I was originally planning on doing a happier post, probably something about video games. But uhh, given my last post, the tonal whiplash would probably be too much.
So instead, I’m going to talk about CM Punk.
When I last did a post about Sports Entertainment (when I got worked into a shoot over Nyla Rose losing on the first episode of AEW Dynamite), I mentioned that I was a HUGE Punk fan. Ever since his infamous “pipe bomb” promo which, in a single night, got me back into wrestling after a years-long hiatus. Quite possibly one of the most captivating moments a wrestler has ever had on the microphone.
And I would watch every show, every week. I would watch streams of the pay per views. I would hate most of it. Despite Punk, this was still the tail end of the “Guest Host” era, where a random selection of celebrities would “host” Monday Night Raw, obviously not wrestling fans, and could not give a fuck. Weird booking decisions that made no sense other than to piss off the fans: such as the infamous Daniel Bryan-Shamus match at Wrestlemania 28, or the petty, childish burial of Zack Ryder. A smarter person would have stopped watching. But I kept on, despite constantly complaining. Yeah, the storylines sucked, talent was being held down, Vince McMahon showed open contempt for the audience, and everything positive about the shows was overshadowed by the haunting specter of John Cena vs Randy Orton part 849. BUT! Despite the talent being held down, they were still, you know, talented. I might have hated the finishes, the badly scripted promos, and hearing fucking Nickelback and Green Day every goddamned week to open the shows, but I could least count on the matches being good despite all that.
Keep in mind, this was before New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, or the recent rise of every indie promotion worth their salt had easier access to their shows. Streaming services for wrestling was still in its infancy. Either you bought DVD’s by the truckload, or you sat there and watched whatever crap you saw on TV. And seeing how the closest competition WWE had was TNA (a company that is only just now starting to shed it’s nearly twenty year reputation as an industry punchline), there was a lot of crap.
But back to Punk. He became a symbol for fans. He was a representation of what fans wanted, and what WWE didn’t. Punk didn’t have the gross bodybuilder physique that Vince can’t keep from being Horny On Main over. His tattoos weren’t a series of generic tribal designs that every fucking wrestler of that era (and even now, really) absolutely had to have. He was a scraggly, dirty looking man who didn’t try to make himself “kid-friendly.” He was a wrestler, in a time when leaked WWE memos literally banned wrestlers from calling themselves that (you’re a Superstar, dammit!). His rise to the top was in spite of WWE plan’s, not because of it. CM Punk made it cool to like wrestling again, for better and for worse.
Then he walked out.
We all listened to his obscenity-laden appearance on The Art of Wrestling podcast. We heard how horribly he had been treated: working with an untreated staph infection for months, with WWE’s quack doctor opting to pump him full of z-paks until Punk finally shit his pants in the middle of a match. Getting fired on his wedding day, with his wife’s contribution to WWE’s current women’s division being completely erased from history. Punk very well could have literally died wrestling for WWE, becoming yet another name among the staggering list of casualties that company has claimed. He was treated like shit on and off screen, so he left. He had my support, and the support of a lot of other fans.
The name “CM Punk” became a rallying cry of sorts. If you didn’t like the bullshit WWE was trotting out in front of you, simply chant his name and watch the McMahon family visibly wince. His departure, and the subsequent lawsuits and count-lawsuits he won clearly hurt them more than they let on. While I’m no fan of millionaires, I tend to be a bit more lenient with athletes. You put your body on the line for years for the benefit of soulless billionaires who don’t give a fuck if you live or die? Fuck it dude, get that money. Punk got out with his health, his partner, and the knowledge that he got even more money by suing the shit out of a racist asshole. He could have spent the rest of his life never wrestling again, going to hockey games, writing for Marvel, and getting his ass kicked in the UFC, and I still would have been a fan.
Then this bullshit happened:
There’s always talk of wrestlers destroying their legacy. Obvious names like Chris Benoit and Jimmy Snuka come to mind. Then you have guys like The Undertaker, once the single-most respected man in wrestling, undoing a twenty year career by constantly coming out of retirement solely to work WWE’s Saudi Blood Money shows.
CM Punk destroyed his legacy in under a minute. Do I think he’s a “sell out?” Yes, I do. Let me explain why.
Aside from the obvious “they literally nearly killed you” and “keeping you tied up in lawsuits as recently as last year, with Vince McMahon openly bragging on national television his attempt to bankrupt you,” there’s the politics. Punk claims to be a left-winger. He hates Republicans. He was one of the first people to publicly support Laura Jane Grace’s transition, and routinely shit talks bigoted fans on Twitter. And then here he comes, walking back into WWE. Not even WWE, but a WWE-brand talk show that airs after midnight on a network known for low ratings because nobody can ever fucking find it. WWE, the same entity that spent 114 times more money on Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign than Trump himself did. As I mentioned earlier, they’re currently in a ten year deal to provide propaganda for the Saudi Royal Family. There are entire books and documentaries on the horrific treatment of their talent going all the way back to the 80’s. Why go back? At least when Mauro Ranallo went back, it was understandable. Mauro is a guy who works three different commentary jobs so he can afford to spend most of 2019 in a mental hospital to avoid killing himself. A mentally ill man not wanting to be sued into oblivion by a notoriously petty wrestling promoter is a situation that deserves sympathy for Mauro, and outrage at Vince. CM Punk got paid five million dollars to get his ass handed to him by Mickey Gaul in about a minute, what excuse does he have?
This isn’t 2011 anymore. WWE is no longer the only game in town. And if Punk didn’t want to go to AEW, maybe he could’ve gone to New Japan Pro Wrestling! Maybe he could’ve gone back to Ring of Honor! But instead, he went back to the alt-right assholes that tried to kill him. Fuck him.
Punk destroyed his legacy, and it doesn’t really matter. When WWE fucks up, people don’t chant “CM Punk,” they chant “AEW.” If we really want to cheer for a rich white guy that stands for everything WWE doesn’t, Cody Rhodes is right there. Speaking of, a new episode of Dynamite is tomorrow. And while AEW is far from a perfect example of inclusion, at least they’re not funding fascism or making fucking blackface t-shirts. That’s the kind of place that Punk so clearly wanted to return to. He himself admitted that his attempt to “make change” while under WWE’s Independent Contract didn’t work, so who he is trying to fool here?
I can’t help but take this personally just a little bit. The thing about enjoying pop culture and getting behind a performer when you exist in some sort of societal margin is that little fear in the back of your mind. Does this person see me as a human? Am I going to cheer and buy this guy’s merch, only for him to turn around and have a problem with people like me? Or other people who aren’t white dudes? Until now, Punk never gave me that impression. But with his return, he has told me, without saying a word, that money is more important. For all his constant jabs at the McMahons being out of touch, he can go ahead and put that label on himself. But hey, it’s okay, because he might say that a storyline is bad! On a WWE talk show that nobody watches. How rebellious.