Despite playing second-fiddle to Daniel Bryan’s anti-Establishment crusade over the last month, the CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman program continued, once again, to deliver in spades on RAW. This past Monday’s confrontation saved a shaky RAW and some of the cracks in the foundation of babyfaces WWE currently exposed with the McMahon Family program.
Right now, there is an imbalance between the heels and faces in the company. You need strong heels for the faces to defeat to conquer the day but the faces need to be strong enough to be taken seriously as threats to the bad guys. Right now, WWE has a big problem with many of the undercard faces not being taken seriously enough by the fans because of how they have booked over the last few years. The chickens have come home to roost.
Luckily, CM Punk doesn’t fall into that category. His strength as a wrestler and a talker has solidified Paul Heyman’s heel exploits. Heyman is a master at his craft and so is Punk. Punk, when motivated, is electrifying (sorry Rock). In Chicago, you could feel Punk’s energy at a high. He picked it up a notch. So did Heyman.
After having a relatively strong program with John Cena, Ryback was transitioned to a mid-card program against Chris Jericho. Given Jericho’s track record, you would have thought that something great and substantive would have developed. Instead, the program kind of went nowhere once Ryback started quitting on matches and lost his confidence. Thankfully, Paul Heyman saved the day and picked up some muscle for his heel army. Ryback was the perfect fit and so far his addition has added some life to a program that needed more focus. Brock Lesnar is The Muscle for Heyman, but Heyman needed some every day muscle to watch his back. Ryback fit the bill. Curtis Axel, for better or for worse, isn’t the right fit to be Heyman’s muscle. When Axel was inserted into the Punk program, momentum shifted downwards. While the powers-that-be have not given up on Axel, the fans never really took a liking (or disliking) of him.
Enter Ryback. Heyman’s new muscle is a great fit against Punk. The man who screams about hating bullies is picking on the small guy who doesn’t let anyone bully him around. It’s been less than two weeks since Ryback has become Heyman’s muscle but you can already tell that they feed off each other. “Feed me!” Well, here comes Punk to give Ryback some scrappy fights on the horizon.
The discourse between Punk and Heyman in Chicago was great. Heyman played up his New York roots by trashing Chicago as The Second City for a reason. I’m sure the Philly fans were amused by Heyman’s remarks. Heyman has upgraded from a wheelchair to a motorized scooter which he faked Punk out with for a malfunction. Punk saw what was coming with the goons attacking but took the bait anyways when Heyman pretended to be trapped. Mr. Muscle thumped Punk and then slammed him on a crate. Finally, a right time for Vince’s logic of embarrassing the babyface in his hometown.
And while Heyman was putting over Ryback, the Chicago fans screamed chants of “Goldberg!” 15 years later, we still have audiences chanting “What!” and “Goldberg!” I’m amused by the chants. Ryback as a Goldberg clone isn’t a horrible reputation to have. It means the fans actually cared about Goldberg and the reason they cared is that he was an ass-kicker who had that Winning Streak of Doom. You mean to tell me that fans still take wins and losses seriously in pro-wrestling? Amazing, isn’t it? Ryback proved the importance of this with his program against Cena.
There’s one telling sign about the “Goldberg!” chants that Ryback gets from the fans. It means they have a visceral reaction to the guy and, frankly, how could you not? He comes out like a psychopathic monster ready to destroy anything in his path. Talk about Vince’s ego on stage in human form. Even if the fans are chanting “Goldberg!” at the guy, it means they care enough to muster the energy to interact with him. Compare the reaction to Ryback to the non-reaction Curtis Axel receives. That difference alone is indicative of why adding Ryback as Heyman’s regular muscle to the heel stable against Punk was the correct decision.
Heyman is a brilliant manager. He doesn’t like to use that term any longer, as he recently discussed in a Bleacher Report interview with Jonathan Snowden. He believes that being an advocate is the right phrase to use in today’s environment because if the role of the manager doesn’t evolve, then people get trapped in the nostalgia of the past and are more willing to apply a standard boilerplate template against a character in terms of judgment. I can understand his viewpoint. I accept the man for who he is, which is an evil genius that knows how to manipulate human emotions and get what he wants. He can be a manager, a promoter, a booker, whatever he wants to be. Whatever role he wants to embrace, that’s the role I’ll accept for in pro-wrestling. He’s managed some of the greatest characters this business has ever seen. Not only some of the greatest characters, but quite a wide variety of them as well.
When I see Heyman next to Ryback, I’m reminded of Heyman’s past relationship with another muscle-bound intensity-filled wrecking machine in the ring and that’s Austin Idol. Idol was the completely package, however, that Ryback is not. Idol could flip the switch and be a babyface one minute and a rotten SOB the next. Idol was also a tremendous worker, never one to be labeled as one-dimensional. With Ryback, the knock on him is that he’s a one-dimensional clone of Bill Goldberg. I think the characterization is unfair and his new relationship with Paul Heyman will demonstrate that in the long-run. Heyman will be able to be his muscle’s mouthpiece and get the best out of him. As long as the powers-that-be don’t interfere too much in the program, Heyman should be able to place Ryback in a position against Punk to where both men will get the best out of each other. The energy will be high, the effort will be maximum, and the heat will be solid. Regardless of the outcome, Ryback will benefit from Paul Heyman’s heel lifeline and that’s a good thing.