Lutz's Blog: C.M. Punk has already been the best, but he can be even better
By Jeffrey Lutz
In 2000, Barry Bonds set a career-high in home runs, with 49 for the San Francisco Giants at age 35. It seemed to be his last hurrah as he entered his late 30s, the decline years for most baseball players.
The following year, Bonds set the all-time single-season home run record, blasting 73. He won his fourth Most Valuable Player award, then won three more in a row, and ended up with ownership of the career homer record in 2007.
My baseball nerdism is used here to illustrate a point. Athletes and performers can have amazing years, better than anyone could have ever imagined or forecasted, then come back to do even better. It's a reality that a soon-returning C.M. Punk has to count on, because it's difficult to imagine that he can improve on his incredible 2011-12.
Punk does have his personal history on his side, however. The pinnacle of his career, at least at the time, was his pipe bomb promo in June 2011. We may not have known it at the time, but Punk would never be able to produce such a meaningful promo again. It wasn't for lack of trying -- Punk has been consistently the best performer on the microphone over at least the last two years, but that tirade was so unexpected and different that he has been unable to match it to date.
The pipe bomb diatribe may have been Punk's best promo, but it wasn't his best work. He survived a meaningless loss to Triple H and a stagnant feud with broken-down Kevin Nash to maintain his popularity and once again vault to championship-level story lines and matches. It's easy to write Punk's success off as easily achieved because he had ready-made heat magnets in the WWE Championship and Paul Heyman. But neither the title nor Heyman has been quite as important since Punk parted from them.
It's also easy to point out that Punk's popularity among internet fans was never matched by the collective audience that included casual fans and children who didn't share that appreciation. That may be true, but Punk's internet following should carry more weight than it does. Internet fans are probably the most loyal wrestling fans there are. They stay with the product even when it disappoints them, and their criticisms are always attached to the hope that it will get better.
Those fans saw in Punk an opportunity for the entire wrestling landscape to change, just like he promised in the pipe bomb promo. Unfortunately, as has happened with so many other special attractions (see Brock Lesnar), Punk became, as he put it back in June 2011, just another spoke in the wheel. As strong as and as consistent as his work was, Punk never got the opportunity to truly stand out. At the past two WrestleManias, his matches against Chris Jericho and Undertaker made the marquee, but they were always looking up at those involving John Cena, whose presence in the main event meant the landscape stayed exactly the same.
Punk has been gone for nearly two months, likely to appear next at Over the Limit in his hometown of Chicago, and still very little has changed. He'll earn a hero's welcome and his match with Jericho will probably be off the charts, but then what? Cena's ownership of the WWE Championship, assuming he keeps it, is damaging to Punk because that program would be difficult to revisit after it dominated so much of 2012.
I'm not worried about Punk, though. The fact is, WWE is changing. The last step is to find a main-eventer on par with Cena, who can perhaps one day replace Cena at the face of the company. Other than that, however, WWE's youth movement signals a major shift in the way it does business. When Punk left just two months ago, The Shield, Daniel Bryan and Fandango were only building toward the high points they have reached during his absence.
Punk will fit right in. He has the uncanny ability to reinvent himself constantly without changing the foundation of his character. He has evolved from "straight edge means I'm better than you," but that aspect of his personality has remained in tact. Punk may never have another 15-month title reign, he may never produce another pipe bomb promo, and he may never main-event WrestleMania.
Then again, he might. As we've see with standout performers from other industries, even the best can get better.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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