CM Punk's name flooded the arena on Monday's WWE Raw, giving voice to fan displeasure that the company unwisely ignored.
The show should have been a celebration of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton's fantastic match, Emma's debut and excitement building for The Shield and The Wyatt Family's bout at Elimination Chamber. Instead, the post-Raw narrative is going to be about unhappy fans and Punk's absence, something WWE only made worse by not addressing the issue.
Fans in Omaha, Neb., chanted loudly and passionately for Punk on the first Raw since word of him quitting surfaced. Orton had to hurry through his speech, Stephanie McMahon was barely audible at one point and several of the night's matches had Punk chants as their soundtracks.
Vince McMahon and company couldn't just whip Punk out of a hat, of course, but it was a mistake to just trudge ahead with no mention of why he was not around.
WWE simply went on as if it were any other episode of the show. Orton opened the night talking about being the best of this generation or any other. The Omaha fans made it clear that this was far from what they wanted to hear.
The maddened response to the situation is something WWE should have seen coming. At an NXT taping earlier in the week, fans hijacked the show with chants and signs in support of Punk, per PWInsider.com.
Apparently, officials didn't believe that Omaha fans would respond in similar fashion.
PWInsider, via WrestlingInc.com,
WWE's production team is well aware that there might be CM Punk chants at tonight's RAW from Omaha but they expect it to be more of a problem when they get closer to the Northeast part of the country and actually in Chicago. They don't see Omaha as a hotbed of "internet fans."
Omaha fans proved WWE wrong. Punk is not just a favorite of "Internet fans." He's a top star that fans were upset to see go.
There is nothing WWE could have done to fully appease them, but its approach to the situation was the wrong move. His absence could have been worked in as a storyline, saying that Punk quit because he was tired of dealing with The Authority.
After all, it's been just over a week since Kane eliminated Punk from the Royal Rumble and sent him through an announce table.
Had Triple H began the show by saying that he was glad to see Punk go, it would have turned fans' anger into heat on him and The Authority in general. That would have at least allowed fans a place to channel their frustration.
B/R's own Justin LaBar offered an alternative approach.
Going the route WWE chose didn't work. Punk chants continued throughout much of the night, taking focus away from everything onscreen.
Taking away fans' signs didn't help either. WrestleZone.com reports that "numerous CM Punk fan signs were being confiscated" at Monday's Raw.
The folks at The Nick & Bryan Show were among many who found this shot of a fan making fun of the situation.
WWE is likely just hoping that this backlash will simmer down eventually. Before the company wishes Punk luck on his future endeavors, officials are surely holding out hope that someone can talk Punk into coming back. In the meantime, WWE has to say something.
As it stands, there is a strange feeling floating in the air. It's a feeling that goes beyond fans apparently.
PWInsider, via WrestlingInc.com, reported the following:
Morale was low backstage at last night's RAW. There was a feeling among wrestlers that Punk walking out was going to be a loss for the whole locker room since he's always speaking up for everyone. There was also a feeling that as much talk as there has been about potential WrestleMania XXX creative changes in the past week, there wasn't any real sign of that.
WWE clearly needs to have a discussing regarding the Punk situation to the other Superstars. Something as simple as "We value and respect Punk and are working to patch things up and get him back" would suffice.
Otherwise, a silent approach to Punk's departure seems to say that the machine will go on with or without any individual part. There's an uncaring element to that statement even with as much truth as it holds.
WWE spends so much effort trying to get fans attached to wrestlers. When it succeeds, it makes seeing someone leave an emotional experience. The company had a tough task in dealing with that, but not acknowledging it at all was a failure.