On CM Punk

PunkI was never a big CM Punk fan.

He’s obviously a good wrestler, to be certain; while I agree with people like Brandon Stroud who would make the point that Daniel Bryan is almost certainly the real “Best in the World” at present, Punk was always a great worker, and he’s one of the very few workers who is more or less the total package, IE, good in the ring and on the mic. He absolutely deserved to hold the WWE Title in its various incarnations several times over the course of his career (if said career is indeed over), he absolutely deserved to be in the main event for several years, and he absolutely deserved to go out into the world and say that he deserved everything he ever had, because he was talented, and because he was compelling.

That said, though, I never turned on Raw to watch CM Punk, never cared if he was champion, and never really considered myself a fan of his because… well, to be honest, he seems like kind of a dick.

That’s not meant to be an insult, per say; Punk himself admits he’s hard to deal with to certain extents, and he seems to own the fact that he can be a jerk. Further, I’m friends with plenty of people who would describe themselves as “assholes” without any prompting, so I don’t personally consider that an insult. It’s just a personality type, albeit a semi-derogatory one, and it’s one that Punk has been described as having by fans, coworkers and even friends over the years. The common consensus just seems to be that Punk is kind of a tool, sometimes, whether you like him or not.

The one instance that always stood out to me was during a meet-and-greet where I took my mother to see April Hunter (they’re friends, for reference) and Paul London happened to be there at the same time. Paul’s a decent guy, from what I could tell; he laughed when I made an Army of Darkness reference and instantly knew what it was, which goes a long way, but he also just seemed like a person who knew how to be nice to people. He was very much a pleasant person to talk to, whether I was doing the talking or the random small kids who came in to see him were, and he never seemed like he was faking it or like he was a dick. One thing I did notice, however, was that there was no love lost between him and Punk, specifically because of an odd exchange where a small child said, for no reason, “I don’t like CM Punk,” and London, in his most sincere “you don’t know the half of it” voice, replied “I don’t like CM Punk either.”

The reasons for that exchange are generally lost to the sands of time (something something he was an asshole to London for unspecified reasons), but that’s not an uncommon sentiment, amongst other wrestlers or people who have dealt with him. Maybe some of that’s a gimmick, maybe some of it’s just him being a straight shooter, but whatever the rationale, I can’t say. What I can say is that, because of comments made by others, and because of how he presented himself as a person, Punk always struck me as a fine wrestling character, but not a fine person, so to say.

Wrestling, of course, is generally populated with shitty people; I mean, I figured that out when Sting was a dick to me as a ten year old at a paid autograph signing, so that’s not really a surprise or anything. That said, however, I tend to gravitate, as a fan, toward three types of wrestlers: those who seem like the “underdog,” those who wear colorful masks or paint, and those who seem like they’re legitimately nice people. For me, then, the WWE offers more when wrestlers like Kallisto, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler are on screen than someone like Punk, and while I was fine with him when he was on, and I even kind of enjoyed the Summer of Punk WWE-style until they ruined it, he never really resonated with me as a character or a person.

Which brings us to the events of the past couple of weeks.

For those who aren’t aware, Punk walked out on the WWE back in January, and has mostly been silent about the whys and wherefores of the situation since… until this past Thanksgiving, when he appeared on the Art of Wrestling Podcast, hosted by his own friend Colt Cabana, to tell his side of the story. For those who have missed it, you can catch the first volume, where he explains the departure and everything relating to it here, and the follow-up where he addresses the leftovers and bullshits about more elements of the situation here. This is becoming something of a huge deal, obviously, and while Punk notes that he wanted to sit down and make this all public a while ago, the fact that it falls (time-wise) right before his writing stint on Thor is about to hit the stands, and a week before he announced that he’s about to step into the Octagon for UFC, works out pretty well for him, all things considered. Basically, Punk went from being a huge talking point to a marginally faded star to a huge talking point again over the course of the past year, so much so that Steve Austin called out Vince McMahon on his podcast on the situation, which essentially forced a response from WWE, whether they were ready to make one or not.

I find this interesting, because the tale itself is really weird and messed up, but also because honestly… I kind of don’t care so much.

Let me backtrack a little.

I just recently finished reading Chris Jericho’s third book, The Best in the World, at What I Have No Idea, and it’s… fine. I’m glad for Jericho, honestly; he’s a talented dude who worked his ass off to get to where he is, and he absolutely deserves all of the success he’s achieved in his life, bar none. That said, I kind of noticed a running trend in this book that I hadn’t noticed so much in the prior books (either because it wasn’t there or was more subdued) where Jericho frequently talks about his position and character as if he’s someone who drew a shitload of money in the business and thus is consistently being fucked over in one form or another. Don’t get me wrong, dude deserves all of the stuff he feels he wants throughout the book, be it money, accommodations, and so on, but there’s a difference between saying, essentially, “I pushed for this because I felt like I deserved it,” and “I pushed for this because people keep fucking me over,” and I got a lot more of the latter from the book than the former.

On the other side of things, I also sat down and re-watched Jim Cornette’s Breaking Kayfabe shoot from Kayfabe Commentaries, which was also a lot of “Vince Russo is a human cancer,” and “ROH going to hell in a handbasket wasn’t my fault,” and the one thing that I took away from that was also a lot of “people kept fucking me over,” rhetoric. Now, I’m absolutely a Jim Cornette guy, and I mostly agree that Vince Russo is kind of a shithead, but I’m also at a point where I can objectively sit back and say, “Jim, no, you absolutely have to accept some blame for this situation, don’t act like nothing that happened is your fault here.” I mean, Paul Heyman and Dutch Mantell have jobs with WWE again, despite the fact that both of them have pissed off a whole shitload of people, and say what you will, Cornette is doing Ole Anderson ratings in terms of popularity right now, so it’s hard to take his observations at face value.

Hence the general apathy towards Punk’s actual situation, in and of itself. I absolutely feel like the stories he’s told are almost certainly accurate, and it’s a complete horror show if the story is entirely true (which Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo have both kind-of sort-of alluded to), so in that sense, absolutely, it’s an interesting look into the inside of the WWE from someone who doesn’t give a shit about going back. However, and here’s the big point, it’s also a tale told by someone who is being a dick to people who don’t deserve it while telling his stories, and not only does that kind of validate my original perception that he’s kind of a dick, it also reinforces my original viewpoint, which is thus:

I don’t care why CM Punk left wrestling, I don’t care that he’s gone, I don’t especially miss him, I’m glad he’s happy now, and I don’t really care if he ever comes back.

Look, real talk: CM Punk has a lot of heat with a lot of people, and some of it is honestly pretty unwarranted. Coming back to Jericho, Punk makes a point during his first podcast of essentially shitting on Jericho in a couple of ways, more or less indirectly saying that he wasn’t talking to people because he felt like they had agendas. Jericho, in turn, said publicly that he didn’t have an agenda, that he considers Punk a good friend, and that he kind of understood where Punk was coming from. Punk, in turn… shit on Jericho again, which… okay dude. He also took an extensive amount of shots at Ryback, calling him “steroid guy,” and mentioning his injuries suffered at Ryback’s hands, which is fine, but then Ryback himself came out and said that Punk never said anything to his face and complained to Vince instead, and also mentioned that hey, Cena continues to work with him and hasn’t complained. Jericho also mentioned that Ryback has never been rough with him, so that’s something. I’m not expecting Punk to be Cena over here, where no one but the one Spirit Squad dude has anything bad to say about him, but even if we discount the Ryback heat, a decent amount of both podcasts boiled down to:

1.) Punk explaining why doing a thing for a specific person sucked dick, followed by him explaining that there’s no heat there because he told this person that to their face,

2.) Punk explaining why certain people suck for one reason or another, which gets no “there’s no heat” qualifier, so there almost certainly is, and

3.) Punk laying out how specific people, and the WWE as a whole, super fucked him over, which pretty much definitely instigated heat,

all of which just seems very reminiscent of the above mentioned, “fucking me over,” vibe.

Now, if we’re being honest, I watch a decent amount of wrestling “shoot” videos, and I’d absolutely love it if Punk sat down with Sean Oliver over at Kayfabe Commentaries because it’d be funny. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that shoots generally fall into specific categories, relative to the mindset of the person being interviewed. Usually, shoots will either be bitter rants about how a specific company sucks/sucked and how much the person hated people or events (when they don’t ever want to go back or aren’t welcome back), a bland and politically even discussion of events that casts the performer’s time as good (when they do want to go back), or a generally honest and even-handed look at everything wrong on both sides of the discussion (when they don’t need to go back but both sides would be okay with it). Compare the recent Ricardo Rodriguez shoot (the first category) to the recent Brodus Clay shoot (definitely the second) and you’ll understand what I mean. Hell, compare Jim Cornette’s shoots from when he was in TNA (and was being nice to Vince Russo) to his shoots from when he’d been released from TNA (and was tearing Russo apart) for an even more blatant contrast.

To put it in a different, slightly more accessible way, consider the New Age Outlaws. When Road Dogg and Billy Gunn were in TNA after having each been released for various reasons (Dogg because of addiction and personal issues, Gunn because they’d pushed him for years and he couldn’t get over, and also drug issues by his own admission), they recorded several shoot interviews essentially burying the hell out of HHH. Now, not that I’m any kind of big defender of Hunter, because God knows he’s as embarrassing as Vince for different reasons, but their burial of HHH was entirely unwarranted (if entertaining) because their termination was entirely their fault. Dogg was let go because he had drug issues that interfered with his ability to work, and Gunn had been pushed many times as a singles wrestler, even though The Rock summed up everything the fans thought about that idea in one promo, years and years ago, in addition to having significant drug issues himself. This went on for years until they cleaned themselves up and, having been turfed out of TNA, decided to basically go on record publicly with their drug issues and general reticence for their past comments, which (directly or indirectly) ended up with them back in the WWE as agents and part-time workers.

While I’m sure a good portion of their beef with WWE was legitimate, and their venting of their frustrations was entertaining, they were also, in many respects, to blame for their release, and the fact that they needed work and had no other options ended up causing them to open up about that. This is by no means whatsoever to say that CM Punk was having drug issues, or that he was released, or anything of that nature; rather, it is to say that, for all of his complaints (which sound entirely valid) and for all of his issues with the inner workings of the company, he almost certainly had as much of a hand in the end of his tenure as anyone. Now, obviously that’s so; he admits that he’s as difficult to deal with as they come when backed into a corner, and that he essentially walked away for a while after the Royal Rumble, but it goes beyond that: put simply, Punk takes little to no accountability for his own failings, save for being “too accommodating” which is certainly a failing, especially when it loses you money or power. The fact is, from listening to both of his podcasts with Colt Cabana (who I was only tangentially aware of prior to listening, and have since subscribed to because dude is a funny guy), it’s apparent that Punk is as much the cause of his issues as anyone, and while I’d hope he’d acknowledge that someday, as it stands now… not so much.

In the end, honestly, Punk is probably right that anyone who’s devoting a lot of time to thinking about the situation probably needs a different hobby, and while I could probably lay out some examples of behavior that caused all of this, it doesn’t matter so much (though I will note that if everyone in the office was terrified of talking to you, that’s probably because you’re an awful human being). This is, if we’re being honest, me saying what I have to say about it in a forum that allows for more space than Facebook and less direct exposure than Pulse Wrestling, really. I’ve been exposed to the whole thing forever now, so I certainly have an opinion on it, and I kind of wanted to just express it, get it out of my system, let anyone who wants to comment on it do so, and never think about it again.

To wrap up, my final points, in bullet form, are:

– WWE absolutely fucked over Punk, and that’s apparent, given all of the money they cost him and the sponsorships they took away from him and gave to, of all people, Randy “hotel room destroying, steroid using” Orton,

– Punk was almost certainly a colossal douchenozzle in every business dealing he had with the company, however, and almost certainly made it so that no one wanted to deal with him,

– Punk is absolutely correct that making money should in no way have anything to do with whether or not the writer dealing with you likes you and wants to write for you, and that the people involved should suck it the fuck up and write for people whether they like them or not,

– However, Punk also has to understand that every corporation on the face of the Earth has an HR department because, surprise, people want to at least be able to pretend to enjoy their job, and if someone doesn’t want to work with you, then you are a part of the fucking problem, I don’t care how much money you’re bringing in,

– Hunter almost certainly hated Punk despite the money that could’ve been made working with him, and the fact that Hunter came out of retirement, had a match with Punk, pinned Punk and then went back into retirement until it was time to beat Lesnar (another person he shouldn’t have beaten), was a complete wank-fest and a waste of time,

– However, Punk was almost certainly a jerkoff to Hunter at all fucking times, and shitting in the mouth of the guy that runs the company is not going to make them want to do anything for you,

– Leaving when he did while ill was almost certainly Punk’s best decision, because he needed time to recover and progress his life, and his termination was totally shitty timing wise and was almost certainly handled as a PR move after the fact, but

– Finally, Punk also didn’t actually make the effort himself to call anyone, by his own admission, on the “talent” side of things at any point during his hiatus, told Vince he was done, and when contacted by Hunter blew him off, and it’s hard to sympathize with his “I was fired on my wedding day,” mantra when he had nearly half a year to call someone in Talent Relations and tell them what was up, and he’d walked out on the company for nearly half a fucking year and was only not fired up to that point because they were hoping he’d fucking come back.

Look, Punk deserves everything he won in the settlement; he was clearly unhappy, he clearly needed out, and he clearly was being mishandled by his own approximation of the situation. Good on him for resolving it in a way that made him happy and allowed him to move on with his life into other things that make him happy, like getting ruined by professional fighters for shitloads of cash. Get your cash son, no regrets. However, Punk is also, like any good storyteller, cutting a promo on the WWE and creating a narrative that makes him look like the face and the WWE look like the heels, and while that’s fine to a point, it also is being done in a way that refuses to acknowledge that Punk was almost certainly as much to blame for his failures as anyone.

There’s this idea that I came up with a while ago, which I will leave you with, which goes like this. When we are children, regardless of when you were born, we are shown media that gives us clearly objective good guys and clearly objective bad guys, and makes it apparent that good guys win through friendship and being good, and bad guys lose because they are evil and bad. The common comparison point I use, because it’s far and away the most simplistic, is Power Rangers. The Power Rangers themselves are the epitome of good, Rita Repulsa/Lord Zedd/Ivan Ooze/whoever is the epitome of evil, problems are almost always solved within half an hour, and very little is investigated in any complex fashion. When we’re growing up, that’s the mentality we tend to adopt because it’s what we’re exposed to: the bullies and teachers who make our lives difficult are “evil,” and we are “good” because we’re the hero of our own story.

As we get older, however, we’re exposed to more broad media, and the example I tend to drag out for this is The Great Gatsby. Now, this book is, if I’m being honest, not one of my favorites, but it’s a very honest and realistic book, for one reason: nobody in this story, honestly, is really “good.” The characters in the story are generally, at best, tolerable and at worst, awful, but their defining purpose is not to be heroes or villains, it’s to be interesting and complex. Everyone does things for specific reasons, even if they don’t make sense to us, because those things make sense to the characters, and if you trace their behaviors back a bit you can even understand their motivations, even if they’re something you as a person could never fathom doing. That is life, in a nutshell: people do things because of reasons that they understand, and while it may hurt you or make you upset, it almost certainly isn’t to spite or hurt you unless you have specifically done something to merit that reaction or the person in question is a sociopath.

Punk is telling a Power Rangers story at this point, where he is good, and Lord HHH is bad. He’s entitled, and more power to him I guess, but as someone who claims to be reasonably intellectual and absolutely is older and more well traveled than myself, well, it’s disappointing, but not terribly surprising. It’s a good story, and it’s probably pretty true, but it’s also intellectually dishonest, either by choice or by inherent personal bias, and it’s really not helping anyone but him. Honestly, whether you’re a fan or not, you should support his desire to do what he wants and to get out of an environment that makes him unhappy. Just don’t take everything he’s saying as gospel, or as the lies of the bitter; just understand it to be what it is, which is, frankly, Jay Gatsby pretending he’s the Green Power Ranger.

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