The WWE just learned its hardest lesson. It’s a revelation that Vince McMahon may be too arrogant to admit to, but it is a lesson well learned by WWE creative. And that is the fact that Vince McMahon, no matter what he says, is out of touch with his audience. As a diehard wrestling fan, I can’t imagine the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment stating clearly on TV that he has no confidence in his current roster of superstars. It’s mind blowing to know that he has chosen to completely ignore fan reactions to Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan while only seeing John Cena as the last superstar to go after the soul called brass ring. And as a person who has grown up while watching the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock compete over the world heavyweight championship, I find it extremely heart breaking to hear how very little the title matters to the chairman. Vince McMahon’s interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin revealed a lot about how he views his own product. And he just might be in the way of any natural progress within the company.
In the attitude era, the company had to adapt to what the fans wanted. With that in mind, the attitude era was the most creative time in wrestling. Everyone from the lower card to the top had something going on. And performers were given the creative freedom to experiment and figure out what works for them. Now the angles are written by over twenty-five writers who are more than likely in the way of each other, only to have their storyline denied by a chairman more concerned with revisiting the past than pushing towards the future. That type of thinking is crippling the growth of the roster. There are performers like Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan who could have been the next Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in the level of performance they could bring if in the top card. They have Seth Rollins, who could easily carry the strap and present himself as a worthy heavyweight champion, carrying around a MITB briefcase with no champion in site to cash it in on. Hell, his shirts are now printed with him carrying the case because he’s had it in his possession so long. These talented performers are being overlooked by Triple H, who is more concerned with forcing Reigns in to a spot he’s having a hard time fitting in, and Vince McMahon, who has completely denounced wrestling for “sports entertainment”, relying on part time attractions and John Cena to sell tickets. The tragedy in all of this is that WWE has become self contradicting when it comes to creating stars that they can no longer tell when they’ve hit gold. And that is where they dropped the ball with CM Punk.
The journey of CM Punk is a story of what happens when natural talent is introduced in to an environment that does not value what wasn’t created in house. It’s a story of a company that has a monopoly over their market to the point they could threaten and punish their employees, meeting someone who can transcend the market entirely. CM Punk walked in to the company with a following already behind him. He had years of wrestling under his belt and a name that was already recognized by fans. There was money to be made with an athlete and performer of his caliber. He basically sold himself. After a few successful runs as a heel, he was still ignored until he cut his infamous promo. A work or not, the promo felt real enough that fans who were tired of what WWE had become gravitated towards Punk’s words and made him the biggest face in the company at that moment. Finally, new life was brought in to the WWE with new eyes on the product for the first time in years. A new angle of Punk leaving the company after his match with Cena at Money In the Bank 2011 brought back a feeling of excitement fans haven’t felt since Austin took on McMahon during the attitude era. It seemed like WWE had found their newest huge star, a loner that represented the wrestling fans of today. And the WWE Universe was sure to let Vince hear how much they appreciated their new superstar.
But instead of capitalizing on what could have been one of the greatest angles in recent professional wrestling, WWE creative allowed it to fizzle out over time. CM Punk remained over with the crowd. And while he did have a successful title run, he was thrown aside for The Rock in order to set up The Rock vs Cena for the title. Punk found himself being tossed around in pointless angles and and matches until he left the company abruptly for multiple reasons. The WWE would go forward with Daniel Bryan before eventually giving the title to Brock Lesnar to sit on his trophy shelf for a while. And while WWE creative still tries to create stars while ignoring the fans, the WWE Universe still chants CM Punk whenever they can at live events. Punk has become one of the most followed and reported on retired wrestlers in the history of the WWE. Simply spotting him doing everyday things like jogging or going to a hockey game creates buzz all over wrestling websites. CM Punk has become the most over wrestler while no longer competing in the ring. And no matter how many signs WWE take from fans, they will never be able to hide the fact that they’ve let the biggest star in the last five years of wrestling walk right out of their door.
With a monopoly, you have control over the product being pushed out. The WWE truly doesn’t have any competition. If they did, their product would suffer in its current state. Without competition, they can punish Dolph Ziggler if he says something Triple H doesn’t agree with. Where else can he find work? But when a star has built his name to the point that he is in fact his own brand, then there is no stopping him. CM Punk has officially signed with the UFC. He owns his name and can still use Cult of Personality as his entrance music. With all of the open opportunities, sponsors, and movie deals available, CM Punk has turned himself in to a hot property with very little help from the WWE. As big as the company is, CM Punk is bigger than the WWE as a exciting brand.
WWE is struggling to make top stars within their business. And while they may force certain performers in to the spotlight before they’re ready, CM Punk is proof that they have lost touch with their audience and their performers. Vince is stuck in the past, Hunter is determined to get the guys he like over, and WWE’s creative team is struggling to write interesting angles while not allowing much input from the performers. Losing such a marketable performer has to sting a bit. But I believe that Punk has at least one match left in him, and we’ll see him finally headline Wrestlemania in the future. But for now, the WWE has to unfortunately endure watching Dana White show them how to truly use Punk. And he will always be a missed opportunity that could have been the start of the next generation for the WWE. Let’s just hope the harsh lesson was learned, and history doesn’t repeat itself with another star.