Thursday, February 2, 2012
Best in the World
There's a famous promo by legendary grappler Terry Funk. In his southern drawl, he exclaims "The name on the marquee says Wrestling, spelled Dubya-R-E-S-T-L-I-N-G."
WWE created the term "sports entertainment" in the 1980s. Back then, though, it was mostly a backstage term used to describe the product they were putting out. The term didn't become part of a wrestling fan's vocabulary until the late 1990s and early 2000s. WWE has stated for years now that they don't do wrestling or feature wrestlers, they are a sports entertainment company.
What that means is that they emphasize showmanship and flair over actual in-ring competition. Starting with Hulk Hogan and continuing with John Cena, it doesn't matter if you're the greatest mat-based wrestler. As long as the crowd reacts and you sell merchandise, you're a star.
Ring of Honor was founded in 2002. They heavily promote the fact that they are not a sports entertainment company. They promote wrestling and feature some of the best wrestlers in the world.
Two of the greatest wrestlers in Ring of Honor in the mid 2000s were CM Punk and Bryan Danielson. Since enacting their brand extension in 2002, WWE has had a Heavyweight champion on their two shows, Raw and Smackdown. In 2012, the WWE Champion on Raw is CM Punk and the World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown is Daniel Bryan, the man formerly known as Bryan Danielson.
It has been a nice change of pace over the last several months to see WWE reward some of their better wrestlers. It is a true testament to the fact that learning your craft and becoming the best at what you do will pay off. It is no longer the days in wrestling of buff bodybuilders who get winded after 5 minutes in the ring.
There might be better interviews. There might be better looks, cosmetically. There might be better PR shills for the company. But from a mat-based, technical standpoint, there is nobody in the WWE who can touch CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in the ring.
For years, only the hardcore fans knew it. CM Punk debuted in WWE in 2006 and was shown to be good, but they never let him become the true superstar that he knew he could be. Finally, last summer they cut his leash off and let him loose. It's the same with Daniel Bryan. He debuted in 2010, and was presented as somebody who was a good wrestler, but he didn't get the chance to showcase his true skills.
There's a reason for that. If CM Punk and Daniel Bryan and countless others like them were allowed to run at full speed years ago, they would have blown past everybody in WWE. Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Batista, JBL, Big Show, etc... can't hold a candle to the ring work and presentation of what we'll call the "ROH Guys."
The reason hardcore wrestling fans are so happy for Punk and Bryan is that this isn't just a victory for them individually. This is a victory for every true wrestler who was held down over the years, when your physical build was more important than your ability. Punk and Bryan have shown that they can be sports entertainers. They can be dramatic, funny, flashy, everything that they need to be in interviews. But, they have the solid wrestling background to back it up that most don't have.
The stigma of being a wrestler on the independent scene used to be impossible to overcome. Being labeled an "indy guy" was often the kiss of death for a WWE superstar. Punk and Bryan have seemingly flaunted that in WWE's face on numerous occasions. The night Bryan won the World Championship (Punk won his the previous month), Punk tweeted a picture of the two of them with their championships and the caption, "Not bad for two indy schmucks."
Punk and Bryan appeared the next night in Philadelphia. The "City of Brotherly Love" has been an important area in wrestling history. In addition to numerous other claims, Philadelphia is considered the home base of Ring of Honor. With the two of them standing the ring together, Punk indirectly mentioned the company that made them both stars, noting that they met 10 years ago down the street at the Murphy Rec. Plex (the gymnasium that was home to several early ROH events).
Embedded above is a video of these two men wrestling this past Monday on Raw. The basis for the match was that they were both calling themselves the Best in the World. Embedded below is a video featuring highlights from a match these two had in 2004. Look at how small the audience is. Look at how small-time it looks. But, then, look at the world-class action in the ring. These two men were having this type of match years ago, and WWE has only recently given them the opportunity to show everybody that they are both among the Best in the World.
Early in the video the words "I hope your parents die" flash on the screen as CM Punk looks at the crowd. That's because he yells that at a member of the audience. Click here to watch just that scene.