Keynotes and Keyholds: Why CM Punk is an acoustic kitty (Vince McMahon, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Bobby Lashley…)

This week’s Keynotes and Keyholds is dedicated to the memory of “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Thank you for the memories, Macho.

Why CM Punk is an acoustic kitty

 

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that CM Punk is an acoustic kitty of the first order. No? Then perhaps a brief history lesson may help justify that statement.

During the dark days of the Cold War, when US-Soviet tensions were at their peak in the mid-sixties, one of the many crackpot schemes hatched by the CIA in the hope of gaining the upper hand over the Commies involved attempting to eavesdrop on enemy spies using a feline secret agent. Dubbed the ‘Acoustic Kitty’, the cat in question was subjected to expensive surgery to turn it into a living mobile radio transmitter. It was fitted with an internal microphone and battery, its tail was rigged up with an antenna, and the cat was trained extensively to locate and remain in close proximity to targets.

Although its training appears to have gone quite smoothly, Acoustic Kitty was a little more wilful than its trainers initially expected (although that does beg the question, “what exactly were they expecting? I can think of few animals more determinedly id-driven than the common housecat!), and tended to wander off whenever it got hungry. In order to address the cat’s hunger-distraction issues, surgeons operated upon the cat for a second time, inserting a nasty-sounding “wire to thwart the hunger.”

Cost estimations for Operation Acoustic Kitty vary, but the entire project may have set the US Government back by as much as $20 million. Within minutes of its first field test in Washington, Acoustic Kitty was killed when it ran into the road and got hit by a taxi.

Clearly, seeing any animal hit by a car is a harrowing experience. I don’t doubt that. But seeing an animal worth $20 million and years of training get hit by a car… well… I think it’s safe to say that there were a fair few sore heads at CIA headquarters the next day. Operation Acoustic Kitty was deemed a failure, and never mentioned again until 2001, when documents detailing this tragic footnote in Western history became declassified.

On to CM Punk, then, and perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Imagine that CM Punk is the Acoustic Kitty, and Vince McMahon is the CIA. The Soviets can be the Soviets, or whoever; that bit doesn’t really matter. It isn’t a perfect analogy, but let’s run with it, shall we? CM Punk is a man worth a great deal of money to WWE. Perhaps not $20 million, but certainly in terms of investment in his character up until now, in terms of his incredible talent, his credentials as a bona fide draw, and his barely-tapped potential for money-making feuds, Punk’s net worth to Vince McMahon’s company is vast. And right now, CM Punk’s Acoustic Kitty is on the verge of throwing itself under a taxi. Which would, simply put, be a terrible waste.

Vince has never been in a situation quite like this before. It is well known that WWE prides itself on its brand identity – on its strength as a commercial machine much bigger than the sum of its parts. McMahon learned his lesson when a Hogan-led WCW nearly defeated him fifteen years ago, and in today’s WWE there is no single individual in the company (apart, perhaps, from McMahon himself) considered greater or more important than the company as a whole. It is for this reason that when Jeff Hardy, painted as the number one wrestler in the world at one point, left WWE, the WWE machine churned on and no one batted an eye-lid. For related reasons, when Jeff resurfaced in Orlando, TNA ratings barely flickered. When The Rock retired from full-time competition, Randy Orton and John Cena took his place immediately. When Undertaker and Triple H reduced their performance schedules to a scant few months a year, Raw and Smackdown acted as though nothing had happened. People in the crowd may divided into John Cena fans, Sin Cara fans, Christian fans or CM Punk fans, but the entire crowd is may be considered first and foremost WWE fans. That WWE can claim this encompassing fanbase – this  “WWE Universe” – is testament to the brilliance of a decades-long marketing strategy that not many companies, even today, could pull off. Can you imagine Disney without Mickey Mouse or Pixar without Toy Story? It is to McMahon’s great credit that when chaps like Jeff Hardy, Undertaker, and The Rock leave, his company rolls onwards with nary a backward glance.

With that said, however, the knowledge that his company will be ok must still feel like poor consolation to McMahon when men and women that he has invested a great deal of time and effort into simply up and leave. Brock Lesnar’s departure, for example, or that of Bobby Lashley, must have irked McMahon no small amount after both had been pushed to the moon. Judging by the insanely good offers made to Jeff Hardy prior to his departure from WWE in 2009, the younger Hardy’s exit (although in hindsight, it turned out for the best) also caused McMahon a considerable headache at the time. When Kurt Angle decided that he knew better than WWE’s health officials and went to wrestle in TNA, McMahon’s sentiments were strong enough that an article on WWE.com acknowledged and denounced Angle’s actions.

McMahon has thus seen his fair share of Acoustic Kitties come and go. But none of the myriad of previous cases, I would hasten to add, has been quite like CM Punk’s current situation. Although the losses of Hardy and Angle must have stung (particularly given that both of those Kitties were snatched up for use by the Soviets / TNA instead) in the short-term, in the long-term they mattered very little: both performers were, in their own ways, liabilities. The former openly desired a return to his hedonistic lifestyle, while the latter’s best days were behind him, and was (and remains) one bad bump away from a debilitating injury. Brock Lesnar, although far from a liability, was a similarly ‘safe’ loss. Lesnar had clearly lost interest in professional wrestling, and McMahon recognised that an unmotivated employee was no good to him. Lashley, on the other hand, was an acceptable loss because Vince McMahon’s greatest efforts could not get him over with the fans, and so he was unlikely to be missed for very long or make anyone else any money. After all, if a determined Vince McMahon can’t get a wrestler over after a year of solid pushing, no one can. When chaps like Christian, Umaga, and Mr Kennedy / Anderson parted ways with WWE, McMahon was, again, given little cause for concern: none of those men had been pushed as anything more than mid-card before their departures, and each had (in the eyes of McMahon at least) ceased to be of any real financial value to the company.

CM Punk, however, is like none of those men. Unlike Hardy and Angle, Punk is the furthest thing from a liability that WWE has right now: unlike Angle and Hardy, Punk is a healthy, young, technically proficient performer with a distinct lack of underlying addiction problems. Unlike Brock, Punk’s heart is, and always has been, with professional wrestling. Unlike Lashley, Punk possesses an immediate and powerful connection with the fans. And unlike Christian, Umaga, and Mr Kennedy / Anderson, Punk is a former three-time World Heavyweight Champion, who has just emerged from prominent feuds with John Cena and Randy Orton. In short, Punk is everything that WWE needs right now. With youth on his side, incredible work ethic, and the potential to make WWE money for a long time to come, Punk has currency unlike anyone else who has threatened to leave McMahon’s company has done in many years. Vince cannot fail to recognise Punk’s worth, which is evident each and every time he steps into the ring.

Which brings me to the main event of last week’s Monday Night Raw, which saw Punk team with R-Truth in a bout against the WWE Champion John Cena and Rey Mysterio, refereed by Bret Hart himself. The logic behind the bout was simple: Bret Hart had been insulted by R-Truth earlier that night; R-Truth had beef with Mysterio and also wanted to get his hands on the WWE Champion; John Cena wanted to defend Hart; Mysterio wanted revenge on Truth. Everyone in the main event had a reason to be there. Everyone except CM Punk. Punk was the one man in the match who had absolutely no place in any of the interweaving feuds, and yet Punk also looked more at home in the main event than anyone else. Through sheer force of character, Punk forged a feud with Bret Hart within the space of just a few minutes, he helped R-Truth look better than he has done in months, he got cheered the loudest, and he was involved in the spot of the night when Hart placed him in the Sharpshooter. That’s right: the main event was stolen by the one man with nothing to do.

It has been commented elsewhere how very fitting it was that Punk’s pink and yellow attire that night paid tribute to Randy Savage. Certainly, Punk was the only character involved in the match who was in a position to dress in such a manner (can you imagine Cena in pink jean shorts?), and it certainly made sense that the most technically-gifted performer of the match emulated the “Macho Man”. And yet, whether it was intentional or not, I can’t help but feel that there was something inherently symbolic about Punk’s attire that night which was more than simple tribute to a legend. Readers of this site and others may have come across an interview with “Superstar” Billy Graham in the wake of Savage’s death in which Graham suggested that one of the primary reasons for McMahon’s infamous grudge against Randy Savage was because Savage moved to WCW at a time when McMahon had invested a great deal of faith in him. While perhaps not the reason, it is certainly a reason – and a convincing one at that.

Two weeks ago, McMahon found himself in a similar position once again. He placed Raw on Punk’s shoulders, and Punk bore the responsibility with ease. Like Benoit, Guerrero, DiBiase Sr. and, significantly, Randy Savage before him, Punk proved that he can main event at the drop of a hat, and put on the performance of the night every single time. And again, like Savage before him, Punk could very soon leave McMahon without one of his very top performers. Punk may not have intended the pink and yellow as anything more than a tribute to a fallen legend, and yet his attire should have sent McMahon a very clear message. Unless WWE begins to make the most of Punk’s extraordinary talent, Vince McMahon runs the risk of repeating history.

Unlike Savage, it is doubtful that Punk would seek full-time employment with another company such as TNA, which is home to several performers with whom Punk has personal issues. Instead, it seems more and more likely that before the end of this year Punk will have embarked upon a self-imposed sabbatical. While his taking a break from wrestling altogether would be entirely understandable, there is no denying that it would come as a real shame to Punk’s fans to see him step away from the business he loves simply because he wasn’t appreciated enough by WWE higher-ups.

If McMahon can ignore a performer as valuable as CM Punk to the extent that the latter feels compelled to leave the company, then McMahon may as well have thrown Acoustic Kitten under that taxi himself.

 

Class dismissed.

 

*Extra Credit*

 

1) “I like chicken, I like liver; Meow Mix, Meow Mix, please deliver!”

2) It is an entirely good thing that Miz continues to sport an upside-down WWE logo on his personal microphone. Without the belt now, Miz needs these kind of neat character touches in order to remain standing out from the rest of the pack. I don’t doubt that Miz will continue to create interesting television now he has moved on from Cena. In fact, I think that Mr Mizanin will relish the chance to prove that he can thrive as a character and remain relevant without the World Title. The coming months will be very important for Miz indeed.

3) Which leads to my next point: what better way to prove one’s importance than by creating new stars? Judging the by the reception Alex Riley received from the live fans on the previous two Raws, Miz’s magic has already rubbed off on his erstwhile protégé. Miz’s interactions with Riley over the last two weeks have been sublime, and the angles achieved exactly what they were meant to: that is, to help Alex Riley break out as a singles star. Riley deserves a great deal of credit here, of course – his mannerisms, actions, and reactions have all been well-performed, compelling, and utterly believable – but Miz’s selfless selling has made Riley look absolutely devastating. All the more impressive when one considers how often we’ve seen Riley reduced to the role of hapless jobber to Cena in recent times. If the Miz / Riley feud continues in this fashion, it will bring the total of stars that Miz has helped break out to a grand total of three in the course of a year: Riley, Bryan, and Morrison.

4) Kofi Kingston needs to stop using the SOS. Period. I understand the idea behind the move, and I agree that it could be quite a cool manoeuvre if performed correctly. That, however, is just the issue. I’ve never seen Kingston perform it even halfway convincingly. He either makes it look extremely weak, like a botched sideslam, or ends up lawn-darting both himself and his opponent headfirst into the mat. I question the logic of any move which appears to damage the attacking wrestler as much, if not more, than the defending one. In a WWE where moves which land wrestlers on their heads, such as piledrivers and tiger suplexes, are only allowed to be performed by certain trusted individuals, the SOS is an aberration.

Apart from looking dangerous, it also takes about five minutes to set up and simply ruins the flow of the match. Kofi, please, get a new move. The Twist of Fate is free to use and abuse now! Why not try that?

5) Abyss as TNA X-Division Champ makes absolute sense. I greatly admire Kaz’s athleticism, but the poor chap has always been better suited as the plucky challenger. With the gutsy Abyss as X-Division champion, X-Division matches instantly become more interesting: smaller, more athletic challengers have an instant foil without running the risk of matches degenerating into spotfests. Furthermore, with “The Monster” as champ, it means that whoever eventually defeats him for the title will be immediately elevated in the eyes of the audience – especially if the win comes clean, at the end of a well-structured rivalry.

6) Did anyone else notice Conor O’Brian accidentally crush Darren Young’s outstretched arm during his post-match celebration after the main event of this week’s NXT? What an idiotic move. I wouldn’t expect that even from Tough Enough‘s AJ.

7) Johnny Curtis… the vigil continues…

 

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