Wanting to be real in an overwhelmingly fake world is what most inspirational stories are born from. None were truer to life than that of CM Punk, the former WWE Champion, now signed to the UFC is awaiting his second fight on June 9th in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Punk’s story is a lot deeper than that of an unworthy famed celebrity attempting to fight at the highest level of mixed martial arts, under the guise of prize-fighting. He brings eyeballs to the sport, true, but what lead him to get those eyeballs in the first place is where the inspirational part of his story begins.
Phillip Brooks was picked on and bullied as a child, mostly for being who is – A comic-book, punk-rock and wrestling obsessed “Geek”. He classified himself outside the normality of the world that surrounded him because he felt being real to himself and not give too many F’s in life was the way he wanted live. Things were not good at home he estranged from his parents at a young age and found shelter at his best-friend’s house whose family became his adoptive family. His real family wasn’t kind to him, his once close elder brother stole from him and his friend’s when they started their first backyard wrestling promotion. Between these emotional issues and being bullied, he would have been drawn to fighting back naturally.
He cut his chops at independent promotions like Ring of Honor, where he molded his persona of CM Punk. He became an internet darling because of his charisma, in-ring talent and an innate ability to connect with the audience and give them something real to talk about. Even his infamous exit from ROH, he crafted into a storyline for the ages, where he fooled the pro-wrestling audience into thinking he was leaving for the WWE one night, only to win the ROH championship and turn himself into a heel character for his final few days. But the storyline had real-life causes and influences and he used them to work the audience over and over. Using the internet headlines and gossip to his own advantage. He even signed his WWE contract on the ROH title as a F You to the fans, who booed even louder playing into his storyline and gimmick.
After sleeping in cheap motel rooms and wrestling in dilapidated bingo halls around the United States for years trying to make ends meet, he finally got his big break, being signed to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2005. WWE is the biggest professional wrestling brand in the world. The internet had helped him to gain recognition amongst the WWE brass, but main-stream popularity came much later, he continued to struggle all through his WWE career being termed “too real” to succeed at a fake sport. He was demoted on arrival to Ohio Valley Wrestling the developmental territory for WWE, which irked him immensely as he had just been ROH’s top draw and champion. He was then noticed by famed wrestling personality and former promoter of Extreme Championship Wrestling, Paul Heyman. Heyman took him under his wing while launching the re-branded ECW for Vince McMahon and gave him an opportunity. He even allowed him to portray the persona he had been using all through his independent career, something that was usually not the norm in WWE. Heyman saw true value in the realness of the character. The CM Punk persona was carefully created and crafted over years, incorporating real elements from his life like the straight-edge code that he lives by. The drug free, alcohol free and smoke free mantra propelled him as a vicious heel amongst the WWE audience, who did not want someone telling them what the right way to live was, this was further accentuated by his performances on tv where he began acting like a villainous preacher. His portrayal as the straight-edge savior who led a cult like group named the SES (straight edge society) was one of the best wrestling storylines of 2009.
He slowly over 6 long years climbed his way to the No.2 spot behind John Cena the company’s longstanding poster boy. But pro-wrestling as with any industry, has its own real-life backstage politics. His dream of headlining WrestleMania – WWE’s biggest annual Pay Per View, was left unfulfilled to this very day. The main-event is the marquee spot of any Pay Per View both in pro-wrestling and in mixed martial arts. It is the top pay day that all pro-wrestlers, mixed artists & prize fighters in general should always strive for until you transform into the icon-draw like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Connor McGregor or Ronda Rousey.
On June 27th 2011, Punk took that first step towards breaking that barrier towards main-stream success with an iconic promo known as the “Pipe-Bomb” where he blurred the lines between reality and fiction. In this promo staying true to his character who beat to his own drum, he took shots at the McMahon family and blamed them for not being propelled and pushed to the no.1 spot despite his skills both on the microphone and in the ring, being what he thought to be “best in the world”. No one could honestly argue with that at the time, he had been there for years perfecting the art of making choreographed wrestling look as real as possible. During the promo, he threatened to leave the company when his WWE contract expired in 3 weeks and vowed to take the WWE Championship with him. His microphone was abruptly cut-off in the middle of this promo, which made fans further buy into the storyline of the disgruntled pro-wrestler going up against the authoritarian WWE management. He won the championship from John Cena at the following pay per view in front of his hometown crowd at the All-State Arena in Chicago, Illinois. The storyline felt so real he was contacted by TMZ, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Rome and the rest of the real world to explain his grievances. It worked he had once again smartly played the audience into buying into his storyline which drove up the ratings.
He decided to stay on with the company, primarily because he wanted to main-event WrestleMania. The money coming in now was also significantly higher than what he had ever earned before. The storyline and subsequent title run that came about turned him into the top draw and he was now classified as a main-eventer that could “put butts in seats!”. Chicago his home city would always sell out every time he was advertised and during the next few years, he became Vince McMahon’s go to guy when he needed to sell a PPV or Live Event especially in Chicago. The fans in Chicago treated him like royalty and insatiably chanted “CM Punk” every chance they got. He began to outsell the company’s top star John Cena in merchandise sales something that had never been achieved before. The championship stayed firmly around his waist until a part-time wrestling performer and Hollywood mainstay Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made a return to the WWE to challenge John Cena for a second time at WrestleMania 29’s main event. The decision was made to have Punk drop the title to The Rock so that he may in turn drop the title back to the poster-boy Cena. This frustration of not being able to main event WrestleMania ate away at his core. It all came to a head in 2014, the back-stage politics finally got to him, the main-event spot at Wrestle-Mania that he coveted was once again given to a part-time wrestling star Dave Bautista, who himself has a 1-0 MMA record and is the star of the guardians of the galaxy franchise. The wear and tear of being on the road and creative frustrations with the company took their toll on CM Punk. It was evident even more so in his last few months when he would refuse to wear WWE merchandise meant to promote his likeliness and character instead wearing a gray Gracie jiu-jitsu sweatshirt to the ring every Monday night. Punk didn’t take the Batista news well and abruptly quit the company 6 months before his WWE contract was to expire and 3 months before WrestleMania 30. WWE faced a lot of backlash especially from fans and in Chicago, the crowds became hostile chanting “CM Punk” voraciously every time the WWE would hold an event in the All-State arena. Legal battles also followed between Punk and World Wrestling Entertainment over a plethora of issues on both sides. Almost 5 years after his original “Pipe-Bomb” promo where he vented out his frustrations with the company on-air as part of an ingenious storyline, art once again uncannily imitated life and CM Punk aired out all his grievances on the Art of Wrestling Podcast hosted by his childhood friend Colt Cabana. He spoke of his backstage problems with the management and the injuries being wrongly diagnosed by the in-house doctors. He even took a shot at WWE’s anti-steroid “wellness policy”. Being straight-edge, he was constantly asked to “piss in the cup” despite them overlooking other stars and secretly helping them to continue to hide their steroid habits. Cabana and Punk broke the internet with their podcast, the story trended and Punk despite being off WWE television for 6 months turned himself into an even bigger star and a true cult of personality. The man always had ambition, a strong work-ethic and charisma to match. His debut in the UFC might have not gone his way, but don’t count this man out, he continues to be a huge draw and if the fight takes place in Chicago as planned, one would assume the crowd will be 100% behind him. But can he succeed in a real fight? It would be the ultimate underdog story but we need to give him his due, last time he made weight and stepped out of his comfort zone straight into the Octagon. He was taught a valuable lesson by Mickey Gall who showed him that this is a real sport and you need real skills to win! Punk has a fighter’s mindset right from his young days and if his work ethic from his professional wrestling days is anything to go by, don’t be surprised if we found his training picked up more steam after his loss and be prepared for some real improvements in his MMA game. Whether it will be enough to get him his first win that remains to be seen. We here at MMAIndia.com will keep a close eye on this featured bout between Mike Jackson and CM Punk on June 9th, let’s pray to the MMA gods that the card which is stacked remains intact.