Last Sunday’s Tables, Ladders, and Chairs PPV ended with two of the most unlikely guys being atop the WWE mountain. C.M. Punk successfully defended his WWE title in a great TLC match against Miz and Alberto Del Rio, while Daniel Bryan ended up cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on the Big Show, who had just defeated Mark Henry, to become the new world heavyweight champion. Suddenly, two men who many felt would never make it into the WWE are now its respective world champions.
In other big news from the TLC show, Zack Ryder defeated Dolph Ziggler to become the new U.S. champion. Ryder’s win came across as a really big deal and made the title seem more important than it has in ages. Ryder has undoubtedly been among the most popular wrestlers in the entire company ever since catching fire earlier this year by producing a weekly YouTube show. Perhaps more than winning the belt, his biggest career moment would’ve likely been his appearance at last month’s Survivor Series PPV in Madison Square Garden. Next to The Rock, he got the most consistent and loudest ovations of anyone on that show (even more than top stars like John Cena and Punk). The crowd even chanted vociferously for him during Rock’s post-match promo. There aren’t many guys in the wrestling business on a worldwide basis that can manage to upstage a living legend such as The Rock.
It seems as if WWE has taken a peculiar direction. Earlier this week, Punk tweeted a photo that was taken after the PPV of all the current WWE champions. Along with Ryder, Bryan, and himself, it included Intercontinental champion Cody Rhodes, Diva’s champion Beth Phoenix and Tag Team champions Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne. This may be the first time in company history where every male champion has been a relatively small guy by WWE standards. Bourne, Rhodes, and Punk, are by no means considered big men, while Bryan, Ryder and Kingston are average size for a WWE performer. Along with Natayla and Eve Torres, Phoenix is one of the more physically imposing women on the roster. This may also be one of the best ratios of legit in-ring talent to every championship in a very long time. Rhodes is a solid heel (bad guy) performer with the ability to have a decent match with anyone. Punk and Bryan have been regarded by many in the business as two of the best wrestlers on a worldwide basis for a number of years. Bourne is one of today’s best fliers, while Kingston is always in contention for having the best match of any show he‘s on. Phoenix, without question, is one of the best women wrestlers WWE has ever had.
The photo was shared by a friend of mine on Facebook with a caption that urged users to label the new era of champions. I posted the photo onto my page and sarcastically wrote the following yet true statement: “We had the “Hogan” Era, the “Attitude” Era, the “Cena” Era and now we finally have the “People Who Can Actually Wrestle and Worked Their Butts Off To Make It To The Top” Era. I’m not sure how long this new direction will last, but I’m gonna enjoy it while it’s here.”
I’m not naïve enough to believe this will last for a sustained period of time. Anyone who’s followed WWE for any length of time, particularly over last couple of years, have discovered how fickle the company can be when it comes to establishing new stars. As far as the major champions are concerned, Punk is a keeper. Punk had held the world title on numerous occasions, yet was always positioned at a level below guys like Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, HHH, Edge, Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, or Undertaker. His feud with Cena from this past summer, where he scored two clean wins over him, is what catapulted him into elite headliner status; where he’s remained ever since. Even more impressive is that he established himself while a member of the Raw roster, which is the most difficult brand for fresh talent to emerge on being that Vince McMahon constantly has his hands on every aspect of the show and the majority top names in the company are featured on the brand, thus making it nearly impossible for new guys to breakthrough. Plus, Punk overcame intense backstage politics from management during his first few years in the company.
Bryan making it to the top is just as significant since he’s in a similar boat, with the lone exception being he didn‘t encounter the harsh politics Punk did. Like Punk, he had to overcome the stigma of being a wrestler who made a name for himself before coming into WWE. Ironically, WWE is one of the few places where having experience in another promotion is actually considered a detriment to your chances for success. It would be like the Coca-Cola company refusing to hire someone because of the fact they had previously worked for Pepsi (I actually mamaged to make a Pepsi reference in a story about Punk; longtime fans of his understand the signifigance of that. Lol). I know it sounds stupid, but that’s how WWE operates these days. Due to his natural talent and connection with the fans it was assumed that he would make it to the top at some point. He won the Smackdown MITB match this past July which catapulted him into the main event picture. He was still mostly used in the upper midcard, but had been pushed very strongly over the last few weeks. Time will tell whether he becomes an Edge-level champion. The former was a MITB winner who ended up becoming a long-term champion and top guy for the remainder of his career. Or he could wind up like Jack Swagger, another MITB winner who had such a disappointing title run that he hasn’t been pushed anywhere near that level since and may never be again.
Historically, WWE has favored huge muscled men as its champions. You would really have to go back to the late Chris Benoit and Eddie Guererro in 2004 to find an instance where two small and technically proficient wrestlers held the major titles. And no offense to Cena and Orton, but it’s very refreshing to see new faces with the belts. Cena and Orton are both established stars for life with numerous title reigns to their credit and there is no need for the belts to persistently revolve around them and no one else. Cena is still the biggest star and will be apart of what will surely go down one of the biggest matches in modern history when he faces The Rock at Wrestlemania 28.
Punk and Bryan on top has everyone talking. Many are rejoicing that two guys who used to wrestle on independent shows in high school gymnasiums have risen to the top of the most successful wrestling promotion in the world. There are also many who believe this is nothing more than a temporary fix from the company in order to appease its “smart” fanbase. Regardless of how long these two are champions together, I’m certainly going to relish this historically significant moment. Besides, who would’ve ever thought these two former Ring of Honor standouts would be on top of WWE at the same time? I certainly did not.
Author’s Note: For those unfamiliar with the current WWE product, Punk and Bryan are the two in the center.