The booking of CM Punk and the return of Kevin Nash
Blessed with the good fortune of living through wrestling’s “Attitude Era” and “Monday Night Wars” of the late 1990’s, it has been refreshing to watch CM Punk over the past few months bring back a few characteristics of that golden age and breathe new life into what at times has been a stagnant WWE product. In June, after years of feeling undervalued and misused by the WWE (and his contract set to expire), Punk gave one of the greatest “shoot” interviews in wrestling history. In his diatribe, he took to task many of the upper echelon of WWE management, including Vince McMahon, Vince’s son-in-law Triple H, and John Cena. This “shoot” instantly became an internet sensation, catapulting Punk to new levels of fame and making him sports entertainments hottest commodity. The WWE brass shrewdly realized the buzz Punk had created, and after his epic victory over Cena at the Money in the Bank pay per view they quickly signed him to a new contract.
The next night on RAW, Triple H announced that he was replacing Vince (who the Board felt was losing his touch) as the new Chief Operating Officer of the WWE. Though a fan of Triple H, I was a little concerned with his involvement in the Punk storyline. HHH has a reputation and checkered history of trying to remain relevant by injecting himself into the hottest angles, often at the expense of others. Nevertheless, after a few weeks of solid booking by the WWE, the Punk/Cena feud culminated with another great match at SummerSlam. The storyline then took a turn for the worse. Punk got the win after a mistake by guest referee HHH only to be attacked after the match by Kevin Nash, losing his title to the opportunistic Alberto Del Rio.
For those who don’t know, Kevin Nash was a major player in the wrestling industry in the 1990’s and is one of HHH’s best friends. A former world champion in the both the WWE and WCW, he was a member of wrestling’s infamous “Kliq” and a founding member of the NWO. His run in the original NWO is perhaps his biggest claim to fame, as this group revolutionized the wrestling the business and helped lead the WCW ratings dominance over the WWE for nearly two years. Known for his back stage politicking, he was frequently accused of putting himself “over” more deserving performers, often to the detriment of the business as a whole. Never a great worker, Nash’s last great match was probably against Bret Hart at the 1995 Royal Rumble, and the numerous injuries he has suffered in the subsequent years have further hampered his mobility.
Somehow despite his advanced age (52), lack of in-ring ability, and the fact that he hasn’t been a significant part of WWE since 2003, Nash is currently involved in an angle with the WWE’s top performer. How this occurred is a mystery, and where the WWE is going with it is even a bigger question. I guess Nash or HHH could have suggested bringing him into the fold by playing off the dynamics of their friendship, but with the youth movement the WWE has been trying to build the last few years it seems counterproductive to allow Nash to have another run in the spotlight. It’s hard to think bringing him in was to drive up pay per view buys, as even in his heyday Nash wasn’t a big box office draw. Since his return Nash has struggled on the mic and is getting upstaged verbally by Punk on a weekly basis, yet he still gets to look like a world beater by jumping Punk at every turn. Who is this benefiting? We can only hope these two never have a match, as even someone as skilled as CM Punk would have a hard time dragging a decent performance out of the now limited Nash.
This isn’t meant to be an indictment of Nash given his age and obvious physical limitations; it is more of a question on the logic of this angle’s direction. Personally I love it when the stars of the 80’s and 90’s that I grew up watching make spot appearances in the Royal Rumble or are involved in the buildup towards WrestleMania. For the most part though, with the exception of Ric Flair (circa five years ago, when he was still a solid worker and all around performer well into his 50’s), the Rock, Y2J, or Stone Cold Steve Austin, it’s hard to fathom any of the top guys from that time period being able to hang with Punk either in the ring or on the mic at this juncture. Alternatively, there a few different directions the WWE could have gone with instead of leading us down the at times confusing HHH/Nash path. I have to believe the WWE could have gotten some additional mileage out of the Punk/Cena feud, as the crowds seemed to love their matches and in-ring exchanges. Given the roll Punk has been on of late, letting him engage in a feud with one of the younger WWE superstars would bring them instant credibility and recognition. Also, with the versatile Punk being the front man of a few factions the past few years (i.e. Straight Edge Society, New Nexus), giving him the opportunity to lead some kind of “Indy wrestlers vs. WWE Establishment” angle (with some of the fired or disgruntled wrestlers he mentioned in his famous “shoot”) would have been unique.
What’s frustrating for wrestling fans is that the momentum gained by Punk’s summer rise seems to have hit a snag with this particular storyline he has found himself in. Triple H’s turn as Chief Operating Officer lasted barely a month before he threw himself back into the fray with a match against Punk at the upcoming Night of Champions, (with the substitute being a Punk/Nash match it is definitely the lesser of two evils). While this match has the possibility of being great, it seems like WWE creative could have executed a slower build to an eventual Punk/HHH showdown by letting the disdain between these two simmer gradually over the coming months, perhaps ending with a Royal Rumble or even WrestleMania match.
As much as I sometimes long for the days of the “Monday Night Wars”, I hope this is only a brief cameo by Nash, as at this point in his career he has no business sharing the stage with CM Punk. A visionary like Punk can surely tell his interactions with Nash have felt forced, and given his recent successes hopefully he now has the clout within the WWE to direct himself into a scenario worthy of his talent. Then again, given his ability for the unconventional, perhaps Punk is building this current situation into wrestling’s next great storyline. I wouldn’t put it passed him.