In December 2003, I walked about the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory as Ring of Honor closed out its biggest show to date, Final Battle 2003. It was a super card that featured some of the biggest stars of All-Japan Pro Wrestling taking on the stars of Ring of Honor. As I walked around the armory getting quotes for the paper I worked for in college, I was struck by an intimidating figure. He was no taller than me and probably only a few years older, but the glare in his eyes and the respect his in-ring and verbals skills commanded and demanded gave me pause. Should I even go up to this guy for a quote? But, in the spirit of “what’s the worst that could happen” I went up to the man and began my pitch. (I mean he wouldn’t really punch me in the mouth, would he? Would he?) I asked him a few questions, none of which really mattered, until I got my final one, “What’s the ultimate goal?”
The man, who had his head buried in signing 8×10’s for anyone who stopped him, looked up and with 1000% confidence and clarity stated, ‘To be the champ.’ It was a matter-of-fact answer stated with a smirk but the convictions and honesty behind that statement burned brightly behind his dark eyes. Yes, maybe it was a dumb question, but the answer was the sincere truth.
That man, as you could’ve guessed it, was CM Punk.
That quote, “to be the champ” became the #1 reason why I became a diehard CM Punk fan. Sure, his in-ring work and his promos were off the charts. I always saw something special in Punk even when my late father would remark, “Why doesn’t this guy ever shut up…or be funny like Colt Cabana?” I’d always tell my dad, how Punk was telling a story no one else was and the big guy begrudgingly gave in. Yet, promo and in-ring work aside, “To be the champ” was what stuck with me. I saw in Punk, what I saw in myself — a young guy fighting to live his dream. While, I in no way had or have sacrificed, what Punk has to reach his goals, I always felt this sense that I got what CM Punk was about because tattoos, a physique and charisma aside, he was like me. And that made me a fan.
In the era of indie wrestling that exploded during my college years (2000-2004), wrestling became more than just high spots and mark out moments for me. I believed. I didn’t believe that the issues between the wrestlers were real or the results were not predetermined; I believe in these guys, some younger and some barely older than me who were out there killing themselves to live the dream. They were hustling, breaking bones, killing themselves and performing something they loved and believed in for both themselves and the entertainment of someone like me who dropped a 20-spot to see them. I respected and appreciated that and these wrestlers became “my guys” — wrestlers I became a lifelong fan of. When they made it to headlining Wrestlemania, or getting on television or crossing over into the mainstream I felt proud because I saw them in front of 200 people in a rec center in South Philly or 50 people in a Portuguese-American clubs in little New Jersey hamlets.
And that’s why on July 17, 2014, I’m one of the many wrestling fans who has zero issue with CM Punk letting his WWE contract expire.
And that’s why since January 2014, I’ve had no issue with CM Punk deciding to step away from the WWE altogether.
Do I miss CM Punk, the in-ring performer? Absolutely. Do I miss CM Punk, the brilliant master of the microphone? You bet I do. But, I’m also not going to miss the potential of seeing a dude so burnt out and so injured, limp both physically and emotionally, through the next 5-10 years of his career just for money and/or entertaining the masses.
Now, some will crap on Punk for not finishing out his contract. Do I? Eh, I’m ambivalent on the situation. I probably would’ve finished up, myself, but then again I have given my notice at inopportune times myself, so can I really cast a stone? Also, guys, if you hate a job, do you really want to be at it? No, you want to bounce asap. And let’s be real for a second, look what his absence did: it elevated Daniel Bryan and The Shield to crazy new heights. It made the WWE get creative, albeit for a short time, and we saw new, unique and fun storylines, matches and characters evolve. Oh, and he never once trash talked WWE. That’s a classy move.
I don’t feel bad that he’s leaving. Not one iota. And maybe it’s because I relate to him, as a dude. 10 years ago I understood his desire to be the best in the world, because that’s what I wanted. Now, both in our mid(ish) 30s, I understand that if you hate a job, that if it drains your soul, that if you feel utterly miserable and awful everyday, leaving it and moving onto a better, happier and healthier place in life is a good thing, even if it might not be the most “logical” move from a career standpoint.
The WWE enjoys creating larger-than-life supermen and superwomen, but one of the few guys they didn’t do this with was CM Punk. Watch his Best in the World DVD and you’ll see a portrait of an absolute wrestling nerd who enjoys punk rock, tattoos and comic books. He’s been on The Talking Dead and has openly geeked out. CM Punk is anything but a larger than life character, he’s basically a dude. A dude who a lot of us can relate to. And that’s why wrestling fans we have to realize CM Punk is not a living LGN figure or a fully fleshed out create-a-wrestler that we made on our XBox. This is guy is a human being and we have to let go of our own selfish wants and be happy this guy is finding health, happiness and, to be a sappy bastard, love.
Listen, if you disagree with the way he did handled his last six months with the company, I’m not going to argue with you because it’s such a Sisyphussian debate. But let’s all drop the conspiracy theories of his return, let’s drop the “anger” over his departure and the inherent cynicism many of us have as wrestling fans. Let him walk out on his own terms and who knows maybe he’ll come back some day. Terry Funk retired 25 times and I think he’s wrestling in New Jersey this weekend (I’m joking?).
CM Punk gave us everything he had and we’re a better group of wrestling fans for it. Now, let’s allow him to enjoy his life. Thank you, Punk.
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom