Wednesday Morning Backlash: Lessons from CM Punk vs Miz on Raw – the Best in the World Debate Revisited

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Hello all! Guess what? I didn’t watch Raw again, but I did A) read the spoilers, B) read both Wheeler and Scott Keith, and C) watch the CM Punk vs Miz match (I had Wheeler tell me when it was on). My plan was to talk about Bound for Glory, but well, I hit my major point on that here or Sheamus, but he can wait a week, since something important struck me while I was watching Punk vs. Miz.

CM Punk is almost inarguably the best wrestler in the world today. He’s top notch on the mic, quite literally unmatched, and is at least as good as anyone active, probably better, within the ropes. If you go back two years, however, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Two years ago, both Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho were better than Punk. While Punk had his supporters, those that would actually assert that he was superior to Jericho or Michaels were few and far between. Punk has clearly stepped his game up since then, but he has also done so in the absence of his main competition for being the best. So, we must ask, for historical reasons, if nothing else – is CM Punk the best wrestler in the world with both HBK and Jericho active?

On the mic, Punk is entirely unmatched, even by Jericho and Michaels. Michaels, while he could be great (see the Jericho the second time, Hart, or Diesel feuds), and influential (early Degeneration-X), was just as often merely very good (with JBL, Kurt Angle, Jericho the first time). While that’s not a huge knock, Jericho rarely was less than great, and had far more memorable individual promos (bashing Stephanie, Bashing HBK, as the unified champion, the Malenko-holds, owning Goldberg) with consistency that was unmatched. At least until CM Punk turned up. Jericho was always great, but Punk has already established himself, since his heel turn, as one of the best promo guys ever. He’s literally not had a single lull period – he went from verbally annihilating Jeff Hardy to the Straight Edge Society and amazing Royal Rumble mid-match promo, to the creepy mask-stuff with Rey Mysterio, straight to an amazing commentary role on Raw, and then his return setting himself up as the Nexus leader against Cena then Orton, followed by his face turn, which, well, you might have heard a bit about. What’s more, while Jericho has certainly drawn money with his promos, they never made him the man in the company. CM Punk’s promos have now done just that, so he takes this area, followed by Jericho, then HBK.

But as great as his promo work is, Punk lags far behind the other two in the ring. His top tier matches are of similar quality – John Cena was five stars, as was Samoa Joe, while Rey Mysterio and even John Morrison delivered classics – to the rest of the best, but even then probably drags behind the other two. More egregious, however, are his Raw efforts, as seen with his bought against Miz. It’s not that this, or his matches with Alberto Del Rio for that matter, were bad, but they were merely acceptable. It was straight face-shine, heel beatdown, comeback-to-win stuff that Jericho and Michaels never did. Even on television, they’d go the extra mile, put the extra flair to make their matches memorable. For Michaels, everyone’s favorite instance of this is against Shelton Benjamin, while for Jericho, it’s his quick Nexus match against Daniel Bryan, but my personal favorite instance of this is Jericho, right before he left, wrestling some Nexus heel or another, and just working face. Despite being the most despised heel on the roster, he was able to in-ring utterly change the crowd’s mind about him and what they were seeing. He was getting some of the biggest pops on the roster. There was just something special every time either Jericho or Michaels got in the ring that Punk doesn’t match.

As far as top tier matches go, where Punk has Cena, Morrison, Rey and Joe, Jericho matches that pretty well with Benoit, Malenko, Rock, Rey, and Triple H. But here Shawn blows even Jericho out of the water. He’s the best or second best match of the career of practically everyone he wrestled for over two decades, even if they were largely stiffs. Foley? Check. Undertaker? Check. Bret Hart? Check. Diesel? Check. Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Sid, Triple H, Jarrett? All checks. The list goes on and on. The only one who can really compete with him on this is Chris Benoit, who HBK, by the way, had two classics with, but Michaels was generally better in on Raw and was better working with big stiffs outside of his style. In ring? HBK is the best, probably ever, but certainly in this comparison. You could argue his last match was better than anything else the other two have done, and probably be right.

How you balance these two areas comes down, in essence, to personal preference. Were all three active right now, Jericho would be working all over the crowd, demanding attention to the parts of the card that don’t usually get it. Shawn would be involved at the top of the card, if not necessarily main eventing, but more likely would actually be in Punk’s spot as Triple H’s partner. Punk has, though, demanded attention, and would have to be in a high profile, big spotlight feud – either still involved with Cena and Del Rio or being D-X’s third wheel with someone else involved on the heel side… Christian or Jericho make sense, to even the numbers. So, where’s the most value? Being able to work everywhere like Jericho? Having earned a permanent spot atop the card like Michaels? Or being just so good and drawing so much money that you demand a top spot, like Punk? In the end, money is what it comes down to, and while Punk is certainly weakest in the ring, that’s what I’ll take as the current best in the world – the total package, including drawing power.

Glazer is a former senior editor at Pulse Wrestling and editor and reviewer at The Comics Nexus.