As of this writing, CM Punk has been WWE Champion for a total of 357 days.
Cue the cheers. And boos.
If you are a WWE fan, then you likely fall into one of two categories, when it comes to the Chicago-born champ. You either love him or you hate him, and it never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I write about Punk, how vocal both sides of the argument really are.
For those who support CM Punk, he is the quintessential people’s champ. He came up on the independent scene as a hard-working kid with an unassuming look. He was a blue-collar kind of guy who believed in himself and his abilities to the point that he made you take notice.
No matter how annoying he may have been, fans could not help but watch him. They also could not help but keep coming back for more. He had an innate ability to draw you in and make you care about him and the work he was doing in his matches.
He was getting it done on a high level, and he wanted this life. And that drive only intensified over the years, eventually leading him to his current position atop WWE.
Nothing loud, nothing flashy. Just a talented worker who knew he had something to offer. For his fans, CM Punk is the real deal.
For his critics, however, Punk is nothing more than a transitional champion who just ended up with a very long title reign. Capitalizing on the promo that Vince McMahon allowed him to cut, Punk rode the tidal wave of controversy and attention to the very top of the company and the industry.
And, he didn’t deserve to be there.
For the most part, his detractors agree that he’s good in the ring. Despite how much fans may dislike him, there is no denying that he did work his way to WWE and that he deserves a spot for his efforts.
But when they look at Punk, his critics don’t see a talent who deserves to be a top guy. They see a smug, cocky Superstar who is presented as being much better than he is. They believe his routine to be tired, his character to be stale and his lack of star power to be incredibly crippling to the WWE product.
In other words, he’s no John Cena.
Though Cena has been the man for so long in WWE and also certainly has his share of critics, some fans consider him to be much stronger than Punk in many ways.
Simply put, he just seems to be a better draw. Though Punk is beginning to cross over into pop culture, Cena is already there. He is very likable, has charisma and totally embodies the PG era of WWE. He is the proverbial face of the company in every way.
Yet CM Punk remains the WWE Champion, and the crowd is as divided as ever on him.
So, with John Cena waiting in the wings, and the Rock challenging for the title at the Royal Rumble, the fact is that it’s only a matter of time until Punk, the “transitional champion,” makes the transition.
But for me, the big question is, what will WWE look like once it happens?
Again, whether you support Punk or not, there is no denying that the mach quality surrounding the most important title in the business has arguably not been this good in quite some time.
While Punk may not have had the high-profile WrestleMania-caliber matches against legendary Superstars as champion that Cena has had, Punk is a much better technician in the ring. He can have a great match with anyone in the locker room and his unwillingness to follow a mechanical routine keeps him fresh and interesting to watch.
But once Punk drops the belt, what happens then? If Cena is the man to take it from him, then we are right back to where we were before, with John working his typical matches, using his infamous move-set, to gain victory after victory?
Punk’s star next to the Rock admittedly does not burn as bright. Rocky is one of the biggest Superstars that WWE has ever seen and he has done everything there is to do in the company.
But, the Rock has moved on. He’s a Hollywood star now and despite how much spotlight he may be given when he returns, fans know that he will ultimately leave again. He has another life outside of the industry and he will go back to that eventually.
CM Punk’s life—his passion—is pro wrestling. Yes, he may also move on at some point, but he’s still young, in great shape and is still in a prime position in WWE. He has plenty of great matches ahead of him and he is deeply entrenched in the company. He is invested, and he has no reason to go anywhere else.
But perhaps the biggest uncertainty surrounding life after Punk as WWE Champion is whether the company could return to the way it has traditionally done business.
Could we see a return to the land of giants? Big, muscle-bound Superstars who are high impact in the ring and have a larger-than-life persona who Vince McMahon can push to the forefront? Is Ryback a precursor to the traditional WWE archetype?
If so, does that mean that guys like Daniel Bryan may begin to be overlooked once again? If CM Punk opened the door for the smaller, yet very talented WWE Superstar, could we see that door beginning to close once his time at the top is over?
At the end of the day, Vince McMahon and WWE will do whatever it takes to make money. If, internally, Punk is not considered to be big enough or marketable enough in the long run, then he will indeed be replaced by someone who they feel is. That’s how it’s been done before, and there is no reason to believe that they will change now.
But for me, it’s very hard to picture life after Punk as WWE Champion. He’s done so much for that championship and for the company. Anyone who comes afterward has some big shoes to fill.
Cue the cheers, and boos, once again.