After being out of the ring for seven years, I was shocked when CM Punk made his return at AEW (All Elite Wrestling) Rampage which was held in the United Center in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.
The pro-wrestler came out to a standing ovation. When I saw CM Punk set foot in an AEW ring, for a moment, I thought it was June 2006 and I was back at the University of California, Riverside starting my freshman year where I watched Punk debut on WWE ECW on SyFy (which was WWE’s version of the Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling).
When Punk spoke to the crowd at the United Center, the straight-edge superstar, he commented that he and the crowd were just winging this and that the word “we” is a very important distinction that he promised to get back to. Punk told the crowd that he did not plan on what he was going to say since he did not know what to say due to not knowing how he was going to feel. But the wrestler commented that he needed to feel it. As he told the crowd that he felt and heard them, just about everyone in attendance began chanting “CM PUNK, CM PUNK, CM PUNK!”
“That;s what I’ve heard for seven years! I heard you!” cried Punk. “I heard you!”
Punk noted that while he had a lot to cover, the bad news was that he was not going to get to that in an instant but the good news was that he had the time, Wednesdays, Fridays, four Saturdays or Sundays a year and that he was not going to go anywhere which continued the crowd’s ovation. Punk quieted the crowd by telling them to wait one second.
“Possibly for me, the most important thing I’m gonna say right now, and this is for everybody at home, this is for everybody who bought a ticket, this is for everybody in the back, if at all through my journey any of my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down, let me just say…let me just say…I understand if you all try to understand that I was never gonna get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.” Punk told the crowd.
As I listened to those words, that’s when I was reminded of the mistake I made about judging CM Punk. I must confess, in the year 2014, I was surprised that Punk left the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). At the time, I did not fully understand why he would leave behind a company that I felt paid him a ton of money and gave him the opportunity to travel. CM Punk was part of some of WWE’s storylines, including my favorite one around 2011 when he became something akin to a rebel against the authoritarian regime of WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H (Paul Lesveque) and Vice-President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis. It was as if the Attitude Era was coming back in the WWE’s (much hated by the WWE fans) PG Era.
At that point in 2014, I was no longer a CM Punk fan like I was. I enjoyed his character’s transition from stable leader of the NEXUS to the no-filter, straight-shooting character that was anti-John Cena (I did not like John Cena after 2005 when he had won the WWE Championship so many times) . I initially thought that Punk was going against his word that he wanted to make the WWE a better place for performers like him.
Boy, was I wrong for making a judgment against a man who clearly put all his heart and soul into what he loved but got nothing in return.
And while I only listened to the “Art of Wrestling Podcast” he did with fellow pro-wrestler and old friend, Colt Cabana (real name Scott Colton), I still did not fully understand why Punk left. About a year or two ago, I decided to give the podcast another listen. After not only listening to that podcast, but also reflecting on my personal struggles with mental health, I instantly felt regret for judging him.
During the podcast, Punk commented that during the last years of his WWE career, he had tried to get re-signed to WWE due to his growing popularity. He noted that he tried to pitch several ideas to McMahon who had torpedoed most of them. One notable idea was to have wrestlers have sponsors of their gear, like MMA Fighters, which McMahon noted that sponsors for RAW and other wrestlers would get upset. Punk would then comment that about a year later, Brock Lesnar would show up with pre-existing sponsors from his MMA career. Punk noted that he wanted wrestlers to have other ways of making money and tried to get the machine to work with him. But another notable thing that was touched on in the Cabana podcast was Punk’s physical health.
Punk commented on a match against Ryback (Ryan Reeves). Punk noted that he had told McMahon that he had reservations about working with Ryback due to a previous injury he had inflicted from him. In a previous match, Ryback kicked Punk in the stomach which broke his ribs. McMahon assured that it would be different since Ryback was aligning as a villain and joining forces with Punks former storyline friend, Paul Heyman (former booker and owner of ECW). Punk, being a professional, decided to give Reeves a second chance but their second bout did not go to fruition.
“First night out, gorilla press through a table, [expletive] misses the table, dumps me on the concrete [expletive] ground,” recalls Punk. “Tilts my [explicative] pelvis, [expletive] me up for weeks.”
Punk said that due to getting beat up and torn up, working with Ryback had taken 20 years off his life. Looking back at the podcast, I scratch my head wondering why Vince McMahon would let a performer (especially who had become popular and made him the same, if not more, money as John Cena) get injured by an unsafe performer not once but twice. This made me really upset at McMahon for apparently not caring about the welfare of the man who had made him money in 2011 and 2012 and also got more eyes on his product.
Punk also recalled starting to feel worse and after a match against Luke Harper (the late Brodie Lee), he got a concussion. As he was leaving for Europe, Punk was asked by the doctor if he had a concussion or if he was going to the European tour. Punk admitted that it was his fault for choosing to go to Europe when he should have flat out refused. Punk noted that after the European tour, he was dry heaving after every match.
“Luckily I was in tags.It was me and Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson) against the Wyatts and they were awesome and they were fun. The parts I remember. But I’m on all fours after every match and I am either puking for real or I am just dry heaving because I don’t have anything in my stomach. I have no appetite. I don’t know what is up and what is down. I can’t sleep. I can’t [expletive] train. It’s just like a bus, a hotel, a cold building,” Punk explained.
The WWE doctor offered him a Z-Pack after noticing that he was sick. Punk noted that the doctors Z-Packed him to death to the point where he defecated in his pants during an episode of Friday Night Smackdown. Punk noted that he was made to the point where tweeted “Hey everybody watch Smackdown because I [expletive] my pants.” The WWE office told him to take down the tweet and in response, he blocked the WWE. After that, Punk noted that he would get a battery of MRI’s due to his ongoing illness and injuries.
After listening to that, I thought ‘okay, but should they have at least checked Punk out. I mean, like a battery of tests ranging from physical exams to blood work?” As someone who has to deal with a pre-existing condition, like Von Hippel Lindau, I know that my doctors who look after my health are always adamant about my welfare. This is because according to the Hippocratic Oath, it is a doctor’s job to ensure the welfare and health of his or her patients. Looking back, the doctor who was treating Punk failed at the one rule all doctors must follow: “thou shall not do harm.”
In addition to his ailments, Punk also noted that McMahon had broken several promises to owe Punk. One of those was when the owner of the WWE asked him to turn heel (or become a wrestling villain) when he did not want to. He also had Punk scripted to lose to part-time pro-wrestlers like the Rock, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar which Punk felt affected his stock. Punk also noticed that his paycheck was starting to shrink.
“Well there’s also the owner of the company going ‘“I’m gonna owe you one, I’m gonna own you one,’ and I see my checks shrinking and I gotta question my pay? I’m hurt and you’re asking me to make these shows even though you know I’m hurt and you’re telling me to take it easy and you’re cutting my pay? What the [expletive] is wrong with that? I thought you were gonna owe me one. You need to [expletive] fix this. You need to pay me,” siad Punk.
While he acknowledged that he did not like talking about getting paid, Punk noted that he complained about his WrestleMania pay and that he should have been paid just as much as the Undertaker, Rock, Triple H and Cena, since it was a highly praised match. He also noted that his first pay per view as Champion, TLC 2011 (which was without John Cena) had more buyrates than the following pay per-view with the Rock and the low numbers for that said pay per view were blamed on Miz (Mike Mizanin) and R-Truth (Ron Killings).
Going back to his health, Punk talked about the growth that was growing on his back. The growth would turn out to be a MRSA, or staph infection.
“So I go to the doc and I go ‘[expletive] look at this! This wasn’t here last week. What is that?’” Punk recalled.
Punk noted that the doctor told him that it resembled a fatty deposit. The doctor then asked if it was hurting, to which Punk responded no. Punk also noted that it was a tradition in the WWE locker room that if anyone had an odd-looking mass, the doctor was supposed to cut it out, which Punk found weird. At the time, Punk was not too concerned about the lump since the doctor told him that he would not cut it out due to it not being too serious. However, Punk recalled the lump getting bigger months later. Even then the doctor still refused since Punk said that it was not hurting him.
“’Let me ask you something doc,’” Punk recalls asking the doctor. “’Is that like your medical opinion or are you just a lazy piece of [expletive] and you don’t want to [expletive] because I’ve seen you cut a million of these things out of somebody.’”
The doctor told him that he refused to cut the lump since Punk had to wrestle that night. In addition to the lump along with mounting injuries along with feeling ill, Punk noted that he would be given Z-Pack after Z-Pack but this would not resolve the issue. Punk would later get the MRSA cut out from his back thanks to his wife’s doctor who told him that it was a MRSA and that he could have died.
All of this would culminate in Punk deciding to make the decision to leave the WWE and not be on hand for the 2014 Royal Rumble.
If there is anything that this promo showed me it is that CM Punk is very relatable. He is like all of us. Especially with the way he speaks to the audience, you can tell that his words in this promo are genuine just like on the podcast. Regardless of our beliefs, our creed, or wherever, we are all CM Punk and CM Punk is us. And that is what I felt when he spoke to that crowd in the United Center.
CM Punk, if you are reading this, I want to let you know that you reminded me of what it is to be a creator. A creator’s goal has nothing to do with making a lot of money or one upping people. Being a creator is honing your craft or talent to communicate with people in a cathartic manner.
More importantly, you also reminded me of what it is to truly be a man and practice self-help and self-love. You standing up to McMahon and Triple H showed me that while you loved pro-wrestling, you loved yourself first and you needed to leave. It reminded me that as someone who has to live with high functioning autism and Von Hippel Lindau disease, I do need to practice self-care and self-love. And that might even come in the form of standing up for myself like you stood up to McMahon and Triple H.
I also understand that had you not left the WWE, it is not known what could have happened to you. But you stuck to your guns because you believed in yourself. And because of your decision, your health was restored and you became happier.
Now I understand why you did what you have to. Ever since listening to the podcast two years ago, I have become your fan once more. I believe that you are indeed the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and a “Second City Saint.” Whether face or a heel, you’re a hero and at the Daily Planet, we love heroes.
I am looking forward to the matches and the promos that you are going to put out. Any CM Punk match, segment, or promo is always fun. But this promo was my favorite and it really hit close to home in a good way.
I’m glad that you are with AEW and I know there are more awesome moments to come.
It’s clobberin’ time!
Brain from Earth-16