Friday, October 12, 2012

Armchair Booker: When Taker Met Punk

Earlier this week I talked about the state of the WWE creative team and how Vince McMahon is fed up with the current direction of the WWE writers. I laid out a loose plan for how to fix what is broken. My keystone idea being that the WrestleMania 29 main event should be the Undertaker vs. CM Punk for the WWE title in a streak vs. streak match. With that in mind you can book the rest of your year to build toward that pinnacle point. I said I would go deeper into this idea, and share some of my booking beliefs that I used in starting two different regional wrestling television shows, both highly rated in their timeslots, and a series of nationally distributed DVDs. Let’s dive in.

CM Punk is the hottest talent on the WWE roster today. John Cena is the most established. There is a difference. Cena has a very loyal fan base, but CM Punk has a constantly expanding fan base. Not all of these people are supporters of Punk, but more people are putting eyes on Punk than Cena these days. Even the high brass at Comic Con said that Punk was a better draw for them this year than Cena had been in the past. Be it to cheer for him, or to watch him get beat up, more people are opening their wallets to see CM Punk. That is why he is the WWE champion, and that is why he needs to be at the top of the WrestleMania 29 bill.

The Undertaker is the hottest talent in WWE history. He can stay away from the WWE for months, and with a toll of his bell, the fans are rabid to see him walk the aisle. He might be the greatest persona in pro wrestling history, dating back to the original carnival days. His undefeated streak at WrestleMania makes him a top draw each year. People want to see what is going to happen next, and at 20+ years, they don’t know which match is his last. This built in hype, and near god-like status, makes the Undertaker a necessity for the main event at WrestleMania 29. He’s a draw by just walking out the curtain, and that’s a great foundation to build on.

The two also have a small history. It’s only a few minutes on the CM Punk “Best in the World” DVD, but it was Undertaker vs. Punk for the world title after Summer Slam that cemented the disrespect the WWE brain trust had for Punk. They took a hot talent coming out of a sizzling feud, and fed him to the phenom. On the DVD they state that Taker had no respect for Punk going into their program, but over time that changed. It’s a great starting point given the current “No Respect” card being played by CM Punk. The standard bearer of the WWE is the only man left standing in the way of CM Punk getting the respect he believes that he deserves. The kind of respect that can’t be denied after beating the Undertaker at WrestleMania.

This is one of the many drawing factors for this match. There is the streak vs. streak dynamic. The Undertaker is 20-0. That is something in the current WWE that will never happen again. To get a talent that stays with the WWE for over two decades, and a creative team that handles that talent correctly the entire time, you’d have a higher success rate betting on Tammy Sytch staying out of prison. This will never happen again. Never. The uniqueness of the situation is another draw in itself. It’s like watching a comet that flies by the earth every millennium. It will never happen again during our life time. Things like this make money in any medium.

CM Punk is also doing something that will never happen again. He’s closing in on one year as WWE champion. That is something that doesn’t happen in the era of fans that have a train of thought only 140 characters long. By WrestleMania 29, he’ll be closing in on 18 months. It’s another unheard of situation that on its own draws people in. There will be fans who tune in because they don’t know when and if CM Punk is going to end the longest title reign since Hulk Hogan’s 1474 days between 1984-88. That’s before The Undertaker was lacing up his boots as “Mean” Mark Callous in WCW (1989). It’s a big deal.

As I stated earlier this week, it creates an unstoppable force vs. immovable object type of situation. Fans will tune in because they know something historic is going to happen. Neither looks to be giving ground, but one has to end. The mystery of the unknown has always been the best way to attract fans in pro wrestling, even more now in the “know-it-all” era. Add this dynamic to the draw both CM Punk and The Undertaker on their own have, and this angle has the steam to drive WrestleMania sales to record levels.

Just because you have the angle doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success.  Two things have to happen. The build to the match has to be good and the match has to deliver. You can’t promise prime rib, and give the fans tube steak.

The build on this match needs to be drawn out from the first RAW after the Royal Rumble up to WrestleMania 29. The Rock and Punk are fighting at the Rumble. No need to play the Undertaker card until after that takes place. Rock vs. Punk is going to be a good draw on its own, and will play an important role in setting the table for Mania. This is the match that is supposed to get Punk his respect. Beating the Rock is going to change everything for him. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

Punk beats Rock, but it doesn’t fill the hole in his ego. There isn’t a red carpet when he walks through the arena door. The locker room isn’t kissing his feet as he strolls through the back. Vince McMahon isn’t his personal ball washer. What does CM Punk have to do?

Cue the Undertaker.

Each year the Royal Rumble winner selects which title he is going to challenge for. Usually the winner comes out at the end of RAW and him haws between the World title and the WWE title. Whomever the winner is plays up the crowd, tilting to both sides, until eventually narrowing in on one champion. I would start with this.

The winner comes out and before he can start the Undertaker interrupts. He comes down and lays out that it doesn’t matter who he wants to pick. This year the Rumble winner will be facing the World champion because the Undertaker wants CM Punk and the WWE title. If you’ve got a baby face winner then he does the noble thing, tips his hat to the Taker, and leaves the ring. If you’ve got a heel winner, then he gets tossed out on his ass, and runs to the back with tail between legs. It gets established early than the Undertaker has that kind of clout and aura to bend things to his will. He’s the true King shit in the WWE universe.

Cue CM Punk.

The two meet in the ring. Punk talks respect. Taker lets him know respect is only earned by going to hell and back. They jab at each other for a few minutes. Finally a deal is made with the devil, only hang up is which guy is the Devil? The stakes are high for both, and the buzz begins.

Now you’ve got roughly 9 weeks to build this match up. The Undertaker stays protected. He’ll make appearances here and there for a promo or a vignette, but he isn’t wrestling. You save that for Mania. Punk can carry this feud on TV. He’ll even prove he’s better than the Undertaker by beating those victims of “The Streak”.

The next few weeks on RAW, a former WrestleMania opponent of the Undertaker gets rolled out to be taken down by CM Punk. Do the low hanging fruit first with the older legends like Snuka, Jake Roberts, or Sid that the WWE can send out for a cheap one night pop. Then move into the active roster opponents by having him face all the old opponents in an elimination chamber. That would be Kane, Orton, Tensai, Mark Henry, and Big Show. When Punk comes out champion, he can claim he beat five of Takers “victims” in one night. It also fills the required need for an Elimination Chamber match before Mania.

Finally the homestretch leading up to Mania is Punk being confronted by HHH, HBK, Nash, and Flair. He can run all four men down. He can talk about doing what they couldn’t. He has held the WWE title longer than any of them. Now he’s going to end the streak that claimed their careers. Its four weeks of dueling promos that should help build up the intensity of this match. The last two weeks then are spent drawing both the Undertaker and CM Punk into a collision course, with the closing moments being a face to face showdown filled with pipe bombs and near blows. They shouldn’t physically get involved, just tease it. Both men need to leave the ring with their head held high exuding the confidence that come Sunday they’ll have their hand raised.

The actual match is where the true magic and shock happens. First I would start the match entrances at 9:30 PM. The earlier start will have the smart fans wondering what is going on. They’ll believe that there is something big coming. It’s just too early to begin the main event.

The two will then wrestle for sixty minutes. It’s the kind of match the current WWE audience has never seen. Punk, if you’ve followed his career, is a master at the sixty minute match. He understands the pacing and how to protect somebody like the Undertaker, whose age can limit him. For an entire hour the two go to war. They pull out all the stops with false finishes, brawls outside the ring, etc. Then the bell rings to signify that time has expired. The match is a draw. Punk keeps his title, and The Undertaker is still undefeated. The fight doesn’t stop though.

As the bell rings they keep trading blows. The ref tries to pull them apart, and he’s laid out. They continue to fight all over the place because to them only one man is walking out tonight. More officials and security try to stop it, and they’re laid out too. For a good ten minutes Taker and Punk either fight each other or those trying to get between them. Finally the two fight on to the main stage trading big blow after big blow. Each man trying to finish the other with one big shot, their bodies broken and bloody. Then in the end, on their knees, they trade fists, chops, and head-butts. Finally, leaning on each other tossing noodle fists with both gas tanks empty, Taker and Punk collapse next to each other laid out on the main stage.

As WrestleMania ends officials, paramedics, and staff surround the two as double stretchers are wheeled out. Both men being checked on and eventually wheeled out as Punk holds a thumbs up in the air. He didn’t beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania, but he did something nobody has ever done. He survived him.

People will tune in the next night. Sure there will be fans that don’t like a draw finish, but it’s the one thing the WWE can do to protect the Taker’s streak, and pass the torch to the next generation before it is too late. It’s something nobody will see coming, and a moment that will cement the legacy of both men like what happened for Hogan and Andre at WM3.

You keep both men off RAW the next night to sell the brutality. The next week you promote the appearance of Punk the following week on RAW. Finally on the third RAW after Mania, you have Punk come out to address the fall out. This can lead to a new feud or it can start planting the seeds for their rematch at WrestleMania 30, probably both.

No matter what, if this was to happen it would always be remembered as the night Taker met Punk.

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