Being a wrestling fan in 2013 no longer has the same stigma attached to it as it did in, say, 2009. So much has changed since then, almost beyond recognition. John Cena isn’t wearing bright green or bright orange or bright purple. There are no goofy, here-for-the-money guest hosts ruining RAW every week. CM Punk is using Living Colour as his theme music. Santino Marella is barely featured on television. Wrestlers with the WWE look are no longer taking precedence over talented grapplers.
Has being a wrestling fan suddenly become…dare I say it…cool? Wrestling used to be the playground of the acne-ridden, unemployed layabout and the pre-teen, but now, it attracts a wider social group. It’s not uncommon to walk down the high street (shopping mall for you Americans) and see a teenage girl wearing the latest CM Punk t-shirt, or a grown male sporting the Daniel Bryan ‘YES! YES! YES!’ t-shirt. In fact, if you shout YES over and over again in public, you are guaranteed to get a smile and a knowing nod from at least two or three people. You still might get the odd “you know it’s fake, right?” and occasionally the clichéd “it’s just sweaty guys in their underwear rolling around, how gay” but generally, wrestling has an aura of cool about it.
So what changed? Was there a moment that tipped the scales?
The pipebomb. Ah yes, the pipebomb. It set in motion a whole chain of events. The gargantuan rise of CM Punk. The advent of the cool heel. Wrestlers like Daniel Bryan receiving world title shots and being featured prominently on television. But most importantly, it put WWE on the mainstream map. In pre-pipebomb 2011, WWE was in a holding pattern. They’d just come off one of the most average Wrestlemanias in history, celebrity guest hosts were shown more than the wrestlers and, oh yeah, John Cena was champion.
Boom. The pipebomb. Almost overnight, people were talking about CM Punk. The now-historic promo made fans sit up and join Philip Brooks in his lament of WWE. In those first few days after that episode, nobody had any clue if what he was saying was real, fake, or a bit of both. Did he really say WWE would be better off when Vince McMahon died? Did he mention Ring of Honor and Colt Cabana on WWE TV? The gossip sites were abuzz; a worked shoot hadn’t been done this well in years. And so, people who didn’t watch wrestling or who hadn’t watched wrestling since their formative years, got interested. CM Punk wasn’t your typical WWE star. He had a beard, he wasn’t toned, but he was smart, funny and not afraid to mouth off to the boss.
Personal story time: my friend Liam had never watched a single episode of Monday Night Raw or Friday Night SmackDown before I told him about CM Punk’s promo. After that, he turned into an insufferable Punkhead, as most of us did. We openly discussed the future direction of WWE in school, and we didn’t have to hide it. Some people heard us talking about Punk, and joined in.
WWE started listening to its fans more. They figured the Summer of Punk was going so well, they might as well give this whole “give the fans what they want” shtick a chance. The tradition of the guest host slowly disappeared. Daniel Bryan won the World Heavyweight Championship, Zack Ryder won the United States Championship (his push didn’t last long, but hey, it happened) and Cody Rhodes brought prestige back to the Intercontinental Championship. Not only that, WWE started planning for the future. They signed beloved internet darlings such as Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Claudio Castagnoli (Antonio Cesaro) and Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose).
Fast forward to 2013. Goat-man Daniel Bryan is challenging WWE’s top guy John Cena for WWE’s top prize at one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year. CM Punk is battling the beast Brock Lesnar and the antagonistic Paul Heyman. RVD’s back. Gimmicks like The Wyatt Family and The Shield are bringing intrigue and mystery back to a sport notorious for being predictable. Wrestling is cool again. Wrestling is bad-ass. Sure, we could do with Sheamus not winning every single match he’s in, and it would be nice if The Great Khali and Hornswoggle would just go away, but considering how far we’ve come, it’s not too bad.
Next time you want to lament the state of WWE in 2013, remember what it was like in 2009.
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