This past Monday night, wrestling found it’s spark again. Check out your favorite blog, or take a look at Twitter. CM Punk and Paul Heyman absolutely stole the show.
Maybe I should have titled this column, “Wrestling Finally Gets Personal Again.” See, a few years ago, CM Punk delivered his famous shot-heard-round-the-wrestling-world Pipe-Bomb Promo, and everybody ate it up. People ushered in the return of attitude, and said things like, “the landscape has changed forever.” Except it didn’t. The “reality-era” never became a thing. At the end of the day, while CM Punk had finally found his breakout moment, the rest of the company just chugged along, same as always.
So why was this exchange between Punk and Heyman so important?
Because they cut a promo that felt personal, and sold it like it was real. They brought back a little attitude.
Listen, I know we’re past the shoot-promo days in major professional wrestling (do you really think a notorious control freak like Vince McMahon would just give CM Punk an open mic on LIVE TV to say whatever he wants?). But shoot-promos weren’t what defined the Attitude Era. Neither were countless heel/face turns, despite what Vince Russo believes. And while surprises make for great television, the Attitude Era didn’t live or die on such a cheap gimmick. No, the Attitude Era clicked with an entire generation of fans for an entirely different reason. It worked because wrestling felt relatable again.
What’s the common knock against wrasslin’? That it’s fake. But you never hear those same people, who call wrestling out for not being what they consider real, talk about ‘The Walking Dead’ and say, “well, I just don’t see how you can watch a show about made-up creatures like zombies, with a guy pretending to be a sheriff, and a bunch of people acting like it’s the end of the world when really everything is fine.” Instead, ‘The Walking Dead’ was the top rated show on ALL of television the week of its season finale. People don’t care that it’s scripted. They still feel an emotional connection with both the characters, and the story.
What drove the Attitude Era was that same personal connection. Stone Cold Steve Austin hated his boss? Everybody hates their boss. DX was that group of cool, funny kids from school your parents didn’t want you to end up like. Mankind represented the Rocky Balboa in all of us.
Monday night, Paul Heyman and CM Punk talked about friendship and betrayal. They dissected universal themes, things we’ve all had to deal with, and broadcast them in a larger-than-life pro wrestling setting. This was a theater performance of the highest caliber, only with pro-wrestlers instead of actors, and a squared-circle as the stage.
We know Heyman and Punk don’t hate each other in real life. It doesn’t make a difference. They made us believe that, for one brief moment, attitude still exists in wrestling. The veil of belief was lowered once again.