For the WWE, the post-WrestleMania season is most definitely a period of change.
The record-breaking revenues that the iconic show brings are naturally followed by a cyclical decline, and thus the company must act fast in order to limit the damage.
Dubbed the “WrestleMania Hangover” in The Masked Man’s highly entertaining piece for Grantland, these post-‘Mania blues were in danger of striking again this year after the sizeable exodus of part-timers who had featured so prominently in the pay-per-view’s build.
So what tactic have the WWE resorted to in a bid to soften the blow and ease this WrestleMania hangover?
Character turns, and plenty of them.
Since the Showcase of the Immortals, we have witnessed at least five noteworthy gimmick tweaks—many of which have involved some of the company’s biggest stars.
The likes of CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, Ryback and, of course, Curtis Axel have all seen their personas altered to varying degrees and have each found themselves thrust into Championship or main-event scenes.
But how successful have these character changes been thus far? And furthermore, what kind of potential do they hold as we move forward into the summer months and beyond?
Over the coming days, this series of articles will take a closer look at this recent trend and attempt to answer these questions. We'll be identifying and analyzing only the most notable character changes instigated by WWE over the past few weeks, starting with the recently returning CM Punk.
Returning at Payback in front of his hometown Chicago crowd, CM Punk was only ever going to receive one type of reaction at the Allstate Arena last weekend.
Thankfully the WWE acknowledged and embraced this, letting Punk go out there and put on a great show for the crowd—but they didn’t stop there.
The writers have persisted with this face push, and judging by the reaction the former WWE Champion got on Raw this past Monday, his heel days seem to be long forgotten.
He even went on to distance himself from Paul Heyman and looks set for a summer showdown with Brock Lesnar: arguably two of the biggest heels in the entire company. If that doesn't make Punk a face, then I'm not sure what does.
It may still be the early days, but a lengthy run as a fan favorite looks to be very much in the cards for CM Punk.
As previously stated, Punk’s face turn is still very much in its embryonic stages—thus it is difficult to pass judgement.
Nonetheless, the fans have taken to Punk very well since his return as a good-guy at Payback against Chris Jericho.
The biggest question here though was always going to be how a crowd outside of Chicago would react to the Second City Saint. But in Michigan on Monday night there was another rousing reception for the Straightedge Superstar, suggesting that the face turn will indeed prove to be a success.
The change has no doubt been helped by WWE’s smart booking in having Punk ditch Heyman and subsequently receive an F-5 at the hands of Brock Lesnar; so props to the writers with that one.
Though we’ve only got two televised appearances to base a judgement on, in my eyes, Punk’s face turn has got off to a pretty darn good start.
Turning Punk face opens up a whole world of opportunities—the most obvious being his probable feud with Brock Lesnar.
With both men being Paul Heyman guys, this rivalry has the perfect back-story to make it one of the better feuds of the year—providing the WWE can book it effectively, of course.
Furthermore, it essentially rules out the possibility of Punk vs. Cena anytime soon.
Although these two have put on some excellent displays thus far, there are plenty of other options available for each man to pursue. Thus, for sake of variation, perhaps these alternatives would be a better choice than yet another rematch between the old adversaries.
Other potential rivals for Punk as a face include the likes of Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett, both of whom are in dire need of a big career victory to help put them over as top heels. And of course, what about the odds of eventually having The Shield set their sights on Punk?
A showdown with Dean Ambrose would be an IWC fan’s dream, although, truth be told, a match with any member of the faction would no doubt be entertaining and a huge breath of fresh air.
However, there is one drawback to consider in all this.
Throughout Punk’s previous run as a face, he never managed to become the “top dog” so to speak, instead forever living in the shadow of the aforementioned Cena.
And with the current WWE Champion showing no signs of slowing down, it appears highly unlikely that Punk will dislodge Cena as the company’s top face any time soon.
Thus, will Punk simply become another run-of-the-mill face in the same way that the likes of Sheamus and Randy Orton did after their face turns?
Who knows, but with Cena so dominant in his role as the top babyface there is a real risk of Punk having to settle for a spot in the background once more.
While this may not be disastrous for the company as a whole, is it really a worthwhile swap to sacrifice your best heel in exchange for a second-tier face?
Though there may prove to be something of a glass ceiling for Punk as a face, the short-term opportunities that his turn provides us with are vast.
Already we are seeing the foundations being set for an epic showdown with Brock Lesnar, while there is the potential for many more new rivalries to be pursued in the following months.
From this perspective, Punk’s face turn could well be considered a positive move for the WWE.
However the long-term options are rather more limited. As a face, Punk may never possess the kind of monopoly power that he did as a heel as it seems highly unlikely that he will dethrone Cena anytime soon.
This may not be as much of an issue as I’m making out, but it certainly begs the question over whether or not he could be better utilized as a heel.
Nonetheless, the short-term avenues that this move opens are enough to convince me of the merits of a CM Punk face turn.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series where we will we discuss another of the WWE's recent character turns.
But until then, please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the article and the topic itself, as well as which of the aforementioned stars you'd like to see featured in the next installment of this series.