By Ross Williams
It's taken me a full week to catch up on RAW so I've been avoiding all wrestling news for spoilers - thought I'd weigh in with my tuppence before I go off to see what everyone else made of the Vince/Punk angle.
The truth is that I enjoyed it probably more than I have enjoyed most wrestling angles in quite some time. Whilst it seems that Vince putting himself back on TV in a main event is a knee-jerk reaction to some dodgy ratings recently, who can argue when it leads to TV this compelling?
The opening segment made me want to see the match. I couldn't wait to get back on the treadmill the next day so I could get closer to seeing what happened. Despite him being the heel, I found myself wanting to see Punk kick the crap out of Vince because I bought much of his rhetoric. He has the hallmarks of an excellent heel because you feel his character truly believes in everything he says and that he feels justified and correct in all his actions. It's an anti-American Bret Hart in '97 level of good! (or, at least, on its way there)
I wasn't keen on Punk’s heel turn to start with because I thought WWE was wasting it's second hottest babyface for no valid reason. We've seen heel Punk before so how would this iteration be any different? It just seemed like it was a shuffling of the card to me - "he's a heel now because we need a heel. Oh, and we'll make Big Show number one contender too, that'll keep things fresh". That sort of thing.
It turns out his heel character this time is markedly different and that became clearer than ever on Raw this week. Backing down from Ryback doesn't make Punk a coward; to most people, it’s pretty sensible! Let's be honest, almost everyone who reads this would back down from Ryback too. Not wanting to fight an injured Cena in Hell in a Cell? He might be hurt, but Cena has proved how tough he is repeatedly, so it's also understandable - if not noble - that Punk would want to avoid *that* match if possible. Still, for a wrestler, that's bordering on the chickenshit.
Then he went all the way this week by jumping Vince McMahon from behind. Not only was the WWE champion going to fight an OAP, he didn't even give him a fair shot and back jumped him like a pussy. To cap it off, when Vince managed to get an advantage, Punk backed off and cowered. He begged off from a man nearly twice his age. That's fine if you're younger than 20. Not so much when you're in your 30s...
Perhaps it's not an immediately obvious comparison but I'm seeing this CM Punk as having many parallels with 80’s Ric Flair – a guy who was not that notably big and was up against opponents who, on paper, would destroy him. Flair dodged and ducked and did what he could to avoid his opponent or got an advantage in advance of the match but, when that bell rang, nobody ever counted him out because he we knew he was sneaky, resourceful and would do whatever it took to leave with the title.
Punk needing that added edge to stay at the top is realistic - more realistic than Punk has been for a while, actually. He's not physically able to compare to guys like Cena or Ryback, in the same way that Flair couldn't rival powerhouses like Sting or Lex Luger. So he finds another way. The comparatively small heel who keeps finding a way to win against his bigger opponents, all the while reminding everybody that he is the best? That's a heel many will pay money to see get his ass kicked.
The money is definitely in the chase here.
So what to do at the next PPV? I’d say get Cena in the Cell if at all possible and have Punk win in a suspect fashion. If Cena can’t go that well or that long, work around it, have Punk win early and do a big beat down, then have Ryback do a save which involves something physically impressive like wrenching off one of the Cell panels or something. Cena is bulletproof anyway so a loss won't hurt him - it'll only bolster Punk. Then there's definitely money to be made off Ryback vs Punk - a program I thought had absolutely zero potential just a month ago. If they give this another month to build, it’ll just make that much more cash.
And dare we even consider the possibility that Punk will actually beat the Rock at the Royal Rumble?! That would give him the biggest bragging right of his career yet...
Maybe if Punk were to cheat like an absolute bastard at Rumble... maybe if Cena won the Rumble but then lost his title shot to Rock at Elimination Chamber... Punk having already beaten Rock, Rock having been screwed over in that loss and now having something to prove... it might just work as the top-liner for Mania.
At the very least, it would surely be more engaging that going with Cena vs Rock again, which would be so utterly predictable. I would wager that it would also better benefit Punk and WWE overall; Cena is pretty much as close as you’re going to get to a household name in modern wrestling. He had all the press that came from a Mania match against the Rock last year so another round this year isn’t going to have that much extra effect. There’s an opportunity here to use Rock at Mania to get Punk up to that next level where only Cena sits right now.
For the first time in a long time, I'm watching intently to see what happens next...
Ross Williams has recently finished writing "The Hardcore Truth" with Bob
Holly; Bob's autobiography will be published by ECW Press in early 2013.
Ross can be reached via twitter @eventertainer."