VS. #23 – Iain Burnside vs. Paul Marshall

Features, Top Story, VS.

A question is posed. Two Pulse Wrestling writers go head-to-head. But only one will move on to next week to the face off with another member of our staff. This is VS.

, and this week’s question is… CM Punk: babyface or heel?

Iain Burnside

Paul Marshall

Iain Burnside: There are benefits to both options. Keeping Punk as a face and pushing him as a main event fixture and credible world champion lets the company invest heavily in the one wrestler they have who is 99% certain to not violate the Wellness Policy. This does of course have a great benefit on their public image, whilst opening up a great deal of merchandise opportunities (it is astonishing that they have not landed a Pepsi deal yet). Turning Punk heel would bring a dose of freshness to their shows. WWE may be throwing around title changes like confetti yet the creative team has shown remarkable restraint when it comes to giving wrestlers heel or face turns. This is to be commended for it makes them all the more meaningful when they do happen (see Jericho last year, or consider the plans for Batista this year before his inevitable injury).

Everybody reading this knows that Punk’s straight-edge gimmick lends itself well to a smug, better-than-you character that can grate upon the audience in exactly the right manner. By all accounts, Phil Brooks is not too far removed from such personality traits in his own life. There is, however, the problematic issue of making the guy that does not do drugs into the villain of the piece. Consider how that may be interpreted by parents and potential sponsors in this day and age… tricky, yes? If WWE was to go ahead with the heel turn then they would have to be rather subtle in how they deal with the drug issue, particularly in putting Punk into a feud with your charismatic pipe-smoker Jeff Hardy.

Expect the WWE version of Punk to be a watered-down version in comparison to his ROH heel stint. Circumstances dictate that it would have to be focused more on “competition addiction” and “luck is for losers” than anything to do with straight-edge in specific. It would also perhaps have a detrimental effect on Punk’s merchandise sales, since the heels do tend to shift fewer units than the faces. In saying that, however, the likes of Edge and Randy Orton have continued to crack into WWE Shopzone’s Top 10 list with their T-shirts. Plus, in the long haul, a heel turn for Punk would mean a face turn further down the road that would, in theory, position him as an even greater selling point than he is at present.

However, it all depends on the broader circumstances affecting Smackdown at present. The show is in grave danger of running out of babyfaces altogether. Jeff Hardy is most likely leaving later on in the summer. The Undertaker may not be back for another few months and cannot be considered a regular fixture anymore. Rey Mysterio is having contractual issues with WWE and, in any case, is still injury-prone. Batista was touted as a possible replacement for Hardy but now he is unavailable for the foreseeable future. John Morrison has barely scratched the surface of the upper midcard. If Punk was removed from the babyface side of things too then who would that leave? The missing, presumed cuddly Kane? Khali? It is possible that they could attempt to turn Edge face but considering that has not even been teased it would feel forced and be an uphill struggle from the get-go. Speculation about Kurt Angle returning to WWE remains but that is far from certain. Besides, he would most likely wind up on Raw if he was brought back. For the time being, therefore, WWE is doing the right thing in playing a waiting game with Punk. Once they have a better idea of what the future holds for the likes of Hardy and Mysterio then they can go ahead with Punk’s heel turn. If the numbers game dictates keeping Punk a face, then they can fully embrace that. In either case the essential thing for the credibility of both Punk and the title itself is that this time around he gets a longer reign as champion whilst also retaining it with decisive victories.

Good reasoning on both sides, and it looks like Iain’s conclusion is that Punk stay a babyface – or possibly a tweener – for now, until the babyface side of Smackdown’s main event picture is stronger. Makes perfect sense, although I – remembering how great Punk was as a heel during his ROH championship run – want to see the change take place sooner than later.

Paul Marshall: Where to begin? I browsed some CM Punk content on YouTube and I caught CM Punk as the ROH Champion giving a promo on how the fans were puppets, latching onto him, their hero… when he was nothing but a devil. That gave CM Punk instant credibility of any wrestler in any promotion. This was one of the reasons I’d like to believe led to his promotion, if you will, to the WWE.

Punk tried to turn heel once during the New Breed v. ECW Originals feud, but the heel turn never stuck due to events that shouldn’t have happened two years ago. Because of that, CM Punk was a face again and he feuded over the ECW Title with John Morrison. Those that knew Punk from his ROH days knew that a heel turn for Punk would give him instant credibility. I believed otherwise because as a face, CM Punk won over the fans and he did the one thing that is hard for any wrestler to accomplish – and that is to get himself over. CM Punk didn’t need a gimmick. He just needed his wrestling ability. Add a couple Money in the Bank wins and a cash-in against Edge, CM Punk was awesome.

However, Creative didn’t put their thinking caps on and they squandered Punk’s title reign in the lamest way possible – eliminating CM Punk without him losing the championship. Punk had the fan base, the skills, everything he needed to be a main event superstar, but it was pulled from under him without even realizing that it would destroy Punk’s credibility. Luckily for Punk, he managed to do what few superstars could do – become a Triple Crown champion within a year of winning the World Heavyweight Championship. It was a new lease on life for Punk.

Let’s go to Wrestlemania 25. Punk went into Money in the Bank as last year’s winner. No one had repeated back-to-back wins up to that point. No one expected CM Punk to win again, but he did. He went on and cashed in at Extreme Rules on a battle-tested Jeff Hardy and he won the World Heavyweight Championship for a second time.

I’m not a ROH-Bot, so aside from what little footage I see on YouTube, I don’t know how good Punk is at being a heel. Though in my defense, the nine minute footage where Punk defeated Austin Aries in 2005 was pure gold.

Now to the question. Heel or face? Definitely heel because SmackDown needs an atmosphere change. We’ve seen plenty of Jericho/Punk over the last few months. Sure it wouldn’t be dull watching them go each week, but there is much more opportunity for Punk being a heel. The feud between him and Hardy can go on until Summerslam without any complaints. After Punk gets done with Hardy, he can go onto Mysterio, John Morrison, Edge, and a returning Undertaker. It’s better than Edge winning back the title and defending against Hardy and Undertaker once more. Punk has more opportunity to make a heel turn work right now.

That’s it? A lot of backstory for a few sentence’s worth of an answer? It’s easier to bring up the past attempts of Punk being heel to help with answering the question rather than for me to say it right off the bat.

I was leaning towards Iain’s “keep Punk a babyface, and slowly turn him” suggestion until Paul (finally) got to his point and explained why a Punk heel turn would work right now. While I don’t see Edge turning babyface any time soon, opponents like Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio and The Undertaker – boy would THAT be a feud – could definitely work to keep Punk a believable antagonist through at least Survivor Series, at which time, hopefully Morrison and some others will have gotten over to the point of deserving a main event slot. I’d like to see Punk use this feud with Hardy to become an all-out heel sooner than later, and then go the “I’m better than you” route with regards to Jeff’s lifestyle, while adding in a little Jericho-esque “logical heel,” i.e., what we saw in every Jericho promo during his most recent feud with Shawn Michaels. In fact, if WWE can convince HBK to move over to Smackdown, there’s a storyline I’d enjoy in a big way.

Winner of VS. #23: Paul Marshall

Do you agree with Iain or Paul or do you have an entirely different opinion? Let us know in the comments section, below!

Until next time…

Matthew Michaels is editor emeritus of Pulse Wrestling, and has been since the site launched.