CM Punk excelled as a WWE villain, but he was just too popular to turn his cheers into boos on a consistent basis.
With his relationship with Paul Heyman splintering and a clash with Brock Lesnar on the horizon, it appears that Punk is well on his way to becoming an official fan favorite once again. Even at the peak of his wickedness during his latest heel run, Punk couldn't seem to turn the crowd against him.
Part of that has to be blamed on the state of kayfabe in today's wrestling.
Had Punk wrestled in the '60s and cheated to keep his WWE title the way he did, and had he insulted the crowd then as mercilessly as he did in the last few months, he would likely have had debris thrown at him and death threats sent his way.
Today, fans know that Punk is just playing a character.
The more dastardly he got, the more the appreciation for him deepened. In the old days, he'd be hated for the bad things he did on screen. At present, he is loved for how well he did them.
Punk hit the lows of his villainy during the buildup to his WrestleMania 29 match against The Undertaker. He did everything imaginable to draw heat onto himself.
Yet when he arrived for his match against The Undertaker, he received a hero's welcome.
Listen to this fan-made video of Punk's WrestleMania entrance.
It's hard to hear even a single boo here. The crowd howled in approval for the bad guy.
You'd expect this reaction to Punk despite his heel status in his hometown, but there were many cities that chose to ignore Punk's evil ways and cheer for him. He was General Zod getting Superman-like cheers.
It didn't matter what evil deeds Punk had done during this feud. Fans were still behind him.
WWE fan Jen was one of many pulling for Punk vs. Taker.
Even NFL defensive lineman Adam Carriker was in Punk's corner.
Fans didn't cheer Ivan Koloff when he went up against Bruno Sammartino. Hulk Hogan's enemies weren’t treated like the good guy. Punk’s popularity and the era in which he wrestles has things flipped around.
Punk directly attacked the fans and they still cheered for him.
In a promo in January, Punk talked about beating every challenger he'd faced and said, "In your face, jerks." He called the fans "losers" and referred to their kids as "filthy, ugly little children."
Still, any WWE show one went to was filled with yellow "Go to Sleep" T-shirts and pro-Punk signs. Most fans never seethed at Punk, no matter what he said or did.
Punk did a fantastic job at being slimy and despicable, but couldn't snuff out the esteem the audience held for him.
Having him slide back into a face role is wise then. If the insults he threw out and the maliciousness he committed couldn't get fans to turn on him, maybe nothing would.
He can now once again become the undersized rebel that so many fans embraced and not have to fight the unending waves of cheers he tried so hard to end.