CM Punk: My complicated relationship with wrestling’s greatest Anti-Hero
Childhood heroes are a funny thing when you think about it. The way we idolize cartoon characters, video game legends, or movie stars for reasons only we understand is something that should always be cherished. As you grow up, those heroes tend to gradually fade along with a reliance on a role model.
I’m 28 years old now. At 4am on Sunday November 25th, sat on my sofa wearing a ‘Best in the World’ T-Shirt with a tear in my eye, I started to wonder why one man’s actions mean so much to me. After 9 long years, CM Punk came back to the WWE, and I felt a sense of finality and comfort that’s hard to really put into words.
I didn’t have many friends growing up. I had to move schools due to bullying and that never really stopped until I was around 18 or so. I was always the weird kid that never quite fit in and I never understood why. It lit a fire inside of me that still heats the heart of Philly Sports Network, but it was one that CM Punk really allowed to burn.
My parents divorced around the time I was in College, figuring out my career path, and there was no real male role model in my life. So when I get home, turn on my TV and see a guy like CM Punk sit at the top of the entrance ramp, angrily telling John Cena that he’s the best in the world, that he’s sick of being overlooked and under-appreciated, it really hit me.
Arms too short to box with God
Punk then went on to not only win the WWE title in remarkable fashion, but have one of the longest reigns in WWE history. If he, the undersized misfit who unapologetically spoke his mind and would fight anyone regardless of how big they were, could get to the top, then why can’t I?
I watched CM Punk humble THE ROCK of all people. I watched him beat some of the best WWE had to offer. This scrawny kid from Chicago had truly become the best in the world, just like he always said he was, and it gave me a real sense of purpose and drive to try and be like him one day.
I can’t tell you how many times throughout the years I would walk into a myriad of part-time jobs listening to ‘Cult of Personality’ or ‘This Fire Burns’. I can’t count how many instances I’d get home and watch the promo battle with HHH where he speaks about standing up to bullies, refusing to be pushed around despite his smaller size. I can’t remember how many occasions I would work myself to the bone because I knew Punk did and it paid dividends.
You were brighter than the whole sky
His eventual departure from WWE was a gut-wrenching one. But even that was inspiring. He left because he didn’t love it anymore, thought he deserved better, and didn’t want to take the same pills he was being forced to swallow. Even in the midst of upsetting me, I was left with a sense that I could pull myself away from toxic environments and to put myself first. That last part is a work in progress, but it got me out of a few sticky situations for sure.
I waited 7 years for his eventual return to wrestling. Every year, I would bet on him to return at the Royal Rumble, only to be left as disappointed as a Kid who didn’t spot Santa in the sky on Christmas Eve. The magic was fading, but I still believed. I stopped watching wrestling as time went on, realizing that the hope of a return was largely the only thing keeping me watching.
Fast forward to 2021. I’m 26 Years old, I run Philly Sports Network full-time, just navigated a sportless pandemic, and feel like I’m beginning to find myself. I start seeing rumors online about a potential CM Punk return to a new company called AEW. I knew it was founded by Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, but I’d never properly watched outside of a few videos online here and there.
All of a sudden, I felt like a kid again. That hope was real. The butterflies were fluttering, my eyes glued to Twitter daily to see if it was real. It was.
The first dance
His AEW return in 2021 was magical. I bawled my eyes out when I heard his theme hit for the first time in what felt like an eternity. It was something bigger than wrestling. To me, it was seeing a hero come back in a healthier environment to finish his story (shoutout Cody), for a different company that would treat him better.
I ordered myself another CM Punk shirt and tuned in to AEW Dynamite at 1AM on every Wednesday, loving every second of it. I watched on as he put together a feud for the ages with MJF. To this day, it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in wrestling and something I try to share with friends who don’t care for it because of that.
To cut a long story short, we know how his AEW run ended. But before it all went tits up in Wembley, I was there. I got to see my hero wrestle live. After being a fan of his since 2008, growing up idolizing this renegade who marched to the beat of his own drum, I finally got sit in a stadium and watch him wrestle.
To me, that was it. The final chapter was written. Punk was fired shortly after All-In due to more backstage antics, but I didn’t care. Not only did I get to see my hero come back in a moment I’ll remember forever, but I got to chant his name at the top of my lungs at Wembley. I got to sing his theme and watch him beat a long-time rival in Samoa Joe. I didn’t care.
CM Punk comes home
Fast forward to November 25th 2023 and CM Punk makes his fabled return to the WWE. Watching him return to wrestling a second time didn’t quite feel as fairytale-esque as the first, but it was different. The feeling wasn’t as gratifying as much as it was assuring that all roads lead back home.
After all the rises and falls of his AEW career, all the could’ve been and should’ve been’s from years past, and the memories that played a small part in shaping the man I am today, CM Punk was back where he shined brightest.
I’m not really sure where I wanted this article to go, but I wanted to try and make sense of my emotions last night. I felt like it should’ve been just as important, if not more so, than his initial AEW return, but it wasn’t. And now I get it.
I didn’t want to bawl my eyes out hysterically after seeing something I had been pining after for close to a third of my life, but instead shed a tear or two of acceptance. He was home and so was I.