wrestling / Columns

411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Will CM Punk Return to the Ring?

November 22, 2019 | Posted by Jake Chambers
CM Punk WWE

Welcome back to the 411 Fact or Fiction – Wrestling Edition, I’m your host, Jake Chambers. Every week, Fact or Fiction poses statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events and then challenges writers to explain why they believe each statement is totally factual or completely fiction. No middle ground will be tolerated!

This week’s guest is: Jeremy Thomas.

If you’re not reading Jeremy’s weekly 411 Box Office Report then you are missing the legit best breakdown and analysis of the economic and critical factors of the movie industry currently being published anywhere. That’s a FACT.

You can also read his fantastic weekly review of HBO’s prestige drama Watchmen mini-series, so get in as much Jeremy as you can while this show is still on the air! Of course, he’s out there curating your 411 wrestling news too, so the man knows his film, TV and pro-wrestling, and therefore an absolute pleasure to converse with on all those topics today.

Statement #1:CM Punk’s return on FS1’s WWE Backstage talk show will lead to him wrestling in the ring again.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – I know that’s the rampant speculation, but I’m one of those people that believes there’s nothing to entice Punk back to wrestling except for boatloads of money, which he doesn’t really need.  Punk has one thing that he may have wanted to accomplish in the industry and didn’t, which is headlining WrestleMania.  I don’t think WWE and Punk would be able to come to an agreement on that.  Punk seems to be fine with what he’s doing now so far, and he’s been open about the fact that he is enjoying his acting work and wants to do more of that.  Committing to any kind of wrestling schedule would put a crimp in that, while his WWE Backstage work isn’t every week so he could continue doing it.  I know people want to see Punk return; so do I.  But I don’t see this as a surefire indicator that he will.

Jake Chambers: FACT – I don’t think Punk could be all “I don’t want anything to do with wrestling again” to then begrudgingly take a lame-job talking about wrestling on a fake talk show, and not know that this is his gateway back to the WWE and an eventual Wrestlemania main event. God bless Punk for trying MMA, comic book writing and genre movie acting, but I think his trajectory in those fields is more Jesse Ventura and Roddy Piper than The Rock and John Cena. And good. I’d rather see Punk doing what he was born to do (just wish it wasn’t with the currently crappy WWE though).

Statement #2: TV ratings for pro-wrestling in 2019 do not have the same significance as they did during the Monday Night Wars.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – Oh, this is a drum I’m been banging on for years now.  TV ratings are crucially important for WWE, AEW, Impact and so on’s survival on television, let’s be clear.  If Raw were to sink in the ratings to an untenable point, it would be done.  However, the emphasis on ratings is no longer between promotions, but how a show holds up on its own network.  No one at USA Network cares if NXT gets beat by AEW.  They only care if NXT gets beat by shows on USA that it shouldn’t be getting beaten by.  Ratings are being used by AEW in particular, but also WWE to a degree, to hype up the idea of a war because a war gets people fanatical about “their side,” which is good for business.  The more “us vs. them” you feel, the more you will pour money into your favorite.  And certain wrestling journalists — as well as fans — are enjoying feeding into the idea that ratings being down compared to the Attitude Era means anything at all when you can’t possibly compare ratings now to ratings 20 years ago.

Do ratings matter?  Yes.  Are they as important as they were in the Attitude Era, when wrestling was establishing that it could be on par with anything on TV?  Not at all.  The quicker we realize that, the quicker we can get to supporting the shows we like without feeling the need to tear down the competition.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Jeremy is an authority on this issue and I concede to everything he’s said. I think about how Netflix and all copycat competing streaming services, now the true force in providing viewing content, and how they never release viewer ratings, only subscriber numbers. Therefore, if you were going to draw a war line between wrestling promotions in 2019 it would have to be streaming service subscribers, and I’d be interested to see how an AEW service would compare to the WWE Network.

Statement #3: The Daniel Bryan story would make for a compelling movie.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – If done right, it definitely could.  The key question of course is “would it be done right,” but that’s a caveat that can be applied to any story.  Bryan’s journey through the indies, his time in NXT, his being fired for the Nexus tie-choking incident, on through his unlikely rise to the top, injury and comeback — yeah, this is all fertile ground for a really good film.  I enjoyed the hell out of Fighting With My Family and with all respect in the world to Paige, she doesn’t have the compelling life story that Bryan does.  If they could get some real talent on a film like this, it could be a great one.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – I’d say “YES” here if there was a good ending. Coming back to the ring has been almost a complete waste of time for Bryan, and would be a real dud ending to a great and truthful movie about such a dramatic and inspiring life. We could have had a series of dream matches or one memorable feud upon his miraculous return from an irrationally imposed WWE retirement, but instead we’ve gotten almost two years of typically wheel-spinning mediocrity with sporadic flashes of brilliance. No idea how even a Darren Aronofsky or Brian Robbins could spin that into a compelling ending after everything he’s been through.

Fact or Fiction – Quick Hits
– one sentence is all you need for this FoF lightning round!

1. You have watched more than 3 WWE Films (and if so, name them).

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – Oh gods, okay.  I am not including Scorpion King, The Rundown, or Walking Tall.  So all in all I have seen: See No Evil, The Marine, The Condemned, 12 Rounds, The Marine 2, Legendary, The Chaperone (insert a shudder here), That’s What I Am, Barricade, The Marine 3: Homefront, The Call, No One Lives, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, Oculus, Road to Paloma, See No Evil 2, The Marine 4: Moving Target, Vendetta, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown, Countdown, Incarnate, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, The Marine 5: Battleground, Armed Response, The Marine 6: Close Quarters and Fighting with My Family.  That is, if I’m counting correctly, 26 WWE Studios films.

(Ed. note: I honestly didn’t think this was possible when I made this question a Quick Hit… tip of the hat Mr. Thomas)

Jake Chambers: FICTION – I’ve only seen three – The Marine (original), 12 Rounds and See No Evil – but always wanted to watch Hornswoggle’s Leprechaun.

2. The Rock will win the Academy Award for Best Acting one day.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – I don’t see Rock ever pushing for that, and winning an Oscar requires finding the right role, campaigning, and so on.  He’s a better actor than he gets credit for though.

3. The Wrestler (2008) is the best pro-wrestling movie of all time.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – With all love to The Wrestler, I’m going to pick Beyond the MatThe Wrestler is undoubtedly the best narrative film, though.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – If you don’t count Barton Fink, then it’s gotta be Ready to Rumble for me.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: Marvel’s Wolverine would have been a great concept for a ’90s WWF gimmick wrestler.

Jake Chambers: FACT – I’m a sucker for gimmick-heavy wrestling, and I love when you get to see pop culture characters from outside of wrestling play a role in the ring, whether it was Robocop, Chucky or the Kiss Demon in WCW, or Jason, Freddy and Leatherface in Japan death match wrestling. And in the early ’90s, when the WWF “New Generation” was going gimmick crazy, I always imagined someone coming out in the blue and yellow Wolverine costume, with a voice like animated series Logan, and acting a bit like a cross between the Ultimate Warrior and Terry Funk. If they wanted to recreate moments in the Wolverine’s saga, like escaping captivity, being tamed, his rage and spotty memory, that could have made for some interesting campy-fun angles. In that vein, the right wrestler in the costume could have even transcended that goofy era, like the Undertaker, and had a great realistic second act utilizing the symbolism of the character with actual pure wrestling.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – Wow, I legitimately never thought about this before, but I can see the potential.  Wolverine would have worked in a variety of ways; he’s an instantly-recognizable character who fits in with the 1990s aesthetic, and this was right in the era where the animated series was taking off.  The big problem, and the one I have to say “Fiction” over, is that I can’t get past his claws.  Wolverine’s weapons are an inextricable part of him, so much so that when he got the adamantium pulled out of him by Magneto in the Fatal Attractions crossover, writer Larry Hama gave him bone claws.  I cannot see how WWF would have booked a Wolverine in the kid-friendly New Generation era — or any era, really — if he’s not stabbing or slashing people.  And that’s obviously a no-go because in general, wrestlers don’t murder their opponents.  There are a ton of Marvel characters that could have worked; I would have loved to see them figure out how to do a Captain America, a Punisher (guns aren’t quite as essential to Frank as Logan’s bone claws), a Shang-Chi or a Luke Cage.  But those claws are the thing stopping me from saying Wolverine would have worked.  Someone could have booked it well, but 1990s-era WWF?  Not so much.

Statement #5: You prefer wrestlers with no tattoos (or maybe one key tattoo) to wrestlers covered in tattoos.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Something I noticed about AEW was the lack of significant tattoos in a lot of the matches. The Young Bucks, Page, PAC, Joey Janela, Jon Moxley, Kenny Omega, and Cody all have few or only one significant tattoo. For some reason this struck me, even though I do watch a lot of Japanese wrestling where there is a minimal amount of body art. I am crazy, or is a lot of tattoos (or at least random tattoos) starting to feel generationally specific to the ’00s? Since pro-wrestling is so much about the look and movements of the near naked human body, I do think cleanness of skin carries a pleasing visual that makes for a less cluttered viewing experience.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – I’m answering Fiction here basically just because I don’t care about a wrestler’s ink.  I think that it’s a personal decision to get a tattoo or not and while the (no pun intended) branding value is there if you have ink, I don’t think it’s necessary.  I also don’t think it hurts anyone’s value.  Hell, going back to movies and The Rock, remember when everyone thought his sleeve and pec tattoo would hurt his film career because of how hard it would be to cover up?  That opinion didn’t age well.  Anyway, I don’t find a mass of tattoos more or less attractive than one or no tattoos on any gender identity.  It’s all dependant for me on the individual, so I don’t have any real preference.

Statement #6: Can professional wrestling ever be “high art”?

Jake Chambers: FICTION – One of the amusing oxymorons to me about the post-modern cliches of pro-wrestling conversation is how it can be both “art” and a male “soap opera”. Rarely do you hear those two terms intertwined in critical discourse except when trying to academically justify dopey pro-wrestling as something other than low culture. In my opinion, even now as the secular world has turned pure kayfabe, professional wrestling has never demonstrated the artistic self awareness to be considered more than exploitation spectacle. The creation of pro-wrestling is not political or abstract, there is no mood or theme, and there is a definite lack of creator style. Of course, there are all kinds of wrestling “styles”, from high-flying to death match, with many variations in form, but these imitate the sports more than art, like rhythmic gymnastics or the triangle offense. But the biggest issue for me in considering pro-wrestling as high art is that, save some regional aesthetic decisions, everything looks the same. Considering how much wrestling is produced every day, there’s little difference in the style unlike what you see in film or opera or dance or comic books. There’s no Bong Joon Ho of wrestling, or Jonathan Hickman, or Giuseppe Verdi, or Hideo Kojima. Wrestling is primarily about generating pops and that’s why it will always be more carnival than craft.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – Let’s be clear here: any kind of creative expression is art.  Whether it’s a Picasso or a comic book, a classic Greek sculpture or a slasher film or a performance piece, it’s art.  The term “high art” is mostly connotative, but I can absolutely see what Jake’s saying here.  Most wrestling doesn’t necessarily make a statement beyond that of a (hopefully) great story.  But when it does — and you’ve seen when it does if you’ve watched any of the great wrestling matches — it’s potent.  Art inspires; it draws emotion out of you.  Laugh all you want, but WrestleMania VII?  The battle between Sgt. Slaughter and Hulk Hogan was absolutely political art.  Austin vs. McMahon?  That’s class warfare right there, which is a big movement in art.

Now that said, I also get the argument that wrestling today doesn’t reach the auteur mindset of some of the greatest current artists (shout out to Jake for the Jonathan Hickman call-out; We Are Krakoa!).  But the question isn’t whether today’s wrestling is high art; the question is whether pro wrestling can ever be high art.  As long as we’re talking about the idea of art that aspires to higher levels and not the “high culture” definition which is utter bullshit, it absolutely can be high art.  To get quippy about it, if ballet can be high art, so can WrestleMania XII.  You can’t tell me that superkicks and Sharpshooters take the artistic aspects away from telling a story through athletic expression.  I’m not saying that it’s something to get pretentious about or try to justify as something more than it is, but the more WrestleCrappy aspects of wrestling don’t take away from the industry’s potential.  Even Shakespeare had as many lines for the “low culture” crowd as it did for the high.

Thanks again to Jeremy Thomas for his excellent insights this week. Please be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter and keep reading 411mania to support his work.

One of Jeremy’s other interests is table-top gaming, and you can read his most recent 411 Gaming review of the Eberron setting in D&D right here. As well, he is a regular member of the Final Show Films podcast called Critical Thinking that talks about Critical Role from a narrative perspective. Check it out!

And I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Wrestling Fact or Fiction. Head over to Twitter and follow me to join a tiny elite of bots and defunct accounts that are treated to random and “hilarious” New Japan tweets. I’m going to be scouting for new participants who want to step up and take the FoF challenge, so that will be the best way to get in touch!