Top That, Wrestlemania
Much will be written about last night’s RAW main event: John Cena vs. CM Punk for the right to face The Rock for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. AWG.com is not about play-by-play coverage or RAW recaps. There are plenty of other writers out there who have that covered. We stared slack-jawed at the pile driver, the amazing reversals, the perfect pacing. We felt the tension and that moment the hairs on our neck stood up when we realized we were witnessing a classic. This column will not help you relive those moments, but maybe cause you to reflect on their significance.
Every now and then a match so incredible occurs that it would just be wrong not to express my amazement in writing. Last night, the wrestling world witnessed a rare display of greatness. The word “awesome” would do it justice if the feeling evoked by it wasn’t blunted by its overuse in every day life, so I’ll go with “awe-inspiring”. It literally inspired awe.
I’ll try not to let this piece get too bogged down by my own disgruntled emotions towards Wrestlemania, but given the website’s namesake, I do think some griping is in order. For those of you who mocked the notion that The Rock shouldn’t be headlining PPVs anymore; that his presence has diminished the potential for greatness in the ring rather than increased it; that, from an artistic standpoint (not the standpoint of ~THIS BUSINESS!~) the main event of Wrestlemania ought to belong to a pair who can truly deliver from bell-to-bell, I present to you last night.
That should have been the Wrestelmania 29 main event.
In 2011, the feud between John Cena and CM Punk began in earnest when Punk delivered his, now legendary, pipe bomb promo. The first act of the feud culminated at Money in the Bank 2011 in one of the greatest matches of all time. They have competed against each other numerous times since then, delivering a strong performance every single time.
The John Cena vs. CM Punk storyline has mostly written itself over the past year and a half. Cena is the golden child of the WWE, handpicked by Vince McMahon as this generation’s Hulk Hogan. He’s the ultimate corporate spokesperson. He’s affable, digestible. He has the look. He’s marketable. On the other side, you have CM Punk, a guy who, if he had a penny for every time he was told he couldn’t make it in the business, would have enough money to bail out Wall Street. He doesn’t have the typical wrestler look — more like a dock worker. He doesn’t tow the company line, but rather lives to recraft the wrestling business into his own image. He is the ultimate antagonist.
Now I want you all to imagine that The Rock never came back to WWE television this year. He stayed in Hollywood. There was no expectation for him to challenge the WWE Champion at the Royal Rumble. Also imagine that most of the events of 2012 remained the same: Punk turned heel, carried the WWE Title for the entire year, Cena lost to The Rock at Wrestlemania 28, and he became the first to fail to Cash in Money in the Bank (against Punk). Fast forward to 2013. Imagine that Punk defended his title successfully at the Royal Rumble, but John Cena still won the Rumble itself. Punk goes on to defend the title again at Elimination Chamber, ensuring that, going into Wrestlemania, his historic title streak would exceed 500 days.
Imagine the incredible narrative that would have been set up for Wrestlemania 29: two iconic archetypes of wrestling squaring off on the grandest stage in the business. For those of you who weren’t paying attention, let me spell it out: Cena-Punk is this generation’s version of Rock-Austin. It would be the climax to one of the greatest feuds the business has ever seen.
In other words, if what we saw on free TV last night happened at Wrestlemania it would have gone down as one of the greatest Wrestlemania main events in history. Cena would have come out as the hero who finally overcame his arch-nemesis and Punk would take his place alongside the immortals, etching in stone his face on the artists of wrestling’s Mt. Rushmore, which for me also includes Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Kurt Angle.
Punk’s place among the greats is solidified for me, but I can’t help but feel there’s an injustice in him not having a chance to prove it to the whole world on the biggest stage. You’ll hear many fans talk about the business side of wrestling; who draws the most money, who brings in the sponsors, who sells the most t-shirts etc. From that perspective — the business perspective — of course you go with your top draws. Always. I understand the logic behind The Rock vs. Cena for the second time. I understand business
But then there’s the pure fan in me that recognizes that true greatness is always fleeting; that there is more to what makes wrestling great than barrels of cash flowing into Vince McMahon’s coffers; that what made legendary matches legendary, like Taker vs. Michaels at WM 25 or Austin vs. Hart at WM 13, wasn’t the box office bottom line. It was the magic created between the ringing of two bells. It was a sense that, somehow, within this fake world of sports entertainment, some truth about the very essence of the two performers in the ring was on full display to the world.
At its best, professional wrestling transcends itself. Every now and then a match comes along in which two performers, each embodying an embellished, false version of themselves, each performing fake fighting techniques on each other, somehow come full circle before our eyes and turn the wrestling formula on its head in real time. They become realer than the characters they embody, maybe even realer than how they are seen in real life, and we see the two men for who they really are. The necessary lies that pro wrestling tells us somehow work to cut deeper to a truth about the men in the ring and their relation to us as fans. These rare moments are what keeps me coming back to pro-wrestling, despite all the terrible gimmicks, despite midget’s playing leprechauns, despite glaring plot holes, and despite all the logical inconsistencies that would cause most people to turn the television off in frustration if they were watching any other medium of entertainment.
Thank you John Cena and CM Punk for delivering one of those rare moments last night on free TV. It was a performance I won’t soon forget — one worthy of Wrestlemania’s top billing.
*** UPDATE ***
Full video of the match now available to watch: