That was the last word he said to me on that freezing cold night just an hour after he was eliminated by Kane in the 2014 Royal Rumble match.
For some people, CM Punk was the entire reason they got back into wrestling in the early years of the last decade. He had effectively stolen our hearts on commentary, ousted Wade Barret as leader of the Nexus, founded the New Nexus, dropped a promo for the ages and successfully ripped the WWE Championship away from the company that consistently seemed to value other performers above himself.
Fast forward to 2014. At this stage in his career, Punk has been through the ringer. Suffering injury after injury(and two programs with Ryback), it should’ve come as no surprise to anyone inside or outside the WWE that the straight edge superstar would eventually become fed up with the wrestling business altogether.
My party and I exited the PPG Paints arena as Big Dave threw up the double birds, ironically doing the “YES” chant towards the fans booing him. We couldn’t believe how CM Punk was taken out of that Rumble match and considered it a grave injustice to the character. Of course we were upset about how the elimination went down, but realistically we knew that he would probably go up against Corporate Kane at the next PPV and then have his face off with Triple H at WrestleMania 30. At the time, it seemed like a decent storyline to go into their biggest show with. Or so we thought.
While trying to navigate through a frozen hellstorm back home to Wooster, OH, myself and the crew stopped at a gas station/truck stop(that also included a McDonalds), because the weather was just too harsh to be traversing through at that time. Hopefully, the snow would subside and we could get a move on after a little snack. I was a cigarette smoker back then, so I stood near the door outside where the butt receptacle was, turned my head to look inside and saw a man in a cool black denim jacket that said, “SKUNK PUNK” on the back looking around at things inside the store. Not looking to purchase anything but just aimlessly walking slowly about, he turned in my direction. There was Punk. Hands in his jacket pockets, messy hair with a disheveled look on his face. Our eyes met. I think my jaw dropped as I took the cigarette out of my mouth. I knew I had to say something to him. I kept telling myself, “You’ll never get this shot again!”
As I made my way into the store, he had turned back around facing towards the Gatorade probably hoping that I hadn’t recognized him. His beautiful wife was at the counter checking out as I approached the number one Rumble entrant from earlier that night. I stood to his left and tried to act cool. Then, I spoke up.
“Hey man, I’m not here to ask you for an autograph or a photo. I just wanna say that you’re awesome and I really respect what you do.” He turned his head in my direction and thanked me for my comment. That’s when I noticed his eyes. Beat red, like he had been up for days on end with no sleep. In just that second alone I could tell something was wrong. I bravely put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he was alright. And that’s when he dealt me the line that still haunts me to this day. In a direct and prompt tone, he shook his head and simply said, “Nope.” I told him that sucks and I was sorry to hear he was down. Before I left the cushy warm heat of the gas station to venture back out into what was surely going to continue to be a cold and rough drive home, I shouted back to him, “GET SOME REST, MAN!” I had no idea just how much rest he truly needed.
The wrestling business as a whole continued on without CM Punk in it for five years. We saw many new stars make their way on to the big stage to try and create a spotlight like Punk made for himself after cutting his Pipe-bomb all those years ago. In the meantime, the former WWE champion fulfilled a life long dream, got into the best shape of his life and returned to being healthy on both a physical and mental level. Sure, competing in the Octagon in his late 30’s wasn’t ideal, but it was a passion he knew he could cling to after a complete decimation of his love for professional wrestling took over.
Here we are now though in 2020 and the consensus on the topic of CM Punk wrestling again for WWE is not a matter of “if” but “when?” and “against who?” People have devoted entire podcasts and articles related to the subject. Some say it should be against someone younger. Others say maybe he can tag with someone to soften the work load. And then you got those who believe there’s unfinished business with Hunter and that he should be opponent numero uno. Sadly, I do not share any of these views. Now, don’t get it twisted, I’m all for Punk returning to the wrestling business in some capacity(I personally thought he was stellar on fs1). We haven’t had a great authority figure in a while and I think that could be something right up his alley. Taking no guff from any of the McMahons, making matches, microphone battles with the young guns of today… I could go on and on about the plus side of this path for him but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an idea he would entertain.
For all of you hoping for an in-ring return from the wrestler that is CM Punk, maybe you should be thinking about the man that is Phil Brooks. The way the company drug his injury ridden body by a bull rope the last couple years of his run is obvious to all of us now. Why on earth would we as fans ever want that to happen again? Not just with Punk but with any wrestler? I can’t bring myself to advocate a return to the mat for a person that had the absolute soul sucked out of them and was left an empty husk of pain and agony.
I’ll never forget those eyes on that cold fateful night back in 2014. Now, I don’t want you to either.
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