CM Punk is shaping the WWE’s future by changing the idea of the modern-day wrestler. Love him or hate him, the WWE is taking notice.
With his reality-based persona and non-wrestler appearance, Punk is redefining what the top performers in the company look and act like. The changes he is pushing reflect a changing fan base, one that isn’t content with superhero wrestlers anymore or being treated like idiots.
Punk is an engaging heel. Far too many heels in WWE history (and in the current product) shy away from the hard stuff. In typical storyline fashion, they are cowards at heart, who will lie and cheat to keep their status.
While not the first guy to blend reality and wrestling, Punk has turned it into an art form. He’s not above calling a guy out based on real facts. He did this with The Rock, concerning Rock not doing any house shows.
With today’s instant gratification and insider knowledge at the push of a button, Punk using real life issues makes the product more vibrant and edgy. With so much of known about how wrestling backstage functions, the blending of reality Punk does makes it a show once again.
Punk is also changing the way superstars are perceived.
He doesn’t exactly scream professional wrestler. He could pass as a tattooed average Joe walking down the street.
In an interview with The Daily Star, Hulk Hogan said in his day he was a medium-sized guy, even though he weighed around 330 pounds. He acknowledged that as the years have progressed, the size of wrestlers has shrunk.
Men like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart helped to popularize the movement to smaller guys who could pull off amazing moves. But even those guys had poster-boy looks. Michaels was the clean-cut, sexy boy with the charming smile. Hart too had a clean wholesome look; he could have been on any mainstream talk show and promoted the WWE as family values entertainment.
But Punk isn’t like that. Yes, he’s straight edge and drug free, both of which fit the WWE nicely. But he doesn’t appear wholesome. He doesn’t look like an athlete. He doesn’t seem like a guy who has people cheering for him.
But he is and he does.
Punk is a polarizing figure. A quick look at any wrestling forum will show fans either love him or hate him, but he embraces the changing standards and tastes of the WWE audience.
Gone are the days when fans accepted wrestlers as superheroes who were immune to every punch and kick thrown by their opponents. Even larger than life personas on toady’s roster are more human; guys like Kane and The Undertaker aren’t above suffering pain.
Gone too are the days when fans are ignorant of the insider workings of the product.
It translates to wanting wrestlers who are more real, more realistically the guy to share a beer with. To having truth mixed in with the tales to give authenticity. To be able to relate to the men and women in the ring.
To essentially take wrestling back to when everyone thought it was real.
Punk isn’t the first to push the boundaries and the rules of the sport. Roddy Piper did it the early ‘80s. Brain Pillman did it too in the ‘90s. But the difference is Punk is taking that pushing and reality bending and is using it to help shape WWE’s future.
With television, the Internet, mobile devices and any other modern-day convenience, Punk has a platform for change bigger than anyone else in the history of the sport.