This past Monday, WWE celebrated the 1,000th episode of its flagship show, Monday Night Raw. Although pro wrestling isn’t what it used to be, I’m still a fan and was looking forward to seeing whether or not the company would be able to live up to the gargantuan amount of hype they had generated over the past several months. Part of me was hoping that Vince McMahon would go into evil genius mode and pull out all the stops, producing something on par with the classic episodes of the “Attitude Era” or at the very least giving us one five-star match. Knowing that many stars of the past would be on hand for the three-hour epic in the making, I found myself hopping aboard the hype machine against my better judgement.
So, did Raw 1,000 live up to the all the hullaballoo? Yes and no. There were some fun, nostalgic moments; when the New Age Outlaws and the APA made their appearances, I will fully admit to marking the fuck out. But the problem with those nostalgic moments is that they served as a grim reminder of how far Raw and the WWE have fallen since the Attitude Era. You see, when the likes of Degeneration-X, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the like ruled the ring, Raw was holy shit awesome every week. Back then, the WWE was literally fighting for its existence against the Ted Turner-backed WCW and this fierce competition for ratings lead to extremely compelling television. The Rock, Austin, HHH, Undertaker, Kane and Mankind would regularly have pay-per-view level matches on Raw, bolstered by a solid mid-card that included guys like Al Snow, The Godfather, Goldust, Test and Val Venis, as well as some of the best tag teams of all time, such as The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boys, Edge and Christian and the APA. The roster was overflowing with talent and charisma.
But that incredible talent pool eventually dried up. The Rock left for Hollywood, Steve Austin retired from the ring, others moved on or vanished into the depths of the “where are they now?” file. Slowly but surely, the WWE lost most of its major stars, and try as they might to recreate the success of the Attitude Era, the magic was gone. Granted, with no real competition, the WWE didn’t need much magic, being the only option for most wrestling fans. But they did need to create new stars, and this is something the WWE has largely been unsuccessful in for the past decade. They’ve relied on John Cena (aka Hulk Hogan 2.0, or the merchandising cash cow) and the few remaining veterans (HHH, Kane, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, etc) to carry the company, but Cena is the only new breakout star the company has been able to make post-Attitude Era.
The 1,000th episode of Raw may have changed that. At the close of the episode, current WWE champion CM Punk laid out The Rock with a flying clothesline, followed by his finishing maneuver, the GTS (go to sleep). Not only did Rocky do a superb job of selling the attack, but Punk may have elevated himself to the next level by going over one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. As if that wasn’t enough, Punk proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is one of the few major active wrestlers that can tell a story in the ring. Prior to the confrontation with The Rock, Punk was involved in a match against John Cena with the WWE title on the line. The Big Show ran in and knocked out Cena while the referee was out of the ring, and Punk appeared to be genuinely conflicted about whether or not to attempt a pin on Cena while he was vulnerable. The pin attempt was unsuccessful, but when Big Show came back in the ring to attack Cena a second time Punk did nothing to help Cena. The Rock ran down to the ring to even the odds, and this is when Punk pulled what will hopefully blossom into one of the best heel turns I’ve seen in the past few years.
Sure, CM Punk has been a heel on several occasions, nothing new there. But he has never been embroiled in a feud with someone on the level of The Rock. Say what you will about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but love him or hate him, you cannot deny that he is among the most widely recognized wrestlers of our time. The fact that the feud began with actual physical contact already makes it 1,000 times more legit than The Rock’s feud with Cena leading up to this year’s Wrestlemania, which was largely waged via satellite promos rather than actual confrontations. It also makes up for WWE’s failure to fully capitalize on Punk’s infamous “worked shoot” promo last year on RAW and the subsequent momentum generated by him walking out with the WWE title on what was supposedly his final night in the WWE (at the 2011 Money in the Bank PPV). To borrow a phrase of from my dearly departed grandfather, WWE’s creative team “could fuck up a wet dream,” and the fact that they could’ve potentially made Punk into the next Steve Austin with that storyline and failed miserably to so only proves it.
CM Punk has all the tools necessary to be right up there with John Cena as the face of the WWE. He is charismatic on the mic and technically sound in the ring, and possesses a look that is pretty unique by mainstream wrestling standards. Hell, the fact that he has fucking personality automatically puts him head and shoulders above 99.9% of the company’s roster. If the WWE plays their cards right, they could build him up to be the top heel. I have to admit that I do have a terrible feeling that this feud is an excuse to get the title on The Rock so that he can have a rematch with Cena at next year’s Wrestlemania, but I truly hope I’m wrong. For whatever reason, WWE has the mentality that Cena will be able to carry the company on his back forever, long after the last of the veterans have hung up their boots, but anyone that has been watching wrestling for any amount of time knows that it just doesn’t work that way. Wrestlers leave or get injured or retire or go make horrendously crappy movies; it’s inevitable. CM Punk has proven time and again that he is both committed to and respectful of the business. If the WWE ever decides to go back to having actual wrestling matches on regular TV (which is another huge problem that I won’t even get into here), Punk is their man, but he’s also better than anyone else on the roster in the promo department as well. He’s the perfect choice to take some of the burden off of Cena and keep things from getting stale, or at least anymore stale than they’ve already gotten since the PG-rated, anti-wrestling era of Raw began.
Ultimately, only time will tell if the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw was successful. Hopefully WWE does the right thing by allowing Punk to go full-blown heel and make this feud with The Rock into something special, or at the very least a lot more eventful than the Cena/Rock feud. I won’t hold my breath because from a booking/creative standpoint, WWE has done nothing but repeatedly drop the ball over the last several years, but I do know damn well that CM Punk can be the WWE’s next breakout star if given the opportunity.