by Nathan Dean Dimit
The fallout from the Survivor Series pay per view has been lackluster. The following episodes of Monday Night Raw haven’t been necessarily bad, more so uninteresting and tedious to watch. This time of year, the WWE basically spins its tires into a holding pattern until January when the Royal Rumble takes place and the road to Wrestlemania begins. However, that doesn’t mean the world of professional wrestling has slowed down with backstage news and talking points.
As a kid growing up in the 90s, I was enamored with professional wrestling and the Monday night wars. I started watching WCW and learned to like Sting, Goldberg, the nWo and Hulk Hogan. It was mostly wholesome entertainment that my parents, friends and I could watch together. Towards the end of the 90s, shows like Jerry Springer and South Park gained popularity and helped form the Attitude Era of the WWF. The Attitude Era was raunchy and offensive trash TV, probably not suitable for a 9 year old, but my dad would let me sneak out of bed and watch along with him. I traded in my Hulk Hogan and Sting action figures for The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin ones. In elementary school, my friends and I definitely got in trouble for doing Degeneration-X’s “suck it” crotch chops during recess. The perfect example of how much professional wrestling had infiltrated the mainstream. Eventually, I moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, made new friends and found new interests in middle school, such as anime and being afraid of girls. Anyway, I fell out of wrestling for over a decade. It wasn’t “cool” anymore and many of my favorite entertainers had gone off to pursue other ventures.
Around 2011, I had vaguely heard mention that The Rock was coming back to the WWE which was enough to pique my interests. I would flip channels and catch bits and pieces of Monday Night Raw here and there, but my attention never lasted long and I really only cared to see The Rock or any other relics from the Attitude Era. I gave it a shot but it still wasn’t resonating with me.
CM Punk, real name Phil Brooks, dropped his infamous “pipebomb” promo on an episode of Raw in the summer of 2011. He broke the entertainment 4th wall, acknowledged things that the WWE would normally consider taboo and was convincing enough with his words to make it look like he was “shooting,” or going off script. He spoke his mind about his position in the company and how he felt about his bosses. The promo definitely helped Punk cement his feet in the company and started his path to becoming a major draw for the company and a regular main event participant.
In the end, this was part of a bigger storyline about him leaving the company, but at the time, his promo broke the wrestling bubble. The "pipebomb" gathered tons of mainstream coverage and it seemed like the WWE was on the cusp of being culturally relevant again. Thanks to this, I decided to give professional wrestling another shot to see what all of this buzz was about.
When I first heard the name CM Punk and learned about his straight edge, hardcore punk character, I thought it was a joke and that he had just appropriated a culture I appreciate. There’s no way this guy could actually be straight edge, I thought. He’s just making fun of the straight edge lifestyle. He’s a professional wrestler; he must be on steroids and painkillers 24/7. I did my research and soon found out his “gimmick” is about as real as it gets. He’s friends with notable punk bands Rancid and H20, has never had a drop of alcohol in his life, and refused painkillers after fracturing his skull in the early 2000’s, but I digress. His character became endearing to me after discovering he was about as real life as pro wrestling characters can get.
I’ll be honest and say my full immersion back into pro wrestling came to fruition after a bad breakup several years ago. With my childhood favorites The Rock and Chris Jericho coming back that year, I was strapped in and ready for the ride. The WWE provided plenty of content for me to get my mind off of things, in addition to watching and learning about the previous decade of sports entertainment history I had missed out on. CM Punk quickly became one of my favorite characters in the WWE. They had me hook, line and sinker. I bought his t-shirts, DVDs and even an action figure or two. He was one of the main reasons I tuned in every week. CM Punk was on fire whenever he picked up a microphone, and his matches were usually top notch. His presence as a character actually made me feel less embarrassed to enjoy professional wrestling. I was so engrossed with the character that when he faced off against The Rock in 2013, I rooted for CM Punk, the villain of the storyline.
CM Punk walked out on the company in January of 2014. This was one of the biggest stories going on in pro wrestling, and none of it was scripted for television. Just like the pipebomb did years prior, CM Punk had blown up the wrestling world once again. Punk’s contract seemingly had him signed to work for WWE until July and fans were left to speculate why he walked out when he did. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, Thanksgiving Day, when Punk finally broke his silence in a tell-all interview on The Art of Wrestling, the podcast of Colt Cabana, he lifelong friend and fellow grappler.
The podcast runs for about 2 hours and Punk doesn’t hold anything back. Backstage news reports around the time of his departure claimed that he was banged up and working hurt, unhappy with his position on the card for Wrestlemania 30, and irritated about payouts from the launch of the WWE Network. Punk starts the podcast by essentially confirming that all of those were true, but they all equally contributed to his departure from WWE. After reflecting on those for a moment, Punk states that the biggest reason he left was because of his health.
CM Punk’s biggest goal in pro wrestling was to main event Wrestlemania. He also wanted the WWE to fully back him as one of their top superstars. He wanted to be the guy who sells tickets to their events and moves ratings for their television shows, but this wasn’t the reality. He was jerked back and forth by upper management creatively - when Punk would be white hot with the crowd and have lots of momentum going - something would come in and pull the rug out from under him. He outsold the company’s #1 flagship star, John Cena, in merchandise for a period of time, which is a huge accomplishment for any WWE wrestler. Yet for whatever reason, the company just couldn’t commit to putting him in the upper echelon of top talent. Punk believed he should be paid the same way guys like Triple H and Brock Lesnar get paid for Wrestlemania matches, and so did his fans.
The podcast continues with Punk going into detail about a litany of injuries he sustained while trying to stay at the top of the card. He went through numerous surgeries, suffered a number of concussions and even worked with a full blown staph infection. After one surgery was successful, he was called back into action less than two weeks later. The WWE’s in-house doctor seemed to shrug off his staph infection by giving him some antibiotics and basically ensuring he was healthy enough to be "cleared" for wrestling on that night. These issues he brought up are very eye opening. If this is how the WWE treats one of their top 5 performers, how are the guys at the bottom of the card being treated? He finally had enough and walked out before an episode of Monday Night Raw had even started, never to be seen on WWE television again
In addition to the medical issues, Punk shares a story of how he was given his release papers on the same day as his wedding. His side of the story makes it sound like the WWE intentionally fired him on his wedding day. Given the backstage stories and history of the upper management in WWE, this is entirely possible. This was the last straw for Punk. He recruited a lawyer regarding royalty fees for merchandise and the WWE 2k15 video game, and the two sides reached a non-disclosable settlement. Punk saw another doctor to check out his staph infection, and it was worse than the WWE’s doctor thought. If it continued to go ignored, it could have potentially killed him. Punk’s new doctor was able to remove the infection successfully.
WWE’s wrestlers are considered “independent contractors.” They aren’t given insurance, yet they aren’t allowed to work anywhere else. Another gripe CM Punk aired was over sponsorship deals. After the pipebomb he was contacted by many companies who wanted to advertise on Punk’s fight shorts, similar to a UFC fighter. He went out of his way and had several meetings about it, yet WWE Chairman Vince McMahon shot the idea down. Two years later, Brock Lesnar returned to WWE with sponsors on his ring gear.
Of course, this is all Punk’s side of the story. His fans had been clamoring to hear him speak for almost a year, and it was satisfying and shocking to finally hear him come forward. We’ll probably never hear the WWE’s side of the story. Whatever may have happened is now in the past, but the health issues are something that should be addressed by the public. Punk begged his employers to fix him, but they seemingly only cared about what segment he was scheduled for that night.
Punk’s future endeavors include him writing comic books for Marvel and over this weekend news also broke that CM Punk has joined the UFC and plans on doing a few fights. It’s jarring to hear this after he just got done breaking down all of his prior medical issues, but Punk claims he’s fully healed and in good shape. I’m not much of a fan of MMA, but I’ll tune in to see what CM Punk does next.