With the anniversary of CM Punk’s legendary Pipebomb promo coming and going, I’ve been thinking a lot about him and how that single moment entirely changed how people perceived him.

CM Punk went from a guy that the hardcore fans rallied around to being a star that people knew outside of wrestling. I watched the whole thing unfold as it happened and it was incredible. The promo got mainstream coverage because, for a brief moment, something in wrestling was truly real.

Here was a man speaking from his heart, saying what plenty of others were thinking. And we all ate it up and to this day, WWE fans continue to chase that high.

Hell, you’re currently reading a column about it. 

Soon after, and for years to come, CM Punk’s name would become a rallying cry for WWE fans. Whenever the fans wanted to voice their displeasure with almost anything on the show, they would chant “CM Punk! CM Punk! CM Punk!” I was going to say that they do it to this day, but… uh, well, yeah. Maybe the crowd will chant it at WWE shows when they have crowds again, but also we might never know because they’ll be piping in the crowd noise that sounds like someone screaming into a bucket. Punk’s influence is still felt on wrestling all these years later after he decided to hang up the boots, mostly for the better. His legacy is why we still get new rumors every couple of months that he’s coming back or that maybe he’s going to sign with AEW.

There’s a certain hopefulness to wanting CM Punk back in wrestling that I honestly don’t share. People want the guy that dropped the Pipebomb back and that’s just not going to happen. The CM Punk that cut that promo doesn’t exist anymore. It sounds obvious to say, but people change over time. We might not notice as it’s happening, but tack a couple of years on someone and they have definitely changed. 

The best metaphor I can use in this situation is that CM Punk is like your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend from college. You guys were together for a couple years and everything was great. Then one day, one of you woke up and realized that it just wasn’t working anymore. You may not have realized it in the passing day to day, but when you look at each other as a whole, neither of you are the same person you were when you first got together. You grew, you started to value different things. Maybe you’re looking for something different now and maybe that’s in direct opposition with what your partner wants. In your head, you’re still dating the person that you first met on orientation day, but in reality, they haven’t been that person for a while.

And so it comes to an end. 

The CM Punk that cut that Pipebomb promo simply doesn’t exist anymore. He’s Phil Brooks now. He’s an actor, a comic writer, an internet personality, a professional fighter. One thing he certainly isn’t is a professional wrestler. In the WWE produced documentary on Punk’s life, he talked about how he wanted to be a catalyst for change in the company. He absolutely was, there’s no disputing that, but then, one day, he wasn’t.

He went home and never came back. 

After years of fighting against the machine, a fight that was literally killing him with how sick it was making him, Brooks decided that he couldn’t fight anymore. It was no longer worth it to him to fight for this industry that he loved. He didn’t love it anymore. They had taken that from him. All the fire and fury that came through in the Pipebomb was gone, replaced by disappointment and apathy.

It’s healthy to know when to walk away and Brooks may have saved his own life by doing it.  

It’s normal to look back on the past and pine for what you once had, but you have to remember that person only exists in your memories now. Since the good old days, they’ve gone through some stuff. Had a couple different jobs. Maybe they even got their buddy involved in a lawsuit. My point is that no one spends the years encased in amber. Every single one of us has drastically changed since the Pipebomb promo.

Like it or not, Phil Brooks isn’t going to step through those ropes and be CM Punk again. And I don’t really want him to. If he’s happy where he is in life, I don’t want him to end up back in the industry that hurt him so badly. I don’t want him to pretend to be a pale imitation of his past self. The best thing you can do is leave the memories as they are and hope the other person is doing well. 

Enjoy your life, Phil. You earned it. 

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