WK BLOG 6/28: Why C.M. Punk's promo was brilliant on multiple levels, yet can the follow-up live up to expectations?
BY WADE KELLER, PWTORCH EDITOR
Last night's C.M. Punk promo at the end of Raw was brilliant for multiple reasons. The main reason is that it works on roughly three categories of fans:
-Those who totally believe almost everything is real (these are mostly quite young fans).
-Those who don't get every reference he made, but get a sense he went places he wasn't supposed to and wonder where he crossed the line and how upset Vince McMahon is.
-Those who get that everything he said was fine with Vince McMahon, why everything he said was "safe shooting" and never crossed any real lines, but enjoy seeing the spectacle because Punk executed it so well.
As I talked about in detail in my VIP Keller Hotline for over 40 minutes last night, Punk's promo was a work - start to finish. Everything about that promo was aimed at getting people to order Money in the Bank to see him wrestle John Cena in what may or may not be his last match in WWE for a while.
Sure, he mentioned Paul Heyman and ROH and the "son-in-law" and John Laurinaitis and all that, but those are all considered "smart-mark" button-pushing subjects behind the scenes. They don't really do any damage to WWE; they just get a certain segment of fans worked into a lather with excitement, and McMahon and his cronies just chuckle backstage as how they turned the "smart Internet geeks" (i.e. Daniel Bryan fans) into "marks" for at least one more night.
The fact is, if you enjoyed that promo, you're not a "mark" in the negative sense of the word (a "gullible fool"). You're a customer. A satisfied customer. No matter what you thought of it at the time or think of it now, whether you understood every reference or not, and whether you understood why certain subjects were included and others weren't, you're not a mark. If you enjoyed it, your time was well spent. You got something out of it. You were entertained and intrigued. You might feel foolish for believing something was off-script that turns out to be scripted, but don't. Just enjoy an excellent execution of something that is very, very easy to get wrong.
TNA - mostly Vince Russo, but sometimes Hulk Hogan, Jeff Jarrett, and Eric BIschoff - over the last nine years have tried to pull off what Punk and WWE did last night dozens of time. They've never made it work as well as Punk and WWE did last night. WWE had their eye on a match they want to make money on - presumably at Money in the Bank, but perhaps Punk will be pulled from that match, and there's an even bigger plan in the works for even further down the line at a bigger PPV. This can go many directions, and we have a week to discuss those.
But first, here's why the supposed controversial subjects Punk touched on aren't really controversial at all:
-PAUL HEYMAN: Anything having anything to do with Paul Heyman and ECW was co-opted by WWE many years ago. Vince McMahon owns the equity that comes with any usage of Heyman's name at this point. Heyman is no threat to WWE. Mentioning him is considered (accurately) a way to get the ears of a certain portion of the fanbase to perk up. Because he was so at odds with Stephanie behind the scenes, it seems anti-authority to mention his name.
-JOHN CENA'S AN ASS-KISSER: Well, yeah. He's obviously the Corporate Guy. That's why half the crowd boos him. Cena and Vince McMahon long ago stopped caring that half the fans hate Cena. They learned to appreciate that they were willing to pay to see Cena. Some would argue many who hate Cena stopped supporting WWE because of him rather than joining in the fun in booing him, but McMahon made the choice to stay the course and it's worked out pretty well.
-USA NETWORK'S CRAPPY SHOWS: Punk is a heel. Heels, by definition, are bitter liars. There's harm in Cena saying USA Network shows are lame. But a ranting and raving heel ripping on them, in a very broad generic sense? No harm done.
-NEW JAPAN AND ROH: ROH isn't big enough to be a threat to Vince McMahon. Even while Heyman was still frothing at the mouth cutting promos to rile up the ECW faithful that he hated the WWF and all it stood for, Heyman was cashing checks from Vince McMahon to keep ECW afloat. McMahon knew a company as small as ECW wasn't going to hurt him, and there was a benefit to making Heyman beholden to him by keeping ECW alive. It satisfied McMahon that he took essential ownership of the insults being thrown at him from South Philly. He laughed at the bullets bouncing off of his chest, especially knowing he bought the bullets. So for all we know, ROH is being funded by McMahon, or there's a loose relationship. Or not. It doesn't really matter either way. ROH isn't even a gnat annoying McMahon at this point. It's a feeder system he doesn't have to pay for or run or oversee. As for New Japan, obviously that means nothing, but to many fans, Punk saying "New Japan" and "ROH" just authenticated him as an outsider who had invaded WWE and was now so disgusted with what he's seen, he was leaving.
-JOHN LAURINAITIS: John isn't unaware that he is a McMahon Lackey. Vince and Stephanie aren't unaware that Laurinaitis is aware that he's a lackey for them. He plays a valuable role. He does what they need done, and he does it without ever looking like he's doubting their decisions. He's getting paid very well to fill a role and he does it without rocking the boat. That's what McMahon wants. Laurinaitis is aware of how he is perceived by many. He doesn't care. He's the "bad cop" whom the McMahons have hired to fire people, among other dirty work. He's got a very good paying job many ex-wrestlers want. He's a winner for getting the job and keeping it this long. His name being brought up by a heel ripping on him is amusing to him, not hurtful.
-HULK HOGAN: The fact that he said Hogan's name is actually a pretty big insult to Hogan right now in the sense that McMahon has so little fear of Hogan's ability to make a difference in TNA that he doesn't even mind co-opting his name for his own angle. He has more to gain from using the Hogan name based on WWE fans knowing what he did in WWE and WCW over the years - brands he owns - than he has to lose by drawing attention to Hogan who now works for a competitor.
If the thrasonical Punk was really shooting, he could have made fun of Cena's punches looking fake... He could have said WWE is so bad, fans should just tune in to TNA Impact on Spike TV instead... He could have said one of these weeks he'll show up at the Impact Zone so watch for him... He could have plugged UFC's PPV and said he'll be on the next PPV coming up July 2... He could made references to something scandalous between Stephanie McMahon and Randy Savage or brought up abortions some women in the company have had after being knocked up by certain wrestlers... He could have made fun of the holes in the supposed Wellness Policy... He could have said he's seen Ezekiel Jackson or Mason Ryan get bigger pushes than him lately because of the needle marks in their asses... He could have NOT plugged the PPV that Vince McMahon is going to profit from in a few weeks... He could have ripped on K-Mart and Walmart - WWE sponsors - for being non-union, trashy stores selling imported goods that are only cheap due to child labor while failing to pay their employees sustainable wages or decent medical insurance while promoting men instead of women...
Had he really wanted to shoot and really made a name for himself, he could have gone places that would have caused problems. He didn't. He hit the "smart-mark" hot-button categories: Heyman, Corporate Cena, John Laurinaitis, the Son-in-Law, the "alternative" ROH promotion that he came from, etc. He stayed right in the safe zone where he stepped out of the usual boundaries of the world WWE creates, but not into any areas that would actually hurt WWE by bringing up on live TV.
That's not to take anything away from what Punk did. On the contrary, it's why the promo was so good. He managed to get exactly the reaction he wanted, in three different ways from three different groups of fans - those who believe he was totally shooting even if they don't know exactly what ROH is or why they're supposed to love Heyman and hate Laurinaitis; those who think he probably crossed some lines and really upset Vince and just aren't sure at what point that happened; and those who get that it was a beautifully executed 100 percent work that will rile up the previous two categories in an entertaining way that has a chance to make money for everyone.
He did manage to give even "skeptics" who thought he was pushing it and going off script that "Uh oh, now he really went too far!" moment by cutting him off once he got to "a personal story about Vince McMahon." Those who thought Punk was testing McMahon's patience, but McMahon was too scared to pull the plug because that would make Punk a hero to millions, might have thought Punk finally went "far enough off script" with the personal story that McMahon had no choice but to cut him off and then go to black. It was a great touch, timed just right.
What might happen next? I'll blog about that later, and there's a lot of fun directions this could go, and some awful directions too.
For now, I'll just say that few wrestlers had the background, the talent, the IQ, and the credibility to pull that off. Punk was the perfect person in the perfect place.
Was Punk working his wrestling media friends in saying he was thinking of leaving? Is Punk actually going to leave? Was he ever? If he came to terms, is this just taking advantage of the reports to parlay it into a storyline that could draw?
In any case, this was planned for a while in that Punk needed to score some big wins recently in order to have the storyline credibility to call himself the best. By dropping the word "wrestling" into his promo last week and by shooting a little bit on Shawn Michaels (referencing his past drug abuse), it laid the foundation for what was to come.
It wasn't just what Punk said or how he said it that made this work. It was also the pieces of the foundation that were laid in the Internet wrestling media and in his big wins and borderline crossing-the-line against-policy comments in recent weeks. It was also that WWE hasn't been trying to pull off something like this every three months. In fact, what made this work better than other attempts by others in the past is that the goal here to was to make money, not fool anyone. Fooling some percentage of the fans is inherent in making money off of this, but that's not the end game. The End Game here is making money from a worked match on PPV, not laughing at their customers for being fools.
This isn't entirely different than what John Cena and Rock engaged in earlier this year. It's definitely similar to Joey Styles's worked-shoot promo when he announced the relaunch of ECW. WWE doesn't do this much, but thanks to the credibility, talent, and IQ of Punk, they have at least positioned themselves to make this one pay off.
Enjoy this on whatever level you want. And let's hope that WWE has a great payoff in mind. The expectations across all types of fans are raised right now. It's going to be easy to botch this if they don't realize why what they did last night worked and how easily it can go off-track.
(I had a lot more to say about this in my 44 minute Wade Keller Hotline available to PWTorch VIP members posted last night. (Sign Up Here: pwtorch.com/govip)
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