"Whether you like it or you hate it, you'd better start to respect it."
Those were the (paraphrased) words of WWE Champion CM Punk on tonight's edition of Monday Night Raw, hot off the heels of a controversial finish to his match at SummerSlam.
Many have complained and said that the Punk heel turn has fallen flat on its face, but the thing is, it's not clear whether or not Punk has actually turned into a villain.
What has Punk done lately that is overtly heelish? More than anything, he's almost transcended the traditional babyface-heel lines to simply be CM Punk.
Through the past several weeks, Punk has laid out his complaints with WWE - and many of them are justified. How many times have critics complained about the WWE Championship being treated as a midcard act on pay-per-view?
Punk shocked the world when he declared himself the "Voice of the Voiceless," and that began his transformation to becoming a hero of the people, but now that he's speaking the same mindset as the fans, he's labeled as a hero?
It's easy to empathize with Punk's quest for respect for himself and the WWE Championship. He just played second fiddle to the boss' semi-active son-in-law and a guest act on the company's second-biggest annual pay-per-view.
And on Raw? He was granted the opportunity to choose his next opponent, and while he could have picked anyone in the locker room, he picked John Cena, the man he had just done battle with the night before and who he cheated out of the title -- in some people's estimation, anyway.
Punk called Cena out to the ring, declaring he's taken a backseat to Cena, The Rock and a camaraderie of others. Again, he's simply speaking the truth. Is it his delivery that is supposed to make him a heel? Again, it's arguable he's not playing either side of the fence; he's simply being himself.
Cena and Punk had a nice exchange on the microphone, and Cena proved once again that when he puts the jokes aside and lets his serious nature shine through, he's a much more likable and acceptable character.
The crowd seemed to be behind Punk, agreeing with him even, for most of the segment, but at the end, they turned against the champ when he kicked Jerry Lawler in the back of the head, as the commentator and Hall of Famer tried to leave the ring.
Perhaps Punk's character is heading further down a dark path - or perhaps that's just who Punk is, an unpredictable champion willing to take down anyone he perceives to be standing in his way.
When you look at CM Punk, what do you see? Maybe the answer is inside each of us individually.
** Since Paul Heyman declared Brock Lesnar the new King of Kings, does that make John Cena into Pontius Pilate for being the one to put him down before his resurrection? The whole Lesnar-Triple H scenario leaves many questions -- and it's likely they won't be answered for several weeks, given the "injury" to Triple H and Lesnar's sporadic status. Shawn Michaels did a good job with his "satellite" statement, but again, he's another star who isn't going to be appearing on a weekly basis. The biggest question of all, though, has to be this: Why anyone would consider defeating Triple H to be something that would "destroy the spirit of the WWE?" Does anyone really believe that Triple H's career is over? Is anyone really interested in seeing this "rivalry" continue and culminate in a rematch?
** Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole actually argued about whether or not Daniel Bryan has hit an announcer. Pardon me while I yell for a second: HE WAS LEGITIMATELY FIRED FOR CHOKING AN ANNOUNCER WITH A TIE! How hard is it to remember stuff like this? Anyway, Bryan and his rival Kane were forced to team with old enemies in The Miz and Zack Ryder, respectively. At least WWE remembered the past between the two pairings rather than having them be all buddy-buddy with no explanation. The Miz and Bryan both fled during the match, leaving Kane with Ryder, who the Big Red Monster proceeded to destroy, along with a crew member. Hope you enjoyed your TV time, Zack!
** As someone who didn't get to watch SummerSlam, I was glad to see a rematch of Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler on Raw. While it likely didn't live up to the hype of their pay-per-view match, and the stipulation -- Jericho's contract vs. Ziggler's title shot -- made the conclusion a little obvious, it was still a great television contest. After the match, Jericho assaulted Ziggler with the briefcase and hit him with a Code Breaker. A little odd for the departing star to stand tall over the Money in the Bank holder, but maybe this is all setting up for Jericho to return during Ziggler's title reign and resume what they've started.
** The treatment of Randy Orton continues to be preferential, at best. His streak of pinning world title contenders stayed alive, as he put away Alberto Del Rio. The finish of the match was a clever play on the finish of Del Rio and Sheamus' SummerSlam match, as Orton had his foot on the rope to break the pin. Sheamus pointed it out to the referee, and the distraction allowed Orton to hit the RKO on Del Rio for the pin. Orton had a bit of a staredown with a laughing Sheamus, so it seems this may be heading toward a three-way feud and a possible Sheamus heel turn.
** Cody Rhodes has a good gimmick going, as he's focused on removing the mask of Sin Cara. If Rhodes got himself an ant costume, he could fit in as a member of Gekido. Rhodes' obsession with Cara's mask cost his team a six-man tag match, in which the former Intercontinental Champion teamed with the Prime Time Players and Cara teamed with Tag Team Champions Kofi Kingston and R-Truth. The match was good and fun. Hopefully Kingston and Truth are ready to move on to new opponents, while the Prime Time Players regain some momentum.
** Damien Sandow defeated Brodus Clay with a roll-up and a handful of tights in their first official meeting since beginning their rivalry. The match wasn't bad, but it wasn't as great as I'd personally hoped it would be. Of course, the good news is that their issues likely won't be over, as Clay got the better of Sandow after the match, and that surely won't sit well with our intellectual savior. Hopefully they'll get another chance to take things to the next level in a rematch.
** Ryback's latest victims didn't get a graphic to show the spelling of their names. The match was standard fare, except it ended when Jinder Mahal interfered and assaulted Ryback. Mahal locked in the Cobra Clutch, but Ryback fought out. It would have been more effective if Mahal had been allowed to look strong by getting the better of Ryback, but those are the breaks.
** The returning David Otunga found himself pitted against Big Show in a heel-versus-heel match. The result was an awkward squash match with fans unsure who to rally behind. This was designed to make Big Show look strong, but it's hard to buy into him as a believable threat when he loses so much, especially in big matches.
** The battle royale to determine a No. 1 contender to Layla's Divas Championship was extremely sloppy in the early goings, with several of the women seemingly unsure of what to do. It improved as it went on, and Kaitlyn won. That creates an interesting babyface-babyface title match situation for the future.
Kofi Kingston, R-Truth and Sin Cara d. Titus O'Neil, Darren Young and Cody Rhodes
Ryback d. Two Jobbers by disqualifcation
Randy Orton d. Alberto Del Rio
Damien Sandow d. Brodus Clay
Big Show d. David Otunga
Kane and Zack Ryder vs. Daniel Bryan and The Miz went to a no contest
Kaitlyn won a divas battle royale
Dolph Ziggler d. Chris Jericho
WWE seems to be figuring out the right formula for three-hour Raws. I found tonight's show to be quite enjoyable all around. There was some quality wrestling and some good storyline development, and that's enough to earn a big thumbs up from me. Three hours still seems like such a long show each week, but at least WWE has been making it worth the time investment recently.