On June 27, 2011, CM Punk sat cross-legged at the top of the ramp of Monday Night Raw and changed the wrestling landscape. He gave the wrestling world a shot of adrenaline, brought back a lot of WWE fans that had drifted away after years of monotony and grabbed the attention of the mainstream consciousness that had long since forgotten that wrestling still existed. It was that night when he adorned a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt and began to outline, as the character CM Punk, what he thought was wrong with the WWE and promised that he was leaving the company for good, such was his contempt for the WWE product in the 21st century. Fast forward two and a half years and it appears that all the things said in that promo, coupled with wrestlings all too notorious toll on its wrestlers’ bodies, has caught up with Punk as he finally ‘split’ the company hours before an episode of Raw and a day after the Royal Rumble. This time the real-life CM Punk has remained very quiet and while CM Punk the character went out with a momentous bang in 2011, the 2014 Punk has disappeared without a trace at all but still managed to get the wrestling world talking again.
Even before his game-changing promo, Punk was a fan favorite. His work with Jeff Hardy and later the Straight Edge Society were both the most entertaining storylines in the WWE at the time. Punk was praised by fans because he was something different from the neverending dance between John Cena and Randy Orton as they hogged the spotlight and the WWE force fed this eternal routine down the throats of a jaded fanbase. During his time with the Straight Edge Society Punk was without a doubt the hottest bad guy in the WWE and his work with Rey Mysterio reinforced the crowd’s venom towards him when he walked down the ramp. But just like what has become an all too frequent occurrence with the WWE, upper management did not capitalize on Punk’s popularity and hatred from the fans. It was almost like he had been given free reign on the B show (Smackdown) that no one really cared about but as soon as the higher-ups realized he was catching fire, they scrambled to put an end to it; quite literally as it turned out when Big Show single-handedly killed the Straight Edge Society and Punk’s momentum.
The pipe bomb established Punk as the antihero and began the most engaging time in sports entertainment since the halcyon days of the Attitude Era. After being moved to the primetime show (RAW) in late 2010, Punk was shunted up and down the card and thrown into different feuds and storylines with mixed results, until Punk was settled into a program with Orton leading into Wrestlemania. If you believe the murmurs at the time, this shuffle that saw The Miz and John Cena headline Mania irked Punk considerably as he felt more deserving of The Miz’s spot on the grounds that the Wrestlemania main event should be between the best bad guy, which he certainly was at that point, and the best good guy at the time. This idea of ‘more deserving’ wrestlers being overlooked is something that had plagued Punk since his debut and would continue to until his 2014 exit. It’s also something that directly led to his original dissatisfaction in 2011 when he was so unhappy that he had every intention of leaving the WWE until, as Punk described himself, WWE officials handing him a microphone to air his grievances on live worldwide television, in the main event slot no less.
The pipebomb itself was not only one of the best promos of all time, but it was also one of the best wrestling segments period. In it, he was able to tap into the die-hard wrestling fan’s consciousness and give bullet points to why fans had grown exhausted with the product and why a guy like Punk was being underutilized. The central idea in the six-minute, uninterrupted diatribe towards Cena and the WWE was that Punk wanted change in the company and its culture. The promo touched on what fans had felt for a long time, a boredom with being told who to like and who to dislike, while their actual favorites continued to play second fiddle to whoever the WWE wanted to promote.
The promo was important and Punk cemented himself a spot in history because it legitimately changed wrestling though perhaps not in the way Punk may have hoped. While more ‘deserving’ wrestlers, guys with stronger work ethics, more polished ring work or dedication to storylines began to get more spotlight, it was aesthetic window dressing as the WWE continually resorted back to its formula of tired beefcake. Even so, the change that is not debatable is the transformation in the fans and most specifically the live audience. The fans, whether WWE will admit it or not, are part of the ‘show.’ The performance is completely based around making the audience care and after the pipebomb, the fans were more vocal than ever. Fans felt more invested in the product than ever and became increasingly determined to vocalize their displeasure with the product. CM Punk became more than an anti-hero, he was the anti-Cena or more specifically the anti-WWE machine.
In 2014 Punk is still the anti-Cena and the fans are as rowdy as ever but not much else has changed. Punk went on to hold the WWE championship for 434 days but did so awkwardly as he continued to be in the shadow of John Cena and then the returning Rock. For most of the last year, apart from his great match with Brock Lesnar and his program with Paul Heyman, Punk has been drifting with no real purpose or agenda as he slipped further away from the main event. For the last four months, he has completely treaded water as rumors about his deteriorating body and general dissatisfaction gathered steam. On top of his own lack of direction, he also had to sit and watch his friend Daniel Bryan also be overlooked for the main event of Wrestlemania in a year Bryan became wrestling’s hottest commodity as Punk once was two years ago. Once again a returning superstar, this time Batista, was inserted directly into the biggest match of the year upon his return and deliberately killed the momentum of an upstart fan favorite.
Despite the endless speculation and discussion from the Internet Wrestling Community over the last few weeks, it’s no real mystery as to why Punk walked away from the company. Punk is banged up after spending the majority of his 35-year life in a wrestling ring and was even talking about early retirement this year due to nagging injuries and general soreness the business has tolled on his body. He is genuinely unhappy about the way WWE works and has made this clear to management which has seemingly ignored his concerns. By all accounts, the diabolical fan reaction to January’s Royal Rumble and WWE’s horrible foresight and planning coupled with his own character’s direction meant enough was enough for The Best in the World.
And it all comes back to that pipe bomb promo that acted as the prelude to his storyline split from the company in 2011. Punk explained how he was just another spoke on the wheel of the WWE machine, a wheel that continues to turn no matter what, with the fans continuing to tune in each week and Vince McMahon continuing to make money despite himself- a funny coincidence in a fortnight where a worldwide PPV event was being rejected by its entire live audience, past WWE superstars were in the headlines for nefarious circumstances and one of its top superstars walked out the same time that the WWE stock price rose to its highest peak ever due to the release of it’s WWE Network. CM Punk accepted he was just another piece of the machine but one that would rebel against what was being offered to him and presented to the fans. The fans ate it up, after all, Punk was fighting for cause and for change, not to mention sticking it to his billionaire boss that would have made Stone Cold proud. Just like Punk Rock was once seen as a dangerous symbol of youth rebellion when it first emerged in the 70s and 80s, CM Punk gave people a reason to care and take notice of what was being given to them. Then some record executives took its popularity and figured out a way to defang it, make money off it and absorb it into the mainstream.
The same thing has happened to CM Punk and happened probably sooner than he might like to admit when as soon as that pipebomb finished WWE capitalized on the mass popularity and began really manipulating the Internet fan.
So now the self-proclaimed voice of the voiceless is gone from the WWE for the time being. This might yet turn out to be another example of WWE manipulating the Internet fan but in any case, the machine will roll on with some initial backlash from its live audience. Daniel Bryan will fit into Punk’s anti-establishment storylines and will be more popular than Punk would have been anyway. People will chant for CM Punk, no question, but WWE have their Bryan card to play at all times now unlike 2011. WWE will continue to tell its fans who to cheer and who to boo and there is the horrible feeling nothing will have been learned from the whole last month of controversy.
Still, this is the best thing CM Punk could have done for his career. Stone Cold Steve Austin among others have passed comment on the situation and said that Punk has made a mistake by walking away and leaving money on the table. But heading into Wrestlemania 30 Punk was an afterthought and a shadow of that guy that sat cross legged at the top of the ramp. All his punk rock counterculture and anti-authority motifs had been worn away from years of being a spoke on the wheel of the McMahon soap opera. Not only was real life Punk’s body and mind tired but so was his character. Yet with one silent move, Punk has reestablished himself as everything that promo made him out to be and more. He became the biggest headline in wrestling again and reinforced the fans distaste of the current product. He has every die hard wrestling fan waiting to see what happens next.
And all with no pipebomb.
The Sad Demise of Bolton Wanderers Football Club
It is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton Wanderers find themselves in
If you watched the English Premier League during the early 2000s, you would have been familiar with the plight of Bolton Wanderers. The long running club is now in absolute dire straits, bereft of resources, searching desperately for new owners as it staves away its seemingly inevitable end. It is truly a sad turn of events for a club that has been around for almost 150 years, once known as the plucky, never-die team of English football’s top flight.
The Greater Manchester club, gleefully nicknamed ‘The Trotters’, were always a group of ragtag underachievers who constantly overachieved. The club, under the tutelage of Big Sam Allardyce, spent several Premier League seasons languishing at the bottom end of the table staving off relegation before progressing to mid-table safety. It wasn’t that they were good, because, for the most part, they weren’t, but it was because they always found a gutsy way of surviving by sheer determination, miraculous last game results, and for finding the last remaining ounce of juice left in washed-up players looking for one last round of glory.
It’s the latter point perhaps, that endeared Bolton to fans who didn’t spend their weekends at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton was the home to many talents that found new life under Allardyce. Players that managed to thrill a mostly dull part of the footballing world with European flair and Nigerian spice. I have fond memories of the indomitable Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff reminding fans of their class. Then there were the bruising, hard-hitting playing styles of Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro- adding much-needed steel to that Bolton lineup. They complimented the steadfast if not boring quality that came with the ever-present Jussi Jääskeläinen and Kevin Davies. Atop them all sat Big Sam- who long before he became a joke in English football, was the no-frills, old-school English manager who took Bolton up from the old Division One to the Premier League. And during his run, he became known for being able to get Bolton out of trouble at the last minute, no matter how ugly the season had been. They made an FA Cup Semi Final and the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup, somehow beating Atletico Madrid along the way.
Those days are sadly long gone as the club find itself languishing in the third tier of English football, once again ending the previous season relegated. Mired in financial disarray, the club has been in control of administrators since May, with its long-awaited takeover by new owners (whoever they may end up being) dragging on and on. The sad state of affairs has been punctuated by the club unable to pay its players and staff, canceled pre-season friendlies, and quite possibly the saddest team sheet in all the time I’ve been a fan of English football. As of this time, their official team page has but 7 players listed (no defenders), not even enough to field a full first team. If by the time you read this they’re able to pull their socks up and field a full team, it’ll be a miracle.
Their financial downward spiral hit breaking point in 2015 when the club found itself £172.9 million in debt. It only seemed to get worse from there. Unpaid taxes, transfer embargoes, manager changes, poor results, and most depressingly, non-playing staff having to use food bank donations to feed themselves (including donations from rival club Preston North End).
It really is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton find themselves in. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a true Wanderers fan to face the reality of their club in 2019. It’s not that the club has ever been successful (their last significant trophy was the 1958 FA Cup), but from the outside, their grit, their pluck, and their ability to seemingly escape the direst of circumstances made them endearing. They were the underdog team of has-beens, never-rans, forgotten souls, and Big Sam.
Now it seems their darkest days are closing in. Football fans surely would love for new owners to come in, reset the club, and start that long, arduous journey back into stability. But their new season hopes don’t even start on any positive note, with their financial failings they’ve already been docked 12 points before the start of the new season. Even with new owners, it will take a significant time to turn things around. The best they can hope for is to pull a Rangers and find themselves back on the up after 5 or so years… but the English Premier League is a far different beast to that of the Scottish Premier League, just ask Leeds United.
The long road back is never going to be easy. And for Bolton Wanderers, once a club that found its soul with players looking for one last spot of luck, may have run out of its own.
The Long Goodbye: A Spurs fan’s final salute to Kawhi Leonard
Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
The saga of Kawhi Leonard is over and while his signing to the Clippers means that two fanbases are left incredibly disappointed, there’s one group that is making their overdue final goodbyes. For Spurs fans like myself, it is clear that while the Board Man is a special player, he is a product of the current generation of players- loyal to themselves. It’s OK, I’ve resigned myself to moving on because I was happy that he won in Toronto, happy for everyone involved (except for Drake) because I knew that as soon as he signed for the Clippers, his legacy would no longer be built on unbreakable bonds but rather on personal pursuit alone. And that was never the trait of the silver and black. At times during this saga, I’ve felt like Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s 1973 movie The Long Goodbye, blinded by what I initially thought was loyalty. But after living through Kawhi sitting out, his demands for leaving, and ultimately, his winning a ring for the North, I’ve realized that in today’s NBA, allegiance, integrity, and trust are the exception, not the norm.
One of my earliest memories of being a Spurs fan was the ragtag group of players assembled for the 1992 season. It was early in my Spurs fandom and only two years into the storied career of David Robinson. The Admiral would become my favorite Spur, and ultimately, my favorite NBA player of all-time, but it was clear early on that he needed help. While Sean Elliott, Willie Anderson, and Avery Johnson were nice pieces, it was memories of wayward Rod Strickland passes that would ultimately encapsulate that time as an NBA fan. But the truth is, it was an important learning phase for any true NBA fan- that success comes with smart moves and dedicated, loyal, and hard working players who forever would put team above the name on the back of the jersey.
The years that followed was a mix of frustration and hope. The team gelled, especially for the 1994-1995 season where the team finished 1st in the Midwest (62-20) and David Robinson would end up capturing the league MVP after a dominant season (27 ppg, 10 reb, 3 blks). It was all awash come playoff time where vivid memories of Hakeem Olajuwon “dream shaking” The Admiral out of his shoes still haunt me to this day.
Perseverance paid off. Both for the Spurs and to fans like myself. Then general manager Gregg Popovich took on the additional responsibility of running the ship from the sideline, David Robinson was never traded, he rarely complained, and the miracle of the 1997 NBA Draft changed the fortunes of the franchise forever.
The years that followed were graced by the very best kind of basketball for basketball purists. While the league continued to flourish under the star power and glamour of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Spurs quietly put together championship pedigree devoid of front page drama, superstar whinging and a sense of loyalty to the city and team that has all but become extinct in today’s NBA. My generation of Spurs fans are lucky to have lived through 5 championships, but also lucky that we were able to stay true to a team that had loyalty in their DNA. We were blessed that Tim Duncan got to take the court with players Tony Parker and Manu. Both absolutely crucial to the titles and the teams, both exhibited the kind of character seemingly rare today.
Kawhi was supposed to be the next titan of the team. We saw what was possible with his captaincy and Finals MVP run for the 2014 ring. He was supposed to continue the Spurs legacy. What we got instead was an endless whinge-fest, culminating in his sitting out all but 9 games of the 2017-2018 season. The mysterious ailment that plagued him, his battle with Spurs management, his desire to “go home” to California, and his distance from other Spurs players led to so much unnecessary frustration. In March of 2018, Manu was quoted as saying; “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him.”
It’s the kind of distraction that my 7th-grade basketball coach would have found embarrassing. Kawhi did the Spurs dirty, and while fans often project the burden of legacy on to players even when they never set out to be, it is the unfortunate fall out of being a great player- especially one that at the time, seem to fit the mold. Kawhi has now done the Raptors dirty, and if he wins a title in Clipper-land, he will most likely do them dirty too. It’s his MO, it’s his way, and really, in today’s 2K video game NBA, it’s OK because that’s just the way it goes.
Team basketball is dead, superteam basketball is now the play. Raptors fans are playing it cool, saying that the one title was more than they could have ever asked for. But really, if I was a Raptors fan I would be disappointed because Toronto seemed like such a great place for him to be. A good coach, a good front office, an adoring nation, everything he said he was unhappy with in San Antonio. If I was a Raptors fan, I would be disappointed not because the team didn’t do what the Clippers did and mortgage their future for a chance for more, but because Kawhi proved that there’s no such thing as loyalty- and that it’s OK today as long as there’s some transient success. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Spurs basketball. Spoiled by Popp’s team-first mentality where the glory of championship parades is not the end, but the next beginning. If I was a Clippers fan I would be wary. Not just because Kawhi isn’t as superhuman as we’ve all made him to be. But because the Clippers DID have to mortgage an entire future for Kawhi and Paul George to battle it out against LeBron, against AD, against an entire city that will always hold the Lakers above the Clippers. If I was a Clippers fan, I would be wary of Kawhi’s new 3-year, $103 million dollar deal (with the option to opt-out in two). Not because it means he’s positioned himself for that supermax pay off, but because potentially, he could weasel his way out of the Clippers in two years too.
Am I old and a little bitter? Maybe. I’m grateful of Kawhi’s contributions to that 2014 title- his performance during those finals, especially after the bitter disappointment of the previous year, proved that he was more than capable of being the next Spurs great. He came alive in Game 3, proved his MVP status in Games 4 and 5, and cemented what seemed like the future for the franchise. But in the end, what stands out more for me is the letdown that Kawhi just wasn’t up to par with the Spurs giants that he was supposed to follow. Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
He could have been placed next to The Iceman, The Admiral, and The Big Fundamental, instead, Kawhi becomes another in the long line of a new generation of NBA superstars beholden to no one but themselves, playing their former teams and fanbases for fools. I feel like Phillip Marlowe, manipulated, trust broken, hearing Kawhi telling me that “maybe I’ll never learn, maybe I’m a born loser”. Maybe he’s right, maybe I’m just waiting for my harmonica moment. It’s the way things go today.