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Changes coming — or more of the same?

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Scott: Breaking news, my good man. John Cena just had surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow and will be recovering for four to six weeks. When is the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, you ask? Five and a half weeks. So how will this be handled — a brand new story for CM Punk, or will they try to buy time and still get Cena involved in the next big main event?

• • •

David: I just saw the same story, and I’m not sure what it means. The first thing I wondered is, “Why now?” It didn’t appear anything out of the ordinary happened on Raw Sept. 17 to cause injury to his elbow. However, if they were using “John Cena’s having surgery” for storyline purposes only, why not make it his ankle, since he stated on Twitter and during Raw that he messed it up during the Night of the Champions match against CM Punk?

As for where Punk goes from here, I’m not sure. I feel like the ending of NoC and following Raw’s main event gave us clues they’re going to tell a story revolving around referees and CM Punk’s relationship with them. Maybe they don’t need Cena for that story, and they can use it as a distraction if he’s not going to be around.

• • •

Scott: After the first report of six weeks, there was a window when everyone was saying Cena would only be on the shelf for two to three weeks, leaving him plenty of time to get ready for Hell in a Cell. Then we went back to the original window. But no matter the duration, logically he has to be the challenger — the only other people in the WWE Title picture for several months since WrestleMania have been Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and The Big Show, the former two being otherwise occupied and the latter being off the grid since SummerSlam until this week’s Raw. Unless someone like Mark Henry is ready to come back, I think all bets are on Cena.

The bigger issue is WWE’s seeming inability to tell the story they want to tell with Punk. Some of the issue is a long-term challenge of fans cheering guys the writers would like to see booed. But it also stems from WWE’s established history of being a place where good guys reign. If Punk were a Yokozuna-grade monster, they could just feed him heroes every week. But even in his matches against Cena he’s the plucky underdog, and a certain part of the audience will always gravitate in that direction.

• • •

David: I think the writers realize that, and I think that’s why Paul Heyman has entered the CM Punk picture. I’m not the first person to note this, but it seemed very clear to me that during the Triple H/Brock Lesnar rivalry this summer, Heyman was, so to speak, the straw that stirred the drink. Lesnar is not somebody I want to hear talk, and the WWE, with Heyman’s help, did a great job of making sure we didn’t have to hear him.

Now, does Punk need a “voice of the voice of the voiceless”? Of course not. CM Punk doesn’t need a mouthpiece, as he’s brilliant at speaking for himself. However, with the original pipe bomb in Las Vegas last year, Punk changed the way the crowd thought of him. While some people may complain about Punk’s character and its lack of development over the last year, we still think of him differently than we did when he was running the Straight Edge Society or the New Nexus. I’m trying to imagine the CM Punk of the past year doing what he did during the 2010 Royal Rumble, when he stood alone in the middle of the ring, proclaiming that being straight edge made him better than everyone else. It gained him a lot of heat then, but it doesn’t ring true with this version of CM Punk. It’s a gimmick he doesn’t need. He certainly could do it, and I’m sure he would get some boos out of it, but he might get an awful lot of indifference, which is the worst possible outcome for a wrestler.

So, instead of returning to the Straight Edge Superstar persona, and engendering that indifference from the crowd, he has joined Heyman and flipped the script, in a manner of speaking. In letting Heyman speak for him, Punk has decided to show his indifference for the WWE Universe. The brilliance of this move is it allows actions to speak, as they usually do, louder than words. When he jumped off the apron during his impromptu tag team match with Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton and Jerry Lawler and started talking to Heyman about Montreal’s lack of fine dining, I thought it was a brilliant move. Give the crowd the opposite of what they want, and, even in this day of “smart” fans, you’ll get boos.

Look at Daniel Bryan. The crowd was strongly behind him earlier this year, and made the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant a huge part of the show. In order to get boos, he started literally shouting the opposite. If the crowd chants “Yes!”, he screams “No!” So, if the crowd likes to watch Punk wrestle, the best thing he can do in this role is to not wrestle. It’s a great tactic, and makes it that much better when he does invest himself in a match like he did at Night of Champions.

Speaking of Daniel Bryan, are you enjoying the pairing of our new WWE Tag Team Champions: Team Friendship Hell No?

• • •

Scott: I’m excited for anyone to be so thrilled about being a champion. If we’re going to have titles, the wrestlers who hold them need to be proud of being on top. Kane and Bryan, Antonio Cesaro and Punk all routinely remind the wrestling world how important it is for them to be champions. Miz tries this to some extent. Of the current champions, Sheamus probably is the least successful in this regard, though that’s nowhere near the top of the list of things I don’t like about Sheamus.

I don’t watch any TNA — can you tell me how the wrestlers treat the titles on Thursday night?

• • •

David: K. Sawyer Paul from the International Object podcast has written and spoken quite a bit about the fact TNA seems to be written as a sort of noir version of a wrestling show. The TNA Heavyweight Championship is a pretty big part of that. The interesting thing about that title is it doesn’t seem to be an end. For the last couple of years, each TNA champion has talked about the “power” that comes with being champion, which seems to be why most people seek it.

What’s interesting is the way that “power” manifests itself. In Austin Aries’ case, it seems like he’s become sort of an assistant to General Manager Hulk Hogan. A couple weeks after Aries defeated Bobby Roode at Destination X to become the new champion, I turned on Impact to find him having a meeting in the back with several X Division wrestlers to discuss who was going to get a match with new X Division champion Zema Ion. So, apparently, if you win the title, you get to take a lot of meetings. Not exactly something I’d be clamoring for, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I guess it’s a good reason to want the title.

It does seem to be something people want, though, which is good.

• • •

Scott: Obviously CM Punk has been trying to make the WWE Title, at least since Raw 1000, something that bestows respect upon its holder. He’s even gone so far as to publicly state the World Heavyweight Championship is not on the same level as his own title, though history would show the “top” title in the company can vary depending on who has which belt and what show they’re on most often.

When Punk eventually loses the belt, it will be interesting to see if (and how) he still demands respect on the same level. Miz is still barking about beating Cena at WrestleMania 18 months ago — though to be fair, it was somewhat remarkable at the time.

Your description of the top TNA title is interesting as well. To me the most important thing is for guys to have a reason to want the gold. If winning (title matches or otherwise) is meaningful to the competitors, and the importance is conveyed well as part of the storytelling, it’s that much easier for fans to get invested. After all, we never really did get an explanation of why all these guys are traveling around the country punching each other in their underwear.

• • •

David: Well, why do baseball players travel around the country to hit a ball with a stick while wearing really tight pants?

During my freshman year at the hallowed grounds of Coe College, I took a beginning acting class, as it was required by my major at the time. One of the things we studied within our studies of Stanislavsky’s “Method” was the fact that in every play, each character has a “super-objective.” This is, essentially, each character’s goal, why they do what they do and say what they say. In baseball, one could say that the “play” is equivalent to a full season, and each player’s super-objective for the season is “to win the World Series.”

Wrestling is never ending. There are no seasons. There is no conclusion. I think this causes problems with story-telling, because it’s hard to tell what the super-objective is for wrestlers. Is the super-objective to make enough money to retire? Is it to marry the boss’s daughter and become an executive in “this business*”? Even more difficult is to try to tell what the super-objective is within the wrestling narrative. How do you write for these characters, if you don’t really know what these characters want in the long run?

*Of course, that super-objective only really works once.

• • •

Scott: You ever wonder what would have happened if maybe Trish Stratus wound up married to Shane McMahon? Maybe that’s a diversion for another day.

I was really interested in the Mick Foley segment on the Sept. 24 Raw. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he had to say about Punk and Heyman, and it fed my suspicion that maybe this is all a big Heyman ruse paving the way for him to bring back Lesnar to destroy Punk. I thought I saw a few seconds of doubt creep into Punk’s face, until order was restored and he decided to keep drinking the Heyman Kool-Aid.

However, I also think Foley’s comments about his own career were incredibly telling. He revealed his super-objective: creating memorable moments. We could spend hours going over Foley’s career, what it meant at the time and how it shaped the business. But these remarks didn’t sit all that well with me in that they completely shattered, more than usual, the conceit of the entire enterprise. If we’re going to pretend this is a fake sport, then let’s have everyone involved be concerned about winning. If we’re going to acknowledge it’s theater, then let’s not have the actors discussing their personal career goals in the middle of a scene.

In the end, as much as I did enjoy a large part of the Foley-Punk interaction, I’m not sure it hit all the right notes. I also don’t think the “bad guy” stuff we saw Punk carry out Monday is up to the level of his abilities, which is more of a writing issue as well as the effect of some of the points we discussed earlier. (Note: I highly recommend this piece by Chris Sims breaking down the issues WWE Creative has with using Punk and Sheamus.)

This is a weird time for the WWE right now. It’s not quite clear if the next mega-stars are on the roster, yet there’s a lot of talented guys putting in great matches. It reminds me a lot of 20 years ago in the wake of SummerSlam 1992. Hogan had been gone for a few months, Ultimate Warrior suddenly left the company (big shocker), Savage dropped the belt to Flair in a nothing match and Flair lost it to Bret Hart at a house show in Saskatoon. The Survivor Series 1992 card bore so little resemblance to the SummerSlam show of just a few months prior, and everything would be upside down again come WrestleMania. Are we headed for another winter of mass chaos?

• • •

David: Well, I can think of three SummerSlam 2012 competitors who are unlikely to be at Survivor Series: Brock Lesnar, HHH and Chris Jericho. Does that mean we’re in for a complete shakeup in the roster between now and then? I’m not so sure of that, but I do think when we get to WrestleMania XXIX the card will be quite different from XXVIII.

I think talent like Antonio Cesaro, Damien Sandow and Brodus Clay, who weren’t featured as wrestlers at this year’s WrestleMania, will be featured next year. I think there’s also a possibility that we could see some NXT talent brought up between now and April, which could add some wrinkles to the roster.

I don’t , however, see the top of the card changing. It seems likely that the main event stars like Cena, Punk, Del Rio and Sheamus will still be in those same relative positions in March and April.

• • •

Scott: I wouldn’t rule out Lesnar at Survivor Series just yet. We’re still more than seven weeks away from that show, and an awful lot can happen between now and then. I was hoping we’d have seen some advance references to that show, as we did with SummerSlam and even the Royal Rumble already, to help cement its position as one of the biggest shows of the year. Maybe there’s still hope.

I do think we’re in for some changes. Putting so much stock into the tag division these days — and for the purposes of chasing the titles, not just joining guys in order to break them up later — is really freshening up both the roster and the weekly TV, while having the added benefit of elevating the guys left in the singles realm. For example, they could have thrown Ziggler and Orton into a team a la Rhodes and Sandow, but it’s important to keep a class of performers outside that fray for the time being.

I think we’ve put a good cap on this discussion, but I’m excited to see what the next few weeks offer. I’m sure I’ll be unable to avoid Survivor Series nostalgia, and there might be some fun things to debate in the world of The Ryback. Until next time…

• • •

As always, thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!


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