Punk vs. Bryan: Belief vs. Reluctance

Nick Paglino

CM PunkThe ongoing push of C.M. Punk provides a great contrast to the accelerating push of Daniel Bryan, especially since both – in many ways – are in the same boat.

Bruce Mitchell of PWTorch.com put it best: Vince McMahon has a body fetish. As a current WWE employee told me when we worked together in WCW, “Vince is gay for men’s bodies. I don’t know if he’s ever acted on it. But a wrestler’s body is what matters most.”

More than work. More than promos. WWE considers a wrestler’s size and physique first and foremost. History bears witness, and repeats itself.

Punk, to a large degree, beats that rap based on sheer quality of everything but physique. Punk has beaten long odds to become a legit top guy in a company where that once seemed like a laughable pipe dream even to Punk’s fans.

Bryan – who actually has a better physique than Punk – might do the same. But Bryan is clearly going to have to do it the hard way.

In his feud with Brock Lesnar – which Punk must carry, because Lesnar won’t often be present – Punk is portrayed as the underdog that never gives up. Punk’s promo on Raw did a precise job positioning Punk in that regard. “I am not afraid of Brock Lesnar.” Lesnar is bigger and stronger…but “THIS IS MY RING!”

It’s classic Fake Wrestling 101. A guy can’t possibly win, but won’t give up the fight. The odds are made clear, but right > might. Heart > muscle.

That sells, given the right promo. Punk delivered on Raw, as witnessed by the crowd’s semi-silent intensity. The marks LISTENED. They were INTO IT. “If Brock Lesnar is the beast incarnate, then I will slay that beast.” THE BEST VS. THE BEAST. Paul Heyman responded by MOCKING. No one MOCKS better than Paul E. When Lesnar finally sells for Punk, Staples Center will EXPLODE.

Bryan is traveling a different path.

WWE doesn’t believe in Bryan. Not yet, and not like WWE should. The WWE Universe’s organic attachment to Bryan is amazing. You can’t control it, and shouldn’t want to. But McMahon wants to control everything.

So, Bryan gets ridiculed constantly. He’s the weak link. A hobbit. He doesn’t deserve to main-event at SummerSlam. He has to prove himself over and over. His beard makes him look stupid. Emotionally, he fluctuates between mental patient and little kid. The divas’ reality series will make him look like a schmuck. Brad Maddox is one of WWE’s weakest characters – and talkers – in recent memory. When Maddox makes fun of you at length, what’s that say?

Give Bryan credit. He was electric on Raw. Wrestling three times showcased his top-shelf work, and the crowd was INVESTED. A lot of WWE’s top babyfaces get cheered by rote. Because the crowd knows that what it’s supposed to do. Bryan gets cheered because the marks WANT TO.

Sad to say, but that doesn’t happen much anymore.

I’m not sure it ends good for Bryan. SummerSlam’s buy rate won’t be what Vince wants. Or a Raw rating won’t be what Vince wants. What matters most is, Bryan doesn’t look like Vince wants. Eventually, Bryan will pay for that.

Vince will find an excuse to perceive Bryan as a failure. Vince’s perception = everyone’s reality.

Follow Mark Madden on Twitter: @MarkMaddenX

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