With the wrestling business sorely lacking distinguishable heels capable of delivering unique promos that actually, you know, piss people off rather than “sports entertain,” one man stands shaved head and shoulders above the rest: CM Punk, the most charismatic cult leader since Charles Manson.
Last night’s RAW promo was merely the latest example of how Punk has mastered the art of wrestling psychology—the guy has a way of getting under your skin by merely turning up the volume on his legit straight-edge lifestyle to continually deliver the most pretentious, psychotic promos in ages. (Behold the power of Punk: He mentions “Katie Vick” and suddenly she’s the number 5 trending topic on Google this morning.) Although even a blinded Chris Adams could have seen last night’s Steve Austin swerve coming a mile away, I couldn’t help but think of what have been had Punk been around in the Rattlesnake’s heyday in the Attitude Era. You couldn’t ask for two more contrasting characters to engage in verbal warfare—the promos between the two would have been riveting.
Unlike, say, the Miz, who’s a little too cutesy and clever for his own good as a heel, Punk also has a way of inserting a great one-liner (e.g., last night’s “Tooth Fairy” comment) without coming off cool or likeable. In playground vernacular, he’s the ultimate goody two-shoes. (To quote Adam Ant, “You don’t drink, don’t smoke—what do you do?”)
When thinking of Punk’s developing personality, I’m reminded of something Jerry Lawler shared with me during a car ride to Louisville: “Your delivery is OK, but you’re doing the wrong kind of promos. You’re trying too hard to be the next Jimmy Hart or Jim Cornette instead of being the original Scott Bowden. Above all, you’re trying to hard to be funny.” From that point on, I focused less on one-liners and more on being my naturally sardonic self—only way more obnoxious (my friends and associates at the time would argue the difference was negligible).
While the recent firing of Serena, whom I always found irritatingly attractive, hurts the SES gimmick, Punk will again rise above—or sink lower, depending on your point of view. Unlike Punk, Serena reportedly wasn’t living the gimmick off-stage. Party’s over for you, Serena, but take heart in knowing that WWE wishes you well in your future endeavors. (I cannot confirm if Punk has offered Serena’s SES spot to Paris Hilton as part of attempt to save the heiress from the evils of cocaine, apathy and really bad movies.) Punk has already been saddled with questionable booking this year (too little time to build a classic with Rey at WrestleMania and losing the hair match at least one PPV too soon and, later, his mask on free TV), but I think he’s capable of being a big-time money player in the right spot. (The Extreme Rules rematch with Rey and Punk was loads better, even with only a little over 6 minutes of time alloted, with the crowd hanging on every two count and false finish–the fans were dying to see Punk lose his hair.)
Like all the great villains in cinema, Punk’s character is effective because he honestly believes in his cause, no matter how heinous or difficult it is for your average citizen to understand. He exploits our own vices, weaknesses and imperfections, challenging us to rise to his unattainable, self-deluded virtues. And for that, Punk, we love to hate you.
Then again, perhaps we all could learn a lot from Punk—just look at how Jeff Hardy’s career is turning out.