Pro Wrestling might not be the UFC, but the physical entertainment leaves real bruises. And the way they use Twitter is pretty interesting. Mark Serrels, editor of Kotaku Australia, got the chance to chat with pro wrestler CM Punk — and here are his thoughts.
“Hey. Australia,” began the tweet, “Pumpkin Spice Latte. Get on it.”
That was one.
“In Sydney. Who wants to party? Diet sodas for all my friends!”
That was another.
Those tweets could have come from anyone — it could’ve been your friend, or the guy at work who really likes Pepsi, but it didn’t. It came from CM Punk, one of the most famous wrestlers in the world today, and almost certainly the most important.
I follow CM Punk, and a host of other wrestlers, on Twitter and it’s quite the experience. The wrestler Mick Foley tweets about his charity work, The Rock promotes his movies, Rowdy Roddy Piper tweets clumsily — a bit like your dad. CM Punk? Well if it’s not Pumpkin Latte, it’s something — but it’s very rarely wrestling.
Now I’m sitting in front of CM Punk. I’m a huge wrestling fan — and a huge Punk fan for that matter — but all I want to talk about is Twitter.
“You know,” he begins, “I was so anti-Twitter for the longest time, because I like to try and stay old-school, and I’ve always tried to approach things in a ‘What Would Harley Race Do’ kinda way. Harley Race wouldn’t have a Twitter! Dick Murdoch wouldn’t have a Twitter!
“But then, if you really try and sit down and think about it — they didn’t have those things because they weren’t around then. I have the ability to be in contact with like 330,000 people — and that’s kinda wild! It’s like everybody knows what you are doing at every possible time. I will admit there’s a lot of stupidity on Twitter, but it’s really a fascinating tool.”
Wrestlers use a term called Kayfabe, long thought to be a pig latin derivation of ‘be fake’. It represents the act of staying in ‘character’ constantly. Today, for the most part, it’s long been abandoned, but Twitter presents a real problem for wrestlers like CM Punk — what should they use it for? Is it a means of self promotion? Should they be using it to send nasty messages to the wrestler they’re facing at the PPV next weekend? Can they break character and tweet about what they ate for breakfast?
Punk’s reference to wrestling legend Harley Race is telling. Harley Race, a former multiple champion, is old – almost pre-old school, we’re talking pre-Hulk Hogan, pre-Ric Flair. CM Punk jokes that Harley Race can’t even work a cell phone, let alone tweet — but you get the impression that if Harley Race could tweet, it would be done in Kayfabe, in character.
The caveat, for CM Punk at least, is the fact his in-ring character is so close to his real character, that he barely has to be aware of the distinction.
“Well,” begins Punk, “I think it’s quite easy for me.
“I’m not some crazy person who thinks, you know, I am not Phil Brooks anymore [CM Punk’s real name]but I got into wrestling because I could pick a cool nickname and be a GI Joe guy! All the GI Joe guys had codenames – CM Punk is my codename. At the same time, I’m not playing someone. I’m not a phoney Russian! I’m not an astronaut, I’m not a clown, I’m a straight-edge kid from Chicago. I’m a pro wrestler.”
Arguably this is the reason CM Punk can afford to spend time tweeting about Pumpkin Spice Latte – it’s hard to damage your brand when you yourself are the brand.
CM Punk is a wrestler that lives his gimmick — on and off Twitter — and in a sense that gives him a legitimacy most wrestlers lack. In that sense the word ‘Kayfabe’ barely applies. You don’t have to ‘Be Fake’ when you’re essentially playing yourself, 24 hours a day.
“I don’t really know how to do anything else,” laughs Punk, “and I think that’s why I’ve been successful. People recognise that I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. When you go out there and you try to be something you’re not, whether it’s conscious or sub-conscious, the fans see through it.”
“I don’t really know how to do anything else,” laughs Punk, ” And I think that’s why it’s worked. People recognise that I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. Stone Cold Steve Austin didn’t work as the Ringmaster, the Rock didn’t work at Rocky Maivia — because it was forced. It was phoney and when you go out there and you try to be something you’re not, whether it’s conscious or sub-conscious, the fans see through it.”
The WWE is notoriously precious about their brand and all representations of it — are they worried about Punk’s carefree attitude to tweeting?
“I work Twitter like I work every day – I don’t have a filter between my mouth and my brain, I just spit stuff out,” he laughs. “I do this on live tv and I do it on Twitter. I’ve yet to be reprimanded, but I’m probably getting a text right now! The WWE monitors it, and think that’s probably a good thing — we don’t want one of the Divas getting a stalker or something and that kind of thing is a reality. I’m glad they monitor it,” he smiles, finally, “but I’m really not too sure if they’re paying attention to me or not!”
Maybe not. But CM Punk’s 330,000+ followers are paying attention — to every single tweet. And that’s the power of Twitter.