Many people have voiced their opinions on the self-proclaimed ‘best in the world’ walking out of WWE last week.
Whether you think CM Punk was right or wrong to leave in the manner he did, one thing is undeniable: he changed the business.
Historically, Vince McMahon maintained the policy that bigger guys get championships. However, post-Attitude Era, that mindset softened somewhat, as we saw guys like Rey Mysterio hold the belt.
Nonetheless, you still had to look like a champion… until CM Punk came along.
Punk walked into the WWE in 2005 covered in tattoos, with facial piercings and long hair. He didn’t look like a champion; he looked like a tramp. The company took one look at him and made a decision that he would never be a top superstar. Punk himself admitted in his Best in the World documentary that he didn’t think he would be part of WWE for long.
In spite of this, Punk proved that he had the skills in the ring and his big breakthrough came when he showed WWE that he could work as a heel.
The Straight Edge Society made him one of the most hated heels in the company, and following contract negotiations in 2011, Punk proved himself to be the best superstar on the mic when he delivered one of the greatest promos in WWE history.
The Chicago-born grappler took WWE’s popularity through the roof with his trademark pipebombs leading up to Money In The Bank 2011, where he finally beat ‘the man’ – John Cena – for the WWE Championship, and went on to become the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era (and the sixth longest of all time), with a 434 day run.
Only the returning Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson could knock Punk off his perch, which he did at last year’s Royal Rumble.
Punk managed to change WWE’s point-of-view that only good-looking, muscle-bound superstars could hold the title. He walked in as a Punk kid and became the champion without ever changing his character or beliefs; he became WWE and World champion his way, broke down barriers at every interval and showed the company that they should never judge a book by its cover.
There are stories circulating about how selfish Punk has been by leaving without notice or putting anyone over, but I feel he is justified in his actions. Daniel Bryan has the WWE universe behind him every match and is part of a storyline where those in charge are keeping him from the title. Punk went through the same thing in real life behind the scenes. He was kept away from the title trail for most of last year, and put into an endless feud with Paul Heyman, but he still turned out great performances.
He went to every event and stole the show, but WWE never gave him his WrestleMania main event.
If he was to hang on and leave in July when his contract expires, then he wouldn’t be able to make this kind of point, by leaving out of principle prior to April’s WrestleMania. Of course, by leaving now, he still won’t get his main event (or that fat Mania payday), but in doing so he has made an impact. He has highlighted WWE’s reliance on past superstars and made the world aware that the talent feel the same way as the fans.
I feel like Punk has done all he can in WWE to smash through those glass ceilings or reach those brass rings, and he felt that his job was done. And whether people will admit it or not, Punk has changed the landscape of the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Other wrestlers now know that they don’t need to look a certain way; they don’t need to behave a certain way; and they can make a career for themselves on their own terms.
With Punk gone, there will be a gap that needs to be filled. Hopefully his long-time comrade Daniel Bryan can step up and be ‘the man’ in his absence.