On CM Punk, Triple H And The Meeting That Saved Pro Wrestling

By now we’ve all heard CM Punk’s podcast with Colt Cabana and have seen the shockwaves it’s sent throughout the wrestling industry. Like you, I’ve been thinking about it pretty much non-stop since it broke Kim Kardashian’s butt or whatever. For the most part, I’m on board with what he said but I have to get a couple of gripes out of the way first:

1. I am totally behind a guy getting burnt out from a strenuous business that was making him unhappy. I’m glad he left if it’s really what’s best for him. However, him leaving without at least acknowledging his fans or even tweeting out “hey, going to take some time off” or anything besides showing up on TV with that same sh*t-eating grin – reveling in how fans were waiting for any answers – would have been the least he could do. Without the fans, there’s no Punk. There’s no Pipebomb. There’s no Best In The World. I get that he hated the business, but what the hell did we do to him?

2. The whole “I didn’t quit, I was fired” was nothing but grade-A Fox News-like spin. If you don’t show up for work for four months and refuse to come even after your boss calls, then you are most definitely quitting your job. Sure, he technically got fired, but only after he was gone for months. I really feel sort of insulted that Punk would try to massage the truth in a podcast that was so raw and revealing.

Other than that, I think Punk’s podcast was one of the most important shoot things to ever happen in wrestling. One part in particular has stayed with me the most: Punk’s climactic meeting with Vince McMahon and Triple H in Cleveland. Without hyperbole – and honestly, only time will tell – I think that one conversation may have saved the future of professional wrestling.

But first, a bit about Hunter Hearst Helmsley.

For most of HHH’s career, he’s been wrestling’s biggest albatross. A guy who wasn’t quite ever as talented or over as Stone Cold, Rock or Foley but relevant enough to stay in the main event picture for the last 15 years. For most of the 2000s, Triple H has been one of the most hated figures in wrestling due to the way he’s buried talent and manipulated his way to the brass ring.

Sure, some of the Internet hatred of HHH is overblown. He’s shown an ability to have incredible matches and tell stories on the mic, but his penchant for making himself look good at the expense of an entire generation of talent is as much part of his legacy as any classic he’s had with Mankind or Shawn Michaels. The laundry list of talent he’s laid waste to can fill a book. From Booker T to RVD to the destruction of Randy Orton at WrestleMania 25 and making fun of wrestlers who failed Wellness policies on live television, Triple H has stayed at the top not because he’s the best, but because he makes everyone look worse.

As Hunter’s grasp on full-time work started to wane, his chokehold on the shovel only tightened. In the last few years, he wasted three Brock Lesnar matches, had a fake aneurysm on RAW to “put over” Curtis Axel and kicked Wade Barrett in the nuts to begin and end their feud. But nobody felt HHH’s wrath worse than CM Punk in 2011.

CM Punk was right in the podcast when he said he failed to reach the heights expected of him, because he really was supposed to be the biggest star since Stone Cold Steve Austin. And it was all happening in 2011. He’d just nailed the biggest promo of the 2000s and had a five star match with John Cena as the culmination of a damn near perfect angle. Then HHH happened. In the course of a few months, Hunter’s buddy Diesel laid Punk out and the payoff was somehow HHH coming out of retirement to beat Punk before going right back into retirement. It made zero sense and was the most egregious of Triple H’s burials maybe ever. Sure, Punk went on to maintain his main event stature and become a top guy, but I really think he was still clawing to where he could have been in 2011 if not for Hunter.

Two and a half years later, that burial all came to a head in Cleveland:

I turned to Hunter an said “With all due respect, I do not need to wrestle you, you need to wrestle me. I do not want to wrestle you. I seriously resent you for not putting me over three years ago when you should have. That would’ve been best for business but you had to come in and squash it. Then I had to lose to R-Truth and Miz like it didn’t make any business sense then, it doesn’t make any business sense now.”

“And I’m in a position now where I can tell you I don’t have to nor do I want to wrestle you at WrestleMania.” I don’t care if I was supposed to win, which I was, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to give him the privilege. Do you understand that? I said a lot of sh*t in there and again Hunter was gritting his teeth. I knew he didn’t like me. When we are in a room together, it’s never good vibes

At that moment HHH saw the damage he’d done. He saw all the years of putting himself over his peers and how it could ruin everything. Because when Vince McMahon dies, it’ll ultimately be Triple H’s legacy on the line; it’d kill him to be the guy who let mainstream North American professional wrestling die. But there he was, faced with that possibility. Faced with a guy who didn’t need the business anymore and was willing to walk away if it meant preserving his sanity and love for wrestling. Willing to live in a world where HHH’s shovel couldn’t reach.

In one moment, Triple H saw the graveyards of territories ruined by egos. He saw the AWA, WCW and Mid-South. He saw every promoter who couldn’t get out of their own ways long enough to maintain their cash cows.

CM Punk was leaving and it was all Hunter’s fault.

I don’t know what Vince McMahon said to Hunter after Punk left the room and the company. Maybe he gave Hunter the “you know you messed up, right?” talk. Maybe just seeing Vince cry and hug Punk instead of take up for his son-in-law was enough to make HHH see that things needed to change. And they have.

Since CM Punk left, HHH got himself in wrestling shape and had a goddamn classic match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, lost to the Shield on consecutive pay-per-views and has become one of the best bad guys in all of wrestling. In fact, I think 2014 has been HHH’s best all-around year since maybe 2000. It’s been incredible to watch*.

And we only have CM Punk to thank. With his lambasting of HHH, Punk set the future ruler of the world on a new path where he understands that there are things more important than looking cool on camera. And maybe, just maybe, after Vince McMahon is gone, we’ll continue to see someone who truly knows what’s best for business.

*All of this has been accompanied by HHH heading NXT, which I think is the single smartest move Vince McMahon has made in the last five years. This has allowed Hunter to stroke his ego by taking credit for every rising star while staying the hell out of their way. He can puff up his chest and point out how great he is in ways that doesn’t involve him calling KENTA a fake Bruce Lee or something or giving Sami Zayn a Pedigree every week. Now, HHH can put himself over without us having to actually watch him do anything.