Shore's Blog: Dissecting Chris Jericho's comments about Ryback and CM Punk
By Chris Shore
Thursday, October 25, 2012 3:18 p.m. CT.
Chris Jericho caused quite a stir this week with his comments about WWE needing to put the WWE Championship on Ryback. Comments in our Member Forum have ranged from "genius" to "lunatic" to describe what Jericho said, but I don't think you can group everything he said together and make a passing judgment. Jericho made four major points: CM Punk has done all he can do with this character, Title reigns don't mean anything, WWE needs to make a new star, Ryback is that guy. Let's look at each of these.
CM Punk has done all he can do with this character. Like with most things, context here is greatly important. Unfortunately, the comments came from call in questions, so context is not clear. Jericho has a good point if he means that WWE will never be built around a heel as long as Vince McMahon is in charge. He does allude to this in his answer when he says, "Punk is as big of a star as he can be as a heel in WWE." Within this context, I do not disagree with what Jericho said. Like it or not, WWE is very babyface driven, and they will not let a heel be the top star. Their resistance to a John Cena turn exemplifies this position.
But that does not mean Punk is as big a star as he can possibly be as a heel. When you look back in history and find all the times WWE made great money on great babyfaces, there were always great heels to help get them over. Hogan had Iron Sheik, Andre, Randy Savage (after his turn), Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorf, and others. Stone Cold had Triple H, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, and Vince McMahon (granted the heel/babyface dynamic was different in the Attitude Era, but you get the point). There are no great heels now, except CM Punk. For WWE to truly build a great babyface star, he needs a guy like Punk to stand against. And the bigger star Punk is, the bigger star he will make out of the person who beats him.
Title reigns don't mean anything. Again, context is everything, and we have little context to go on. It is a fact that CM Punk is not the champion of anything n the real sense of the word. It is a prop that he carries around and talks about, and will one day simply hand over to another person to talk about. We all understand that wrestling is a worked product, and that no champion has ever really "won" a title (in the modern era of wrestling anyway). So in that sense, title reigns are completely meaningless. Yes, it can mean that the company sees you as the standard bearer, but that is not always the case, as transitional champions have shown.
But that doesn't mean that title reigns serve no purpose. Like any prop, viewers must believe that the prop matters, or it is wasted as a story element. If a great villain came out in an action movie with a twig and said they were going to beat the hero to death with it, movie goers would roll their eyes and rightfully pan the moment as completely unbelievable because the prop wasn't believable, no matter how well the lines were delivered by the actor. Part of what makes a championships effective in wrestling are length of title reigns. Just look at Ric Flair's run through the territory system back in the day. Title changes were so rare that even a mid-carder like Ronnie Garvin temporarily shot to the top of the wrestling world just by ending Flair's title reign (he didn't have the chops to stay there, but that is beside the point).
WWE needs to make a new star. If you are looking for some disagreement here, you might want to keep looking. There is universal agreement in the wrestling media that WWE needs to take a chance on somebody. It can be a guy who got himself over, or it can be a guy they decide to make. If you have seen the Steve Austin DVD, you know that the "greatest WWE talent of all time" worked a cheesy gimmick with The Million Dollar Man as his mouthpiece when he first came to WWE. Austin worked hard to get over, but there came a point were WWE decided to see if his popularity could support the company. They made the call, and the rest is history.
Some stars, however, get there in reverse. Some are put out there enough times until the fans get behind them. Perhaps the greatest example is Triple H. After burying him for the MSG event, WWE decided to go with him even though he was damaged goods (by their hands). Now, he's considered one of the greats in the company. I do not mean to diminish Triple H's work ethic. He took the punishment dealt out to him like a man and continued to work hard. But the reality remains that WWE kept putting him at the top until his fan support grew to where it is now. It doesn't matter which path they use, as long as they pick a guy and stay with him.
Ryback is that guy. My disagreements with what Jericho said have most been picking around the edges, but here we split paths completely. I don't think Ryback is the guy. There is no question that he is getting a good response from the live crowds, but I don't buy him as a top of the card act yet. A lot of the criticisms I have were also true for Goldberg back in the day, poor mic work, stiff in the ring, can't sell, etc., and Goldberg had a very successful run. But as WWE loves to point out, Ryback is not Goldberg. Nor is the 2012 version of WWE the same as 1998 WCW. The dynamics of the company are different, and there isn't near the desire to see Punk drop the title like there was to see Hogan drop the title.
Could Ryback be the guy, though? It's certainly possible, but I cannot shake what Steve Austin said about Sheamus not being the guy just yet. If Austin is right about Sheamus, who is better on the mic and in the ring than Ryback, then how can Ryback possibly be the guy? One thing is for sure, WWE has an interesting situation on their hands. Some see it as a crisis. Others see it as an opportunity. We will know Sunday night, which it is.
Questions? Comments? Anyone, anyone? Let me hear from you. Email me at email@example.com or tweet me @TheShoreSlant with whatever is on your mind.
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