COMMENTARY | In late January 2014, the professional wrestling world was buzzing with the news that CM Punk had left the WWE. This story, like most in pro wrestling, initially was met with skepticism by fans and experts. In the scripted world of wrestling, many controversial storylines are presented as factual to promote the entertainment value of the product. CM Punk’s departure led to a heated work (a scripted story) or shoot (a real story) debate among fans.
As a life-long fan of pro wrestling, I can attest to the fact that the vast majority of these debates turn out to be works. In this case, it certainly looked like a case of CM Punk setting up a storyline with the WWE’s Authority as he allegedly left over his booking for WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans on April 6. However, when CM Punk did not return to WWE Raw in his hometown of Chicago, it lent credence to the belief that he may have legitimately left the WWE.
The last glimmer of hope that CM Punk may have been setting up a storyline against The Authority came and went on Sunday, March 16 when he did not address his departure from the WWE on AMC’s The Talking Dead. Also, CM Punk has been completely silent on Twitter since January 27 when he thanked his fans for their support. Although there’s still a chance that CM Punk could make a surprise return at WrestleMania XXX, most wrestling insiders now concede he is done with the WWE.
CM Punk isn’t the first wrestler to walk away from the WWE and he won’t be the last. Many high profile wrestlers, such as The Rock and Batista, left the WWE at the height of their popularity in their primes. The strange thing about CM Punk’s departure is that he is still receiving almost universal support from wrestling’s diehard fans, whereas other wrestlers who have walked away received a great deal of heat (or condemnation) in the immediate aftermath.
Admittedly, I am among those who consider themselves CM Punk fans. In fact, he is my favorite wrestler in his prime today. For some reason, it doesn’t bother us that CM Punk walked away from the WWE, failed to appear at events for which he had been advertised, isn’t answering his fans’ tweets, no-showed Raw in Chicago, and isn’t fulfilling his contract. What it is about CM Punk that makes him Teflon in the eyes of die-hard wrestling fans?
As much as wrestling fans claim they prefer wrestling to talking, there is no denying that many of the wrestlers that old school fans grew up with were incredible on the mic. Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, wrestlers such as Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and Roddy Piper rose to the height of the industry thanks in large part to being ahead of their time on the mic. Today, most wrestlers have to talk, but very few have the “it factor” that CM Punk does.
But most importantly, CM Punk did something on June 27, 2011, that gave him a lifetime of “get out of jail free” cards in my eyes. The WWE made the strange decision to turn CM Punk’s real contract negotiations into a wrestling storyline. To further the angle, the WWE allowed him to deliver an unscripted promo on Raw to air his grievances. Basically, CM Punk said things on television that had never been uttered in the highly scripted world of the WWE. This cemented his legacy with adult male wrestling fans.
And yet, CM Punk has never been the most fan-friendly wrestler in the WWE. Even at the height of his popularity, there were always stories of CM Punk blowing off fans, something that John Cena would never do. Once, CM Punk even punched a fan after going into the crowd.
But at a time when older fans yearn for hardcore wrestling and the Attitude Era, CM Punk appears to be one of the few wrestlers who tries to keep it real and wants the business to be the best it can be. When The Rock departed the WWE, he left for greener pastures. In my eyes, The Rock left the WWE because he no longer respected pro wrestling. But CM Punk left the WWE because he respects pro wrestling. I may be wrong, but that’s how I see it.
It’s no different in pro sports. I live in New Orleans, so I’m also a huge New Orleans Saints fan. When news of the alleged bounty scandal broke, all Saints fans were convinced the Saints were being treated unfairly. But most fans of other NFL teams supported the league’s efforts to punish the Saints. When it comes to diehard CM Punk fans, nothing he does is going to convince us to stop supporting him.
No one knows what the future holds for CM Punk. But whatever he does next, he will have the support of millions of wrestling fans like me.
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