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(this is not my work, just copypasta'd ;) )

Part 1 - "I'm a Paul Heyman Guy"


“I’m a Paul Heyman Guy!” CM Punk – 6/27/11 Monday Night Raw.

I’m going to look back at three different periods in 2007 when CM Punk became the center piece of the ECW Brand. These stories will shine a little light on the frustration surrounding Punk’s early run in WWE.

On December 4th, 2006, Paul Heyman left the WWE Creative Team, for the final time. This also meant that for the first time ever, Heyman would not be involved in the creative process of ECW. Stephanie McMahon walked into the writer’s room to tell us Paul would no longer be involved and that I was now in charge of ECW. This was as much news to me as it was the rest of the team. As had happened with Alex Greenfield when he took over Smackdown, I wasn’t talked to about the new position. I wasn’t doing backflips about this because I knew the baggage that came with it. I had run Smackdown for four years before this and knew how Vince and Kevin Dunn viewed ECW. The world saw how they viewed the brand for the five months before this and especially the night before on PPV with December to Dismember.



The PPV from Augusta, GA featuring an Extreme Elimination Chamber match was the least bought WWE PPV in history. The show was handicapped by zero promotion from Raw and Smackdown and being the 2nd WWE PPV in eight days; following Survivor Series. The main purpose of the event was to crown Bobby Lashley as the new flag bearer for ECW. The event had only two matches announced before hand, the Elimination Chamber and the reuniting of MNM vs. The Hardyz. While Lashley was going to be the “man” that night winning the title, there was a pitch by Heyman to have CM Punk and Big Show start the Chamber and for Punk to eliminate the Big Show with the Anaconda Vice. Big Show was behind the idea and felt it was the right move to make. There were a few different long term pitches off of this including Punk vs. RVD at Wrestlemania. Heyman had protected Punk, including making sure his debut match was at the Hammerstein Ballroom. This pitch was meant to establish Punk as the “next” guy after Lashley. If you’ve seen the match, you know this didn’t happen.


The Anaconda Vice became one of the things that the agents picked on Punk for. Vince had mocked Punk in meetings by doing the wrist gesture and even instructed announcers to NOT mention his Muai Thai background. Everything that made Punk unique was questioned and mocked. “Don’t think people can relate to with a character who doesn’t have an occasional beer”, said one agent. In 2006, Vince McMahon looked at Punk and “didn’t get it”. Plus, when you have Paul Heyman pushing heavily for you in that environment – you get the stigma of being a “Paul Heyman Guy”. I had the stigma because I worked with Paul on every run he had on creative from 2002 – 2006. Punk suffered for those sins and that night in December, he did not make the Big Show tap out. The agents who didn’t like him made sure the audience would not get a moment from CM Punk that night; Punk was the first man eliminated in the match.

In under 24 hours, everything about ECW had changed. Heyman was out, Big Show was gone, and I was left with a mess. CM Punk, a lot like ECW, Goldberg, the NWO and especially WCW, were not WWE creations. The track record has shown that Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon do not support ideas that were not generated inside their bubble. Punk got the tag line of “King of the Indies” and those agents who didn’t like him before Heyman was gone, they were out for blood now.


I’m no Paul Heyman. I won’t ever try to sell you that I’m a genius, instead just a guy who always wants to do the best for the talents and projects I work on. I had a connection with ECW, it’s what kept me excited about the business in 1994 and 1995 when there wasn’t much to be excited about. That spirit of ECW was what we tried to continue in the new ECW, including launching a new star like CM Punk. But I didn’t have an ally, especially a veteran voice, in that agent meeting.

The voices in that meeting room pushed for Hardcore Holly. Now, I am a fan of Hardcore Holly. When Brock Lesnar had broke Holly’s neck, it was Bruce Prichard and I who suggested Holly coming for revenge. It was the hottest Holly ever got but he didn’t connect with the audience and they had a forgettable match at the Royal Rumble 2004. Here it was 2007 and the agents were pushing for Holly ahead Punk. In their matches during December and January, Holly beat down Punk in the corner, ignoring the ref’s count and getting disqualified. And then Hardcore Holly hands Punk his first loss. I had heard rumblings of agents pushing Vince to show Punk the door. ECW started to receive less and less attention and then we had the horrible show in Little Rock in mid-January. The matches were bad, the interviews were bad; the plane flight home from that show was worse. It was the longest flight of my life. The next day I sat down to talk with Stephanie about that flight but more importantly about what I thought ECW needed. I needed a veteran voice to help turn the tide. I needed an ally.

Fast forward to the agent meeting in Houston. Vince McMahon was scheduled to appear on ECW for the first time in the start of a new storyline. He was going to rid ECW of it’s “Original” stars and make the way for a “New Breed”. The meeting quickly turned into another CM Punk bash fest. My role was to run the meeting but dare not speak out of turn on the veteran agents. This was how the previous months meetings had gone but this day was different. It was a new voice in the room that changed everything. “Um, if you don’t like something the kid is doing, why don’t you work with him to fix it… instead of killing him” That voice belonged to Shawn Michaels.


In January of 2007, Shawn Michaels was my consultant on ECW. I was able to get in his input on the shows, thoughts on talents and in this situation the voice needed in that agent meeting. Like getting to work with Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Dusty Rhodees, working with Shawn was a dream come true. In that meeting in Houston, Shawn brought up that guys like him and Undertaker will not be around forever and, while everyone liked Holly, it was guys like Punk who were the future. The mood in the room changed, the den of negativity that existed was silenced for the time being. Punk wasn’t pushed strong that week or even the next week but the ship had turned. Punk was positioned better from that point forward.

Shawn Michaels was pulled back into active duty when Triple H was hurt and programmed to face John Cena at Wrestlemania 23. Dusty Rhodes ended up joining me to help book ECW. And CM Punk made Wrestlemania 23 as the only ECW guy in the Money In the Bank Ladder Match.

In that Money In the Bank ladder match, Punk was involved in the finish of the match. He was finger tips away from the briefcase only to have Mr. Kennedy knock him off and grab the case. This was just foreshadowing as Punk did go on to win the Money in the Bank briefcase in back to back years to win his first two World Titles.

Imagine if those agents would have gotten their way back in early 2007? We might have never gotten to see this at the 2011 Money in the Bank PPV.
 

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Part II - Straight Edge or Bust – How CM Punk won his first title in WWE!

CM Punk stood face to face with Chris Benoit on ECW just days before their ECW Title Match at Vengeance Night of Champions. June of 2007 was to be the launching of a new era in ECW and the next step in the evolution of CM Punk. The match never happened.



If you flashed back to a year earlier, ECW was meant to be on the same level of Raw and Smackdown. Stars like RVD, Kurt Angle, Big Show were brought in to compliment the returning ECW stars like Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu. On the day of the WWE Draft in June of 2007, RVD, Angle and Big Show were all gone from WWE/ECW and the ECW Originals were being phased out. This draft was meant to was meant to shape the new “New” ECW. Read Guests cannot see links. Please register to forum by clicking here to see links. for the talent switches in the 2007 WWE Draft.

But we all remember what the MOST important thing to happen the night of the WWE Draft 2007; Vince McMahon Appreciation Night and his limo going boom. This angle was to kick off a long storyline about who did it and a power struggle over who controlled WWE.



With so much time and attention being put into the McMahon story, ECW was once again pushed down the ladder of importance. By this point, some weeks the ECW Team would be lucky to get five to ten minutes to pitch our show to Vince. We would wait all day for a meeting and then be told, “Just email Vince”. My marching orders were to get one thing approved. That way we could provide something Kevin Dunn’s TV crew could edit a commercial for Raw. We knew “our place” in the WWE Creative food chain. We had to be fine with it because we knew it wasn’t going to change. Our goal for ECW was to focus on young talent and give them a platform to develop. The key to this plan was centered around Chris Benoit coming to ECW.

Chris Benoit was to be the veteran leader for the ECW locker room. He was excited to be coming and helping groom the up and coming talents like Miz, John Morrison, Marcus Cor Von, Kevin Thorn, Elijah Burke and especially CM Punk. Benoit was fresh off working with MVP in their feud over the United States Title. The finals of the ECW Title tournament was to feature CM Punk vs. Chris Benoit at Night of Champions. On that night, Chris Benoit was scheduled to win the title and enter into long term story with CM Punk; Punk attempting to beat the veteran to win his first title.



When Chris Benoit did not appear that day in Houston, a decision was made to replace him in the match with Johnny Nitro (making his ECW debut). We had no information on Benoit at the time beyond the phone calls that his family was sick. The decision was made to have Nitro win the title and leave options that if/when Benoit came back – he could challenge Nitro for the title. When news broke over the Benoit Family Tragedy, wrestling storylines weren’t important. I remember hearing Vickie Guerrero scream in shock when we all heard the news. That sound will always stick with me. Those are emotions I don’t think any of us ever want to live through again. The McMahon story was dropped and everything planned was put on hold.

When we finally got back to work, ECW’s Champion was John Morrison (changing his name and persona from Johnny Nitro) and Punk was the number one contender. The name change gave Morrison a fresh canvas to paint on and create a whole new persona. It was Morrison who came up with his entrance (including the slow motion and the fans). He would come up with his promos and the crazy catch phrase. Punk, being himself, was the perfect opponent for Morrison.





They had 3 PPV matches against each other (Night of Champions, The Great American Bash, and Summerslam). Morrison won all three. We wanted Punk to win at Summerslam but Vince didn’t want to make the switch. I could tell the frustration with Punk of “well, what now?” I could never pin down the issue with putting the title on Punk in any of those three matches. Morrison was improving as a heel but WWE had always been a babyface territory – a hero who would defend and fight off the oncoming challenges.

We were instructed to come up with a new opponent to face Morrison for the title. The babyface roster was pretty thin on ECW but we picked Boogeyman. I can see eyes rolling across the world on the choice of Boogeyman because the match wouldn’t be a five star classic. But I liked the Boogeyman; he was a great character and figured it would be a good victory for our champion. We scheduled a four way match to determine the new #1 contender with CM Punk vs. Boogeyman vs. Big Daddy V vs. The Miz.

The show aired live on 8/28/07. I remember sitting in the Gorilla Position (where wrestlers walk out / where the agents and Vince sit) and noticing that Vince wasn’t there. The main event had gone in the ring before Vince walked in and sat down at the monitor. After a moment, he waved over Fit Finlay (the agent of the match). A quick but quiet discussion was had. Finlay went over to the microphone hooked up to the ref and fed something to the ref. None of us knew what was going on until we looked at the monitor. Punk hit his flying clothesline and then the GTS on The Miz. 1…2…3. CM Punk won the match and was announced as the number one contender. Vince walked out of gorilla and didn’t tell us anything.

Over the next few days, the world found out about this news story breaking in Sports Illustrated. John Morrison (along with a large number of other talents) were suspended for 30 days for wellness violations. Punk vs. Morrison for the ECW Title was scheduled for that Sunday at an ECW taping. It was called “CM Punk’s Last Chance” to win the title. And the crowd reaction that night in Cincinnati spoke to the hard work of CM Punk over the previous year. CM Punk was finally their conquering hero.





WWE had gone through some of its worst publicity ever in a three-month span with the Benoit tragedy and the Sports Illustrated article. The media were having a field day with these stories and attacking the company. Vince McMahon made the choice to go with the straight edge superstar CM Punk to represent his company. In the late summer of 2007, Punk, being exactly who he was when he walked into WWE, won his first title in the WWE. And in 2011, it was CM Punk being himself that has brought him more notoriety than anyone in the WWE had ever thought was possible.
 

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Part III - The Tale of Two Phone Calls with CM Punk

The phone was ringing….

I made thousands of phone calls while working on the WWE Creative Team to various talents. Usually to fill talents in on what they were doing on TV or run a future idea by them. The ringing stopped and the person on the other end picked up; it was CM Punk. I was calling to wish him a Merry Christmas and Punk’s response to me was not festive; it was cold… it was standoffish. After what had happened the week before at ECW TV and really the entire year before in 2007 in WWE, his frustration was justified.


Back in September 2007 when CM Punk won the ECW Title, there was a hope he was turning the corner with those in power in WWE. After the suspension of various talents, Punk was presented for exactly who he was straight edge, as a way to combat the bad PR. CM Punk the poster boy of WWE? While WWE wanted to clean up its image externally, the internal feelings over Punk still remained the same.

After beating John Morrison on TV, Punk’s first title defense on PPV was against Elijah Burke. After losing to John Morrison on PPV three times in a row, Punk needed a strong and decisive victory to show he was a deserving champion. Elijah beat on Punk for a large majority of the match. Without a comeback, Punk simply rolled up Elijah to get the victory. No real chance for Punk to shine. No use of his finishing maneuver – the GTS. He was the champion who survived a beating and was able to roll up the challenger who looked far superior in the match.

You might say, “You wrote it that way.” I’ll explain what a “WWE Writer” is involved with and not. Our job is to create the stories that surround the matches and characters. Sometimes they are as simple as “I’m better then you because…” and sometimes they are as complex and silly as “Dawn Marie falling in love with the father of Torrie Wilson”. We pitched these stories based on the marching orders of Vince and Stephanie and created the show scripts with the matches and interviews. Once we arrived at the arena, the matches are worked out NOT by the writers but instead by the former wrestlers called Agents/Producers. The agents communicated the “message” of Vince to the talents about what the match should accomplish. Once they leave the agent meeting, it’s in the hands of the agent and the talents to create the match.


CM Punk made his first trip to Chicago as ECW Champion for the 2007 WWE PPV No Mercy. I never asked Punk how big a deal this was to him but I knew how it felt to me to do shows in Philadelphia. Going to see live wrestling at Philadelphia Spectrum or the Civic Center as a kid made me want to work in wrestling. Being part of creating memories for a whole new generation of fans in the town I grew up in was one of the coolest parts of the job. That night in Chicago, CM Punk faced Big Daddy V in his second defense of the ECW Title. Big Daddy V was a complete relaunch of Viscera with a new look and a new attitude – a killer, monster heel. As soon as he was repackaged and getting over, we were told that Big Daddy V would be “moving up” to Raw or Smackdown. That night in Chicago, Punk walked into a slaughter but still “walked out” champion. Probably not the memorable moment that Punk wanted in his first major match with WWE in Chicago.





As Punk walked into Chicago for Money in the Bank this past month vs. John Cena, I thought back to this match. There was no way Vince McMahon would have had CM Punk beat Big Daddy V. CM Punk had fallen into that “Rey Mysterio Champion” mold in Vince’s mind. That he’s “lucky” to be champion and that he has to squeak out victories. In a finish that made no sense, Matt Striker, after Punk knocked down Big Daddy V, attacked Punk in front of the ref costing his man the ECW Title. These type of finishes do not help the champion or the challenger. It’s this type of booking that cause people to scratch their head at WWE. It’s this type of booking that built the frustration inside CM Punk.

CM Punk wasn’t the only talent that high ranking members of the WWE looked at with a warped perception on the ECW roster. John Morrison and the Miz came to ECW in the summer because RAW and Smackdown didn’t know what to do with them. Dusty and I happily took the challenge of finding new things for these talents. ECW in 2007, carrying the theme of the original brand, was the “island of misfit toys”. Johnny Nitro had reinvented himself as John Morrison. Viscera went from being the pajama wearing joke to a killer Big Daddy V. And the “annoying” Miz had reinvented himself as the “The Chick Magnet”. If you’ve followed the story of the Miz in 2010/2011, you know how he the locker room in 2006/2007 treated him. It was the longest running storyline of 2007 that started to change the perception on Miz. Yes, Balls Mahoney vs. The Miz was the longest running storyline of 2007. And it showed the range that the Miz had.


When CM Punk walked into Cyber Sunday, the audience was going to vote on who faced him for the ECW Title. Big Daddy V, The Miz or John Morrison. Morrison seemed to be the logical pick since he had the most history and would be the “better match” for voters. Big Daddy V had destroyed Punk at the previous PPV and fans could want Punk to get revenge. But the fans chose The Miz. This was the first inclination that the Miz was connecting and this was the first major title defense that Punk won decisively. The next month at the Survivor Series, Punk had defeat Miz and Morrison in a triple threat match; pinning Miz after the GTS. The tide was turning and Punk was gaining momentum as champion.

The long term plan was to make Miz the ECW Champion but when we put the WWE Tag Team Titles on Morrison and Miz instead of Mark Henry and The Great Khali, (hear this story in this podcast with John Carle here) the story needed to be altered. Chavo Guerrero was chosen to be an interim challenger for CM Punk. This was to kick off in a special episode of ECW where it was United States Champion MVP vs. ECW Champion CM Punk. The approved pitch in the agent meeting was to see CM Punk to make his comeback on MVP and just as he’s about to hit the GTS, MVP takes a walk and be counted out. That way Punk is looking great when Chavo Guerrero hits from the audience to attack Punk and make his statement. That’s not what happened.





MVP gets disqualified for kicking the crap out of Punk and refusing to stop after the five count. Then a dead CM Punk is jumped by Chavo Guerrero. This is an example of how a finish changes during a taping day. It didn’t help Chavo and it made Punk look bad. Just when Punk thought he was starting to see some daylight in the making waves in the company.

This segment was the last thing that happened before I made that Merry Christmas phone call to Punk. He was mad. I tried to explain the original pitch for the segment and he knew how the system worked. I was simply who he was taking his frustration out on; I knew my job. When a talent is told, “Creative has nothing for you”, it usually means that Vince just didn’t see making money with that talent. When ECW had a bad show full of bad matches, it wasn’t the agents who took an earful for three hours on a plane flight home, it was creative. I genuinely liked Punk because he did voice his frustration. Most of the talents would pretend to be “buddy buddy” with members of the team in hopes that it would “lead to a push”. Punk did apologize to me for the phone call after the holidays but I understood his frustration. It was Punk’s natural human reaction; instead of a lot of talents who let it eat away inside them and lash out in stupid ways. Punk always stuck to his guns and never changed who he was; he’s still the same way.

I made another phone call to Punk a little over a month later that was much different. It was me calling to let him know I had been dismissed from WWE and we wouldn’t be working together anymore. Punk was the first talent I called. Again, we weren’t friends but I respected him enough that I wanted him to hear it from me and not read it online. The tone of the conversation was much different then the previous. Punk was sympathetic of my situation and appreciative of what we had done working together. I wished him luck in the future and told him I knew he’d do great going forward. I had similar calls with Miz and Morrison; these guys were genuine as well. The talents who were “buddy buddy” didn’t call. In fact, I heard all about the BS they said after I was gone. That’s wrestling though and it’s a business full of “what can you do for me.” And now that I couldn’t do anything for some, they took pleasure in talking. I’m glad I don’t have to be those people because there will come a point where they realize they can’t do anything for themselves.

I saw Punk a few time since then. My favorite was one of those moments you think only happens in movies. You’re walking by an airport bar and you see someone you haven’t seen in almost two years. Yup, CM Punk was in a bar… drinking water and by his feet was his second Money In the Bank briefcase. He was heading home from the WWE TV tapings in Los Angeles and I was heading to Philadelphia for ROH TV tapings. He was on the cusp of starting his first heel run with WWE; where he really shined and hasn’t looked back since. While 2007 really was a hard year for him, the years since have built an even larger fan base for Punk. To see him catch fire over the last month simply by being himself gives hope. If you walk away with one lesson from CM Punk and these posts – being yourself and never compromising what you believe will make you successful.
 

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And to think, ECW could have been so much better if they tried.

Imagine if creative did get their way and the Benoit tragedy didn't happen. A roster led by people like Chris Benoit, Sabu, Rob Van Dam, Finlay and later to be added were Matt Hardy and Chavo. Then the next tier being CM Punk, Bobby Lashley, John Morrison and The Miz followed by a very solid midcard of Elijah Burke, Marcus Cor Von (if he stayed) Kevin Thorn, Rene Dupree as well as the other ECW originals such as Balls, Dreamer etc.

It's a crying shame ECW ended how it did after December to Dismember because judging by this read, it had serious potential.
 
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