he has attacked Jerry "The King" Lawler, aligned himself with Paul Heyman and insulted Bret "Hitman" Hart in his home country of Canada. All of those things have worked to some degree, but making a superstar universally hated is a long process.
What type of crowd reaction will CM Punk receive at Night of Champions?
Pitting him against the face of the company in Cena would normally accomplish that, but the issue is that about half of the fans who attend WWE events are anti-Cena and pro-Punk, regardless of heel or face status. You could argue that the Boston fans will make up for that, but Cena has been booed in his hometown in the past, so I'm not sure why things will be different this time.
Things have changed in wrestling and it is no longer strange to boo faces and cheer heels.
Punk was the second-most popular guy in the company as the face WWE champion two months ago, so doing a few dastardly things and turning heel isn't really going to change anything. Cena is still the most popular guy in the company, but the slight minority of Punk fans generally drowns out the women and children who support Cena.
The atmosphere would certainly be better if things went according to common sense, with the fans supporting Cena and banding against Punk, but this isn't 1985. We have to accept that times have changed when it comes to wrestling and that the line between heel and face is much finer than it used to be.
Heels such as Punk get face reactions much of the time, while a guy like Cena gets a heel reaction. It defies the logic that we have all been brought up on while following wrestling, but it's part of the evolution of the business.
Things constantly change in wrestling and this is yet another example of that being true.
I'm honestly not sure there is anything that the writers can do at this point to get the fans to turn against Punk. Having him dress down Hart in Canada worked north of the border, but I doubt that it's going to translate to Boston.
Also, fans are pretty much split down the middle when it comes to Cena, so basically any heel would probably get a favorable reaction.
The only thing that I can see fully establishing Punk as a hated heel is a feud with The Rock. Many Internet fans have a ridiculous vendetta against The Rock, but the core fanbase still absolutely adores him. There is a reason why he gets a bigger pop than anyone every time he makes an appearance and that is because he is truly the company's top face—even if he only appears a few times a year.
Although nothing is set in stone, it certainly seems to me like Punk vs. The Rock is being set up for Royal Rumble and that could be what truly puts Punk over the top as a heel. Especially if he finds a way to screw The Rock out of a win.
That isn't to say that the Boston crowd will totally be in favor of Punk, since Cena is going to have his supporters too, but I'm expecting something close to a 50/50 split. When Punk faced Cena at Money in the Bank in Chicago last year, the crowd was incredibly partisan, but I don't expect that to be the case in Boston.
Crowd reactions are an important part of professional wrestling, but I feel like we get a little too wrapped up in them sometimes. If Punk wins in a dastardly way, as I suspect he will, he'll get the requisite heat and that is really all that matters.