There are billions of admirers and fans in the world who love the tantalizing artistic approaches of sports - be it a collaborative game played between two teams of 11 players inside a field or stadium, harmoniously passing and kicking a giant, spherical ball to score a goal; or a bat-and-ball game in which two teams of 11 players compete on a field with a 22-yard (20-meter) pitch in the middle and two wickets at each end, each with two bails balanced on three stumps - or even the other games we see in the Olympics. It does not matter whether it is football or cricket or professional wrestling; the only thing that matters the most is whether the fans get entertained and inhale the emotion out of these sports, or not. However - when it comes to professional wrestling, many people wonder about what to get excited for when the outcome is already predetermined. The wrestling fans, in general, are used to face this question all the time. That being said, this particular scripted sports extravaganza is still loved by its fans all over the world who appreciate the art and dedication of professional wrestlers - but there are some celebrated individuals, who are widely admired for their trendsetting contribution to the world of professional wrestling. And this past week, the world witnessed the return of one flamboyant individual after seven long years - who changed the culture during his prime. He is Phill Brooks, the wrestler popularly known as CM Punk, widely revered as the ‘Best in the World’ when it comes to professional wrestling.
An astonishingly popular wrestling superstar across the world who is not only known for his wrestling skills and charismatic, outspoken persona; but also for being the torchbearer advocate for a handful of long-overlooked talented professional wrestlers while breaking the fourth wall of the so-called ‘sports entertainment’ - CM Punk retired from in-ring competition back in 2014 for being overburdened with his workloads and under-appreciated status in the World Wrestling Entertainment, popularly known as WWE. However, the fans of the ‘Chicago-Made’ superstar never stopped rooting for him. For seven long years, wrestling fans have eagerly waited to see the return of the ‘straight-edge’ superstar back in the squared circle, and with that one hope they screamed their lungs out chanting “CM Punk” on every live event - because he earned that massive admiration. So much so, once Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, one of the most iconic wrestling superstars and now a Hollywood megastar, had to make a phone call to Punk while standing in the middle of a wrestling ring on a live event, just to calm down the roaring fans. After all these years, Punk finally made his highly-anticipated return this past week - however, not for his previous employer. He made his debut last Friday night with another emerging mega promotion All Elite Wrestling (AEW) - as part of AEW’s brand new live weekly programme ‘Rampage’. And that too, in his hometown Chicago in the US, as the show honoured his debut as ‘The First Dance’.
It was like the calm before the storm at the United Centre in Chicago, with that intangible tension on every single face - and then, the miracle happened. “The Cult of Personality” by American rock band Living Colours played in the arena, which has become synonymous with Punk, resonating with his identity over the years. The roof and ground of the United Centre reflected the acapella of thousand voices, roaring together harmoniously through uttering “CM PUNK”. A terrible beauty was born through poetic justice, and wrestling became great again.
CM Punk soaked it all in, from kneeling down on the Rampage ramp in disbelieve to hug fans and even jump in and crowd-surfing among the fans. He then took his microphone, sat down in the middle of the ring with his famous crossed-leg posture, cut a passionate promo that felt as like he was speaking to his friends and family. He addressed his decision of staying away from wrestling for this long, talked about his departure from professional wrestling back in 2005 as part of his beloved Ring of Honor, and officially announced his return saying those two magical words - “I’m back”.
“You see,” Punk said while addressing the crowd, “I felt before like I had to leave. I didn't want to, but I knew I couldn't stay, and that was when I used to work for a place called Ring of Honor. August 13th, 2005 was my last match in Ring of Honor, and I famously came out with tears in my eyes. And walking out here today, I now know why I was crying. And it was a lot of reasons. But what it boiled down to was, I had made a place where people could come work, get paid, learn their craft, and love professional wrestling. And I cried because I knew I was leaving a place that I love, and it was a home, and I knew where I was going, wasn't going to be easy for a guy like me. Because I'm one of you. So I look at it like this: August 13th, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20th, 2021 - I'm back. And I'm back for you. I'm not gonna lie, I'm back for me too, and I'm back because there's a hell of a lot of young talent that I wish I was surrounded by 10 years ago. So insane that I sit back and I say, well, hell, they're here now, so why aren't you? Here I am. I'm back, because I want to work with that young talent that had the same passion that I had stamped out. I'm back because there's a couple of scores to settle in that locker room.”
Debuted in the 90s’ with the CM Punk character that has been consistently portrayed as the outspoken, confrontational, sharp-tongued, straight edge, anti-corporate and iconoclastic throughout his entire career, most of which are inspired by his real-life personality - the 42-year-old Phill Brooks has been an independent wrestling icon prior achieving his unbelievable level of stardom in WWE. He was the most iconic and legendary superstar of the aforementioned Ring of Honor, With his incredible mic-skills, Punk created history through his infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo on Monday Night Raw in June 2011, breaking the fourth wall by mentioning the word ‘wrestlers’ instead of the WWE term ‘sports entertainer’, while addressing many other harmful corporate etiquettes in WWE That Summer, he also became the top champion in WWE as a result of its ‘Summer of Punk’ storyline.
A five-time World Champion and known for amazing matches against John Cena, The Rock, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and more - CM Punk left WWE in 2014 because of his growing frustation over the creative force in the company and concerns over his health, due to WWE’s gruelling live schedules and constant travelling. He was then pronounced as fired in 2014 on his wedding day when he got married to April Mendez - his lover and then-WWE superstar popularly known as AJ Lee. With this vindictive notion of WWE, Punk lost his appetite for pro-wrestling in general and began his courageous journey to compete in mixed martial arts, fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on two different occasions. At the same time, he embraced his passion for writing and acting, becoming a comic writer for Marvel. Although he briefly returned to WWE in November of 2019 as part of the FOX-ventured analytical show titled ‘WWE Backstage’ - fans were awaiting his in-ring return, which was also the wish of AEW President Tony Khan, an avid wrestling fan himself. The return happened as an aftermath of an 18-months-long conversation and planning between the two, which finally took place at TNT television’s newly-launched weekly show ‘Rampage’ in his hometown Chicago.
When Punk started his independent journey to the top, he neither had a fancy, chiselled, muscular body like Hulk Hogan or John Cena - nor a prestigious family lineage like The Rock. Yet, he fearlessly fought and stood up for people like himself, the workhorses representing the independent wrestling circuit, which later paved the path for fellow World Champions like Daniel Bryan or Seth Rollins and many other talents. His new home AEW does also resonates with ideologies of the ‘Cult of Personality’, and with the massive mainstream star power that Punk brought with his presence, AEW now has the opportunity to bring back the competition against the wrestling monopoly of WWE. Wrestling fans can’t wait to see Punk returning to the in-ring action on September 5 at the ‘All Out’ pay-per-view in his hometown Chicago, against the highly talented Darby Allin.
At a time when many fans lost their appetite and became ready to give up on wrestling, CM Punk brought back the fun. With this majestic return of the ‘Best in the World’, fans are hoping to discover that fun once again, this time with a happy and healthy Phill Brooks.