“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” – TS Eliot
“If hell is to roam, then I’ve got hell to pave” – CM Punk
In many ways, I’m your typical “lapsed” pro wrestling fan. I first fell in love with the sport as a child. I have vivid memories of sending a handmade get-well card to Hulk Hogan after he was “injured” by John “Earthquake” Tenta in 1990. Like so many, I became obsessed with wrestling during the Attitude Era. I was involved with backyard wrestling, though in our case our fledgling wrestling company held all of its events in my mom’s garage (in terms of adult supervision she spent the entirety of each event in bed because she was too anxious to watch). I took on several different gimmicks to help fill the cards out, my absolute favorite being a jovial midcarder called Ganja, think Koko B Ware but white and with a bong instead of a parrot (my two finishing moves were a knock off version of the ace cutter called the “Bong Rip” and a submission hold called the “Hot Box”). Looking back on it, the funniest thing to me is that a lot of the people involved with those hot and dangerously stupid nights in my mom’s garage didn’t even like wrestling. One way or another, it was my own enthusiasm for the sport that drew them in. I still followed mainstream pro wrestling religiously long after high school. Like many fans, the internet allowed me to find out all the juicy tales of what was going on backstage—which inevitably caused my enthusiasm to wane. Again, my experience is that of a typical pro wrestling fan who came of age in the ’00s.
I don’t consider myself a typical CM Punk fan though. As big a wrestling fan as I was, I never took the time to follow the sport outside of the WWE, though I had certainly heard about him. I remember reading the news of his impending debut and given his size, assumed that the WWE would bury him. The thing is, the WWE tried to bury him but he got over anyway.
Things really clicked with my appreciation of Punk in 2011. Of course, much of this had to do with the infamous “Pipebomb” promo. Authority angles had been, and would continue to be done to death, but this was different. Austin vs. McMahon will always be the high watermark for that sort of angle, but on some level, you always knew that Vince and Ol’ Stone Cold actually loved each other. For all of his troubles in WCW, Steve Austin still looked like a guy that would wrestle for Vince McMahon. More than that though, Stone Cold Steve Austin happened in the WWF/E Universe. CM Punk was CM Punk before he signed with WWE, and continues to be CM Punk to this day. For both of those reasons, CM Punk vs the WWE as an angle felt different. Hell, CM Punk himself was different. I had seen plenty of worked shoots before but this was one of the only times I found myself saying “wait, is he actually saying this stuff?”
As he sat there on the ramp sitting criss-cross applesauce and tearing into Vince, HHH, John Cena, even DWYANE Johnson himself—you could tell this guy wasn’t JUST trying to be “edgy” or get a cheap pop, but there was anger in his words. Moreover, CM Punk was angry for a reason. He became the perfect avatar for frustrated fans and wrestlers alike who didn’t agree with the direction our sport was headed under the McMahon monopoly. Say what you will about CM Punk, but that night he felt like the “voice of the voiceless” to so many of us. The “Pipebomb” was prophecy too: the wheels of the WWE did continue to spin unabated without him years after he left, and the company has floundered creatively since.
I was going through a rough time then. I had been fortunate enough to land a dream job working for the Mayor’s Office when I got out of college. Sadly though, I was unfortunate enough for what at the time was supposed to be a “once in a lifetime” recession to cause me to be laid off from said dream job. My son was born in 2011 and at 27 I became a father long before I was ready (though my relationship with my son has given me more joy than anything else in my life). More than that though, my lack of a feasible career path at the time resulted in me being a stay-at-home-dad. As I found myself jobless and feeling trapped in various ways (from a loveless marriage to a string of dead-end retail jobs) tuning into RAW each week became more important to me than ever. Of course, the WWE still tried to quell CM Punk fandom at every opportunity.
Of course, CM Punk still got over anyway.
When CM Punk left in 2014, I was gutted. Obviously, he had put up with more than his share of bullshit from the WWE when he left. The difference was that in the past the bullshit was never enough to stop him. I re-listened to his infamous Art of Wrestling appearance before writing this and the thing that struck me about it the most is that he didn’t sound like the same guy who cut the “Pipebomb”, or even like the guy doing press for Heels over the past week—he sounded like a guy who no longer loved wrestling.
Because of CM Punk’s departure and the details surrounding it, I realized that I didn’t love wrestling anymore either. So I stopped watching it.
Around this same time, I really dedicated myself to the other interest that defined my high school days: music. As a result, the next four years were the most rewarding and chaotic period of my life. I eventually found myself working at a record store, doing a radio show, and running a local label called Good Cheer Records.
Wrestling would always be a part of my DNA (of course the moment I saw a used copy of WWF: The Music Vol 4 had come into the shop the opening chords of “Ass Man” were blaring on the store PA) but it wasn’t anything I’d consider an interest of mine. More than anything, it’s the label that came to define who I was and gave me some of the happiest moments of my life to that point (having my best friend at the time put out a record that got featured on NPR, Pitchfork, and everywhere else that mattered remains a high watermark). Things started to feel different in 2018 after a string of events really dampened my enthusiasm. The label had always had its share of lows too, it had become clear to me early on that spending thousands of dollars putting out records from young bands who hadn’t even toured yet would never become a profitable endeavor. Unlike in the past though, the highs were no longer worth it to me—much like CM Punk. By the time I met my wife towards the end of 2018, I was done. A new relationship with a woman I would have never thought I’d ever be lucky enough to end up with became a lot more fulfilling than a “labor of love” that I didn’t really even feel that much love for anymore. I wish I could say that, like CM Punk, I walked away still being “the best” but unfortunately I hung on much longer than I should have.
I finally pulled the plug on the label “officially” in late 2019. Other than my wife, I don’t have much to show for it aside from the posters on my wall, some boxes of unsold records, and a lot of lessons learned that will help me with my next creative endeavor. My wife and I got married in February of 2020. A couple of weeks after that my Dad died, and a couple weeks after my Dad died the entire world was upended by COVID-19. I don’t think I was really able to mourn the loss of the label until very recently. I don’t think I’ll ever really love music again in the same way that I used to. I have severe ADHD and have read that the loss of a passion or special interest can be a profound experience for neurodivergent people and it has certainly been a profound experience for me.
Surprisingly, I started watching wrestling again earlier this year. My daughter was born on April 3. For some strange reason, I remember looking at an ad on Twitter for WrestleMania the week before she was due and feeling like I just had to watch at least part of it with her after she was born. The moment I turned it on she was enraptured. Yes, I know this sounds crazy. Since then there have been numerous times when watching wrestling with her Dad is the most consistent thing that will stop her from crying, make her laugh or smile, or just allow our family to have some brief moments of quiet. Again, I know this sounds crazy, and like something that could be explained by the bright lights of flashing colors but last week I watched her stop drinking and push the bottle away the moment The Rock started doing The People’s Elbow. He just might be the most electrifying man in sports entertainment after all. This time has allowed me the perfect opportunity for me to revisit some classic matches from my old favorite CM Punk.
Somehow, everything has aligned and after a couple months of revisiting CM Punk matches, I began to see these rumors of him coming back. Some things in life are just a matter of coincidence but this feels like something much more than that. Learning about and rapidly catching up with AEW has made me more excited to be a wrestling fan than I’ve been since high school. I’ve been diving into some podcasts and there seems to be a lot of folks wondering just how big of an impact that Punk’s potential return might have. While I doubt there’s anyone out there who’s had the exact same experience as me as a CM Punk fan, I do think there are a lot people that are underestimating what he means to people LIKE me.
I am back as a wrestling fan, he’s a big part of the reason, and I’m not the only one.
As the WWE continues to be something that means nothing to anyone because they’re trying to be something for everyone, AEW has the opportunity to offer something revolutionary: authenticity. What better arrow to have in their quiver than the man whose career is defined by the most authentic wrestling promo of all time? Honestly, the stuff that AEW is doing in terms of working with other promotions and honoring the unique history of wrestlers who have cut their teeth in the indie wrestling scene, as opposed to ignoring their history entirely with a rebrand, reminds me a lot of the DIY movement that I was part of in the music industry. Many will say that Vince will come on top again, because he’s Vince—but empires crumble and it may be time to realize that Vince just doesn’t have it anymore. AEW is offering Mitski and Vince is offering Maroon 5.
Regardless of Punk’s potential debut this Friday and the impact it might have on the wrestling industry, one thing is for certain:
It will have a profound effect on me.
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