July 18, 2011

Back to the WWE.

As a kid, I watched professional wrestling nonstop. But once I turned 15, like any good teenager with a modicum of self-respect, it was time to move on. It helped that the nWo, ECW and all the trendy storylines of the 90s had already petered out. By the time that the WCW Invasion was declared an unmitigated disaster, I was already out the door.

But something's brought me back. Maybe it's the Masked Man's excellent wrestling columns on Deadspin and Grantland. Maybe it's moving in with two giant fans who still love the "sport" as much as I did as a young boy.

Or maybe it's CM Punk. The Internet is aflutter about Punk's rise to the top; his victory at last night's Money in the Bank pay-per-view was one of the most anticipated non-WrestleMania matches in recent memory. The easiest way to describe what Punk's accomplishing is "Stone Cold Steve Austin for a new generation." But that's too simple, too lazy.

Punk's anti-authority, anti-establishment and anti-McMahon; those are all Austin-esque traits. But he also cuts scathing, realistic promos that purposely poke holes in wrestling's puffed-up facade. Austin might have been cool and edgy, but he was still another variation on a traditional character: the rebel. He just did it better than everybody else.

Punk's current gimmick, however, is tailor-made for the online age. Now that the WWE has transitioned back into a more kid-friendly product, fans that've been following wrestling for dozens of years are fed up. Too much John Cena, not enough of the D-Generation X/The Rock-driven ideas that put WCW out of business. They'll argue that Vince McMahon is taking the easy way out, making the quick buck, not coming up with new, groundbreaking ideas that could take pro wrestling to the next level.

CM Punk is the answer to all those complaints. He asks the questions that people want to scream in Vince McMahon's face, and he's a mouthpiece for the wrestling-related criticisms that've been posted on message boards since the Internet was created.

And, most importantly, he's making wrestling legitimately unpredictable again. The easy way out last night would have been to put Punk down, once again reassuring all the 10-year-old kids that buy boatloads of Cena-oriented merchandise. But, to his credit, Vince didn't take the bait. He seems to be powering ahead with the Punk storyline, "firing" Cena and holding a tournament for the "real" WWE Championship. Hopefully, he'll bring Punk back to RAW as soon as possible and continuing building him up into a real folk hero.

There's no guarantee that this angle will continue to please; plenty of other good ideas have fallen apart over time. But for now, I'm watching wrestling again. And as long as Vince McMahon and company continue to keep things interesting, I'll be tuning in.

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