It was apparent on last night’s Monday Night Raw that WWE are hoping that the incident where CM Punk assaulted a fan in the crowd the previous week will be quickly forgotten. The fan in question has since been the subject of various contradictory reports on whether or not he will be taking legal action. WWE acknowledged the incident dismissively on their own website, then moved on, with no news of Punk facing action from the company – unsurprisingly, since he is the premier active star on the roster at this time and holds WWE’s top title.
Pro Wrestling Torch editor Wade Keller wrote a response to the incident this past week and, as we have come to expect from Keller, it was intelligent, progressive, and well argued. However, on this occasion, I have to disagree with him to an extent.
Keller’s points about security and how the incident could have been much worse than it was due to Punk’s flailing fists are, of course, valid. However, “Punk put himself in that position,” Keller claimed, adding “he should have removed himself from that situation.” And it is here that I find fault.
Punk was clearly booked to flee from Vince McMahon into the crowd. Granted, Punk has some influence, but not complete creative control – and if the booking called for him to enter the crowd, naturally, he did so, and he remained there; not to draw out an unspoken response or to increase suspense, but to sell for an ongoing promo from McMahon himself. How could he have easily removed himself from that situation? And how did he entirely put himself in it? “He couldn’t,” and “he didn’t,” are, of course, the answers.
Keller, in his piece, cites the AWA St Paul’s Civic Center shows he attended as a youngster, when Stan Hansen swung a cowbell, and how this remained in a designated area. Jim Cornette, in a recent interview with Fin Martin for Power Slam magazine, also recollects memories from the old days – when he and the Midnight Express would have to literally run for their lives due to their heel heat, going so far as to carry a gun in case they faced a life-or-death situation.
Few heels have faced such dangers for several years, particularly since the fade of kayfabe. Wrestling Scribe poster boy Brian Pillman used to frequently goad fans and dare them to strike him, yet he infamously returned to attack then-WWF rival Stone Cold Steve Austin by running through the crowd and hopping the guard rail. One might argue that his heel character had not been solidly defined at that time, but that claim would be weakened by the fact the late Pillman raised the ire of TV executives and audiences for pulling a handgun on Austin himself months previous. Others might suggest Pillman ran through the crowd, rather than stood amongst fans. And this is a more valid suggestion. And brings us back to Punk.
Punk was, again, booked to flee into the Raw crowd, and remain there to sell Vince’s promo, with no visible security there to protect him. He was a sitting duck. This is by no means an excuse for Punk’s behaviour: lashing out at fans – particularly when he struck an innocent bystander – is terrible. But the situation needs context to understand how powerless Punk was, and no doubt felt, as fans hit him in the back and threatened to push him down the concrete steps. Would that have been okay – being assaulted and sent reeling along the steps?
Keller, like many others, have been wrong to place so much blame on Punk for the situation itself. While he shouldn’t have hit an innocent fan, he understandably felt trapped and in danger, thanks to WWE – not Phil Brooks himself – booking Punk to run into, and remain in, the crowd.
A classy step would be for Punk to publicly and personally apologise to the one fan he struck and who clearly did not pose any threat to him. The behaviour of the rest should be a lesson to WWE to reflect on angles in the stands in future, and reconsider their current crowd security strategy.