Let the record show that during the entire life of this blog I've resisted the urge to post anything about professional wrestling, or as it is correctly known in Japan, the sport of kings. But these last two weeks involving C.M. Punk have just been too historic to let pass: (1) for the first time in history someone walked out of the company wearing the WWE belt (O.K. it's a work, but has never been done before as a work even in WWE), (2) never in history has somone gone from overwhelmingly loathed heel (at least among Southern fans) to overwhelmingly loved face in so short a time, (3) not since Ric Flair reigned supreme has my favorite wrestler been so over.
Actually, before I comment further, let me explain some of the terminology to non-fans.
Contemporary Professional Wrestling emerged out of a mixture of German beer hall wrestling and wrestling matches staged in 19th century travelling carnivals. Much of the lingo comes from the weird way carnie types spoke to one another. Some key terms used above.
Face- Short for "baby face," which means good guy.
Fake- Professional Wrestling is not. As Howard Cosell once said, every other sport is though.
Heat- Audience response, "good heat" can be generated for both faces and heels.
Heel- Bad guy. Professional Wrestling is the Olympian struggle of faces versus heels, as some famous French cultural critic (I'm forgetting his name) once wrote, the only time that humans get to see such divine struggles instantiated on earth.
Kayfabe- The holy code of the wrestler, which prohibits any public recognition that the outcomes of matches are predetermined. I'm almost certain that the word translates to a standard English word in one of the varieties of carny Pig Latin from the 19th century. But I won't say what that word is, because even doing so would violate kayfabe.
Mark (sorry Professor Lance, this is the real definition)- Person who confuses works and shoots, either by not knowing that the ending of the matches is pre-ordained, or by thinking wrestlers are going off script when they really are not.
Montreal Screw Job- Legendary piece of wrestling history which you can read about HERE. As far as I know, there is no consensus about whether or not the whole thing was a work.
Over- To say that a wrestler is over is to say that a significant plurality of fans root for them to win their matches.
Promo- When wrestlers talk into the microphone to promote themselves.
Shoot- Antonym of work.
Shooting- (1) Fighting where the outcome is not predetermined, (2) going off-script in an interview or promotional segment.
Southern fan- See Mark.
Work- A fictional event posing as a non fictional event.
Now, as usual wikipedia does an excellent job of succinctly describing what has happened:
In June, after pinning WWE Champion John Cena on Raw, Rey Mysterio at Capitol Punishment and finally Alberto Del Rio again in a contendership match (which included Mysterio) all within one week, Punk revealed his contract would expire at Money in the Bank and vowed to leave the company with the WWE Championship. After making a scathing on-air speech concerning the way in which WWE is run and its owner Vince McMahon, he was given a suspension from televised WWE events but was reinstated the following week on Cena's insistence. Two weeks later at Money in the Bank, CM Punk defeated John Cena to become the WWE Champion on his "final night under contract with WWE".
On July 21, CM Punk showed up at a joint WWE/Mattel panel at the San Diego Comic Con. He offered panel member (and WWE Championship tournament-finalist) Rey Mysterio a shot at his belt anytime that Mysterio would come to Chicago to take it along with Triple H. Punk appeared at July 23's All American Wrestling show, showing respect to Gregory Iron, who became a wrestler while living with the disability cerebral palsy. On the July 25 edition of Raw, after John Cena defeated Rey Mysterio to capture the WWE Championship, "Cult of Personality" began to play as Punk returned with the title belt that he won at Money in the Bank and confronted Cena in the ring to end the show.
A few important things left out here: (1) McMahon tried and failed to pull a Montreal Screw Job during the Money in the Bank pay per view, (2) Punk's initial bout of "shooting" when his mike was turned off was instantiating Stone Cold Steve Austin's "hate your boss" meme which seems to suggest they planned on turning him face, but (3) in doing so he deliberately also insulted wrestling legends, taking The Rock's name in vain (insulting him and calling him "Dawayne"!), and (4) continues his heel thing of insulting the fans. Because of (3) and (4), it does not look like WWE thought his bit would go over nearly as well as it did. Anyhow, please watch the promo here. Also, the level of insult to McMahon, his daughter and son-in-law Triple H is out of this world. Watch it until the end. It's amazing stuff.
Then two weeks later, Punk and John Cena face off. I'm not a Cena fan myself, but he more than acquits himself here. The Punk stuff is not as tight as it usually is, I think because WWE had no idea what to do at this point. He'd kept insulting his fans, and take the Rock's name in vain, but he was getting over way more than they'd predicted, and arguably more than Cena.
Then, a week later, McMahon and Punk negotiating! Again, this is not as tight as Punk usually is, I think in part because WWE is just coming to realize how over he is. One of the great things about wrestling commentary, is that when it's done well, one of the commentators roots for and excuses the heels and the other roots for the faces. Listen to the commentators as McMahon comes into the ring. Man, McMahon is such a great villainous boss.
Again, it's like they are trying to pull back how over he is with his demand for a movie, private jet, and upping the ante in his insults of the Rock. Also, he's chewing gum, which is a traditional heel marker in wrestling. Then they bring out Cena again, who insults both Punk and McMahan, which clearly was supposed to turn the crowd against Punk, but you can hear people booing Cena and shouting "C.M. Punk"! The whole thing was supposed to put Cena further over, and it failed. Punk came out stronger than ever.
Oh man, I wish I could post actual the match, but WWE seems to have pulled even the ending off of youtube. Punk prevails after a punishing match, including the threat of a Montreal Screw Job and the money in the bank challenge at teh end, and then he actually walks out of the Chicago stadium with the belt, through the rapturous crowd. At the buffalo wings place where they showed this every single person there was for Punk, and people were blaring his themesong from their loud speakers in the parking lot afterwards.
And one week later Punk surprisingly confronts Vince McMahon's son in-lawTriple H and wrestling/luchadore legend Ray Mysterio at Comic Con, in a beautiful piece of theater. Listen to the audience resopnse. Punk is totally over! Ha!
Anyhow, I hope this shows one way that Professional Wrestling is in no way fake, in addition to the fact that it is very dangerous work.
The wrestlers are competing for audience approval and no company that wants to stay in business can ignore this. As far as I read this, Punk went over as a face, in spite of the story line that was meant to ultimately build up Cena further (right now Cena is completely over with kids and female fans, but almost no adult male fans root for him). This is a real competition, involving elements of theater, dance, opera, and of course wrestling.
At some point I'll do a post on the ballet like beauty of Mexican and some Japanese wrestling. The extent to which I love American professional wrestling is largely because of the strong influences from Mexico and Japan (there has been a lot of really healthy cross cultural fertilization involving the wrestlers training and working in each other's countries). But for now I just want to enjoy Punk's victory.
- [Punkrockmonday #1] The White Stripes - Jack the Ripper (orig. Screaming Lord Sutch), Black Math, and the Big Three Killed My Baby]
- [Punkrockmonday #2] Roy Cook - Saint Paul Cathedral, Minneapolis Capitol Building, Aayla Secura Mosaic, and Firefly Class Spaceship
- [Punkrockmonday #3] El Général- Rais Le Bled (President, Your Country)
- [Punkrockmonday #4] Charlie Patton -High Water Everywhere, Part 2
- [Punkrockmonday #5] Henry Rollins- What Am I Doing Here; Willie Nelson- Me and Paul; Rainbow Connection (orig. Kermit the Frog)
- [Punkrockmonday #6] Philip Larkin - Church Going
- [Punkrockmonday #7] David Bowie - Time
- [Punkrockmonday #8] P.J. Harvey - When Under Ether; White Chalk; Broken Harp
- [Punkrockmonday #9] Allison Kraus and Robert Plant - When the Levee Breaks (orig. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie)
- [Punkrockmonday #10] Doog - Famous Blue Raincoat (orig. Leonard Cohen); sElf - Back in Black (orig. AC/DC); Johnny Cash- Down There By the Train (orig. Tom Waits)
- [Punkrockmonday #11] John Lee Hooker - Hobo Blues; Weird Al Yankovic - My Sharona; Edgar Cruz - Bohemian Rhapsody
- [punkrockmonday #12] Pixar Studios - Cars 2; The Bang Bang - Sitting in a Car; Angry Samoans - Hot Cars; Black Flag - Drinking and Driving; Gary Numan - Cars; Queen - Bicycle Race
- [punkrockmonday #13] Betty Bowers - Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else
- [punkrockmonday #14] Sesame Street - Sure Shot (orig. Beastie Boys)
- [punkrockmonday #15] Neil Degrasse Tyson - Stupid Design