So, after largely avoiding the pain of COVID lockdowns, it’s finally hit us NSW folk. Due to the outbreak in Sydney, a large portion of the state is now in a 2 week lockdown. Doesn’t affect work for me, as I’m a school teacher and school holidays have just started, but it does mess with my usual Snap Mayors writing. I was going to review FWA Resolution 4, which was to air on FITE TV on June 20. It got cancelled/postponed. Going forward, PWA’s next event is Don Marnell’s Beer Bash, which is set as a “house show” of sorts, but I was attending it, so I was going to give coverage in a similar manner as I write reviews for Rock N Roll Wrestling. There’s an outside chance that the Beer Bash goes ahead, but as the lockdown is set to end on July 9 and the show is on July 10, we’d be cutting it very fine. But I love wrestling and I love writing. So, what to do over the next couple of weeks?
Well, I needed some different ideas for content! First, a big thanks to Adam Pokrajac for sending me a DM on Instagram, asking me to do a write up on CM Punk’s infamous Pipebomb promo, on the 10 year anniversary of the big moment in wrestling history. So this is the first in a series called One For The History Books, where I write articles on major events over the years. Also, I’m going to revisit 10 Of The Best, something I dabbled in at the end of last year with the untimely death of Jon Huber (Brodie Lee/Luke Harper). And I’ll probably throw in a career retrospective, much like I did for Chris Jericho in my early Snap Mayors days.
So, in case you’ve been living under a rock, on the 27th of June 2011 (or the 28th here in Australia), CM Punk had a live microphone on Monday Night Raw. He was disgruntled about his position in the company, and his WWE contract was legitimately expiring. Punk was scheduled to face John Cena for the WWE Championship at the Money In The Bank PPV. Punk was told to go out there and say what was on his mind, and in doing so, injected more excitement into his character and feud with Cena than any written promo could have done. This worked-shoot promo has come to be known as The Pipebomb.
Okay, so why was it so important? It’s not like it was the first time pro wrestling incorporated real-life elements into their TV product. Hell, the “doofus son-in-law” Punk mentioned, Triple H, has seen his career incredibly influenced by “shoot” moments. The 1996 Curtain Call, where members of The Kliq broke character as Kevin Nash & Scott Hall left the WWF, saw Triple H lose a push which would see him win the King Of The Ring that year. A few years later, Hunter would use that fuel to launch his main event heel run by declaring in a fiery interview with Jim Ross, “I am the f**king Game!” Another target of the Pipebomb, Vince McMahon, also crafted his on-screen character based around the real controversy of the Montreal Screwjob.
So yeah, Punk wasn’t the first man to do this. What made this moment so effective and iconic, compared to, say, all the times Vince Russo ran worked shoot segments throughout the dying days of WCW?
It’s crucial to look at the context of the time. 2011 was a very different time. Different to the roaring success of the Attitude Era, and a product that carries a tone unlike even what we see today on WWE TV. 2011 was the height of “PG” in WWE. The Attitude Era was famed for its edge and mature presentation, something that largely carried over through the following era, known as Ruthless Aggression. Still a lot of violence, blood, coarse language and sexuality, although it was slightly less overt than the AE was in the late 90s/early 2000s. The Ruthless Aggression Era is typically regarded as beginning in 2002, and ending somewhere around 2007-2008. In the latter stages of the RA Era, we saw the WWE debut of CM Punk.
CM Punk was an “indy darling”, someone who created a lot of buzz on the Internet due to his stellar work on the independent wrestling scene, particularly in ROH. Following classic battles with men like Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson, Punk was signed to a WWE contract and reported to their developmental territory at the time, Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). Interestingly, in leaving ROH, Punk actually conducted a similar “pipebomb” promo.
Punk flourished in OVW, under the watchful eye and booking of Paul Heyman. A year or so later, Punk would find himself involved in another brand associated wih Heyman- the WWE relaunch of ECW. A lot of people really hated WWECW- I was not one of them. I believe that it was a fine wrestling show that suffered from the inevitable comparisons to the original ECW. Had WWE launched that third brand and called it anything else, I think people would have been far more receptive to it. Watching it back, it’s essentially the prototype for what NXT became in 2012. But whether you loved or hated WWECW, most agreed that CM Punk was a shining star amongst it all.
Especially in 2006, CM Punk was not the typical WWE Superstar. He had all the tattoos, the alternative look, the straight-edge lifestyle, he wasn’t a bodybuilder… but yet, he had a certain magnetism about him. A definite charisma, and an ability on the microphone that soon shone when he was shifted from ECW to main roster WWE.
But the times, they were changing… in more ways than one. While Punk was changing the idea of what a WWE Superstar should be and look like, the overall product was set to shift to more family-friendly, PG parameters. Punk had an unfortunate connection to the events that led to this product shift. In June 2007, Chris Benoit killed his wife and child before committing suicide. Those horrific acts were attributed to brain damage from years of concussions and head trauma, and also speculation of “roid rage”. This tragedy put WWE under a lot of scrunity, so they cleaned up their act and quickly softened the presentation of their programming. That weekend, Benoit was scheduled to wrestle on the Vengeance PPV for the vacant ECW Championship. His opponent? CM Punk.
While things like the Wellness Policy and a toning down of the violence led to a somewhat safer, sponsor-friendly product, it definitely wasn’t as… fun anymore for a large portion of fans, including myself. Cutting insults gave way to “JBL is poopy”. Humorous skits that pushed the envelope were replaced by childish gags involving characters like Hornswoggle. The only thing that kept me watching a little while longer- before I eventually said, “okay, maybe wrestling isn’t for me anymore” was CM Punk. His feud with Jeff Hardy was the only thing on the show that felt a little gritty and reality-based. When that was over, and Punk was squashed by the Undertaker, I stopped watching pro wrestling for a long time.
I still kept half an eye on what was happening. It’s hard to quit an addiction like pro wrestling cold turkey. Any time something cool or edgy seemed to be happening, I’d give it a look. Oh, this Nexus thing seems cool! Oh, never mind, Super Cena killed it. Oh shit, The Rock’s back! Never mind, he’s going on about Fruity Pebbles and needs to write notes on his wrist to remember his promo. It’s a shame, I really used to love this stuff…
Changing The Culture
What made CM Punk’s Pipebomb so great is that it echoed the sentiments of those of us who loved wrestling but were desperate for something to change, something to shake up the status quo. Punk exhibited real frustrations, real emotions, something sorely missing from the sterile scripted promos on WWE television, micromanaged word for word. He spoke about a wrestling world outside WWE, name dropping companies like ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling, and performers not affiliated with WWE at that time, like Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman… and even Colt Cabana.
It was an impassioned speech that said “f**k the establishment”, taking specific aim at men who the WWE machine was behind, like Hulk Hogan, The Rock & John Cena. The best part was, in amongst all this real venom that Punk was spitting, it still sold the PPV match with John Cena. Where a lot of worked-shoots have failed- past and present- is that it simply uses the act of “shooting” for shock value. Ooh, he said the wrestler’s real name! Ooh, he used a reference to what someone said on Twitter! Any idiot with an internet connection can find that information out. The brilliance of the Pipebomb was taking the dose of reality and using it to further Punk’s issue with Cena, getting the “Voice Of The Voiceless” over, and giving the WWE system a much-needed wake up call.
According to Punk himself, he legitimtely hadn’t signed a WWE contract on the day of the Money In The Bank PPV. He was in the Allstate Arena in Chicago, and the finish hadn’t been finalised for the main event of the show- it was contingent on whether or not Punk signed on the dotted line. That particular piece of information was not public knowledge at the time, leading to a very tense, emotionally-charged atmosphere for his match with Cena. The stakes, and the marriage of reality to WWE’s narrative, created a one of a kind atmosphere. Oh, and we were in Punk’s hometown. That’s important- top babyface Cena was public enemy no. 1, no “mixed” reaction here. And top heel Punk was a GOD to those Chicago fans, who wildly cheered his every move.
CM Punk eventually hit the GTS and pinned Cena straight-up. An enraged Vince called an audible and got MITB winner Alberto Del Rio out there to attack Punk, but to no avail. CM Punk was the new WWE Champion, seemingly not under WWE contract, blowing Vince McMahon a kiss as he left through the crowd. Pro wrestling perfection. A rare 5 stars for a WWE match from Meltzer, and well deserved.
The excitement of “the Summer of Punk” would soon be snuffed out by a returning Kevin Nash and the involvement of Triple H. The general buzz around the product faded for me, and although Punk would capture the WWE Championship again at Survivor Series, he felt like just another guy. A heel turn and a 434 day reign as world champion went some way towards fixing that, but he never quite got back that mid 2011 magic again, and eventually bowed out of WWE entirely following the 2014 Royal Rumble. Despite fans chanting his name in the years that followed, and a brief run as a FOX analyst for their show, WWE Backstage, Punk has not come back to proper WWE television since.
That said, Punk did go a long way towards “changing the culture” as he said in his Backstage debut. Without the rise of CM Punk, showing that an unconventional wrestler from the indies can work in WWE, maybe Daniel Bryan doesn’t get the same opportunities as he got. If Punk & Bryan don’t break through, maybe NXT as the alternative we know it as doesn’t exist. If all that doesn’t happen, maybe WWE doesn’t sign stars like AJ Styles, Finn Balor & Shinsuke Nakamura. And now WWE acknowledge ROH, NJPW and various other wrestling promotions, even featuring them on their own WWE Network! All of it started with CM Punk.
The 27th of June, 2011. The Pipebomb hit. The culture was changed. Pro wrestling was altered.