For every Wrestler of the Week, there are performers who came before or after them that either learned from their work or influenced it. As a recurring bit of the festivities, we’ll be looking at some of those performers and how their work fares relative to our Wrestler of the Week. This week, it’s Flyin’ Brian Pillman, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, and CM Punk.
If you looked up “solid wrestler” in the dictionary, you’d probably find a picture of Shane Douglas. Douglas was an above-average worker, a strong promo, and a very good character in an era of pro wrestling filled with uninspired acts. He never set the world on fire on wrestling’s biggest stages, but in the smaller pond of ECW, he achieved top dog status through his strong fundamentals.
The shoot promo style that Douglas adopted when he became Paul Heyman’s harbinger of extreme became the signature of his career, and set him (and by extension ECW) apart from what was going on in the mainstream — until the mainstream copied it, that is.
Shane Douglas was a solid wrestler with a memorable, signature promo style, but Brian Pillman was a great wrestler with an innovative promo style. Pillman’s tirades were often grounded in real-life frustration, but unlike Douglas, Pillman didn’t use the shoot as a crutch to avoid having to cut a real character-driven promo. Pillman injected real emotions and real personality into fake storylines as well as anyone ever did.
Regrettably, Pillman’s character reached its peak just as his body was giving out. The first three-quarters of his career he was a spectacular wrestler and a good character. The last quarter of his career, he was a spectacular character and a disappointingly broken down wrestler. If he had put together a sustained run combining the promos from the height of his character and matches from the height of his athletic ability, he might be considered a top five all-time wrestler.
Unlike Shane Douglas, who relied on the shoot to define his whole personality and Pillman who couldn’t deliver in the ring by the time his character fully matured, CM Punk peaked as a character and wrestler at the same time. Punk may have “done more” physically in Ring of Honor than he did in the WWE, but by the time he delivered his now-legendary “pipebomb” on Raw, CM Punk had honed himself physically and mentally into a storytelling machine.
While it ultimately became a catchphrase as cheesy and over-used as any in wrestling, it’s absolutely true that when it came to truth-telling promos and high-quality matches, CM Punk had a run as “the best in the world at what he did.” Punk took the torch that had been carried by Pillman and Douglas through the ‘90s, and did what neither could: turned the realistic, pissed off character into a main event, big money top-of-the-card star.