WWE and CM Punk: The Benefits of Coating Wrestling with Realism
The wrestling world, as of today, is completely and utterly enamored with one man.
After the events of WWE's Money In The Bank pay-per-view, every fan of WWE is sitting on pins and needles, waiting impatiently to see what happens next in the saga involving WWE and CM Punk.
July 17th 2011, CM Punk defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship.
Punk won his fourth World Championship in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. If that was the most notable thing that happened on that night, then I seriously doubt we as wrestling fans would be this interested in this story line.
You see, it has been long-rumored over the past several months that CM Punk was leaving WWE for good. The fact that he could possibly defeat WWE Champion John Cena and leave with Vince McMahon's Holy Grail has had fans completely captivated.
On top of that, McMahon vowed to fire Cena if he couldn't defeat Punk.
The fact that the events leading up to this Championship win have felt so "real" is a huge reason so many people have gotten behind CM Punk and this story arc.
The added dose of realism into the WWE product via CM Punk and John Cena's feud really generated interest in WWE among the smug Internet wrestling critics.
The promo that CM Punk cut at the end of Raw on June 27th, 2011 left people shocked and wondering just what this signified.
The promo felt "real," and everything Punk has said and done since then has felt so much more relatable than all of the cartoon-like characters that make up the "WWE Universe."
Fans have been hanging on Punk's every word.
In many ways, this is why Stone Cold Steve Austin found success back in the late 1990s.
He was surrounded by cartoons and caricatures, so instead he made himself the pissed-off rebel. Punk has taken this concept and flipped it on it's head.
Realism has been a part of wrestling for a long time. In fact, that was what the "Attitude Era" of WWE was based on.
Paul Heyman's ECW was built on the fact that all the story lines were kept close to reality.
WWE has spent the past 25 years alternating with the times.
How do you think realistic story-telling could benefit wrestling?
In the 1980s and the early 1990s, a majority of WWE's characters were based on fantasy. Eveyone's gimmick was sensationalized and over-the-top.
However, in the late 1990s, the characters got darker and edgier. The stars of the "Attitude Era" were more vicious and realistic. That's what the fans wanted.
In the late 1990s, characters like Triple H, Steve Austin, Undertaker and countless others were the reason WWE managed to get out of their mid-90s slump and eventually overtake WCW for good.
I believe they succeeded in this because the fans were enthralled with the content that WWE was putting out due to the more realistic and interesting characters (obviously Undertaker has never been a realistic character).
Fans felt connected to the characters who were on their television screens.
Maybe the reason that WWE's numbers are down across the board in 2011 is because people are bored with the over-produced product that WWE has been putting out the past couple of years.
Maybe people feel disengaged by the childish environment that WWE now presents.
WWE is making their business a family-friendly one, keeping their nose clean with the government. There is a reason the word "wrestling" is a dirty word in WWE.
It's because sports require regulation. Entertainment? Not so much.
By changing WWE's product to a kid-friendly one, they are losing the interest of the truly devoted fans.
However, it seems just as WWE was about to forsake all of us, McMahon reeled us back in with the realistic, suspenseful and winding story that has been CM Punk's departure.
As of this writing, Punk is still the WWE Champion (or at least he still has the WWE Championship belt).
However, I have a sick feeling that his reign as WWE Champion will be a short one. One thing never changes in wrestling: the heel never gets the last laugh.
However, since this all began, Punk has transitioned from heel to anti-hero.
While this story line might be coming to a close soon, I hope WWE realizes how much interest this has brought to their product, TV shows and the Money In the Bank event.
I hope they take notice and apply this hint of realism to their overall product.
When it comes to wrestling, people can only suspend their disbelief for sheer moments in time. The rest of the time, McMahon's job is to keep us connected. He has to do this by making the most realistic, believable characters he possibly can.
CM Punk's tirade should serve as an example.
Look what a little creative writing and smart booking will do. It has been months since I have been this interested in the product. People are singing the praises of Punk, McMahon and all the writers and people behind this story line.
However, this should not be a special treat that we get every-so-often.
It seems like every summer, McMahon pulls out one big trick to keep us all engaged. Back in 2008 it was the Shawn Michaels and Chis Jericho feud. Last year it was Nexus angle. This should be what WWE does all the time.
My biggest question is: Where does this story go from here? Do they drop the title to one of the Money In the Bank winners? Do they give it back to Cena? Does McMahon just create a new World Championship?
The point is, WWE has my interest right now, but if they don't continue to keep me engaged like they do right now I will, like so many others, lose interest again.
WWE won the "Monday Night War" against WCW because they created realistic, interesting and relatable characters that fans wanted to see.
Now it is in a new war: against itself.
I see potentially a great product and I think "what if they did this" or "what if they did that" all the time.
While the potential is there for WWE to make a dynamic cast of wrestling characters, more often than not they make them dull, predictable and unrelatable.
McMahon seems himself disengaged and out of touch with what the wrestling fans now want. If he wants to continue to succeed he will have to make a change.
McMahon keeps giving us what he thinks we want instead of what we want, and he's losing the fans' support.
The WWE fans want story lines and characters like the recent story line involving CM Punk. It's realism has delighted all of us.
Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. -John Lennon
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