WWE Panorama: Discussing CM Punk, Stone Cold, Attitude Era and Reality Era
WWE CvC 2.0 Final round: Chinmay vs. RiZE
Topic: Why CM Punk and the TV-PG (Reality) Era Are Better than Stone Cold and the TV-14 Era
It has been some time since WWE has acknowledged the dawn of a new era. CM Punk has christened it as “the Reality Era."
So far, during the short life of the new era, we have witnessed some of the best episodes of Raw in a long time. We were treated to an amazing Money in the Bank pay-per-view in the last month, and on this Sunday, the SummerSlam delivered a great show as well.
The central theme of the new era has been “real” and “controversial” programming with “wrestling” put in firm focus. It has been enhanced in effect through the efficient use of social media. Edgy characters, swerves and unpredictability have surely got all of us hooked. The anticipation, which we were missing not so long ago, is back.
In such a scenario, the comparison of the new era with the absolute peak period of the business, the Attitude Era, is inevitable. Considering the similarities these two eras share, starting from their flag-bearers, Stone Cold and CM Punk, such comparison is not a stretch by any means.
However, here I will not only compare two eras, but I will try to explore whether Reality Era could be better than Attitude Era, and if CM Punk could in any way be better than Steve Austin.
Hence, in order to analyze these two epic prospects appropriately, I will deal with the subjects in three stages.
1. The parallels between Attitude Era and Reality Era
2. Is CM punk better than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
3. Advantages Reality Era holds over the Attitude Era
Now, after such heavy ado, let the ride begin.
Parallels Between the Two Eras
When we are comparing two different eras, the analysis needs to be multidimensional. It is imperative in such a case that we not only discuss the differences that distinguish them, but we have to also discuss the similarities that make them relevant and related, as well.
Therefore, first of all we will take a look at the similarities Attitude Era and Reality Era share and believe me, they are plenty. However, we will focus on only those that mean the most.
In the coming slides we will discuss the four most significant similar traits that these programs have displayed so far.
Parallel 1, Reality Era: A Synthesis of TV-PG and Attitude Era
Not too long ago, I wrote an article on how and why the new era is the Synthesis of TV-PG and Attitude Era. Here, instead of repeating the whole list, I would better present you the gist of what I said there.
There is a great similarity between the stage of WWE fans today and that of the audience then, prior to the Attitude Era. The audience of Attitude Era had grown up watching WWE and needed fresh content. The story is almost identical today.
Secondly, Attitude Era was great because of the edgy characters, clever twists and people that trod the “face-and-heel line” effortlessly. Attitude Era was great because of the intensity and passion it exuded. Attitude Era was a clever blend of reality and controversy.
If we look at the WWE programming we have seen in past few months, we will see the same features. The whole CM Punk saga is the clever blend of reality and controversy. The character turns of Sheamus, Mark Henry and Alex Riley are equally good.
Where this era remains PG are the areas such as wellness policy and following social norms in Keyfabe. WWE cannot risk its image with obscene content, and therefore they will have to keep the content PG-rated. In my opinion, that is the best move anyway, but more on that later.
Parallel 2: Two Megastars with Pool of Young Main-Event Stars
The biggest feature of Attitude Era remains the existence of the two megastars.
If Austin carried the flag of his era, the Rock was right there with the torch in his hand. If Austin was the spirit of Attitude, then Rock was the voice of Attitude. The combined magnitude of these two contemporaries remains one of the wonders of the pro wrestling business.
To further enrich the riches of WWE, Rock and Austin were ably supported by a pool of Superstars, who later became legends in their own right. Triple H, Kane, Kurt Angle and “Y2J” Chris Jericho were all in the forefront of this era. The legendary Undertaker and maverick Mick Foley were two of the cornerstones of this period.
The rivalries these Superstars had with each other and the two megastars were the true soul of those times. They gave us memorable matches and moments to cherish forever.
However, it was the rivalry of Rock and Austin that truly tied all the ends together. Only one rivalry surpassed it, and it was in many ways related to the saga of Austin and Rock. Many stars played their roles in the subplots of those two epic stories.
Today if we change the scale of magnitude and tread on the same path, we have a similar picture. We need to realize that legends of Attitude Era were what they were. They were a product of different society and different times. The stars of today are what they are. It would be unfair to this generation if we judge them on the identical parameters and try to belittle their work.
Stars like Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Christian, Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, R-Truth and John Morrison are playing their roles pretty well. Barring Orton, Rey and Christian, all are new to the main event or they are on the cusp of it. But they all have potential.
On the top we have John Cena, who has been the premier star of this industry for several years now. We all are free to dislike him, but it is a fact that he is the biggest star since Austin.
We would have probably had only one megastar, had it not been for the emergence of CM Punk. Punk shot himself to the pinnacle with one shoot promo and today he stands right next to Cena, ready to take the torch and march towards the future.
Just like Rock and Austin, Cena and Punk are working towards defining the new era through their rivalry.
Parallel 3: Pivotal Role of the Boss and McMahon Dynasty
To put it in one sentence, without “Mr. McMahon” there would not have been any Attitude Era. His rivalry with Stone Cold practically changed the business and initiated the revolution. His stories with Rock, Triple H and the Undertaker were three of the biggest stories of the era.
Along with Vince, the other three McMahons played significant part as well. Shane and Stephanie were two of the main characters of Attitude Era.
We are witnessing a somewhat similar scenario as of now.
Triple H, in his new role, is playing the third angle to the rivalry of CM Punk and John Cena, akin to what Vince did with Rock and Austin. He has so far remained a just and “face” character, but “so far” is the key word here.
Surprisingly, on this Sunday we saw the on-screen return of Stephanie with the conspicuous return of Kevin Nash. Whether they are in cahoots is something yet to be seen. At this juncture, even the possibility of Shane McMahon’s return is not so improbable either. Simply, anything can happen.
One thing is for sure: CM Punk will be taking on a lot of McMahons in the future as we move ahead with the era and that precisely is the next point of discussion.
Parallel 4: A Rebel in the Forefront
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin has represented Attitude Era more fittingly than any other poster boy of his respective era. The charisma he exuded and the presence he had was something surreal. However, it was his anti-establishment stance and “hell may care” attitude that transformed “the Ringmaster” into perhaps the biggest star we have seen.
Austin’s rivalry with Vince McMahon still remains the greatest feud in terms of impact. Without the anti-hero of Austin, Attitude Era would have been about anything but attitude.
Austin was a rebel who made being a bad boy cooler than it ever was.
CM Punk is not big as Austin at this moment, but he is walking on the similar path. Punk is the closest WWE has got to the elusive “anti-hero” since Austin.
If Austin created living hell for Vince, then CM Punk with his antiques has succeeded in getting Vince off the television. If Austin stood for the right cause, irrespective of wrong ways, then Punk has resorted to sheer blackmailing to get more opportunities for those who deserved it.
And therefore, not so surprisingly, the McMahons have started to play their evergreen game. The flurry of returns and controversies is reminiscent of Corporation days, and the target is none other than CM Punk.
Thus it is the rebel and his impending feud with the dynasty that will seal the fate of Reality Era now.
From this point, CM Punk will either become one of the biggest stars of all time, or his chapter will be closed not so ceremoniously once and for all.
However, let us keep the future aside and indulge ourselves in slightly unfair comparisons as we move on to explore the potential of CM Punk in comparison with Austin.
Is CM Punk Better Than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
This is a very sensitive comparison and I am aware of the possibility of a heated debate on this issue.
When we compare two Superstars, we judge them on several parameters, such as wrestling ability, mic skills, charisma and the impact they had. It is easy to use these sticks when we are comparing two contemporaries, since they are the product of the same times.
However, it gets trickier when we have to take two Superstars from different eras and compare them. The backdrops of their legacies remain different and hence it becomes unfair to judge them on common grounds.
Hence, when we are comparing CM Punk and Stone Cold, I will try to keep the comparisons as secular as possible
Is CM Punk Better Than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
Here we will compare CM Punk and Austin on three parameters as these aspects have nothing to with the difference of eras. These three factors are wrestling ability, charisma and mic skills.
Austin was unfortunate in this regard as he suffered a major neck injury in the prime of his career. It limited his ring work to great extent. Austin was not exactly a wizard like Steamboat, HBK or Savage in-ring anyway, but he was as good as anyone. His famous submission match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 12 is testimony to that fact.
Austin was more of a brawler than technical wrestler. His key was physicality and aggression instead of pace or articulate plotting. His true USP was “Stone Cold Stunner." For me, it still remains one of the coolest finishers of all time. It may be the manner in which it was executed or the magic of Austin, but the “Stunner” always had a sting like no other finisher.
CM Punk is one of the greats of this generation; I have no doubt about it. Those who call his wrestling skills “overrated” would do themselves a favor by checking his work in Ring of Honor with Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, etc.
He is an all-around performer, a rarity these days. His hold over his craft is commendable. May it be submission moves or aerial maneuvers, he is simply amazing at it. He looks small, but the guy has performed GTS on Umaga. It is a big feat considering the only people to ever lift Umaga were John Cena, Batista and Undertaker.
His finisher may lack the sting that Stunner had, but it is an effective maneuver nonetheless.
Austin has been one of the best mic workers of his generation. Even today, his control over the stick never fails to amaze people and elicit emotions from the crowd.
The catchphrases of Austin have become immortal. “Austin 3:16” will not remain as one of the most iconic catchphrases, but it will also go down as one of the most iconic promos that defined a career of the highest magnitude.
Irrespective of all the adulation, I feel Austin’s mic work was overshadowed because of the presence of a certain “The Rock." Had it not been for Rock, Austin might have gotten much more props for his promos as well.
CM Punk, on the other hand, is a different kind of mic worker. He does not have the catchphrase that all the masters of sticks do, but unlike many of them, he has made a career out of the same stick.
Over the course of one-and-a-half decades, Punk is one of most versatile guys I have seen when it comes to promos. Right from dramatic heel promos to the infamous shoot on WWE, he has handled a range of emotions with ease and finesse.
The kind of stuff he has produced over the past couple of months is finest mic work I have seen after Attitude Era. CM Punk’s current run will go down as one of the legendary streaks of majestic promos, but you already know that.
Well, I am big fan of CM Punk and I agree that he is one of the most charismatic stars we would witness. But he cannot be compared to Austin.
Steve Austin had the presence that belongs to the league of The Undertaker and The Rock. When it comes to the “presence," these three stand head and shoulders above the other modern-era legends in my opinion.
Is CM Punk Better Than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
Now let us come to the fourth criterion: impact.
I decided to keep it different since it is a comparison of the product of two different eras and societies.
We have to understand that the state of the industry was different when Austin changed the course of the business than the times of CM Punk.
Pro wrestling as an industry was at its healthiest during the early days of Attitude Era. WCW was leading the market and WWE was still managing more 3.00 ratings. This industry has seldom seen better days. It was a blessing either way, that Austin prospered in that era.
Moreover, the USA was on its absolute peak during those days, so the economy was buoyant. It helped to a great extent and further amplified the impact of Austin.
Irrespective of helping conditions, it is unarguable that Austin single-handedly carried WWE and turned the dynamics of the business upside down. This business has never been the same.
As for Punk, it is a contrasting case. WWE as a market leader is managing to stay above 3.00 with a lot of effort. As a distinct second comes TNA, and nothing highlights the trouble more vividly than this fact.
Moreover, Punk belongs to the USA of recession and a floundering economy. Whatever may happen, the consumerist wave that helped Attitude Era will not be helping the Reality Era.
Secondly, it has been only two months since Punk dropped the “pipe bomb," so we should wait for some time to comment on his impact on ratings. It is too early to comment on that.
Irrespective of circumstances, we have to understand a fact that this business will never be the same again from here on out. The added element of reality, something that Punk infused, is here to stay.
Forget the times of outlandish gimmicks, Keyfabe virginity and taboo terms—CM Punk has ushered in a new vogue and has turned the programming upside down.
Is CM Punk Better Than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin: Verdict
So after such a hefty comparison, for the sake of satisfaction we need to draw some conclusion, right? We will do just that now.
There are several aspects to this answer, and I will stress all of them here:
1. Austin is a much bigger legend, in fact one of the biggest this business has seen. It is almost impossible to match the magnitude of Austin for anybody, including CM Punk.
2. As a performer, CM Punk is more talented and more versatile.
3. When it comes down to mic skills, CM Punk again edges ahead. It is just a matter of time until CM Punk will be regarded as the third- or second-greatest mic worker in WWE history.
4. When it comes to impact, it would be wise to wait for a year or two and then make a judgment. But given the contrasting circumstances, I will rate CM Punk just a notch below Austin at this point of time.
So, the conclusion is that as a performer, CM Punk is fractionally better than Austin, but when it comes to legacy, Punk has a thousand miles to go before he catches up with Austin.
Now, let us get down to the second and perhaps the biggest question: Is Reality Era better than Attitude Era?
Can Reality Era Be Better Than Attitude Era?
Before we move on, I need to clarify something: We are comparing two different time spans here. The socio-economic dynamics of both periods are different. So it would be foolish to simply say “Reality Era is better than Attitude Era” or vice versa.
Secondly, the argument that Attitude Era brought in more ratings is a flawed argument. We need to remember that AE was a product of the USA at its pinnacle and its economy at the peak. The world has changed now, the generation has changed now and so has the general taste of the audience. It is simply superficial to use ratings as a yardstick in such a case.
Coming to back to the question, we will take a look at four aspects of the current programming that in my opinion make this better than the Attitude Era in their own respect.
1. More Realistic and Believable
With all the love to Attitude Era, we have to accept that it had a fair share of crappy things.
Horrible gimmicks, detestable storylines, pathetic gimmick matches and unreal portrayal of relations—all these factors found their way in during the Attitude Era. It is simply our nostalgia and selective memory that makes us overlook many things.
Now I am not saying that this era will not have its share of crap. I know that just like rain and taxes, crap is inevitable as well, but the degree of hideousness is subject to change.
Thanks to the Internet, widespread knowledge of the business, rather stringent social norms and a more sensible new generation of audience, WWE cannot even think of repeating some of the nightmares it has produced before.
Alright, we still have to contend with Great Khali and Hornswoggle, but I guess I would take them over the affair of Mark Henry, Mae Young and their love child on any given day.
2. Better for Pro Wrestling
I have always felt that irrespective of some of the great matches, Attitude Era never really focused on wrestling. Wrestling sure had a large share of attention, but it was never truly about wrestling.
One of the reasons of such programming was that Attitude Era was supposed to kill the competition in order to survive.
Reality Era is the opposite spectrum of the matters. It aims at reviving the industry in general, instead of eating it. You may find this claim outrageous, but allow me to explain.
Throughout the history of economics, one principle has been universal and that is: No firm can flourish when the industry is in shambles. This principle holds true for WWE as well.
WWE needs the industry to flourish again for the sake of its own profit.
The way Punk appeared at an indy show and crashed the conference at Comic-Con; the way he dropped the names of ROH and NJPW; the way he, Cena and Vince kept referring to wrestling and some of the rather “taboo” facts made sure that word “wrestling” has been put in people’s mind firmly.
Suddenly a large pool of new fans is aware of small leagues, ROH and New Japan. It is more than likely that a few curious souls actually tried to find out what it is all about and this is where the success of this strategy lies.
WWE is further magnifying the effect of new strategy through social media. WWE has always been a master of marketing, but the recent stuff is legendary even by the usual high standard of WWE.
3. Broader Appeal
This era has found the golden median between the edgy content of Attitude Era and TV-PG. With cussing that does not go overboard, WWE has managed to deepen the intensity to an optimal level.
I firmly believe that lack of blood, unnecessary violence and vulgar content is a progressive step. We are better off without all of them.
Moreover, today WWE has a range of Superstars that will entertain the last fan in the world. In CM Punk, Randy Orton and John Cena, they have three Superstars who cater to all the audience. These three stars cover all age groups and both genders. Sheamus and Wade Barrett are just waiting in the wings and both have the potential to become equally big.
Then there is a guy like Miz, who can survive on the entertainment quotient alone with no emphasis on wrestling. In Christian, Del Rio and Daniel Bryan they have stars who deliver in the ring and please the purists. People like John Morrison, Evan Bourne and Justin Gabriel excite audiences and make them hold their breaths.
Therefore, in Reality Era, WWE is for everybody, and I for one love this fact.
4. Better Social Representation of the Product
Attitude Era helped business in a financial aspect, and it was necessary. However, it tarnished the image of pro wrestling profoundly. Society has always had disdain for pro wrestling; Attitude Era gave it some more reasons to justify the blind hate.
Vulgar content, pro wrestlers beefed up by steroids, absolute lack of moral elements and violence that sometimes crossed limits tarnished the image of WWE to a great extent.
My basic problem is that pro wrestling is everything but the above-mentioned few things.
Wrestling is an art; it should be presented in a better way. People must understand what exactly mesmerizes us so much that it continues to live with us every day.
The beauty of this craft and the elegance of its maestros should be the projection of pro wrestling.
I believe that Reality Era will manage to present the art of pro wrestling in a much better way than any other era of WWE has done before.
Patience: Give Them a Chance To Surprise Us
We have discussed a lot of things here. As I said in the beginning, this subject needs multidimensional analysis. I would like to believe that we did it here.
I firmly believe that Reality Era may offer us the best content we have witnessed in a long time. For a person like me, who loves wrestling primarily with entertaining programming, this is simply a dream.
CM Punk has been on fire—I need not say one more word about him. John Cena has been producing great work as well. Triple H, Stephanie and Kevin Nash have opened a door for a million more opportunities. SmackDown has a couple of interesting things going on.
Surprises are pouring in from left and right, and even the Internet has been unable to fully decipher the new charge of WWE.
Moreover, WWE has rediscovered the magic of slow buildup. They are maintaining momentum of many things through careful decisions.
Therefore, give them a chance people. I have loved the past five eras, but this one is something new and it might be better as well.
If at all you have been able to reach here till this slide then I have no words to thank you. It was a big subject, and I hope I could do even a partial justice to it.
One more thing—it is the final round of CvC. More than 40 writers participated in this epic contest. It was a memorable affair for everybody, and personally it gave me an opportunity to write some of my best works.
To top it all, I had the fortune of competing against Iam D Real Deal Yo, Jacob Waring, Hamster Fan and RiZE, four of the best writers of my time. I cannot ask for anything more.
I am extremely grateful to each and every one of you for bringing me here in the final, so accept my humble “thank you."
Now it is your yard as usual. Voice your opinion in the comment thread. Agreement or disagreement, every word matters to me.