CM PUNK: The Hero of the Entitlement Generation Part 1

I want to start this out by admitting I have two types of bias. The first is that I’ve never really been a CM Punk fan. I’ve respected his ability, but have never been a fan. This goes back to a long time ago when Punk was regularly wrestling here in the Pittsburgh area. Back then I didn’t see it. I was always the one guy who said that he would never make it. I was certainly wrong, but I’ve never seen what everyone else has seen in him and I’m willing to admit that right off the bat. The second is that much like Punk himself, I get pretty excited to just stir things up. That’s really what makes him the happiest, and that’s not just a reaction from his interview on Colt Cabana’s podcast. That’s from people that knew him, and still know him. Punk likes to stir the pot and I do too. So, this piece here is to stir the pot a bit but it’s also about something bigger. This is about something Punk would never admit and if he ever meets me would probably want to punch me in the face for saying, but here we go: CM Punk’s attitude is a perfect example of the entitlement culture he so desperately despises.

So let’s start things off with a bit of talk about Punk’s podcast interview. I am going to take issue with a few things he says, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he should have said them. Punk has the right to talk about his time any way he wants. He could have sold his story, sure. There are some people that would have paid him a lot to tell his side, and I’m sure he could have taken even more shots than he did. But let’s also note that he picked the venue he did, his best friend’s podcast, because that would be the exact platform that would let him say whatever he wanted and wouldn’t challenge him at all on any of his assertions. In my opinion, if Punk wanted credibility, he should have gone and done a podcast with Jim Ross. Ross has the credibility of knowing how the office works, but also the added credibility of not caring if he tells them off. And this isn’t the first instance in Punk’s distorted world. To Punk life wasn’t fair to him, and he deserved better.

Now the first thing he suggests is that none of this is about money. Yet Punk continues to complain about money the entire time. He is unhappy with his pay at Wrestlemania, he is unhappy to turn heel and lose royalty checks, he is unhappy that he can’t have his own sponsors. It seems a little strange that he continues to tell you that the money was not important, but the first big complaints he has are about his pay. Now he makes a direct comparison between himself and the other men who were in the large “main event matches” on that card; Undertaker, Cena, Rock and Lesnar. Now, each one of those men have either been a top draw for a very long time, or were cross-over sensations. But the real issue is this, those guys negotiated better deals. If Taker got more money than Punk, even though they were in the same match, does that say more about the WWE not paying Punk or more about The Undertaker’s ability to negotiate better pay? With the contracts they signed, and the deals they worked out for bonuses, these guys are better negotiators. Mainly because “the office” felt they were worth more, and they acted upon that. Punk can continue to tell you what he thinks he’s worth, but that’s not what he is actually worth.

Let me take a different approach to that topic and use a different sport as a guideline. Let’s use Major League Baseball. Let’s look at 2013 Free Agent Pitchers, mostly because we can look at results from 2014 and those players were all signed. So let me give you three pitchers’ stats. The Win/Loss record should be familiar and so should ERA. To those that don’t know FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. What it does is shows you what a pitcher can do without defense, and it is set to an ERA standard.

HR stands for home runs, BB stands for walks, K stand for strikeouts and IP stands for innings pitched. It’s actually a really great tool to measure a pitcher. Finally, WAR stands for wins above replacement. This is a tool used to measure how good a player is in respect to the average replacement player at his positions. For example Andrew McCutchen who was the 2013 MVP of the NL had a WAR of 7.9. This means he was worth nearly 8 more wins than the average replacement centerfielder. (All stats are from Baseball Reference). All explained? Good.

Pitcher A: 10-11, 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.7 WAR

Pitcher B: 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 2.7 WAR

Pitcher C: 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 1.4 WAR

Great. Now, all three pitchers were of different ages and had different careers. Much like say, Punk, Taker and Cena have had. Now if you value W-L record (and you shouldn’t) there is one pitcher with a clear advantage, Pitcher B. Pitcher A did have a better FIP, but also had a bad WAR. It looks like Pitcher B, to me at least had the best year, and should have made the most money in free agency. But that’s not what happened. Pitcher C was Matt Garza, who is a good pitcher and made $13 million in 2014. Pitcher B was Ubaldo Jimenez and he made $12 million in 2014. And lastly, Pitcher A was AJ Burnett, who signed with the Phillies for $16 million in 2014. Now if you’re Ubaldo, how do you feel? You had a better year, and were worth more wins than the other two pitchers, but got paid less. Is that on your performance? Is that on your agent? Or is that because of the history those other two guys have?

The larger point here is that it wasn’t like Punk was paid absolutely nothing for his work; he was adequately paid for his work. It just wasn’t to his liking. And that’s fair; I think we all would be hard pressed to say that we don’t expect to get paid more than other people. I would take a raise immediately.  The other issue is that I don’t care how good your match was, you weren’t the main event. As a kid who grew up watching WCW, I watched a lot of matches between undercard guys that put the main events of Hogan, Savage, Piper, Warrior, Nash, Goldberg etc. to shame. But Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko, Mysterio etc. were not making more money just because their matches were better. The men in the main event make more, that’s just the way it is.

This is also a guy that fully admits he was a problem employee and was very difficult to work with. Basically, WWE was begrudgingly employing him. Is that because he was very good? Yes. But at the same time, this is a guy who constantly belittled his coworkers, fought with his bosses, and yelled at people underneath him (writers and staff.) So why would he get a reward? As a corporate entity, and Punk alludes to this, it is their job to maximize profits while keeping cost down. Why reward a hostile employee with more money, and increase cost when it won’t make the problem of the angry employee better or help your business?

Punk can admit all he wants that the WWE was doing business their way, but it is a continued example of his mindset. Punk clearly believes that it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t paid as much as the other men. That he deserved more than the others because what he did was better, and he has merit. But it is the attitude of entitlement that is striking. Punk wasn’t happy with what he got, and many will say that all great artists are never happy. But this is not a case of Punk wanted to create and move up in a desire to improve. This is a case of Punk not being happy because he feels entitled to his share of the pot, a pot that he contributed to but not as much as the others (history and marketing play a part here, not just match quality.) Punk cannot see the forest through the trees on this one.

Next, let’s take on the Chael Sonnen story. Punk wanted to walk out with Chael at a UFC fight on Fox, the night before a WWE PPV in order to help buy rates. On the surface I understand his idea. Now he says that Vince was not for the idea because of the violence of UFC. I’m not sure I entirely buy that this was the ONLY reason Punk was given, and Colt didn’t press him on the issue either. He was then upset that Triple H then walked out Floyd Mayweather not too long after this. Well, that would be a false equivalency here. UFC and Boxing are two completely different industries. One, the UFC, continues to take fans of pro wrestling and convert them to their brand. I would dare say that it is the UFC, not TNA or ROH, that is the WWE’s main competitor. So walking out on your main competition’s free show on FOX might not be a great business strategy. Punk even says it would be a bigger deal that he was there. But UFC fans aren’t going to turn back the dial to the WWE; fans of CM Punk might turn the dial to UFC. Meanwhile, Mayweather was a regular friend of the WWE, he had done Wrestlemania with them and Raw as well. Boxing is also not a competition with WWE at all. Boxing as a whole only has a few stars and honestly, the market is so small that it would hurt no one for Hunter to be there. The larger point is that these two situations are not comparable at all, and it all feels like another reason for Punk to complain about something that doesn’t really matter in the end.

Punk will continue to tell you his story and how he isn’t here to bash the WWE, or anyone there (Except Hunter, Cena, Vince, Ryback, Jericho, Lesnar and Taker….those guys he bashed); that this was just his story. There is obviously more to tell to this story, with his health and his wedding day. And I will get to all of that in part 2. But let’s finish this up with the larger point at hand; that all of this complaining about money, creative issues, and his work environment is completely about Punk. And, I say that as someone who has read and listened to a lot of guys who were not under contract and understood completely how the company worked and had very little bad to say. Even Bret Hart, who had the ultimate ax to grind, never came off like this. Punk felt entitled to more; that because he has the best match, he should be paid over the guy most people paid to see (and yes Punk, casual fans did tune in for The Rock, not just because it was Wrestlemania. You are wrong). He will tell you he deserved a main event at a Wrestlemania, and maybe he did, but we don’t all get what we deserve; he felt entitled to the main event. He will continue to tell you every 5 minutes that he sold more merchandise than Cena (and that’s over a very small window), and that it’s all about Punk; that he was the star, that he was the best, and that he worked his ass off to get there. And he did work his ass off, and he was a star. But he was not a bigger star than Cena, or the Rock or countless others. Punk felt that he was entitled to more, and in part 2 we will delve deeper into his health issues and why his fans feel the same way.

Marcus Miller