Last week, on the Sept. 10 episode of Monday Night RAW, John Cena made a very strong statement to CM Punk. He told him, "You don't even know who CM Punk is."
This final segment of RAW showcased some of John Cena's best mic work in recent memory. Not only did it build some real emotion leading up to Night of Champions, but it also helped blur the line between truth and fantasy. If you've been a fan of WWE for a good amount of time, then you know blurring the line between truth and fantasy is what the success of this industry has largely been built upon.
John Cena then proceeded to question the stability and authenticity of Punk's character. He mentioned his theft of both colors and wrestling maneuvers. He questioned Punk's motivations and loyalties, his success outside of being WWE champion. He even went so far as to declare Punk's title reign as irrelevant.
John Cena—arguably the face of the company despite Punk's title reign—made some pretty bold statements that deserve further examination.
Mainly, who is CM Punk?
For many, Punk represents the underground, rebellious faction. He embodies the idea that someone can come from nothing and still make it to the big leagues. Punk is viewed as a self-made man in the sense that he wasn't picked and groomed by the WWE political brass. He has been presented as a rule breaker; a controversial superstar who seeks to turn the WWE Universe upside down.
For this reason, he has been compared, arguably, to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Additionally, Austin was also known for shifting loyalties. His catch phrase "Don't trust anybody" highlighted his unpredictability.
He openly acknowledges influences from the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage with his elbow drop and ring attire. Punk borrows the "It's clobbering time" catch phrase of Marvel Comics' The Thing. He even tried to finish Cena with the Rock Bottom maneuver.
A pattern seems to form that adds some legitimacy to John Cena's accusations on last week's RAW. Of course, these aspects of Punk's character could have been totally manufactured from the beginning to generate this heated feud. Let's assume it wasn't all manufactured and dive into the appeal and significance of Punk's character.
Fortunately, CM Punk's theme song, "Cult of Personality," gives great insight into his character. One of the most memorable lyrics declares: "I know your anger, I know your dreams. I've been everything you want to be."
This speaks to Punk's appeal to those he has deemed the "voiceless." It appeals to fans who have complained that certain aspects of WWE's product have been lacking, such as new talent, technical wrestling and diversity of matches.
The lyrics then go on to proclaim, "You gave me fortune. You gave me fame. You gave me power in your god's name."
Here we see the overarching theme of the song, and I propose, of Punk's character. The song, especially through its presentation and lyrics, screams totalitarian regimes. It speaks of leaders who made promises. Some delivered, other didn't. Some helped the people of their country, others ruled with an iron fist.
CM Punk is a living, breathing criticism of what it means to be the face of the WWE. His "heel"-turn only helped to make that criticism more powerful.
John Cena's accusations only highlighted the opposite nature of his own character. Cena is a company man. He follows the rules. He is an ideal role model. He isn't everything you want to be, because he is John Cena. John Cena even confirmed this when he said, "Through it all, I've done it as me."
But, we shouldn't confuse John Cena's consistency for authenticity.
In the real world, most people aren't as simple as John Cena's character. They are complicated. Our decisions are often influenced by the circumstances and our own personal experiences. Many people cannot be defined as either good or bad. As one gets older, you discover that most people are in the grey area.
Things aren't just black and white.
And that's who CM Punk is. CM Punk is the grey area. CM Punk is uncertainty. CM Punk is a reflection of the real world.
This is what makes their feud enticing. You have one man, John Cena, who believes the world is simple, that you either make the right choice or the bad choice. In the other corner you have a man who tells you there is no right choice. The choice is yours to make, whenever you decide to make it, however you decide to make it.
There are few certainties in this world, and as much as WWE is trying to push CM Punk's character as a heel, this situation is very different from others in the past.
CM Punk is exposing the lie: there is no white knight is shining armor.
As the song acknowledges, "Only you can set you free."
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