CM Punk, we can all agree, is an upstart. This tattooed rabblerouser with a Bond-villain goatee changed the game last summer when he perched in front of the TitanTron and tore the fabric of WWE asunder. His infamous “Pipe Bomb” shattered the status quo so much so that the power structure of Monday Night Raw has been a revolving door of authority figures ever since. He also won the WWE Championship twice and successfully rechristened himself as “The Best in the World” as he hoisted the gold. Punk’s run has been unique – revolutionary, even – and yet on Raw SuperShow Monday night, Chris Jericho stood in the middle of the ring, blinking bomber jacket and all, and called the WWE Champion a “wannabe.”
According to Jericho, Punk isn’t just any wannabe, but the worst in an apparent legion of imitators out to appropriate and sully Jericho’s formidable legacy. Punk, for his part, largely demurred the accusations, but with their WrestleMania match looming large and Punk’s title on the line, the question remains: What, exactly, does Jericho think CM Punk has stolen?
In some ways, The Second City Saint has followed in Jericho’s footsteps. Before Punk dubbed himself The Straight Edge Savior, Jericho returned to WWE under the mantra “Save Us Y2J,” and both have been Undisputed WWE Champions, albeit with different implications. That stated, though, perhaps what we’re looking at is less a Jericho imitator and more an evolution of the movement that Jericho initially created. (SEE PHOTOS OF PUNK AND JERICHO’S REMARKABLE LEGACIES)
Jericho and Punk are perhaps the most unlikely of champions on paper – self-proclaimed “mavericks” who went against the norm and clawed their way to WWE through independent companies all around the world. And both have had to constantly reinvent themselves to stay visible amidst some of their flashier peers. Jericho’s newest incarnation was the most puzzling at first, a sparkly harbinger of doom who tried to rile the WWE Universe by refusing to speak while they applauded his return. In so doing, he claimed to be outing everyone in the WWE Universe as shams – “lemurs” was the old term – who would simply take what was presented to them without question or opinion.
Jericho has brought revolution through presence and hard work, and his accusations of Punk are just an extension of that mindset. He believes the champion has stolen from him without paying proper dues, and the WWE Universe, by extension, is equally guilty of copying him for cheering a fraudulent champion. He fought through a Royal Rumble Match, Elimination Chamber, and battle royal to get Punk one-on-one, and now he questions the norm and attempts to upend the status quo as he always has: sweat and elbow grease.
It can be argued, though, that Punk simply found a way to do it better.
In the summer of 2011, The Second City Saint openly questioned a culture that, according to him, prohibited talented but fringe Superstars from reaching their full potential, and any crowd that would support such a thing. Punk did what Jericho wouldn’t. He named names, aired dirty laundry, and peeled back the curtain to WWE’s corporate culture. Since then, some unlikely members of the WWE roster have stepped up handily to meet his challenge, while the audience has embraced Punk as a revolutionary while he more or less took by force the main-event place he felt was being denied him.
Jericho, it must be said, has never taken that route. He has been patient, toiled long in the trenches as a self-professed “decent and honest man,” and scraped for his historic successes. Yet Punk eschewed decency and honesty for a militant stubbornness. And although the lessons from their championship runs are the same, the telling thing is this: Jericho is booed when he calls himself “The Best in the World,” a claim he has made for years. The WWE Universe sided with Punk from the first time he proclaimed it eight months ago.
Perhaps this is the key. Maybe the real concern here isn’t that Punk stole from Jericho or even emulated him. Perhaps Punk, with his brash attitude, has simply perfected Jericho’s formula. If Punk is a threat to Jericho’s legacy, it will not be because he is a wannabe. He simply took Jericho’s revolutionary concept one step further, and the WWE Universe, those ultimate judges, have accepted it. Punk said as much Monday night. The crowd seemed to agree. Maybe that is what scares Chris Jericho most of all.