McGinnis: New DVD chronicles the unlikely rise of wrestler CM PunkWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no more polarizing figure in the world of professional wrestling today than CM Punk. You either love him or you hate him, and you get the impression he’s fine with either. You love him, great, you’re on board. You hate him, that just becomes fuel for his fire. Because Punk has built a career off of defying and exceeding others’ expectations.
That’s the portrait that emerges from WWE’s latest DVD release, “CM Punk: Best in the World.” A two-hour documentary on the life and career of the reigning WWE champion, the video provides an impressively comprehensive cross-section of the career of a man who, by all accounts, should never have succeeded in Vince McMahon’s company. Even Punk himself has said as much.
The documentary also acts as a return to form for WWE’s home video department. When the company first began releasing comprehensive DVD sets devoted to their stars in the early 2000s, the documentaries made for those releases were often surprisingly entertaining and interesting, even for nonwrestling fans. In recent years, though, the quality has taken a drastic turn for the worse, with recent sets including docs that were glorified fluff pieces, with everyone insisting on talking in character. Any fans still buying WWE releases mainly acquired them for the exclusive bonus footage from WWE’s extensive video library, but little else.
But with “Best in the World,” WWE’s producers have made a video as fascinating and blunt as its subject. The doc is is one of the rare WWE releases that actually attempts to encapsulate the whole of a performer’s career, with brutal honesty about the behind-the-scenes realities of the business and the obstacles Punk has faced on his path to stardom.
The doc opens with the customary “when I was a kid” footage, which like most of Punk’s story is not exactly a happy-go-lucky chapter of his life. Then comes his first steps in wrestling, in a backyard organization as a kid, which eventually leads to his formal training under Chicago wrestlers Ace Steel and Danny Dominion. Steel himself offers extensive comments, and is just one of many non-WWE figures to offer insight into Punk — another atypical facet of this set.
The doc is also unique in how it takes the time to trace Punk’s career on the independent scene, not only mentioning companies like IWA and Ring of Honor by name (which for a “never acknowledge anything else in wrestling” company like WWE is a major policy exception), but also featuring extensive footage from Punk’s ROH run, as well. I never thought I’d see a discussion of the classic CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe series on a WWE release, but here it is.
The video continues to follow Punk as he signs with WWE, discussing his frustrations as he is sent to the company’s developmental territory, OVW, where many (including Punk) expected he would flounder until he was released. Punk’s saving grace was the guy running OVW at the time — Paul Heyman, the mad scientist of wrestling, who saw Punk as a major star in the making at a time no one else did. When Heyman got the chance to relaunch ECW as a WWE brand, that gave him the opening to give Punk a national spotlight.
Still, there were plenty of naysayers. Even as Punk gains a loyal fan following and even receives world title runs, it seems as though his work is undermined at every turn. The doc makes it plain that there were many times where Punk was very close to being cut, not because he didn’t have the talent, but because few in the company saw it and believed in it — a refreshingly honest observation from an “official” production.
Years of frustration finally boiled over on a summer night in 2011, where with one interview Punk unleashes all his thoughts and cements himself as a major star in the business — ironically, right as he is sure he’s walking out the door for good. The interview, presented in its entirety, is the climax of the doc, which closes on the high note of Punk’s title win against mega-star John Cena.
As usual with a WWE set, the package comes laden with extra features and bonus matches. In addition to extra scenes not seen in the main documentary, it includes hours of material spanning Punk’s WWE career, with most every noteworthy match from that era presented, including a rare contest from his OVW run, as well. The lack of any matches from his pre-WWF career is unfortunate, but if this release encourages viewers to seek out Punk’s work for companies like Ring of Honor, so much the better.
In the end, “Best in the World” comes together as the best wrestling DVD set WWE has put out in years, and one of the rare productions that even those uninterested in the business may find compelling. This isn’t only the tale of a wrestler, after all. It’s the story of a guy who refuses to compromise and still ends up on top. It’s fascinating, entertaining, and in an odd way, inspiring.