Friday, July 1, 2011

Punk Points Out A Problem

Nevermore to be held down
By the weights against me
Nevermore to be cast aside
This day is mine

If only I'd waited a week to start doing audio, huh? But then, really, would it have mattered?

CM Punk is in the news again. And the shortsightedness that has resulted is staggering.

The promo that Punk cut at the end of the 06.27.11 Raw completely detonated the internet. He said the word - *gasp!* - wrestling! He mentioned Ring of Honor! And New Japan Pro Wrestling! He name-dropped Colt Cabana...and then John Laurinatis! Wow! And, oh my God, did he go off on the McMahon family or what??

Needless to say, the resulting storm was almost as entertaining as the promo itself. Speculation and discussion has run rampant on whether the promo was part of the story (“herein known as “work”) or if Punk completely went out and freaked out the powers-that-be in WWE on his own (known from here on out as “shoot”, for those unfamiliar with “insider” terms). The eternal question of “work-or-shoot” seems to be what roughly 90% of that fallout is focused on. The other 10% is all about whether WWE can keep the story this fresh and exciting or if the promo is simply used to provide yet another family-friendly happy ending and thrown away within three weeks. Those angles are the only two being discussed because, again, hardly anyone is looking at the bigger picture.

How many guys have willingly called an audible and ventured outside the confines of World Wrestling Entertainment? Despite the fact that it is the largest and best company in the world marketplace for the pro wrestling industry (is that term even allowed anymore?), a lot of guys have walked away. Even when Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling was nipping at WWE’s heels or even overtaking them for a brief period, WWE was still the top of the mountain. Fast forward to now, where there really is no viable alternative and WWE is the top company in the world. That kind of stability and security is not available anywhere else...and yet, at least ten top stars within the last five years didn’t give a damn about that.

Since 2006, WWE has seen guys the company to pursue other dreams, while some simply hated working for WWE and didn’t want to be there anymore. We’re not counting stars that retired from wrestling altogether, such as Edge, Shawn Michaels, or JBL. Nor are we talking about also-rans like Zach Ryder who never got a chance in the first place; we’re talking major stars. Main-event players. Kurt Angle. Ric Flair. Mick Foley. Dave Batista. Jeff Hardy. Rob Van Dam. Chavo Guerrero Jr. MVP. Chris Jericho. All. Gone. Because they couldn’t stand being in such a sterilized, suffocating environment anymore.

CM Punk Could very well be the next to go. The word has been for months now that Punk was unhappy under the WWE banner and wanted out. His promo on Raw, planned or not, certainly shows just how miserable he is. On the June 27, 2011 edition of “Right After Wrestling”, former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas stated that, whenever it came for a talent to “shoot”, the talent in those situations were virtually given carte-blanche to talk with no restrictions. Korderas said that it would be fair to guess that Punk had that same leeway when he spilled his bile this past Monday. If that is the case, and what Punk said was truly from the heart...oh, yeah. He’s so leaving WWE.

Sure, the argument could be made whether or not Punk is actually leaving. If this is all a work and Punk has already worked out a deal to stay and WWE has the guts to run with such an edgy story as so many internet wrestling fans are hoping for? Great. Congratulations. I’ll be the first to admit ya got me. Show of hands - how many people actually think the McMahon family, Johnny Ace, and Kevin “The Beaver” Dunn the powers-that-be WWE would put themselves in a position to look weak for even a split second? They have families to cater to! And that’s because they have shareholders to please now! Who on earth thinks that WWE will carry through on a story this outside-the-norm? You really think they’d turn around the status quo?

Because, let’s face it, they have no real reason to. There’s no way they’d act on something this buzzworthy just to please guys that they don’t give a damn about despite having watched their lousy product for so many years like me. CM Punk called himself “just a spoke in the wheel”, and this is the first guy that’s gotten WWE mainstream attention (which they so crave) simply by doing a storyline. What does that make us, then? People that have worked in the business alongside us internet nerds who just write these stupid little blogs (because, let’s face it, that’s how they see us) who are on the outside looking in now are just that. Outsiders. Our opinion doesn’t matter whether we have a resume or not. If you think it does and they just might go outside of their little PG-Era, we-know-how-it’s-done-because-we’re-the-only-game-in-town box to make more money, then you’re as deluded as they come.

Now that we have all that nonsense, can we look at a bigger issue? Well, if you read between lines like so many have done this week with Punk’s promo, they you might realize we kind of already have.

What is it about WWE that is making so many top stars want to leave? How some guys are presented on television and treated backstage, in comparison to their overall worth to the company (or even perceived self-worth), seems to be a motivating factor for hauling ass. Backstage politics are an accepted part of the business, and not being used to full potential when it’s obvious the company is missing the boat on what talent has to offer can get frustrating in any line of work. Once egos get involved? Instant problem. Especially with a company that has every right to believe its way to do business is the only way because they’ve survived the test of time and competition.

There’s the frustration of company practices possibly in places, but that can also reach to encompass creative aspects as well. WWE produces a very specific product that has become stale and boring. Their pay-per-view numbers reflect that much. Yet, because they have several other revenue streams and no one’s even close to competing with them in the current marketplace right now, they have the power to produce their current product a very specific way. But what about those that enjoy more creativity and freedom than that stifling atmosphere is willing to give them? Guys like MVP, Chavo Guerrero, and Low-Ki? They were willing to give up the big guaranteed salaries in order to pursue that. The ethos of “do it yourself” is more possible, viable, and possible than ever thanks to new technology. To hell with wrestlers – more and more people overall are realizing that this is a prime time to strike out on your own without having to answer to anyone. Everyone from me to Colt Cabana to Dave Lagana are taking that route because we have all the freedom we need to say and do whatever we want.

The talent roster is as thin now as it has been in recent memory, and losing names like CM Punk have to come as a blow to the company’s ability to make money. For WWE’s sake, they should hope the talent bleeding stops soon. The company could possibly be less restrictive on policies and creative freedoms, but it is unlikely as that direction has led to more mainstream acceptance, which has always been Vince McMahon’s big fantasy. The trade-off seems to be that WWE is losing major stars that would rather be part of pro wrestling than an entertainment company. After this past Monday, it’s safe to say that CM Punk is among those stars that are willing to leave it all behind in the name of personal fulfillment.

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