Tuesday, October 23, 2012

CM Punk : Best in The World DVD Review

If you follow my writings or know a little bit about my history, you’d know that CM Punk is not a favorite of mine. About a year ago, I wrote an article entitled, “CM Punk is a F*cking Douchebag”, which talked in detail about the time I had the opportunity to work with him while I was the booker at NWA Cyberspace.

For the most part, I got a ton of heat from the fans. Mostly ass-kissers who were telling me to stop whining like a little bitch, yet those same ass-kissers have never done ANYTHING in this business to even warrant an opinion. I told it exactly the way it went down, and what my dealings with the future WWE champion was like. It’s a true story, and even though I was the employer and he was the employee, most fans marked out and took the side of their hero. Personally, I could care less. It is what it is, and at the time, it was business - something a mark wouldn’t understand.

The reason I bring that up is because I don’t want any reader of this review to think that I am somewhat (if not fully) biased towards my review of CM Punk’s new WWE DVD release, “Best In The World”. Like my previous story, I am here to tell it like it is. My job is simply to observe and report - no more, no less. I kept an open mind when watching the DVD and was professional enough not to let my own personal experiences blur the lines of my integrity. With that said, I think you’ll enjoy my review and perhaps find a few surprises along the way.


The documentary starts with a black title card, spelling out the voiceover passage from CM Punk himself. It reads:

“I’m a guy for all intents and purposes should have never made it to the WWE.”

“I’ve had roadblock after roadblock…thrown in my way. But not only did I get passed those roadblocks. I did it by flipping off the people that put up those roadblocks.”

“I feel that I have a responsibility to the younger wrestlers on the roster, the ones who aren’t signed yet. And the future of pro wrestling as a whole to help make this place better and to change this place. I certainly can’t do it by sitting on my couch in Chicago”.

With that opening narrative alone, I automatically assumed we were in for a self-indulged ego trip. Here is a guy who was walking out of the company just over a year ago because his face wasn’t on the plastic cups and lunch boxes. The same time last year, people we giving me shit for the article I wrote, calling me a whiny bitch because I was paying THIS GUY to do a job for MY COMPANY and he was difficult to work with. But the night that he cut that epic promo that supposedly changed the business, nobody ever once called him a little whiny bitch who couldn’t get a stable spot on the roster, so he planned on walking away on July 17th, 2011.

Who is this guy? The king of the indies who got his WWE contract and was convinced he was better than the rest. Meanwhile his career didn’t do shit for the 5-6 years he was on the roster. Oh, but let’s blame creative, who had nothing for him. Now all of a sudden, because of one shoot promo, he thinks he’s a locker room leader? He thinks he can make the WWE a “better place”? He thinks he’s the best in the world? Well, after watching this two-hour documentary…maybe I was wrong?

Unlike most of the DVDs in the WWE catalog that are hosted by Matt Striker and some clueless diva, this one felt, dare I say, “real”. It was produced like an MTV reality show mixed in with the gritty hard hitting E! True Hollywood Story formula. It clearly showed Punk as who is really is – a loner in his own world.

Having the experience of working with him before, it’s an accurate vision and portrayal of an angry young man hell-bent on proving his critics wrong. Just as I had seen with my own eyes, a man who keeps to himself in the locker room with his earphones drowning out everything around him…including those who are working with him, paying him and who need to give him direction. It makes you think that Punk does what he wants because he truly thinks he is bigger than the business. He has that Shawn Michaels swagger from the mid-90’s. The one where Shawn would tell anyone and everyone , including Vince McMahon, to go fuck themselves and that the product sucks and needs to change. If that’s the reputation Punk was shooting for, at least he’s in good company. The difference is, now he needs to prove himself just as Shawn did.
CM Punk’s life story is at times heartbreaking, yet it serves as a good motivational and inspiring piece. A kid whose blood family lost interest in him, so he proved the world wrong and created his own family from a group of friends whose sofa he took permanent residence on. Knowing this now, it’s easier to understand why he is who he is, and why his outlook on life is so narrow. But now that we know this, he’s shown us his cards and we can see into his “thousand yard stare”, revealing that there are chinks in his armor after all.

On a personal note, although I may not have known his story prior to working with him, I can say from experience that I was one of those people who saw his raw talent and wanted to give him the opportunity to shine. But he shut out the world. Even though we weren’t looking to exploit him, we wanted to give him a place where he could do what he does best. I’d call it a character flaw. He’d call it a defense mechanism.

I like how Punk talks about the similarities between him and Rowdy Roddy Piper. I had never examined the comparisons between the two until he brought it up in the DVD. Not the biggest guys in size, but they had the biggest mouths and drew the biggest heat to sell-out crowds.

After learning that he was initially self-taught in the craft of pro wrestling and performed in the wildly popular backyard federations, you could easily see the confidence, passion and determination of a kid destined to chase down and tackle his dream. The home movie footage is almost a prophecy of what was to come later in his WWE career.

I was surprised to see WWE dedicate so much time to establishing his friendships with Colt Cabana and Chris Hero. It was an “out-of-suit” approach that is rarely seen in WWE videos unless those talent are part of WWE’s alumni. I applaud the WWE for taking the chance on emphasizing the importance of Punk’s indy matches with Cabana and Hero, because without it, the story could never be complete. Those matches are what helped shape his character, his origins and his fan-base. His epic encounters with his best friends and their travels around the country are stuff of legend, and a missing element in today’s generation. Punk proves he earned his stripes the “old school” way, and even though the territories no longer exist, they treated their travels as if they did. That alone earned a great deal of my own respect, and now I know he was more than just an over-hyped indy dreamer.

Joey Mercury describes Punk as “unapologetically confident”. He continues to say, “I didn’t like him but I respected him. He was smug an arrogant. He wasn’t always the best in the world, but he believed he was”. Ironically, that was the same CM Punk I met and worked with. I’m a big believer in first impressions, and the impression that I got from him was that he was a fucking asshole. But if you ask anyone else about their first impression upon meeting him, they’d give you the same exact answer.

Again, I was very impressed with how the WWE covered Punk’s time in Ring of Honor. Although the WWE didn’t directly give ROH the props they deserve, Punk did more than enough in paying tribute. His time in the organization is full of cherished memories, epic matches and his first home in the wrestling business. I loved hearing about his brutal matches with Raven and his legendary encounters against TNA superstar Samoa Joe. I almost sensed that WWE regretted not signing Joe when they had the chance. As much as I love seeing Punk in the ring against Daniel Bryan, can you imagine the business WWE could do with Punk vs. Joe?

Seeing Punk as WWE champion inside of a ROH ring was a humbling experience for the viewer as much as it was for the man himself. You feel as if you are witnessing and sharing his experience in coming full circle. It also makes you wonder how much WWE acknowledges his achievements in Ring of Honor and why they continue to hold him back from performing at that level. Granted, Punk has aged and his style has been modified to better suit who he is today, and they type of experience the WWE roster offers him with their form of entertainment rather than a pure form of wrestling. But when the product is slipping and suffering, and Punk is your top guy, shouldn’t you listen to him when he can offer valid recommendations? Isn’t that how WWE re-grew their balls and formed the attitude era? It’s been almost 20 years, aren’t they due for a resurgence? Why not let Punk lead the way? Oh right… because Triple H is just as much of a cockblocker as Vince is. Nice way to keep it in the family. I guess the “E” in WWE stands for EGO.

Speaking of egos, one of the most eccentric pieces of this documentary is hearing from Paul Heyman , as he discusses in detail what it was like working with Punk in OVW. Call him what you want, but there is no denying the scary eye for talent Paul Heyman has implanted in his head. Pair that with a tongue that has no filter, and you’re looking at a mad genius. Sure, Heyman is notorious for promoting above and beyond the realms of reality, but when you splice in opinions from the doubters such as Michael Hayes, Scott Armstrong, Triple H and even the beloved John Cena, it only strengthens Heyman’s case for being dead on right about his judgment.

Heyman talks about how much Punk hated being trapped in OVW. Granted, these days EVERYONE goes the developmental system before getting called up to the main roster. It’s not like the days when you made a name for yourself in the territories, got press in the “Apter Mags”, or had some kind of TV experience working for the opposition. Everyone goes through re-development and re-packaging. But it was Paul Heyman who fought and said, “Change absolutely NOTHING about CM Punk…including his name”. Heyman knew the importance and the impact of leaving CM Punk intact.

CM Punks literally owes his career to Paul Heyman. What you see today on Raw is NOT a storyline. Punk is a true to heart Heyman guy, and in this DVD you see exactly how Heyman takes him under his wing and guides him through the turbulent and political criticisms that haunted him by saying he would never be called up to the main roster. You grow eager to hear more about Punk’s education through Paul Heyman, how he turned the negative indy stigma into a positive fighting drive to redemption, and the influence of being branded a “Paul Heyman Guy”.

When I listen to doubt and criticism of Michael Hayes and John Cena, I realize that I shared the same perception of CM Punk. I easily gave up on a guy because I didn’t have the patience to deal with his bullshit. I knew what I wanted to get out of him, but I didn’t take the time to “get” him. I realize that trying to work with CM Punk without getting to know and understand CM Punk is like watching a movie from the middle. How do you expect to follow that story if you don’t know where it came from or how it all started? How can you invest in moving forward when you haven’t invested in the taking the time to understand the legends? And by sticking to his beliefs, no matter how many bridges he burned or people he rubbed wrong along the way, he is changing the course of what the face of the WWE should be. As they said in the DVD, his attitude may have “hindered his growth, but not his heart”.

Around the 55 minute mark in the DVD, CM Punk was already on the WWE roster competing for the re-imaged ECW. At that point, I figured now the ass kissing and “fluff” of the DVD will begin. They will do away with the origins story and push how hard he worked and the great matches he had once he got called up, then nonchalantly take credit for giving him the global exposure to become what he is today. Same old WWE bullshit, right?...WRONG!

Just because he was called up doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing for him. After all, why fueled his rage that led to his shoot promo? What did he endure for six years before he decided to walk away from everything he has fought so long and hard for? Would the WWE allow him to be so critical of their use of him on their own product?
Well, they do. And CM Punk discusses his frustrations during his six year run, starting with his first meaningless ECW championship win and on to his first World Heavyweight title win on the Smackdown brand. You still hear the criticisms of how those within the company felt he tarnished the belt and wasn’t positioned to be “the guy”. Basically, his reigns were to appease the fan-base.

Skepticism and underlying blame is volleyed back and forth from Triple H saying, “The title doesn’t make the guy. The guy makes the title”, to Michael Hayes stating the Punk “having the title was not the drawing factor”, and ultimately in his own defense Punk retorts with, “The focal point should always be on the title”, which I completely agree with.

On the flip side of the coin, Triple H and Hayes have their points. Was CM Punk just a fan favorite who wasn’t strong enough to carry business? Was it too soon to bless him with the pressure of being a brand champion? Or did CM Punk underestimate the responsibility of being the top draw for the company? Here is a guy so eager to be the best in the world that perhaps the only achievement he made was becoming his own worst enemy.

Punk was no longer in his own world. He was in the WWE Universe. A universe that had legends such as The Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena and Chris Jericho to name a few. Legends and icons of the business who looked at him saying, “Who the fuck is this guy and who the fuck does he think he is?... .It doesn’t matter what he did in front of 400 people on an indy show, this is the WWE, where history is written”. And while I feel Punk’s sentiment when he literally gave away the title because the Jericho/HBK program needed it more than he did – I understand it from a business point of view. Triple H clearly states that Punk was not going to be “the guy” He was simply going to be “the guy with the belt in the middle of the card”.
Maybe that was the wake-up call Punk needed, or maybe that was the gasoline he wanted to set a bigger fire?

After winning the title for the second time, he tells the story of Vince McMahon approaching him with the challenge of “being a heel”. In hindsight, it was an opportunity to take the dog off the leash, but at the same time it unleashed the locker room asshole I warned you about before. The problem with Punk is that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Although I too am a firm believer that rules were made to be broken and the only way to prove them wrong is to go against the grain. Punk admitted to becoming very opinionated and not wanting help from the creative teams. He would tear up their written scripts in their face. And while Punk makes for a fascinating heel, I think the real challenge would be to force him to remain a babyface.

It’s easy to draw heat. It’s easy to tell the fans to fuck off and spit in their faces. The real challenge is being a good face. It’s easy to be hated, but it’s hard to be loved. Look at John Cena. He’s the textbook good guy, and people still take big wet shits all over him. Even before Punk recently turned to the darkside, he spent the better part of 2012 as a weak babyface. He just can’t do it. Sure they fans bought into his rebellious theories and his anti-establishment stance, but at the end of the day, they were still cheering for a guy who was doing what HE wanted to do for the good of him and him only. He’s the first admit that he’s not a role model. But have you ever tried being one? Have you ever embraced the love of the fans? All you know I heel. All you speak is heel. All you do is heel. If you aren’t pissing people off, you can’t do anything else. Pull on their emotions, not just their anger. THAT makes you the best in the world. I “get” that it’s not your gimmick, but until you’ve tried and succeeded, you can never fully achieve your claim.

There are very few people who know the real Phil Brooks. And as much of an asshole as I think CM Punk is to work with, I respect his loyalty to his friends. In an emotional story told by Joey Mercury, he had succumbed to the demons of drugs. He lost his job with the WWE and his was on the verge of losing his home. In a heartbeat, Phil Brooks wrote him a check and bought his house out of foreclosure. While it’s not a story that would make headlines or change the course of the WWE Universe, it changed my perception with a sense of humanity that I personally didn’t think this man had in him. Would he do it for anybody else? I don’t know? Does he believe in charitable causes? I don’t know. But I do know he did it for a friend, and by doing so, there is a part of him that healed his own wounds. Wounds that have been blistering since his family turned his back on him. Again, proving people wrong- that you CAN choose your own family.

Finally, as the documentary draws to a close, we hear everything that led to the contract negotiations and the “pipe bomb” promo that somewhat changed the landscape. I say somewhat, because the product is piss poor as we speak and the effect of the promo fizzled within months due to the inept booking of the WWE creative team. It could have had the lasting power of the n.W.o. , but not only did creative drop the ball, they also kicked it away.

After watching the infamous “pipe bomb” promo again, I realized how good it really was. I knew it then, but I KNOW it now. I knew I was witnessing an “event” when it happened live, and as time has passed I shit on WWE for not capitalizing on the momentum.

It was interesting to know that CM Punk resigned his deal with the WWE halfway through was expected to be his final show at Money In The Bank, and we can only wonder what would have become had they not come to terms. But I am glad they did. I have appreciated what Punk has done in the last 300 plus days as world champion. I believe he truly not only wants to change the company, but the business as a whole. I believe in his disgust of sports entertainment and his purists beliefs as a pro wrestler. Now that I know his history better, I believe in him as a locker room leader and a big brother to younger stars. I believe he is the last of the “old school mentality” guys (with the exception of Dolph Ziggler, who has the tools to be a mega star). I believe he can change the game and that he can lead the cavalry. I still believe that CM Punk is a fucking asshole…but I now believe in CM Punk, and there is a good chance he may in fact be what he always claimed to be…the best in the world.

What are your thoughts/reviews on the DVD? Do you agree or disagree with me? Post your comments below and feel free to share this review with your friends.

You can interact with DieHard Derek by following him on Facebook and Twitter.