Lutz's Blog: WWE's C.M. Punk vs. Paul Heyman storyline can regain trust from fans angered by main event program
By Jeffrey Lutz
Less than a month after SummerSlam, an excellent pay-per-view event acclaimed by a significant portion of the audience, many fans are complaining about WWE's direction. Last week I picked apart the criticisms of the primary story line, but after another troubling week even I can't deny the problems with Triple H's dominance, Daniel Bryan's secondary role on a show that is supposed to center around him, and the lack of integrity shown by many of the alleged babyfaces on WWE's roster.
With just about every upper-card player involved in that angle either directly or indirectly, there has been little time on Raw for other stories to be told. Time has been set aside, however, for C.M. Punk and Paul Heyman to sell an upcoming physical confrontation that no other wrestler/manager combination could make so believable.
The word "guarantee" has been used by both performers to indicate the likelihood that Heyman will get his comeuppance Sunday at the Night of Champions pay-per-view, and use of that word is no mistake. The Punk-Heyman feud is an opportunity for WWE to regain the trust from fans who are disillusioned by Triple H's dominance over Raw and nearly all of its most important segments, and that is clearly what WWE is hoping its fans are counting on.
Going back to the Attitude Era, "guarantee" has been a buzzword on WWE programming. Back then, it was often used by heels in their vows of vengeance toward fan favorites but in most, if not all instances the word was used, such promises were kept. WWE may not have a definitive plan for Punk following his feud with Heyman, which may be revisited upon or continued until Brock Lesnar's return, but the company has booked itself into somewhat of a dead end. That's a good thing, because the fulfillment of the guarantee will satisfy fans who need someone and something to believe in.
More than following through on a promise, Punk and Heyman provide a necessary familiarity while the main event throws WWE off the foundation it has established with John Cena over the last eight years. Part of the problem is that fans, even Cena haters, know Cena's character would never let his possible firing stand in the way of "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect," while the wrestlers they actually like are being portrayed as too scared over losing their jobs to stand up for their so-called friends.
Cena's absence is welcome for many fans, but it drastically changes the WWE landscape in ways that necessitate an adjustment period for even the most ardent Cena critics. Cena provided a structure to the babyface roster that, without Sheamus and others who have converted to heels, does not currently exist. Bryan is the clear-cut top star, but with Punk separate from the top program and WWE relying on Big Show, Dolph Ziggler and, to a lesser extent, The Miz, it's difficult to tell which babyfaces WWE sees as real draws, even in the interim.
The adjustment period extends to cirtually every star in the centerpiece program. Triple H and Randy Orton were cool babyfaces a month ago who are now evil heels trying, for some reason, to maintain their cool factor. The Miz should still be a heel, but WWE failed to give him any traits that would have made him a popular babyface. His presence, even in a background role, among more important stars is largely unwarranted. Big Show is losing support by the minute because he was most recently a monster heel who is now playing a sympathetic babyface who has done nothing to force fans to see him in a more favorable light. Ziggler, meanwhile, has been mishandled for months.
WWE capitalized on the overwhelmingly positive reaction Ziggler received after winning the World Heavyweight Championship the night after WrestleMania, even though his partnership with A.J. and Big E Langston hadn't come close to running its course. Ziggler's subsequent concussion zapped all of his momentum -- he soon lost his title, his push and his popularity, and who knows how long it will take him to recover. Now he's just another weekly beatdown victim with a feud with Dean Ambrose on the horizon. That will appease Internet fans and produce quality matches, but it's a far cry from Ziggler's positioning when summer began.
So much has changed within WWE in so little time -- even desired changes such as increased heel heat and a break from Cena -- that fans are unsure how to react and are revolting against the unfamiliar. There is nothing unfamiliar about Punk and Heyman, perhaps the only two untouchable characters in WWE. Unlike some of his peers, Punk has flourished while switching from babyface and heel and back again. Most of that is due to Punk's consistency, but some of his success in the midst of frequent character shifts has to be credited to Heyman, a promo artist so effective that he's helping three characters -- himself, Punk and a newly (somewhat) interesting Curtis Axel.
The Punk-Heyman angle is everything fans want the main-event story line to be. Heyman is a better, more dastardly heel than either Triple H or Orton, but nobody is complaining because Punk is playing a resilient babyface rather than a subservient or cowardly one. Heyman is still achieving nuclear heat, but Punk is aiding that cause by embodying the traits fans expect from their heroes. Both performers are playing their parts perfectly and will emerge from the angle even more appreciated than when it began. It is, at its core, a perfect WWE storyline.
It is also, quite possible, a credibility-saving story line. Since it appears the Orton/Bryan/Triple H feud is being booked for the long-term and likely won't feature a title change at Night of Champions, Sunday's pay-per-view needs a feel-good moment. Punk can provide one by giving Heyman's character the beating so many feel is much-deserved and long-awaited. That temporary end to their rivalry is more interesting than seeing it continue with another "Heyman Guy" who might not even possess Axel's name value.
WWE is angering fans by emasculating several top babyfaces. But the company can begin to regain some goodwill by following through on its guarantee.
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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