The Wrestling Genius: What Makes a Champion
For the first time ever we have four major champions, spread over three brands, and two companies. Kurt Angle the TNA world champion, Christian the World Heavyweight Champion, and Cena/CM Punk are the co-WWE Champions. Now with the build up to Summerslam I fought and fought myself to come up with a column about Summerslam, but couldn’t get an idea out of my head. What makes a champion, a champion? What separates these four guys from literally hundreds of pro wrestlers around the world? It is something more than a marketable look, although that does help. What is in these four guys to put aside the daily grind and the pain to keep working at a high enough level to be a champion? I’ll try to explain as best I can what it is that makes these four guys so special.
TNA World Champion Kurt Angle: You would be hard pressed to find a better wrestler anywhere in the world than Kurt Angle. Angle is arguably the greatest in ring performer of all time, and I hate to say it if he keeps cranking out 4-5 star matches this late in his career he may just surpass Shawn Michaels for that distinction, at least in my mind anyway. Kurt Angle has a singular goal, to be the best at whatever he does. Sounds like something someone just says, but Kurt takes it to heart in ways so few athletes do. He is driven to obsession with the idea of being the greatest of all time. His maniacal drive to be the best reminds me Michael Jordan. Both have a near pathological obsession with being the best, both use slights, imagined or real, to push themselves farther, and both let everyone know that they are and will always be the best. Kurt Angle and Michael Jordan are savants; they see and do things others only dream about. No one works harder than Kurt Angle, and no one practiced harder than Michael Jordan. Kurt Angle took Vince McMahon’s message of ‘you are no longer special’, put it up on his wall, and stares at it every time he needs motivation. Kurt Angle has out worked everyone at TNA, he has more 5 star matches than anyone else in the company, and it is all because of Vince. You tell someone like Kurt they can’t do something and they will not only do it, but they will keep doing it over and over again just to spite you. Michael Jordan was the same way; he took everything personal, and used it to destroy his opponents. The Jordan’s shrug game is the best example of that. All week leading up to the NBA Finals Jordan kept hearing about how great Clyde Drexler was, and how he was Jordan’s equal. Jordan took it as a personal challenge to go out and make Drexler his own personal bitch. He broke the record for threes in a half, and while saunter up the court after hitting the record breaker he smugly turned to Drexler and shrugged at him. God makes so few sublimely talented people, and even fewer are given the drive that Angle and Jordan were given. That is why Kurt is a champion, because to be anything less would disgust him.
World Heavyweight Champion Christian: Christian has a unique story, for the longest time he wasn’t taken seriously because he was the perceived lesser talent of the Edge/Christian tag team. Christian was so fed up with it he made the decision to go somewhere he would be appreciated. After years of playing second fiddle he found his way to TNA. Where he was appreciated, and given his rightful spot as champion. While he was content in TNA something inside of him told him he had unfinished business in the WWE. So few men in his position would have been content to stay a big fish in a small pond, and forget about what went wrong in the WWE. That is where true champions like Christian separate themselves; they want more .Micky Ward was a guy given up on by many, told he wasn’t as talented as his older brother. Ward almost gave up on boxing altogether, almost gave in to the critics that told him he wasn’t good enough. However just like Christian, Ward wasn’t wired to give up. Guys like Christian and Ward will never be happy with what they have, they are only happy when taking down their critics, and achieving their goals. Christian gave up the dream of being a champion in the WWE, even when he was already a champion elsewhere. It is that drive to prove everyone wrong and to reward all of those people that always believed in him that is why Christian is a champion.
Co-WWE Champion John Cena: Say what you want about John Cena’s character, love him, or hate him few men have gotten the reaction Cena has. It takes someone special to have such a love/hate relationship with so many people. Cena is the hardest worker in the WWE, and I’m not counting just in ring work. Cena does every press junket, every autograph signing, no one fulfills more Make a Wish duties in the WWE, and if you follow him on twitter you can see he still makes time for hours of in ring and gym workouts. Cena is happy being Cena, and I’ve said it before he thrives off the hate. We have never seen a more polarizing champion than John Cena. Cena gets so much heat from guys like me and other writers/fans that feel he only has the five moves. The thing is unlike so many others, who would love to either be hated or be loved, I think Cena loves to be both at the same time. The only guy I can think of that thrived off of hate and love like Cena was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem like Cena had a limited move set, but he took that limited move set as far as anyone ever could. He became a multi-time champion, and scored more points than anyone else in NBA history. Kareem’s sky hook was boring, but effective. Kareem like Cena, was loved by many, and hated by many more. Kareem couldn’t block shots, couldn’t rebound, and couldn’t play defense at the end of his career, but he was a guaranteed 20-40 points every single night for over a decade. Cena isn’t exciting in the ring, but through hard work and a few lucky breaks he has become a compelling champion. He makes people watch, either because you want to see him win, or because you want to see him fail. Cena works hard, love this business, and knows how to push people’s buttons to get a boo or a cheer. Love him or hate him John Cena is one of the most compelling champions in wrestling history.
Co-WWE Champion CM Punk: CM Punk has been around the world, has been compelling in every indy market he has ever been to, and is now the biggest star, on the biggest show, in the biggest wrestling organization in the world. He is a brash, outspoken champion, and is somehow fresh in a business where we thought we had already seen everything there was to see. Punk is the best on the mic worker in the world today; no one picks up a mic and demands the attention Punk does every single night. Punk like Cena understands that the psychology of this business is just as important as the in ring aspect, but unlike Cena Punk delivers every single night in the ring. Punk rails against the business, speaks his mind, and then backs it up. He is a self promoter in the vein of Mohammed Ali. Like Punk, Ali spoke his mind and never once cared who he pissed off. Ali spoke out on bigger issues than Punk, but they both did it in a way that got more people to like them than hate them. Ali was brash, called himself the best in the world, spoke out against racism in boxing and society as a whole. While Punk doesn’t have that large of a social agenda, he does have the guts to speak out against the system he is a part of. Punk is compelling because you have to hear what he is going to say next, Ali was compelling for all the same reasons.
Four world champions, four completely different people, but all worthy of holding the titles they have, yes Cena included. Summerslam will be interesting, I’m making no predictions other than this, Cena vs. Punk II will be better than Cena vs. Punk the first go around.
Thanks again for reading and if you want to get in contact with me you can do so by emailing me here: email@example.com or you can bug me via twitter @JaredGebhardt. As always, I try to get to every single email and tweet I get.
The Wrestling Genius: Jared Gebhardt