It has been over seven years since CM Punk stepped foot into a professional wrestling ring. What seemed like a permanent retirement from the sport has now ended. All Elite Wrestling second episode of Rampage at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois last night. At the beginning of the show, CM Punk may make his long-awaited return to pro wrestling.
Punk’s history in pro wrestling in Chicago goes back to 2002. He was wrestling for two years before he joined the Illinois indie promotion, Midwest Championship Wrestling. While he did not stay at MCW long, he would have matches with his fellow trainee and then-best friend, Colt Cabana, and his trainers, Ace Steel and Danny Dominion. It was his second match in MCW against Dominion, where he first locked up in Chi-Town.
In 2002, Punk would join Ring of Honor in addition to continuing his time in the indies. Punk would have a classic feud with ECW Original, Raven for the better part of 2003, and form the Second City Saints with Cabana and Steel.
2004 would be CM Punk’s breakout year in Ring of Honor. When ROH started booking the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge that same year, Punk was in the main event in five of its first six shows. As the first half of the year sees him vying for the ROH Pure Championship, Punk and Cabana would unseat the Briscoe Brothers as the ROH Tag Team Champions in the first Fieldhouse show, Reborn: Stage Two. The second Fieldhouse show sees Punk and Steel square off against the former Prophecy members, BJ Whitmer and Dan Maff, during the second day of ROH Death Before Dishonor II.
While holding the tag gold until August, Punk would simultaneously face off against the fearsome, unbeaten, ROH World Champion, Samoa Joe. After battling Joe for the ROH title to a 60-minute draw at World Title Classic, Punk faces him in the creatively named Fieldhouse show, Joe Vs. Punk II, for his second opportunity. That match also ended in a 60-minute draw, but Punk received his first five-star match from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Punk wrapped up 2004 by losing his third opportunity at the ROH World Title against Samoa Joe at All-Star Extravaganza II.
Weeks later, Joe would be finally defeated after a year and a half by Austin Aries at Final Battle 2004.
While Punk and the Second City Saints would battle on and off with the Embassy stable in 2005, he would have back-to-back Fieldhouse show matches with the “Crown Jewel of the Embassy” Jimmy Rave. While Rave defeated Punk on the third day of ROH’s Third Anniversary Celebration (in the semi-main event), Punk got his win back at Nowhere To Run in a Steel Cage match.
Just days before Nowhere To Run, on May 9, CM Punk received a tryout match on WWE’s Sunday Night Heat, losing to Val Venis. The month after, Punk signed a contract for WWE. While Punk’s time with Ring of Honor was coming to a close, the Summer of Punk was about to begin.
With Punk’s impending departure already making news in the wrestling world, CM Punk challenged Aries for the World Title at Death Before Dishonor III in June and won. After nearly killing himself for a total of two hours and 31 minutes in three matches against Samoa Joe for the title and coming up short, Punk won. Punk shook Austin Aries’ hand, adhering to ROH’s Code of Honor, and was soon alone in the ring. “Thank You Punk” rung out from the Mennen Sports Arena fans in Morristown, New Jersey. What started as a seemingly heartfelt promo by the new champ had changed in tone drastically. After telling the parable of the snake that bit the farmer, Punk insulted the fans, claimed that all his moments a face was an act. Punk thought he was better than them, and he was leaving Ring of Honor and taking the title to WWE.
From then on, Punk was the most hated heel at Ring of Honor to that point. Fans loved to hate him, not because he was a “cool heel” but because he was about to turn his back on them, running his mouth while doing it. The crowd reactions he would get during this time were second to none. He also had a new theme song to go with his personality change. For those wondering, it was ROH and the events of the Summer of Punk that Punk first use Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” as his theme song.
At the July Sign Of Dishonor event, Punk opened the show signing a “WWE Contract” on the ROH title in front of fans and defeated Jay Lethal in the main event. The rest of the month saw him knock off Roderick Strong, James Gibson and, Christopher Daniels.
In the end, Punk lost the title to Gibson in a Four-Way Elimination match with Daniels and Samoa Joe at Redemption on August 12. The very next night, Punk would officially end his Ring of Honor career in the main event of his final Frontier Fieldhouse show, Punk: The Final Chapter. He battled his Colt Cabana in front of the Chicago Ridge crowd in a Best Two Out Of Three Falls Match. That night, Punk was cheered by the fans, knowing that this was it.
After nearly 30 minutes of action, Punk would take the pin on his way out of the company. Joined by the rest of the locker room, Punk celebrated with a heartfelt sendoff. Aside from a surprise appearance in 2006’s Unscripted II, Punk’s time with Ring of Honor was over.
The remainder of Punks 2005 saw him work for Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE’s then developmental territory in Louisville, Kentucky.
Punk would work his way up the ladder in WWE. He became Heavyweight champion for OVW in 2006 and (WWE’s) ECW in 2007. 2007 was also the year where Punk finally returned to the Chicago faithful twice at the Allstate Arena. 2007’s No Mercy was his first big PPV and title match in the Windy City. It was also a nearly two-minute affair with Big Daddy V that ended in a disqualification, so moving on.
Between 2008 until the middle of 2011, CM Punk had done a lot. He’d move on from ECW and be a part of Raw and SmackDown’s rosters. He transformed himself from Paul Heyman’s guy, formerly from ROH, to straight edge heel complete with his society, to snarky color commentator to the new leader of a New Nexus. He would continue collecting titles, becoming an Intercontinental Champion, a World Tag Team Champion with Kofi Kingston, and a three-time World Heavyweight Champion.
During this period, CM Punk came back to Allstate Arena nine times. Sometimes for PPV matches like his battles with Umaga at Judgment Day or the Big Show at Night of Champions in 2009. Sometimes they were against skilled ring workers like William Regal (how he won the IC strap) and Chris Jericho. Then there are the house shows or the Raws and SmackDowns, where he only wrestled in dark matches.
Up to this point at the Allstate, Punk would get a nice hometown pop if he was a face, but this wasn’t the roar a returning hometown hero should receive. Likewise, he was booed with a mix of cheers if he was a heel. It was nowhere near the vitriol that engulfed crowds during the Summer of Punk. None of this was how it should have gone down. For all of Punk’s accolades and accomplishments in WWE thus far, all the years he spent, it all felt a little too hollow, a little too empty. The ones who followed Punk from IWA Mid-South or Ring of Honor knew it, and so did Punk himself.
July 17, 2011, was the date CM Punk’s contract would expire. Throughout that past June, he became the Number One Contender to John Cena’s WWE Championship. It all came to a head as Punk screwed John Cena out of a tables match on the June 27, 2011, edition of Raw in Las Vegas. As Cena was recovering, Punk grabbed a microphone and cut one of the most infamous and iconic promos in all of pro-wrestling history.
Listing his grievances in a work-shoot style promo, Punk was ready to leave the company with Cena’s title (sound familiar?). He also had an issue that, with all the work he put in, it was the Rock, who hadn’t wrestled for WWE since 2004, who was going to main event WrestleMania 28. More to the point, Punk knew he was the Best in the World.
July 17 arrived and Punk’s official last day in WWE just so happened to be Money In The Bank 2011. July 17 was the day Punk was determined to take the title off Cena in the main event. The setting, the Allstate Arena. Chicago fans have always had the reputation of being a knowledgeable, independent audience. So while Punk still had heel tendencies and Cena was naturally a face in context, the crowd was firmly on the side of Chicago’s own CM Punk. Vince McMahon had put pressure on John Cena to win and even tried to screw Punk out of the title. In the end, Punk defeated Cena, distracted by McMahon’s actions, but it didn’t matter. The Chicago crowd cheered in jubilation at Punk’s victory. After Punk thwarted McMahon’s ordered cash-in attempt by the Raw Money In The Bank winner, Alberto Del Rio, he blew Vince a kiss and left through the crowd with the WWE Championship. The match would give Punk his second five-star rating from WON.
Punk did come back (technically, he never really left), and WWE’s Summer of Punk is up there with the InVasion and the original Nexus in terms of wasted potential. Still, after that moment, CM Punk was a new man in WWE. He became the Voice of the Voiceless. His promos would often have shoot comments and other elements of truth in them. He started wearing gear that symbolized the flag of the City of Chicago. His second WWE title reign lasted 434 days. The best symbol of his change was his change in theme music. Killswitch Engage’s “This Fire Burns” no longer fit Punk. In the eyes of WWE fans, CM Punk was a top star. What better song to reflect that than Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”?
2011 came to a close with fans at the Allstate Arena learning Punk’s next opponent, Dolph Ziggler, at the final Raw of the year. The first half of 2012 saw Punk battle Ziggler, Mark Henry, and Chris Jericho several times for the WWE title. Punk would best all three challengers, but his matches with Chris Jericho, in particular, would be the best in Punk’s second run as champ. Punk and Jericho battled at WrestleMania 28 for the title and then faced each other in a rematch at the Allstate for Extreme Rules in a Chicago Street Fight. Daniel Bryan, Kane, Ryback, and John Cena (again), nothing, and no one could stop CM Punk in 2012.
That’s why the beginning of 2013 could be hard to swallow.
Punk became a heel many didn’t want to boo. Punk was tired of getting overshadowed by the Rock and John Cena, which was a grievance when he lit the pipebomb in 2011. Then at the Royal Rumble, CM Punk lost the WWE Championship to the Rock. After that, Punk lost his rematch at the Elimination Chamber, lost to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, had his last televised match in the Allstate Arena against Chris Jericho at Payback, and lost to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Punk never received another 1-on-1 title shot for the WWE or World Championships. Outside of the 2013 Money in the Bank, he never saw another PPV main event. Instead was the opponent for several newer faces, specifically Ryback, the Wyatt Family, and the Shield.
Then after the 2014 Royal Rumble, Punk left WWE. After months of working while injured and dealing with potentially fatal ailments, years of dealing with how WWE does business, and not getting to main event WrestleMania, Punk had had enough.
That brings us back to Rampage and the night Chicago wrestling fans have waited for so long. As far as venues go, the United Center is perfect. It’s the home of Chicago sports champions, including the legendary Michael Jordan. More importantly, for the first time since 2002, Punk will come out to a venue that’s inside the city itself. Over 14,000 tickets have sold for Rampage. That’s a number WWE drew at the Allstate Arena on several occasions during Punk’s time. In this case, 14,000 people are coming to see him. When “Cult of Personality” echoed through the arena and Punk walked out, that reaction from the audience was something pro wrestling will never forget.
The Second City’s Patron Saint is home again.