Recent reports indicate WWE is considering a swift end to CM Punk's championship campaign due to weak television ratings as of late. In my opinion, stripping Punk would cause much more harm than good if it is done solely for this reason.
Is CM Punk to blame for these lackluster ratings? Absolutely not—in fact, ratings would likely decline further if he is to lose his title. What is the real problem? The answer lies in the past.
It's May 13th, 1996. Shawn Michaels—at the time, the reigning WWE Champion and arguably the most popular professional wrestler in the world—is penciled into the main event of Monday Night Raw. His opponent? Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a man whose most memorable moment to date—despite a wealth of potential and close personal ties to several popular performers—is a minute-long burial by a returning Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania XII.
There was no reason to tune in for this main event, no way Shawn Michaels could lose. He may as well have been wrestling Duane Gill in the main event; the television ratings would still come up short.
Of course, there is a very specific reason that Triple H was being buried at the time—and he eventually achieved the stardom for which he was destined—but despite his talent, he should not have touched a television main event on May 13, 1996. He was nowhere near Michaels' level, and viewers simply did not believe in or care for that main event just yet.
Just as in years past, WWE is relying on the popularity of its protagonists to drive television ratings. This is quite problematic for viewers. As interesting as CM Punk may be, it takes an antagonist of equal or greater renown to really generate viewer interest. Otherwise, we are left with plenty of reasons to like Punk, but very few to genuinely support and defend him.
CM Punk is a special case—his groundswell of popularity exists in opposition to an adversary much larger than himself: the WWE product. Fans have not flocked to CM Punk's side because of a conflict with one or two particular villains; rather, he is popular for his conviction to speak and act on behalf of wrestling fans who previously had no voice in regard to their favorite pastime.
For a while, CM Punk had not only the admiration of many wrestling fans, but also their undying support.
Now it seems Punk's opposition has been weakened; each week he is pitted against Raw's various villains, none of whom can be seen as major characters in any semblance of an ongoing storyline. Characters such as Alberto Del Rio and The Miz simply seek the WWE Championship and are not written to be defending the status quo against which Punk had previously crusaded.
The central villain of Raw—or, at least, the man who should be—John Laurinaitis, is not always in direct conflict with CM Punk. Lately, their interactions have been limited to petty verbal snipes, and there is very little conflict present.
Laurinaitis is actually the man who granted Punk the opportunity to regain his title, a serious character inconsistency.
The only logical reason to strip CM Punk of the WWE Championship would be to spark a new conflict. John Laurinaitis can open Raw by stripping Punk of his title due to falling ratings. The fourth wall would come crashing down even further, setting it just low enough for Punk to lob several pipe bombs to the other side. I believe that if the title strip were done in this fashion, WWE may see a rise in viewership similar to the start of Punk's crusade.
Quite simply, a hero cannot exist without a cause. The WWE Championship should symbolize the ultimate prize in a war between those who wish to defend and protect the WWE Universe and those who wish to exploit and destroy it.
CM Punk needs to be a catalyst for constant, progressive change. He must battle all the challenges befitting of a champion, each stronger than the last.
The first of those challenges is out of his hands, however.
The creative team devotes too much time to making its heroes popular, not enough time making its villains infamous.
Without darkness, we cannot truly appreciate and will eventually resent the light.
Perhaps—just after the dawning of a new year—the darkness will come and take the WWE Championship by force. Perhaps John Laurinaitis will stand back and watch it unfold with a devious grin and a cellphone in hand.
It will be the end of the world as we know it, and the WWE Universe will never...ever...be the same again, junior.