One of the biggest complaints among WWE fans over the past several years has been the company's reluctance to commit to a long-term WWE Championship reign. Now that the WWE has finally done precisely that with CM Punk, however, many are calling for a change and it proves that what fans say they want and what they actually want are two different things.
It obviously isn't possible to account for every fan as there are some who enjoy Punk's reign, some who hate it and some who are indifferent toward it, but the outpouring of Punk detractors has definitely been palpable over the past several months.
Do Punk's detractors dislike him or long title reigns?
Prior to Punk winning the WWE Championship at Survivor Series last year, the overwhelming sentiment was that Punk was being misused. He beat John Cena for the title at Money in the Bank only to drop it to Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam as the Mexican Aristocrat cashed in his Money in the Bank contract.
Punk then lost to Triple H at Night of Champions and took the fall at Vengeance as he and Triple H lost a tag-team match to The Miz and R-Truth. Most fans believed that Punk was being "buried" and treated unfairly, but the tune changed quickly once he beat Del Rio for the gold at Survivor Series.
Fans were initially happy and seemed to enjoy the vast majority of his title reign until he turned heel on the 1,000th episode of RAW. Opposition has mounted against Punk within the WWE Universe since then and I simply can't understand the reasoning behind it. In a lot of ways, the WWE fanbase has been extremely hypocritical when it comes to Punk.
The most glaring example is the case of long title reigns. Prior to Punk's current run with the title, a superstar hadn't held the WWE Championship for longer than a year since Cena from late 2006 until late 2007. The fact that there were some obvious grumblings during that reign should have been a clue that fans don't actually want long title runs, but I attributed it to people being tired of Cena.
I'd like to believe that there is some complex reason for the vitriol being spewed in Punk's direction right now, but the fact of the matter is that wrestling fans are generally impatient. They love the idea of long title reigns because they were pulled off successfully in the past and have almost been non-existent since the early 1990s, but all they do when they finally receive what they had been begging for is complain.
Bruno Sammartino has two of the four longest WWE Championship reigns in the company's history as he held the title for 2,803 days from 1963 to 1971 and for 1,237 days from 1973 until 1977. Despite the fact that he dominated the title scene, fans loved him and there was very little backlash, if any. All told, he held the WWE Championship for over 11 years of his career and he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time because of that.
Punk has held the title for just barely more than a year and fans are already bored with him. Perhaps that's an indictment of the way wrestling fans themselves have changed over the years, or maybe it's simply a microcosm of the time we live in compared to the 1960s and 1970s. We are used to instant gratification and there are very few things that people are willing to wait a year for, including title reigns in wrestling apparently.
Rather than the offending fans simply admitting that they have no patience, they choose to rationalize their dismay with Punk's title reign by calling him boring or repetitive. Feeling as though something is boring is obviously a personal opinion, and I can't change the way people think, but it's very easy to argue against such a shoddy point.
Punk's title reign has been anything but boring. He has had compelling feuds and multiple top-notch matches with the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and John Cena among others. While his program with Ryback hasn't lived up to the others in terms of in-ring work, the involvement of The Shield has made it intriguing at the very least.
On top of that, Punk's year-long title reign has essentially been split into two very different reigns. The Punk from Survivor Series 2011 until RAW 1,000 is markedly different than the one from RAW 1,000 to what we're seeing now. It's very rare for someone to turn in the middle of a lengthy WWE Championship run, but Punk did it and he did it successfully.
We have gotten a little bit of everything during Punk's year with the belt and it wouldn't be unfair to call it one of the most eventful reigns in the past 20 years. Punk has provided excellent matches and spectacular promos. He served as the hottest face in the company and won matches cleanly during that time. Now he's the hottest heel in the company and is finding alternative ways to win. Punk has delivered something for everyone, but you simply can't please everyone.
I have quickly come to the realization that today's wrestling fans cannot handle title reigns exceeding six months regardless of what they say. They didn't like when Cena held the belt for a year and I attributed that to him being universally hated by Internet fans. Those same Internet fans who lauded CM Punk for so many years are now turning on him, though, in favor of the guy who they previously despised.
It's definitely a difficult dynamic to explain and understand, but the Internet wrestling community has never exactly been consistent. Whether the most hated guy in the IWC or the most beloved guy in the IWC holds the WWE Championship for a significant amount of time, there is eventually a boiling point that causes some people to throw logic to the wind and demand change.
The WWE Championship lost a lot of prestige over the years, thanks in large part to the constant pin-balling it did from one superstar to another during the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. The WWE is trying to do something special to make the belt mean something again and it has done a great job of it as Punk's entire character is based on wanting to keep the title. Despite that, detractors remain.
Although Punk may very well lose the WWE Championship to The Rock at Royal Rumble or to somebody else at WrestleMania, I'd love to see his reign last well into 2013. It's not because I'm a Punk "mark" or "fanboy" as some of those who disagree, yet lack proper ammo, suggest. It's because I fully realize how beneficial an extremely long reign can be for the WWE Championship and I understand that fans will look back on it 20 years from now as a pivotal turning point in the meaning of the company's top title.
Punk will eventually drop the title, though, and his doubters will rejoice. Then they'll swear to the rest of us that they were unhappy with the man holding the belt and not the amount of time that he wore it. As the circle of life suggests in wrestling, however, they'll inevitably be calling for the head of the new titleholder before long.
The very basis of the wrestling business was built on long title reigns and patience, and while many like to blame the WWE for doing away with both, it is actually the company's fanbase that is primarily to blame.