CM Punk has held the WWE championship for over 310 days, while it took Austin Aries about 365 to become the TNA Heavyweight champion. Both men cut their teeth on the independent circuit, generating a considerable following in Ring of Honor Wrestling. Aries and Punk–now at the top echelon of their respective companies–are still struggling to earn respect.
Before Night of Champions, CM Punk hadn’t main event a pay-per-view since Tables, Ladders, & Chairs back in December. Despite being the WWE champion, he was overlooked as main event slots were given to the likes of John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar. Then on RAW 1000, The Rock upstaged Punk by stating that he would contend for the WWE championship at next year’s Royal Rumble event. CM Punk mauled over The Great One’s announcement and responded with a GTS to close out the show.
Now, one would think that Austin Aries would be content with being the TNA Heavyweight champion? Yet the sudden reemergence of Jeff Hardy as the number one contender to his World championship at Bound for Glory has shaken Aries’s confidence. Jeff Hardy is a decorated World champion with a legion of unwavering followers. Although Aries is the top dog in TNA Impact Wrestling, he still hasn’t reached the pinnacle of stardom as Hardy has.
CM Punk keeps harking that he’s a 300+ day WWE champion; that he’s beaten John Cena countless times; that he’s the best in the ring, on the mic, and on commentary; but what CM Punk still doesn’t account for are the moments that earn respect. Heck, Mick Foley stated on Monday Night RAW that he collectively held all three of his WWE championships for 29 days; yet no one cares how long he held them for.
What immortalizes a wrestler in the business is not the length of a title reign (well… what about Bruno Sammartino?) but the moments that define who the wrestler is. Mick Foley is defined by what happened at Hell in a Cell with The Undertaker; and his first WWE title victory, which became the turning point in the Monday Night Wars.
“Do you want to be a statistic, or do you want to be a legend!?” – Mick Foley to CM Punk.
Sure, Austin Aries was the longest reigning X Division champion–and while at the same time it’s commendable–it’s not what placed him in the position to contend for the World title at Destination X. Aries’s pay-per-view victory over the much larger Bully Ray; and his show-stealing ferocity when he pinned Samoa Joe in a title match were the moments Aries created to edge him along the way of becoming a legend.
CM Punk already believes that he’s at that level, seeing as he’s the tenth longest reign in the WWE title’s 50-year existence. But up until now, Punk’s greatest moment remains to be the night his mic went silent. CM Punk spoke his mind and everyone expected change, but instead Punk made sure that he became a star. And despite once pointing out that Mr. McMahon had lost sight of what wrestling fans wanted because he surrounded himself with glad-handed douchebags like John Laurinaitis; Punk has lost sight of who he is by befriending Paul Heyman.
Austin Aries–the thing about him–has never needed anyone to tell him how good he is; perhaps because having people say that you’re good, keeps you from striving to be better. CM Punk, with Heyman whispering in his ear, no longer concerns himself with emphatic victories, but instead takes short cuts.
Aries and Punk still have a long ways to climb the mountain top before earning respect in this business. For Austin Aries, respect is having every fan chanting his name and buying his merch. As for Punk, respect is the gold strapped around his waist. But come BFG, Aries will learn why Jeff Hardy has earned so much unwavering respect; and Punk, at Hell in a Cell, will learn how wrestlers, who have pushed their bodies to its breaking point, have earned respect in this industry.
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