Examining CM Punk's Direction, Upside and Long-Term Potential
Some wrestlers just hope for a touch of greatness on their fingertips, but CM Punk's career will see him dive into it.
A champion, a headliner and a fighter, Punk can either end the arc of his career in a few short years or battle on and enter an elite group populated by icons.
As to the present, Punk's current direction is bound to shift soon.
He's made a habit of evolving, going from a messiah-type leader of the Straight Edge Society to a despicable villain with no qualms about disrespecting Paul Bearer. His ability to shape shift before the audience gets bored will be his ticket to remaining relevant for years to come.
While Daniel Bryan and Triple H's feud involves everyone from Justin Gabriel to Dusty Rhodes, Punk resides on another narrative path altogether.
He's earned the right to have his own story, a hate-filled rivalry with Paul Heyman that requires no championship to be high-profile. As a sufferer and seeker of vengeance, Punk has thrived in this feud.
The audience has been treated to excellent wrestling when Punk takes on Heyman's clients, be it Brock Lesnar or Curtis Axel. It's also been an opportunity for Punk to further showcase his abilities on the mic.
Randy Savage and Steve Austin were both able to remain marquee players without a championship on the line. Savage did it against Jake Roberts in 1991, and Austin did it with Bret Hart in 1997. Punk is the successor to both men.
He's the talented worker who clashed with the company's biggest star like Savage and a rebel who does things in a unique and compelling way as Austin once did.
The question is, can Punk slide past either man in the all-time rankings?
WWE Alum Fan Club
The folks cheering in arenas around the country aren't the only ones who are big fans of Punk; the industry is as well.
Sid Vicious tweeted about the quality of Punk's matches.
Vicious isn't just a fan blind with love here, he's noting the skill that elevates Punk into the discussion of the all-time greats. His growing list of classic bouts is building a case for his entry into the Hall of Fame and beyond that, the upper echelon of WWE history.
Lex Luger remarked on Punk's abilities as well.
When asked about who is the best at the moment, X-Pac (Sean Waltman) had a single man on his list.
Punk has long shown us that he's one of the best of his generation, but has the wrestling acumen to force us to remove the "of his generation" part of that sentiment.
A Surplus of Classics
One can't expect Punk to improve much on his in-ring work. He's in his prime, knocking home runs out of the park and it's hard to imagine him somehow elevating his wrestling ability at this stage of his career.
He's fluid in the ring, innovative and a ring general who tells a fantastic story between the ropes.
The legacy he builds from here on out will depend on how long he continues to perform and how often he steals the show. At 34 years old, Punk conceivably has nearly a decade of quality wrestling left ahead of him.
If injuries don't slow him down, he might shut himself down.
Punk implied on Twitter that he would retire in 2015.
He also once said in an interview, via WrestleZone.com, that he wouldn't be a WWE lifer. Should Punk not like the direction WWE is taking him, feel too beat up or simply gets bored, he could hang up his boots long before his body gives out.
Should he stick around for a career that ends in his early '40s, expect a number of Match of the Year awards to line his mantel.
Think of the best matches of 2013 and Punk's name comes up again and again; Punk vs. Undertaker WrestleMania 29, Punk vs. John Cena on Raw from February 25, Punk vs. Lesnar at SummerSlam.
Here's his ticket to ultimate greatness.
Shawn Michaels began to hog the Match of the Year award year after year, and Punk could go on a similar run. He has good chemistry with just about everyone from Alberto Del Rio to Chris Jericho.
So many of his bouts have stolen the show and felt like the main event regardless of their placement on their card. The more he does this going forward, the easier it is to argue his place alongside the biggest legends of the business.
Punk is a fantastic storyteller in and out of the ring.
When WWE needs someone to fill a 10-minute chunk of Raw, it can confidently send Punk out to spout about his latest enemy. Few men have been as magnetic and sharp-tongued as Punk.
His feud with Heyman has given him the stage to showcase his anger, wit and hurt.
This is the kind of promo Punk gives on a regular basis. He continually proves to be one of the best talkers in company history. The longer Punk sticks around, the more fantastic mic performances will fill his resume.
That ability can put him in marquee feuds with men not as gifted verbally. Like the way a veteran wrestler can lead a rookie in the ring, Punk can do the same against the great wrestlers who just can't talk.
That will lead to WWE sliding him around from foe to foe, being the one to face Tyson Kidd or Jack Swagger. Both his ring skills and mic work make him an ideal candidate to be pitted against big name part-timers like The Rock as well.
Like his growing collection of classic matches, the more compelling feuds he amasses, the closer he'll get to his ceiling.
Punk will earn a handful of additional reigns as WWE and world champ if he doesn't pull a Barry Sanders and leave too soon. He'll win a Royal Rumble simply because he's too big of a star not to eventually earn that honor.
His true long-term potential is more about climbing the list of all-time greats, though.
As his outstanding matches and dazzling mic performances accumulate, he will eventually find himself considered one of the top 12 greatest WWE Superstars ever. He didn't have the impact on the business that Hulk Hogan or Austin did, who both caused WWE to explode in popularity, so he won't top them.
If Punk remains a top guy for another five or six years and adds numerous classics along the way, the debate against him joining Savage, Bret Hart and Bruno Sammartino in the pantheon of legends will be harder and harder to make.
The Hall of Fame already awaits him, his ceiling is breaking into the top tier of Hall of Famers.
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