Friday, April 4, 2014

Why CM Punk Should Have Taken 2013 Off And Returned At The 2014 Royal Rumble


Following WrestleMania 29 in April of 2013, CM Punk took some time off from wrestling. Unlike his current and seemingly permanent departure from the business, Punk's 2013 break was scheduled and sanctioned by the WWE brass.

His vacation was, arguably, far too brief, however, for he returned in June to have a match against Chris Jericho at the Payback pay-per-view, and continued wrestling for the company until his inevitable departure earlier this year.

Despite leaving the WWE after his 'Mania loss to The Undertaker as a definitive heel, a month off and a hometown return at Payback effectively gave Punk's character the etch-a-sketch treatment, transforming him into a face simply because fans were happy to have him back.

Even in June of 2013 when Punk returned from his month or two off, I thought it was too soon.

I'm a huge Punk-fan, and I certainly wanted to see him on the card and in the biggest matches as often as possible, but I was willing to sacrifice the rest of 2013 so that my favorite wrestler of all time could make a truly triumphant return. With a crowded title scene, and a WWE corporate structure hell-bent on relegating The Best in the World to the midcard, I was convinced that if Punk came back too soon he would be misused yet again, and pushed further down on the card until fading into obscurity. And that's exactly what happened.

Punk returned at a forgettable time of year at a forgettable pay-per-view for a match that had very little build, wasn't very good, and made even less sense as a logical angle.

The great old days...

Punk then began the excellent, but overlong feud with Paul Heyman. This feud spanned several months and several pay-per-views, eventually becoming stale and leaving Punk with nothing else to do. Heyman was The Joker to Punk's Batman, which meant a secondary villain needed to stand-in for Heyman when it came to actually fighting The Straight Edge Savior. And so we had to watch a lot of matches between Punk & Curtis Axel and Punk & Ryback - two wrestlers that simply aren't on Punk's level and couldn't help Punk gain momentum in any capacity.

The pinnacle of the Punk/Heyman feud was the spectacular SummerSlam match between Punk and Brock Lesnar, and remains the last great thing Punk did towards the end of his WWE career.

After that "Match of the Year", Punk had nothing else to do, given the current title scene, and the ever-rising star of Daniel Bryan. His ultimately lackluster return coupled with the current environment made it impossible for Punk to do anything significant, or promote himself in an exciting way.

He also had to keep working. Every night. Breaking his body every day for our entertainment. That wear and tear coupled with an unenviable, undeserved lowly position in the company is harmful to moral.

Punk continued through the rest of the year, fighting The Shield again and again, completely misused and unable to gain any kind of momentum going into The Royal Rumble. He was muted and neutered by months of misuse, existing as an awkward face without a decent rival.

And then he was dragged illegally and unceremoniously out of the Rumble by Kane, setting up what was rumored to be a match between Punk and Triple H at 'Mania.

Think about this from Punk's perspective and his abrupt exit from the company becomes easily understandable. His entire career in the WWE is littered with stop & start pushes, where the company just didn't seem capable of making up its mind and getting behind one of the best in wrestling history (because the brass just didn't like Punk's attitude or physique, believing he didn't look the part of corporate representation). 2011 and particularly 2012 were Punk's years, however. He had the longest title reign in twenty five years and was the top heel for most of it. Despite all of this, it wasn't until the end to his reign when he finally received the proper billing, taking a backseat to John Cena throughout most of his 434-day reign

He was the WWE Champion at WrestleMania in 2012, and yet he wasn't permitted to headline the main event! Instead we got a non-title match between The Rock and Cena.

Enjoy some expertly applied holds...

Come the 2013 Royal Rumble, Punk had to drop his championship to a part-time wrestling-movie-star. Punk then had to watch as The Rock and John Cena headlined WrestleMania again, to have yet another subpar (and much worse) match, preventing the superior performer, and rightful champion to have the moment he should have had three years prior (contrary to what The Miz says, no one is talking about The Miz vs John Cena at 'Mania 27; not without calling it the worst main event match in history anyway)!

Rock: Didn't mean that much to me anyway.
Cena: Thanks for making me look good.

Instead of the Main Event he'd earned for several years, Punk received the concession prize of The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, where he didn't even get to beat the streak.

And then, after months and months of being given nothing to do other than his feud with Heyman, he had to swallow the bitter pill of being illegally pulled out of the Rumble to set up a match against Triple H at 'Mania. A blatant demotion. Only someone desperate for work and willing to abide such mistreatment would have remained with the company.

While there are many factors contributing to Punk's departure from the WWE (something many still theorize is a work), his far-too-early return in 2013 at the Payback pay-per-view is one of the most significant.

Had Punk stayed away longer we certainly wouldn't have gotten the glorious SummerSlam match between Punk and Brock. This is the argument in favor of his early return I've encountered most often.

I'm willing to sacrifice that great match for a 2014 Royal Rumble return, however, especially considering the fact that Punk and Brock could have faced each other at any point in the future and had just as good a match.

Had Punk taken more time off than not only would his body have healed, not only would he have been able to rebuild morale after WrestleMania 29, he would have returned to uproarious applause and with an instantly rejuvenated mystique. Had he returned at the 2014 Rumble he would have gained a staggering amount of momentum headed into 'Mania 30.

Punk could have won or lost The Rumble and it wouldn't have effected his prestige, especially if it came down to him and Bryan with Bryan scoring the victory and the coveted 'Mania spot.

Punk and Bryan would have then begun their feud. Whoever lost The Rumble would win the title at Elimination Chamber, and the feud would naturally culminate in a WrestleMania main event match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This is obviously me playing backseat booker in my happy parallel universe of logic and fairness. Any number of factors could have derailed this natural course of events, but it could have just as easily played out this way had Punk been saved for the 2014 Rumble.

There's always a chance the WWE has some surprises in store, and there's always a chance Punk will come back. But until that fantasy becomes a reality, we can only wonder 'what if'.

Punk is a casualty in the WWE's efforts to understand their audience and do what is actually "best for business". Their roster is unavoidably lacking without the presence of Punk, and they've certainly lost a bit of their all important cash with his absence, as well as a veteran for the younger stars to rely on.

So hopefully they will learn from their past mistakes and figure out a way to give those deserving superstars their rightful platform, encouraging them to stay with the company and tell great stories.

While I can't help but crave the WrestleMania that never was, I don't want to take anything away from Daniel Bryan and the showcase that awaits us this Sunday. It still promises to be a great event even without Punk on the card.

Get ready, thanks for reading, and keep striving to be The Best In The Wooooooooooooooooooorld!

Return next week for more wrestling news and reviews, and follow WWE 2K14 Champion Maximus on Twitter @MaximusWrestler.

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