The Phil Brooks Conundrum

The term “pipebomb” is an overused and ultimately underwhelming modern pro-rasslin’ buzzword. When they’re not schilling the WWE Network at every opportunity, Michael Cole, King Lawler and JBL are declaring anything with a modicum of truth (a concept that can be played very loose and fast in sports entertainment) as a pipebomb. The results are generally anything but revelatory, or it should be stated, shocking in the least.

By now, every wrestling fan both hardcore and casual, and even some people in general population have heard about CM Punk’s “shocking” admissions on Colt Cabana’s fantastic Art of Wrestling podcast. I enjoyed the episode. I’ve been a fan of Punk’s since his early days in WWE, before I was even a fan of wrestling.

It should be stated for full disclosure that my run of wrestling fandom has been spotty at best. Here’s a quick timeline:

  • 1985 to 1993. I first discovered wrestling at the age of eight. My dad was a big fan back in the day. He liked Killer Kowalski. When they started showing it on TV in the mid-80’s, I was instantly hooked. My dad, always a fan of the underdog, rooted for Tiger Chung Lee to win every time he saw him wrestle. Needless to say, he was often left disappointed. But what a world for an eight year old boy to enter in to! People kept telling me it was fake, but I didn’t believe them. Nor did I care. I lost interest at about sixteen or so, around Wrestlemania IX. Gene Okerlund in a toga sealed the deal. I was out.
  • 1998 to 2000. It should be mentioned that my younger brother had gotten into wrestling in a major way in the mid-90’s, AKA the worst era in modern wrestling history, so I was kind of a fan-in-law during this period. I would glance at PPV’s he was watching and chuckle. A wrestling hockey player? An unhinged dentist? Yikes. But the Attitude era brought me back. What a great time to be a fan. Their roster was stacked, the storylines were great.
  • 2013 to present: I got back into wrestling through some great podcasts: the aforementioned Art of Wrestling, as well as Grantland’s Cheap Heat. I also listen to and enjoy Steve Austin’s podcast. Although Wrestlemania XXX was epic, I feel that I might be losing interest in the product of late. I’ve purchased a subscription to the Network and watch it sparingly. Mainly old stuff, and moments I missed over the years. But I find the modern stuff quite boring and frustrating.

Along with “pipebomb”, another popular Internet culture buzzword (or phrase, as it happens) is “breaking the Internet”. Anything that cause mass hysteria (and let’s face it, it doesn’t take much) is known to have broken the Internet. Kim Kardashian’s oiled bare posterior managed to do so just last month.

But I think CM Punk’s sitdown with good buddy Colt Cabana actually broke the Internet, for reals. I couldn’t download it on iTunes, a problem that apparently wasn’t just isolated to me. I had to listen to it on youtube. I found myself agreeing/empathizing with many of Punk’s frustrations. I don’t know why Vince McMahon and co. are so fixated on using part-time wrestlers at the expense of developing younger talent. I don’t know why they fill out the roster with ‘roid heads like Ryback. I feel like the WWE is heading toward a similar position to the mid-90’s, with no Attitude Era to lift them from the doldrums. This is now a safer, more sanitized, PG-13 WWE, a world of corporate responsibility and shareholder meetings. To many fans of the product, this is not a good thing. The best we as fans could hope for is to somehow turn this negativity into a storyline with bite, not unlike how the Montreal Screwjob gave birth to the McMahon as megaheel boss gimmick. How many years (and dollars) did they squeeze out of that?

I was intrigued and entertained (such a horrible way to describe something that was so obviously horrible for Punk himself) by Punk’s telling of his closing weeks/months/days leading up to his departure from WWE. I didn’t know – like everyone else, I guess – that he was in fact fired from the company. The big story in February was that he had walked out and voided his contract. I also didn’t know that he was very sick and not being treated very well by WWE medical staff. But my query on this is why did Punk not get a second opinion right away, like 99% of the population would have? I’ve lost count of the amount of unsympathetic, arrogant, aloof, careless doctors I’ve encountered over the years. If one can’t give me the type of attention I require and pay for, they’re gone and I move on to one that gives a shit. And I would never trust a medical professional that the company I worked for provided to me. I would trust this person’s opinion with a grain of fucking salt. They’re employed to tend to the needs of the company above all else, not the individual employees. By Punk’s own admission, WWE wrestlers are independent contractors. That said, I would then go external for any and all advice whilst under their employ, be it doctors, lawyers, whatever.

Here’s where Punk lost me. His major gripe seemed to be his missing out on a Wrestlemania main event spot. I get that as a wrestler you want to ply your trade on the biggest stage. WM main event offers that stage. But Wrestlemania isn’t like other pay-per-views. Wrestlemania, especially in the modern era, is where part-time wrestlers like Undertaker and Brock Lesnar star. Dependable brand names like John Cena and The Rock main event Wrestlemania. This is the order of things. Punk is obviously on that level in terms of wrestling ability (it could be argued that he is a far superior wrestler than any of the aforementioned others) and ring savvy, but Wrestlemania isn’t about that.

To me, Punk complaining about not main eventing a Wrestlemania is akin to Henry Rollins whining about not winning a Grammy. Punk probably saw great scientific grapplers like Bret Hart headline several Wrestlemania’s, but that was then and this is now. The machine is geared differently in the modern age. McMahon and co. simply cannot take risks, especially as the buy-rate for the Network has been so disappointing. They gave the ball to Daniel Bryan this year, but only as part of a Triple Threat match with Randy Orton and Batista. I think, had Punk stuck around his moment would have arrived.

I would never question a person’s right to explore other ventures as Punk has now been forced to do, nor can I truly comment on something that I was not intimately involved in. We’ve now heard Punk’s side of things. Was I shocked? Not particularly. Human beings can be truly awful at times, and Punk drew the short straw here. I think he was an unappreciated talent, but I feel that way about several of the current crop of talent.

I do know this much though: CM Punk was a fantastic wrestler, great in the ring and white-hot on that mic. He really had it all. He worked well as a heel and a face. Not many can pull that off. Only a few come to mind, and they were all-timers: Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Roddy Piper.