Walk with me for a few minutes.
Wrestling used to consume me. A friend introduced me to the show — err, athletic competition, around 1992, around the age of 10. He got me hooked. It was incredible; the athletes, the moves, the pursuit of championships, it all seemed so…legit. I’d tune in every Saturday at 3:00pm to watch Superstars, All-American Wrestling, or whatever feed Canada was lucky enough to sign a deal to get. It got infuriating hearing about all the Pay Per View extravaganzas going down that weren’t viewable in Canada because PPV was still developing. With no YouTube or internet reports even invented yet, we suffered through week late still-frame TV updates. Survivor Series 1992 was the first PPV event broadcast we ever got. We had to go rent a cable-box from the cable company, pay an obscene event and box rental fee, and pay late fees for the days we kept it too late – but it was worth it. We invited all our friends over, charged $5 a person, watched an incredible card (including Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels in a phenomenal/underrated match for the WWF title), and even went out and wrestled on the lawn after, pretending to be our favourite superstars. We rented years straight worth of PPV events after that, bought WWF magazines, ordered merchandise from the catalogue, and even got to go to a few live events. To use a poker term, we were all in.
Now that I’m considerably older, and hip to the con that it’s all a show (though I always tried to deny even though everyone told me so), I often think back to that time – glory days if you will – and wonder, what was it about that time that made it so great to me? If you go back and see some of those old shows, they really seem like their production value must have been a mere fraction of what they are now. Simple sets, little to no pyro, and average sized arenas and attendances; it was clear what the draw really was – the show itself.
Simply put, the wrestlers were phenomenal performers. If you again compare the generations, no one back then could do anything the likes of which Rey Mysterio, Evan Bourne, or any high flyer does now. But it didn’t really matter, because I was occupied with other elements of the show – the characters, their background and stories, their feuds, and most importantly, their in-ring abilities. Bret Hart winning the WWF title from Ric Flair in Saskatoon seemed like a legitimate athletic achievement (a far cry from the Fingerpoke of Doom, and Kevin Nash’s exclamations that the belts were mere props). Him defending it for a year in matches that actually seemed like competitions that he could lose was incredibly well presented. Him losing the title to Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 9 was legitimately heartbreaking. Him regaining the title a year later from Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10 made me jump out of my seat and scream with joy. I was so sold on that Hitman character that I hung on every development along the way. Lots of wrestling fans surely have similar accounts about their favourite wrestlers too. The fact is, we truly believed we were being presented reality.
And slowly but surely, it all unravelled. The more I learned, the more each week’s show became just that – a show. Predictable. Campy. At times, downright boring. The PPV ordering streak ended, and my loyalty waned. Attitude was out, and PG was in. It was horrible.
Of course, there have been minor exceptions along the way; good matches, promos, still good content here and there. But CM Punk’s June 27th Raw promo might have been the best material I’ve heard in a decade, and he might be the best wrestler/performer I’ve seen in that time too.
It had everything – name dropping of former WWE employed stars, the insulting of backstage staff by name, mentions of alternate wrestling organizations, calling himself a wrestler when he’s not supposed to anymore, calling The Rock by his first name and running him down, not to mention the verbal fleecing of Vince and his family; and a threat – a unique threat of leaving with the WWE title and joining one of the aforementioned “other” wrestling organizations with it in tow. Unique in that, the last time this angle presented itself, it was a legitimate concern to Vince. It was an angle that some might argue that the whole WWF Attitude era was born out of. Yes, the same real-life angle that made Vince McMahon have to actually alter the ending to Survivor Series 1997 to make sure Bret Hart didn’t show up on WCW TV with the WWF belt. Angle or not, for the first time in years, I actually don’t even have a good guess as to what reality actually is. The fact of the matter is, even though everyone wants to know if what he said was real or not, it doesn’t even matter if this turns out to be a work; because for the first time in nearly a decade, now in a no-blood no-chairshots no-swearing no-sexual innuendo public service announcement anti-bullying PG era television show, the line between fiction and reality has been so magnificently blurred via a promo that featured none of the above listed elements, I can’t tell the difference between the two. It was an absolute treat for the insider s’marks out there like myself. Finally, I want to watch this show again.
Further, Punk is a fantastic wrestler. Obviously, the guy can whale on the microphone. But his matches are just as good. Unlike WWE’s poster boy John Cena and his embarrassingly weak applications of submission holds, CM Punk’s look like they actually hurt. A lot. The match psychology is there, the moves are there. Bell to bell, I struggle to name someone who puts on an all-around better match than him right now. And, imagine that, from a scrawny, same-size-as- life performer hacking his way through a new generation of bodybuilders and actors. Not that different than what Bret Hart was doing in the post Hulk Hogan WWF era. I don’t care about what crazy moves Kofi Kingston or Evan Bourne are going to do; I want to hear what CM Punk has to say, and then see him wrestle Randy Orton. I want to see John Cena and even Vince McMahon himself get in the ring with him and not be able to hold a candle to his promo skills, and then have Punk make them look like green rookies freshly called up from developmental.
For Punk to have built such a following in such a short time and then have him actually leave would be such a travesty. But I guess that’s the golden rule of show business – leave them wanting more. I guess we’ll all have to tune in to see if we’ll get any more. I’m happy that I actually want more, once again.