The Summer of Punk, The Future of Wrestling (Trending and Tumbling)
July 14, 2011 5:45 PM   Subscribe

The recent passing of Randy Savage stirred nostalgia in wrestling fans from the '80s. Then WWE wrestler CM Punk garnered mainstream media coverage with a blistering promo that ran roughshod over the corporate image that the WWE had been carefully cultivating for the last decade. The unprecedented use of social media in his feud with John Cena (he sent both indie wrestler (and close friend) Colt Cabana and WWE ice cream bars trending on Twitter) has not only given wrestling the biggest mainstream boost since the Attitude Era, it has also shined a light on writers who love the fake fighting but aren't the stereotype of a wrestling fan -- The Masked Man (now unmasked) has been writing excellent pieces for a while, but The Dugout's Brandon Stroud now posts The Best and Worst of Raw, and a host of Tumblrs (such as Styles Clash) follow the sport (with Fair to Flair as an example of a collaborative blog).

(I haven't watched wrestling on TV in ages, but my YouTube page is a ridiculous pastiche of WWE clips. Don't tell anyone.)

(In before "IT'S FAKE.")
posted by solistrato (40 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The Best and Worst of Raw is perfect, glittering jewel every week.
posted by Simon! at 5:46 PM on July 14, 2011

Is just something I would have to be busted right open with a steel chair to understand?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:47 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's a pretty famous clip, but here it is anyway. So many questions. [0:29 SFW]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:51 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Colt Cabana

Look, WWE, just set him up to lose a cage match to Dick Steele and be honest to those in your audience that are still in denial.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:04 PM on July 14, 2011

posted by cortex at 6:05 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brian Wilson wrestles on the side?
posted by xmutex at 6:15 PM on July 14, 2011

1. CM Punk is so, so fantastic. I can only assume WWE will find some way to screw him up.

2. WWF ice cream bars were the best, that's why they got such a huge pop. Obviously.

3. The Best and Worst of RAW is also really great.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:19 PM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, is it a coincidence that a crowd chanting "CM Punk" sounds a lot like a crowd chanting "Cena sucks?"
posted by uncleozzy at 6:23 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

CM Punk is so, so fantastic. I can only assume WWE will find some way to screw him up.

Prior to this, I had only seen him during his face run to the ECW Championship. I had no idea he was this skilled a heel. That was a Jake Roberts caliber promo.

And damn it, Cena does not suck. The man is a professional and he works his ass off. And cuts one hell of a promo himself, by the way.
posted by Trurl at 6:39 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

CM Punk is singlehandedly getting me excited to watch this stuff every week again. That is all.
posted by HostBryan at 6:42 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wrestling goes through it’s cycles. Where the new & innovative shuffles out the old & dated. Whether it was Attitude Era, ECW, ROH there’s always been that shift & the fans feels it. This is our shift, this is our new movement. Now whether the E capitalizes on it is a whole other story. For them to completely drop the ball on this would be not only idiotic but financially costly. Reports coming out of this past Monday night, CM Punk merchandise sold out at the arena.
posted by Trurl at 6:54 PM on July 14, 2011

I am a regular reader of Kevin Eck's Ring Posts. Eck worked for late-stage WCW and is both a good writer and an insightful critic. He also doesn't post spoilers, unlike many other wrestling websites. (Most wrestling shows are not broadcast live, so storyline twists always end up on the Internet several days before airing on TV.)

I also read (warning: site sometimes runs annoying scripts) for their live-blogs of pay-per-view events. I only pay for two or three PPV events per year, so this is how I keep up with what's happening.
posted by cribcage at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2011

That Hypnosis thread is still one of my all-time favorites here on the blue. I remember waking up severely hungover and clicking on that link, then reading the comments, and laughing so hard the whole way that I felt cured by the end of it.
posted by mannequito at 7:05 PM on July 14, 2011

I think puts out a quality product.
posted by Trurl at 7:22 PM on July 14, 2011

What's funny about one of Punk's promos that night was when he compared Cena to the New York Yankees. It was meant (and taken) as a diss, so much so that it sounded like it genuinely brought the BAH-ston out of Cena; but I've made that comparison as a fan of both Cena AND the Yankees.

People hate on them because they're awesome and they win all the time.

*Waves hand in front of face*
*drops mic*

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:06 PM on July 14, 2011

I've got mate who claims that pretty much all media can be boiled down to wrestling terms. I used to doubt him, since I'm not a wrestling fan, but then I started to see things like 'Heel Face Turn' and 'Hope Spot' show up on TV Tropes. His explanation of how wrestling psychology mirrors good storytelling is actually pretty coherent too.

His other theories mostly involve The Muppets and Jack Kirby.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:13 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Amazing promo. Actually tempts me to watch wrestling again after 10 years off.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:13 PM on July 14, 2011

Maybe this is a dumb question, but is his Howard Beale moment real?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:27 PM on July 14, 2011

CARDGAGE, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Cardgage, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Cardgage, there is a C.M. Punk. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no C.M. Punk. It would be as dreary as if there were no Cardgages. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in C.M. Punk! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the arenas on Monday nights to catch C.M. Punk, but even if they did not see C.M. Punk coming down off the top rope, what would that prove?

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Cardgage, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No C.M. Punk! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Cardgage, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
posted by persona at 8:38 PM on July 14, 2011 [11 favorites]
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:39 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Senor Cardgage: I've been reading up on it, and the best explanation I've seen is "yes and no," or the "worked shoot." That is, a lot of what Punk says is absolutely true and big part of the sentiment of hardcore internet wrestling fans, the wrestlers who don't get big pushes, etc. On the other hand, it was a part of the show. That is, they decided, hey, let's let this guy go off for a bit, we'll see what happens and if we can use it. So, it's not as real as, say, the Montreal Screwjob, but his promo wasn't scripted and Vince et al probably didn't know what he was going to say. And they may really have cut him off for real.

This is the kind of stuff that made me love pro-wrestling. Although the breaking (and pretending to break) kayfabe has been a tried-and-true promotional technique for decades, and been overused since 1997, when the stars are aligned, it is the most exciting stuff in the world. The fascinating netherworld between reality and fantasy, script and chaos that pro-wrestling inhabits like no other form of life/art/entertainment is a wonderful place.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:42 PM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

No, Senor Cardage. It's part of a storyline build-up to this Sunday's per-per-view. But like many good wrestling storylines, it mixes in real elements, like criticism of WWE's attitudes and policies. CM Punk's contract with WWE really is expiring, and apparently he really is going to take a break from the company for awhile.

One of the major complaints from pro wrestlers—and one of the issues cited in the "Wrestlers must unionize!" debate—is that WWE's schedule is year-round with no off-season. It's constant, and exhausting. In lieu of an off-season, sometimes (top) wrestlers let their contracts expire or ask to be released until they decide to return. Reportedly, that is what Punk is going to do.
posted by cribcage at 8:44 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's good to see that Best and Worst of Raw found a new home. I read that on Fanhouse until it went away, and I'm glad to have found it again.

I watch occasionally, and I usually try to watch the big PPVs (Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, Summer Slam if it's interesting). I understand the Cena hate to an extent. His matches, as Punk said, have become Hogan-like in their predictability. He'll be beaten down, then counter a move. He'll do the flying shoulder off the ropes. He'll do a scoop slam or two. Maybe a bulldog (still my favorite move in all of wrestling). There will be at least one failed finishing move (usually someone wriggles out of the STF, or whatever it's called now), and then the off the shoulder slam followed by the Five Knuckle Shuffle, which itself is pretty much a reference to the People's Elbow, both of which are essentially mocking Hogan's leg drop.

The thing is, he's great on the mic. He can be funny. He works his ass off. It's just that he's so freaking popular with the audience the WWE is chasing (kids, because kids who watch wrestling buy merch that adults never would, and they drag parents with them, selling more tickets) that they feel they can't do a heel turn with him. That's a shame, because he first showed up as a heel, and he was a fantastic heel. He had a PhD in Thuganomics! Word Life, y'all.

Cena turning heel will be greeted by the kids who are his fans with all of the shock and horror of Hogan joining the NWA. Wait and see. The psychic anguish will be palpable. Meanwhile, the older fans will just be happy that we can have new stories again.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:10 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

The best wrestling heel ever was Andy Kaufman. Seriously.
posted by msalt at 9:45 PM on July 14, 2011

If only this thread would have been a few days earlier, I would have had a Metafilter Memory to submit because this reminded me - I love it when Metafilter talks pro wrestling.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:38 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Sorry, I read that as "the recent passing of MICHAEL Savage," and I was suddenly ever-so-slightly happier.
posted by gern at 11:23 PM on July 14, 2011

Did anyone get far enough into the linked Best and Worst of Raw to see the recap of the Micky James scene? That is messed up.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:41 AM on July 15, 2011

Just for the record, I don't think that Cena "sucks" so much as puts out a very, very consistent product that is not targeted at me. And that's okay with me. Mrs ozzy, for example, is a member of CeNation, whereas I think we would have to seriously consider the future of our marriage if she were a Yankee fan.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:30 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cena as a person is a pretty cool guy. He has a good sense of humor, he doesn't take himself too seriously, he does a ton of Make a Wish Foundation visits, and he not only 'gets' why his character is seriously loathed by many, but plays it up in his mic work and fan interactions. He knows his character's booked like a cartoon character most of the time, and that if the hardcore types hate him for that, he's doing it right.

Punk's recent work, on the other hand, has been amazing. Not so much because it's blatantly off-script (the usual rule of thumb in pro wrestling is "if you hear it on TV, SOMEBODY approved it"), but because it's a rare and very open acknowledgment that a big section of the fan base watches it for completely different reasons than the eight-year-olds in their John Cena T-shirts.

The open question is how far they're going to go with this direction, and, well, PPV sales and viewership this weekend will be very telling.
posted by delfin at 8:19 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The funny thing about Cena is that I'm sure that, when I was a kid cheering Hogan at WM3, there was some older guy bitching that I probably knew nothing about Rhodes or Flair or Greg Valentine or Mid-South or some other part of wrestling that wasn't marketed to children.
posted by solistrato at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

(the usual rule of thumb in pro wrestling is "if you hear it on TV, SOMEBODY approved it")

I guess it speaks to the interview's effectiveness that so many people who should have known better were legitimately questioning "is this real?". (First hint should have been the fact the director knew exactly when Punk was going to turn his head to address the home viewer and cut to a different camera angle). I can't remember the last time wrestling received this much mainstream news coverage when it wasn't about somebody dying.
posted by The Gooch at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exactly, and the 'somebody dying' part's even a line Punk used in his follow-up on Monday.

In a lot of ways, Vince McMahon is a psychiatrist's dream patient. He is an inarguable superstar in his field, a guy who was the prime mover in lifting wrestling from a bunch of regional promotions to a nationwide thing, and a CEO whose company is the undisputed leader in its field and has no substantial competition whatsoever... and yet he seems to genuinely dislike the fact that THAT's what he's primarily known for.

Wrestling does carry the stigma of being roughly equivalent to 'carny folk' in the public eye, after all. Hence McMahon's attempts to spin out in different directions (the abortive World Bodybuilding League, the XFL, WWE Films) and diversify a bit. Furthermore, while in-ring matches will never go away entirely, 'wrestling' is nearly a dirty word around the McMahons; the characters and surrounding soap opera are as much of, often more of the focus than the matches themselves. "Pro Wrestling" became "sports entertainment." The WWF became World Wrestling ENTERTAINMENT.

And who can blame him for that, entirely? People come and people go, and today's homegrown superstar often ends up being tomorrow's headliner for the competition. The rise of MMA has been a threat -- why watch fake grappling when real fights are also on pay-per-view? Wrestling's popularity waxes and wanes, and periods where there aren't compelling personalities can be deadly to a wrestling company, but Days Of Our Lives in tights and boots is a lot easier to keep going.

Which brings us back around to Punk's recent promos. There have been a lot of hamfisted ways to make pro wrestling 'seem real' over the years, most of which fell flat on their faces. What electrified the long-timers was that Punk's barbs sounded like they were straight from the mouths of the hardcore fans -- a lot of legitimate complaints and statements, phrased in ways that meshed with the storylines, but also airing actual dirty laundry and naming real names like no one had done on-camera in years. It made it hard to believe that yes, he was going THERE and THERE, and somewhere in the back McMahon had said "go ahead, go THERE and THERE."
posted by delfin at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

In a lot of ways, Vince McMahon is a psychiatrist's dream patient. He is an inarguable superstar in his field, a guy who was the prime mover in lifting wrestling from a bunch of regional promotions to a nationwide thing, and a CEO whose company is the undisputed leader in its field and has no substantial competition whatsoever... and yet he seems to genuinely dislike the fact that THAT's what he's primarily known for.

This. In addition to trying to be a football and film mogul, I'd also argue that's why Linda McMahon made her Senate run, and is gearing up again, if I'm not mistaken: so the McMahons can finally have respectability. The irony, of course, is that for so long they've tried to run an "entertainment company" while ignoring that their most potent piece of entertainment is a brilliantly-executed match and storyline.

Also, I didn't realize McMahon had such a messed-up family background until ESPN did a brief profile on the WWE.

That's why wrestling is so fun to rubberneck with or be involved with: the personalities are genuinely messed up, and you get to watch people of varying levels of sanity and such create this huge endeavor where they're pretending to fight but it's all about the drama and OY I'M WATCHING THE WRESTLING AGAIN.
posted by solistrato at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Interview with Punk in GQ.
posted by solistrato at 11:11 AM on July 15, 2011

"Pro Wrestling" became "sports entertainment." The WWF became World Wrestling ENTERTAINMENT.

And the latest word from corporate is that it's just "WWE," now. The abbreviation is the brand, obscuring the long-form of that second "W."
posted by cribcage at 12:32 PM on July 15, 2011

That promo video is pretty great. What other sport (even an immaculately scripted one like pro wrestling) requires athletes to be athletic for a few hours, and then also perform a long speech from memory?

That's not usually part of the decathlon, right?
posted by deafmute at 8:34 PM on July 15, 2011

This 10-minute video is the entrance and opening sequence to one of the greatest matches ever: Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena at ECW One Night Stand in 2006. The lockup - the first part of the actual match - happens at 9:25. Everything before then shows why he is a great performer. Everything after then shows why he is a great sports entertainer.

Cena is awesome. He knows his role, and loves playing it.
posted by andreaazure at 9:23 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

We'll be hearing from that crazy wrestler, and I don't mean a postcard.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thought about doing a separate FPP for this article, but figured it might be too much pro wrestling for one week on Metafilter: Bill Simmons with A Brief History of Pro Wrestling Entrance Music
posted by The Gooch at 4:53 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

And another excellent wrestling piece from The Masked Man on whether John Cena can, will or even should make a face-heel turn. I'm not a wrestling fan and haven't watched it regularly (or, really, much at all) since the first wrestlemania, but the Masked Man's articles on Grantland explore the business side and the mechanics of the storytelling in a way that I find pretty fascinating.
posted by dersins at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2011

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