Lutz's Blog: In leaving WWE without warning, C.M. Punk finally gets to be himself again
By Jeffrey Lutz
I don't know C.M. Punk personally, and I didn't uncover much of his true personality when I interviewed him for The Wichita Eagle six years ago. The proverbial wounds from the Chris Benoit tragedy were still fresh within WWE and the company sent Punk, then an ECW performer, on a media tour to extol the virtues of a straight-edge lifestyle and to be on his best behavior.
Therefore, I can only speculate on the events and emotions that led Punk to walk away from WWE this week after a meeting with company chairman Vince McMahon. My speculation is that Punk has been asked too much recently to be on his best behavior, and that he could no longer ignore the dichotomy that presented within himself. The only plausible outcome that allowed Punk to stay true to himself was to walk away from the company on his own terms.
I don't always agree with the way Punk goes about his business, but I can relate to it and I respect it. Above all else, Punk has principles, and while they may not fall in line with your principles or mine, his personal philosophy is commendable because it has remained consistent. Punk doesn't hedge on who he is, but he was losing his identity by falling in line as one of WWE's agreeable soldiers. Leaving WWE before his contract expires in July was the best way for Punk to re-establish his identity and re-affirm his beliefs and his principles.
This story began in 2011, when Punk delivered one of WWE's most memorable promos, the "pipe bomb" that was a part-work, part-shoot venting of the problems Punk had with the company, its leaders, and his own standing within it. Punk and WWE bungled the rest of that summer -- Punk by re-signing too quickly, WWE by inserting Kevin Nash and Triple H into the storyline needlessly. Punk lost some momentum, and it was probably especially painful for him to backtrack on some of the key points of his pipe bomb promo by re-upping with the company so quickly.
Punk never again truly recaptured the magic from that verbal tirade, but his traction picked up in 2012 when he spent the entire calendar year as WWE Champion. Even though he wasn't consistently wrestling the last match at pay-per-view events, a spot reserved for John Cena's secondary programs, Punk did the best steady work of his career in the ring and on the microphone, motivated by highlighted feuds and by working alongside close friend and advocate Paul Heyman.
A stellar year didn't culminate in a main-event match at WrestleMania, a stated goal of Punk's, and that must have been a difficult concession. Punk begged for change within WWE's familiar structure in his pipe bomb promo, and seemingly that would occur while he rested his mind and his body away from the company. He sacrificed his true desire to take time off by sticking with WWE during the summer of 2011, now Punk had to reconcile the fact that the change he promised upon his return wasn't occurring. He didn't main event WrestleMania, he didn't lead a charge of new stars, and he didn't get treated as anything but a spoke on the wheel.
In the year since Punk dropped the WWE Championship to The Rock, he has faded slightly into the background, behind Cena and Daniel Bryan, and now behind Batista, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and possibly others. His work has still been impressive, but he has lacked the fire and passion he expressed in 2011 and 2012. He has had time to think about the personal sacrifices he has made to remain in WWE, and he has become detached. Part of his detachment is a self-fulfilling prophecy; by all accounts, Punk remains secluded backstage in his tour bus, a demeanor and attitude that has fueled his dissatisfaction and put him in a deeper emotional hole.
If Punk is psychologically "over" the wrestling business, it's interesting that he'd take his recent misuse by WWE so personally. That's why I don't believe the management of his character has anything to do with why Punk is leaving. He could have gone through the motions in matches with Kane and Triple H, and few would have known the difference. But that would have been yet another reconciliation; if Punk has truly moved emotionally beyond wrestling, he wouldn't be true to himself by showing up for WrestleMania season and failing to put his heart into it.
Punk instead regains his "rebel" label by opting out of an enormous WrestleMania payday and the possible monetary boost that would come after the launch of the WWE network. Leaving in the dark of night is far more true to the identity Punk wants to uphold than sticking around for the money if he doesn't believe in the product or the company and his own involvement in it. Punk takes pride in being an enigma, and it would have been counter to his style to let his contract run out, then cite burnout and exhaustion as reasons to take time away. Doing it this way, with only a cryptic Twitter post on the way out the door, means answers get left up in the air, where they'll likely stay.
The on-paper reasons are likely similar to everything we've been hearing about Punk for a year or so -- exhaustion, nagging injuries, and a chance to pursue other interests. Punk, though, is far too complex of a personality to be limited to what is written on paper, and the deeper causes for his departure enable him to maintain the pride and enthusiasm the business robbed him of over the last two years. It's poetic that Punk gets to leave the company on his own terms after barely making it to WWE's main roster in the first place. It's a fitting ending to the story, if it truly is an end, but most importantly it is an ending authored by Punk after he allowed others to write chapters for him.
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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