When you appraise C.M. Punk's chances to make it as a BIG STAR in WWE, you can't just look at Punk. He's got the goods, no question.
But does making Punk a star fit in with WWE's usual philosophies? No, it does not. An exception would have to be made. By WWE standards, Punk is too small, and doesn't have the right look. He's not a cartoon or a kid's hero like Mysterio. This isn't a non-steroid era, per se, so he won't get the break Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart did. Even if Punk succeeds – and right now, he is; Punk's got the buzz, even if WWE isn't yet getting the ratings – WWE's traditional stereotyping could be use to cut him off at the knees AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE.
(A word about those ratings: Right now, WWE is like WCW during its death rattle. WWE thinks ratings can be SEIZED via hot-shotting. NOT TRUE. They've got to be DEVELOPED via solid programming over the long haul.)
Not only do you have to consider WWE's usual philosophies, you have to consider WWE's usual priorities.
Priority No. 1 (and No. 2, and No. 3): GET THE MCMAHON FAMILY OVER. Never was that more evident than the Raw when Punk returned. Paul Levesque-McMahon was the STAR of that show. PLM GAVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, namely J.R. back in the broadcast booth and Punk back in WWE, setting up "title vs. title" with John Cena.
Pushing PLM has ZERO positive effect on business. DOESN'T DRAW A DIME. (Whatever happened to the anonymous Raw GM, BTW?) Keeping Punk away for weeks, even months, and fully executing that storyline would have meant so much more. But that's what happens when there's no competition. You can book to serve personal agendas, especially with a bunch of squeaky yes-men to facilitate. Like Meltzer said in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE burned through weeks (even months) of booking in a single night.
Priority No. … uh, 4, I guess: BE RIGHT. It's more important to be right, than to be successful. To wit, WWE will look for any excuse to de-emphasize Punk and re-establish the natural order in WWE. For Punk to become the star his talents dictate, things MUST GO PERFECTLY. How often do things go perfectly? Punk's got to hit it out of the park every night and compile the ratings and buyrates to back him up.
Uh…good luck with THAT.
Punk has one BIG problem that a lot of people had to deal with during my time in WCW: The boss hates having someone around who KNOWS MORE ABOUT WRESTLING THAN HE DOES. For example, J.R. shouldn't have been off TV for ONE MOMENT during his illustrious career with WWE, but McMahon yanks him (and humiliates him) time and again. Sure, Ross' less-than-ideal look has something to do with it, but how often are announcers on-camera? McMahon hates J.R. because J.R. KNOWS MORE ABOUT WRESTLING THAN HE DOES.
McMahon doesn't know that much about wrestling, BTW. He's had "up" periods and "down" periods, just like any promoter. He had Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold; he had The Goon and Duke The Dumpster. McMahon's genius applies to wrestling's business side, not creative. He knows how to maximize revenue streams and create a de facto monopoly, but he's an average booker. And, like most bookers, he often retreats to pushing himself and his family, because those are the people he trusts. (See Rhodes, Dusty.)
Punk was in my radio studio for a lengthy interview last year. I voraciously devour Punk's comments to the media. Punk knows as much about wrestling as anybody, certainly more than VKM and PLM. That doesn't necessarily work in his favor. The last thing WWE wants around is somebody that can logically shoot holes in scripting and character development. "Yes sir, no sir" is SO MUCH EASIER.
A rumor circulates that Punk's new contract gives him a certain level of creative control. But there's no such thing as "a certain level" of creative control. You either have it, or don't.
Punk can be wrestling's NEXT BIG THING. He has the ability, and the charisma.
But will Punk TRULY get the opportunity?
P.S. – Much is being made about McMahon acquiescing to Punk's demand for Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" as his entrance theme, like it's some huge display of faith in Punk. It's unusual, but the rights fees don't cost THAT MUCH. I have, however, adopted "Cult of Personality" as the new opening theme for my radio show. You've got to support the like-minded. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh, PA (105.9). Check out his web page at WXDX.com. Contact Mark by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.