Last night's Raw saw a long closing segment full of insider references, this time thrown out by Triple H and CM Punk. The last time this happened, in the Punk vs. John Cena contract signing on the Raw before Summerslam, it seemed like people liked my guide to it, so here's another Casual Fans' Guide to That Thing Last Night on Raw.
Let's look at where things started getting more insider-ish, shall we?
CM Punk: "I especially respect you for last week for doing what needed to be done, and you fired that charisma vacuum and ratings killer, Kevin Nash."
Not really too inside baseball, but it's probably worth noting that during the Monday Night Wars of the '90s, Kevin Nash was the head booker ("writer" or "creative team member" in today's wording) of WCW when the company's TV ratings really started to slide downward. Most infamously, an episode of WCW Monday Nitro with no wrestling (much less any shots inside the arena) in the first hour did dismally.
Punk: "...you don't like me. I've known that since day one, and I know that because people like to talk. People tell me all the horrible little things you say behind my back. [...] I think when I first got here, you referred to me as a 'pompous, undersized, [sort of makes air quotes while doing a voice halfway between Dr. Evil and Comic Book Guy] Internet darling' that couldn't hang with the likes of the mighty Triple H."
In 2005, not long after he first showed up in OVW, WWE's main developmental territory at the time, CM Punk and his then-fellow developmental wrestler Mickie James were called to a Raw taping. They did a match for Sunday Night Heat (the Raw B-show) with James as Punk's valet.
As the story goes, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and creative team member/retired wrestler Michael Hayes gathered around the backstage monitor together to make fun of everything Punk did.
Triple H was notorious for saying that Punk was not actually good at controlling a crowd and doing things logically, only being able to "simulate a match."
The match never aired. Both went back to OVW, but James was soon called up to Raw permanently for her new gimmick as Trish Stratus' stalker.
Punk wouldn't be called up for the better part of the year and when he was, it was because WWE was bringing back ECW and Paul Heyman wanted him on his crew.
Punk: "You [and Vince McMahon] both share the same opinions and philosophies that a guy that looks like me doesn't belong in a ring with somebody who looks like you.
The big thing that infuriates me is that for years now, you've both had this weird bodybuilder fetish/fantasy about what a main-event caliber superstar needs to look like, and based on that, guys who don't fit your image, or more importantly guys who do fit your image are afforded 10 times the opportunities..."
Triple H: "[Interrupting] Oh my God, Jesus...is this...this is it? This is what you've got, huh? The bodybuilder thing? That's what you're gonna blame it all on?
Lemme drop a few names on ya: Shawn Michaels. Mick Foley. Bret Hart. Rey Mysterio. Some of the biggest superstars in the history of the WWE.
I'll go out on a limb and say 'bodybuilder' is not going to be used to, uh, describe any of those gentlemen."
Punk: "So you're gonna deny to me and these people right now that this mindset doesn't exist?"
HHH: "Are you gonna use it as an excuse?"
Punk: "No, I'm not using it as an excuse, but this is always the land of the giants, right? This is the law of the jungle and the strong survive, right?
Tell me. Tell me you're not that naive, you don't actually believe that, right?"
HHH: "If you wanna use it as an excuse for your failures, Punk, go ahead."
Where to start?
This was just weird. Some of it is obvious. Some requires some background. Some requires some analysis of what went down.
Vince McMahon and Triple H are really into bodybuilding. I mean really, really, REALLY into bodybuilding.
In addition to being an avid bodybuilder himself, Vince thought that he could start a bodybuilding league (the World Bodybuilding Federation or WBF) and make it a mainstream sport, but instead it was a disaster. You can read a lot more about that here.
In addition to being an avid bodybuilder himself, Triple H has done commentary on a pay-per-view broadcast of the Mr. Olympia competition. In addition, his wife (Stephanie McMahon) bought him posters of all of the Mr. Olympia winners for either his birthday or Christmas one year.
Then there's...everything about the body image WWE seems to look for, which I hope I don't really have to explain. Having said that, it's worth noting that reportedly there was a period in recent years where Vince McMahon didn't want any wrestlers hired who were smaller than him in terms of height and weight.
The actual exchange between CM Punk and Triple H was fascinating, though. Triple H could come up with exactly four names, three of whom put on large amounts of muscle in WWE that they didn't have before. Two of the four were never actually given a shot at being the actual top guy in the company.
Plus, it seemed like Triple H was trying to make Punk look bad in the promo and not as part of the storyline. When he ignored that Punk said he wasn't making an excuse, he wasn't doing it in a heel-ish way, it just seemed like he was ignoring Punk to try to make a point.
Throwing out all of that, it was still wildly problematic regardless of whose idea it was, as Punk couldn't mention abuse of steroids and human growth hormone as part of the equation. With that handicap, you can't really have that argument.
Punk: "And spare me the imaginary brass-ring speech, because I've heard dozens and dozens of them over the years. I remember fondly my first brass-ring speech, lemme take you back if I could be afforded to tell you a little bit of a story.
It was 2006. Philadelphia. The night before my first WWE pay-per-view, Survivor Series. I was on a tag team captained by [faux enthusiasm in his voice as he does a crotch chop] D-Generation X.
And the funny thing about that night is 18,000 people in Philadelphia weren't chanting 'DX,' they weren't chanting 'HBK,' they certainly weren't chanting 'Triple H,' [raises voice] they were chanting [points microphone to audience as they chant "CM Punk"]
The story, unfortunately, doesn't have a happy ending. That was the first time I grabbed that imaginary brass ring and went absolutely nowhere with it."
This was probably where it became clear that Punk (who had debuted on TV a few months earlier) was catching on with the WWE fanbase as a whole. It's even more surreal to watch now than it was at the time because the other two members of that team were Matt and Jeff Hardy, given their issues with Punk nowadays. Still, it was pretty funny to see Punk acting buddy-buddy with Triple H on Raw and at Survivor Series.
If you want a good guide to how Punk was being damaged by stupid politics (and who surprisingly supported him), then you should read a former WWE writer Dave Lagana's series of blog posts on the subject: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
I won't quote Triple H's whole speech about getting over with the fans. There's nothing specific that would go over anyone's head, but again, this was a moment where it felt like he was trying to bury Punk in a non-storyline way.
Punk was clearly being cheered heavily tonight. As he noted, he was cheered heavily at his first WWE PPV as well. He generally got over well wherever he went before his heel turn in June 2009, at which point he wasn't "over with the people because" he was, y'know, A HEEL.
At this point things just got weird and too inside, as Triple H implied too strongly that Punk's big achievements were given to him by the company because wrestling isn't a legitimate competitive sport. After this he turned the promo around, into being about how things have gotten personal and they're going to fight at Night of Champions on Sunday in Buffalo.
Thankfully, he just said that he was going to kick Punk's "ass" as opposed to his "skinny-fat ass," presumably realizing after too many weeks how badly that came off. "Skinny-fat" is a bodybuilding term for guys like Punk who are gym rats, but don't get really cut.
In Punk's case, he doesn't have the best genetics but is in excellent shape, so Triple H using that term really felt like an extension of all of WWE's body image issues and criticizing Punk for not...well, y'know. It would have been badly out of place after his earlier speech about bodybuilders even if it hadn't bombed whenever he used it before.
Punk: "I am the best in the world. And, yeah, you know what? You're gonna kick my ass. Fantastic. Guess what else? I'm gonna kick your ass, and at the end of the night, I'm going to pin you, 1, 2, 3, in the center of the ring.
I'm going to make you go to sleep because my quest for change in the WWE, it doesn't stop until you're no longer C.O.O. And Sunday night at Night of Champions, no disqualifications, I'm gonna tell you a little secret:
Why it's going to be so satisfying for me to kick your ass, and right now this isn't CM Punk talking to Triple H, this is Phil Brooks talking to Paul Levesque, the reason that it's going to be so satisfying is...[microphone cuts out]"
Yup, those are their real names. Yup, it sounded forced, especially given how much Punk has eschewed his over the years. No, I don't know why they thought that was necessary.
That about covers it, I think. I did like the ending with Punk nailing Triple H with the microphone and I think that at least some of what Punk said could've worked with a better, more professional sparring partner.
Still, I don't think this worked well as a whole and veered too far into "everything you're watching is fake, except for this, which is real" during some of Triple H's parts.