The Anti-Antagonist: You Can’t Write This Stuff

Adam Gorzelsky

CM PunkThe term “reality era” has been thrown around as of late in an attempt to characterize the current age in the wrestling business. The concept of injecting real-life issues into the fabric of the kayfabe world of professional wrestling is nothing new. Providing a microphone to a man or woman in a cutthroat and emotionally charged workplace isn’t exactly a recipe for preventing one’s personal dirty laundry from being aired for all to hear.

Naturally, it was the dawn of the Internet that began to bring the crumbling of professional wrestling’s fourth wall to the attention of the traditional fan. From personal experience, I can say that my viewing perspective in the late 90’s shifted from a focus on WHO won a match to a focus on WHY that superstar won a match. For better or for worse, the “reality era” began at that time to some degree.

With that said, I can’t argue that the advent of social media and the proliferation of 24/7 news coverage like that found…right here…at (cheap pop)….Has taken this reality concept to an entirely different level. Of course, the poster child for this evolution has been CM Punk, who single-handedly tapped into the anger of the IWC in a summer-long crusade that further blurred the line between business and show business.

As is the case with any significant alteration of a manner of operation, this current trend has had both a positive and negative impact on the product. While the excitement generated by the second coming of the “Summer of Punk” certainly was worth its weight in gold, an injection of reality has resulted in some unintended consequences. One needs to look no further than the much-discussed commentary from both Michael Cole and the King that served little purpose and effectively buried the talent involved…See David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty…Even Punk has been guilty of such transgressions during his feud with Alberto Del Rio. Although the deficiencies of a fellow superstar may be apparent to all, including the audience, illuminating these actual shortcomings within a kayfabe context leaves the individual’s onscreen character with little room to recover.

On a side note, David Otunga deserves a great deal of credit for rehabilitating himself into a unique character that slowly is developing before our eyes. Here’s hoping that Joe Hennig can find himself in a similar situation down the line…Such a bloodline would be a terrible thing to waste.

All in all, the long-term effect of this developing phenomenon probably won’t be known or understood for quite some time. In the meantime, being the Anti-Antagonist that I am…part kayfabe, part reality…I want to focus on a recent perfect example of walking that fine line to perfection.

Like many other people, I was thrilled to hear the rumors that the 1/2/12 vignettes were preparing the wrestling world for the triumphant return of Chris Jericho…sans Ralphus unfortunately… I was annoyed as hell at first and then thoroughly entertained as the WWE Universe sheepishly fed the troll. Confusion set in when the end of the world consisted of a Sheamus Royal Rumble victory…I’m not sure the Mayans ever foresaw somebody as pale as the Great White.

By the time the stars finally aligned, and the fully expected endgame was revealed, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at all concerned that the momentum for Punk/Jericho hadn’t been stifled to a degree. But as the two men stood together in the ring this past Monday on Raw, all was right with the world. Jericho recited the kayfabe explanation for this rivalry that we all expected…Best in the world…The phrase that linked them together and apparently convinced Chris to hang up his dancing shoes.

We had finally come full circle. The storyline had found its sea legs and we could all find comfort in the fact that we had received the fantasy-driven explanation that is necessary for two men to get in the ring together. All was right with the world.

Then Punk said it.

He told Jericho that all of this was unnecessary…That he simply could have walked up to Punk and asked him to fight without all of the bells and whistles because, at the end of the day, the two of them were going to engage in what could be the greatest wrestling match in Wrestlemania history.

At first, I viewed this statement as nothing more than a typical face spewing the “take on all comers” and “fighting champion” rhetoric. But the more I thought about it, I realized that this was CM Punk again injecting reality into the situation in the most effective way possible. I don’t mean to speak for anybody else, but stripped down to its core, I wanted to see Punk/Jericho at Wrestlemania because there is no doubt in my mind that the story told inside that ring will leave jaws hanging wide open. This opinion would be no different if Jericho simply had walked up to Punk the week before Wrestlemania and said “we’re fighting because it will tear the roof off of the joint.”

In this way, Punk’s statements again stepped out of kayfabe in a way that was no different than calling out Johnny Ace’s failed attempts to emulate his brother, or Triple H’s rise to power via marital bliss…In short, he cut through the bs and told us the reality behind this match…The true reason why Jericho HAD to come back…Not to prove who’s the best in the world, but to show the world that professional wrestling in its purest form can captivate an audience on a level that rivals any other display of athleticism or entertainment.

This is not meant to say that storylines aren’t necessary…They’re what bring fun and excitement to professional wrestling…They provide an escape from reality.

However, in some cases, reality is far more entertaining than even the most expertly crafted fantasy. In the case of CM Punk and Chris Jericho, you just can’t make this stuff up.

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