Chicago has always been one of the best cities for WWE events, featuring some of the most vocal and passionate fans in the world. They've gotten even better as native Chicagoan CM Punk has risen to the top of WWE as the first real hometown wrestling hero they've had in many years.
Fortunately, to WWE's credit, it realized a few years ago that CM Punk's connection with his hometown fans in Chicago is a truly special one and has booked him accordingly when it has visited the city.
Unfortunately, I needed to add that "to WWE's credit" qualifier there.
The old-school way of booking hometown heroes was to keep them strong in order to bring back the local fans, especially since in the territory era, most promotions ran their towns weekly or biweekly, with a few like WWE running once a month. If they got beaten down, they got the glory of getting revenge at the next card.
Nowadays, it's a lot different. When WWE first expanded nationally, the presentation of the wrestlers as larger-than-life superhero types meant that even though wrestlers' hometowns were announced, nobody was really identified with them.
Eventually, in the mid-90s, as the style moved toward the wrestlers being presented as human beings, it shifted: While most cities were only being visited a few times a year, the idea of hometown stars started to be emphasized more to make shows into bigger events. In 1997, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, the top two stars in the company at the time, both headlined pay-per-view events built around being in their hometowns—Royal Rumble at San Antonio's Alamo Dome and In Your House: Canadian Stampede at Calgary's Saddledome, respectively.
About a decade ago, the current policy took effect: Hometown babyfaces would almost always lose and/or be beaten down in their hometowns. The idea is that it gets great heat on the heels, which will make the fans (especially the locals) pay to see the babyface get his revenge.
It's a reasonably sound idea in theory. In reality, though, it doesn't necessarily work that way. Since WWE only comes to most cities twice a year (with larger markets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago getting more visits, especially counting suburbs), when you come to a city that infrequently, fans don't get angry at the heel for being dastardly; they get angry at the promotion for doing this during one of the few times they can see WWE live.
Jim Ross and CM Punk are probably the opposite ends of the spectrum of how you can expect WWE talent to be booked in their hometowns. Raw shows in Oklahoma were uncomfortable to watch for years because something awful would always happen to Ross.
Most recently, he was "fired" as an announcer by John Laurinaitis in October 2011 in an angle he was not told about in advance while his wife was sitting in the crowd. Afterwards, a WWE.com cameraman followed him backstage to ask if it was true that Laurinaitis was better looking than him.
At the time, Dave Meltzer wrote in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (F4WOnline subscribers only link) that "he had no idea he was being fired, and it was pretty clear [Jerry] Lawler didn’t either." He added that "it wasn’t even in the script when the show started, and the number of people who knew about it was small."
Most infamously, it was in Oklahoma that he was the second person inducted into Vince McMahon's "Kiss My Ass Club" in 2001 and the first one who did so "involuntarily." If you weren't around then, it's pretty self-explanatory. Well, except for the part where The Undertaker turned heel by declaring himself to be an ass-kisser, and then Vince McMahon danced around the ring with his pants around his ankles while wearing Ross's hat.
While Punk has lost in Chicago, it was mostly before he was a bona fide main eventer, as he hasn't come out on the losing end of a match or angle in the city since before his WWE Championship win at the 2011 Money in the Bank PPV. Even before then, while he did lose in Chicago occasionally, including to Chris Jericho in his homecoming during his first reign as World Heavyweight champion, he had a lot more hometown bright spots than most.
One of the pre-"pipe bomb" highlights of his WWE run was his Intercontinental Championship win over William Regal where he entered the Allstate Arena draped in the Chicago flag.
With all of that in mind, I would not worry too much about what happens to Punk on Raw tonight. Ever since Money in the Bank 2011, when it seemed like WWE was fully aware the fans could riot if he didn't leave as champion, he's been booked exactly as he should be. On top of all that, there are a couple things that make it even less likely than it would be normally:
- Punk and Paul Heyman have clearly had major input into their feud since it started, so they clearly have enough power to veto something that would deflate the fans.
- WWE just had a hometown star brutalized in front of his family last week when Randy Orton injured The Miz's "thorax" (I think they meant larynx, but let's roll with it) in Cleveland. To do a similar angle the following week with Punk is not really WWE's style.
When Raw goes on the air tonight, you can breathe a little easier and just try to enjoy the show. Since they're in Chicago and it's impossible to have a bad show in front of those fans nowadays, that should be easy.
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