CM Punk: King of the Indies
By: Parker Richards

CM Punk is perhaps the best all-around wrestler in the world at the moment. He – as he aptly stated – “is the best on [the] microphone, in [the] ring, even on commentary.” Many tend agree with his self- aggrandizing claims; however, almost everyone agrees with the recent claims he’s directed towards his employers.

He is correct in that he has made professional wrestling socially relevant. He has created a buzz and electricity in the mainstream media that hasn’t been felt since the Attitude Era. Many of the IWC have flung themselves upon the alter of the Straight-Edge Superstar, claiming him to be the new Stone Cold anti-hero messiah sent to save the WWE from its PG purgatory. While that remains to be seen – most doubt it – CM Punk has established himself as the best in the world at what he does.

And what might that be?

Being the quintessential Indy wrestler.

Now, before taking umbrage with calling CM Punk an Indy wrestler, believing it as some sort of insult, allow for an explanation before passing judgment. Most know of the issues Punk had to endure when he was first brought into the WWE. Even though he had ringing endorsements from Mick Foley and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, as well as the support of Paul Heyman, Punk was looked down upon because he was a phenomenal performer for Ring of Honor, i.e. the minor leagues. In the eyes of the powers that be, he had done nothing. Things were only made worse by his attitude. He didn’t act like a rookie or a model employee. He was brash and vocal, causing a lot of turmoil between himself, the writers, and management. He was mocked for what he had done during his time in ROH and other places, and was condescendingly referred to as “King of the Indies.”

However, being labeled as such is not bad; it is an accomplishment. The best way to explain it is to look at two employment models that are used in the professional world: independent contractors and direct employees.

The direct-employee model (the WWE, despite their claims otherwise) is where the worker is paid a salary while performing tasks for his or her employer. Moreover, the he or she can earn more money depending upon his/her performance for the company (in WWE, John Cena probably gets paid more than Yoshi Tatsu). All the worker has to do is show up to work and do as he or she is told. He does not have to worry about marketing himself or not having the equipment needed to perform. The company takes care of that for him (the WWE has writers, seamstresses, and designers to deal with these things for the talent). However, the downside is the workers have to adhere to the standards set forth by their company. Dress codes have to be followed and demands have to be met. In the world of professional wrestling, that means press conferences, TV/radio interviews, or having to change things about a wrestler’s character because creative thinks it would be a good idea (Rey Mysterio’s unmasking). The worker has to follow orders or face demotion or termination.

The independent-contractor model (the Indy wrestler) is where the worker contracts his or her services to a company for a fee. The worker can set the fee and make as much money has he or she wants based on how good they are and how much they want to work. Not only that, but he has the opportunity to move around and work for different companies, increasing stream of revenue and exposure. However, the autonomy comes at a price: the worker is responsible for everything. He is responsible for his own marketing, gear, transportation, and lodging.

This is where CM Punk comes in. CM Punk was successful in the Indies because he was able to effectively market himself. He did this with his promos, his look, and his matches. Punk has all of the aspects it takes to be a successful professional wrestler because he developed them in the Indies. Watch his promos from ROH or during his feud with Raven. The same fire and intensity he has finally shown in the WWE has been in him for years. He worked tirelessly, perfecting his craft all over the world while performing with the best talents in the business. He has a 5-star match under his belt, something that John Cena, The Rock, or Triple H cannot claim. He put himself into a position to be considered as one of the best performers in the world before ever stepping foot in Titan Towers.

Why? Because he was driven.

As previously mentioned in the independent-contractor model, a person’s success is proportionate to the work he or she puts into their business. He became “King of the Indies” because he was driven to be the best. He amassed a following of passionate fans (mostly of the IWC) through his skills on the mic and in the ring. Take a moment to think about that: CM Punk’s initial fanbase was largely comprised of an Internet community filled with the wrestling versions of Comic Book Guy (no offense). He rallied a bunch of cynical wrestling hipsters behind him and – the best part – never lost them when he “sold out” by joining the corporate world. While there were some who did leave Punk’s camp, as soon as he was winning titles and driving his knee into John Cena’s chin, they came back in droves to scoff at his WWE fans, proclaiming, “I was a fan when he was wrestling in IWA Mid-South.” They are the ones losing their minds now that they believe he has become the second-coming of Stone Cold.
With that being said, being “King of the Indies” is a great thing. It means that he is a self-made man. It means that he earned everything on his own volition, with his own blood, sweat, and tears. It means that when CM Punk is called the best wrestler in the world, it means that honor is earned.