LIGER’S DEN: Have I told you already that I like pro wrestling?


Renowned professional wrestler CM Punk soaks in the electric atmosphere provided by his hometown crowd during the August 20 airing of AEW Rampage, held at the United Center in Chicago. [Photo courtesy of All Elite Wrestling]
By: 
Tyler Anderson
Editor, The Graphic-Advocate

Around WrestleMania last year, I spoke on my liking for professional wrestling. It moves in ebbs and flows through the years, but it always takes up space in the back of my brain.

When some of your friends are in “the business,” you’re always bound to see the promotion of shows – particularly those of the independent variety. By the way, it’s good to see these shows – 3XWrestling and Magnum Pro of Omaha – return to their circuit after a lengthy hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lately, pro wrestling was on my backburner. I couldn’t watch WWE’s Monday Night Raw, NXT or SmackDown, nor could I keep my attention span during All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite, which airs on Wednesdays.

At best, it’s background noise or something to rewatch through Hulu. At worst, it gets subbed out for Monday Night Football or I resort to watching YouTube.

Simply put, it wasn’t reeling me back in.

Then, came August 20. I’ll explain.

Prior to this particular date, the internet wrestling community and media outlets – some legit and some are less-reputable – were abuzz with speculation of one wrestling superstar’s potential return.

If you watched any sort of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) programming from the late 2000s and early 2010s, you may know of him. He’s known for his “Pipe Bomb” promo, spoken at the tail end of a Monday Night Raw on June 27, 2011.

The Chicago native is labeled as the “Best in the World,” dabbled in comic books and mixed martial arts, and has had crowds chant his name (in frustration) when stupidity ensued.

Yes, I’m talking about CM Punk.

For those who have seen him, I’ll spare the introduction. For those who do not have a clue or haven’t seen any sort of wrestling since they were children, I’ll run a quick synopsis.

Phil Brooks grew up in the Windy City, and began his career in 1999. The early years of CM Punk – who emphasized his straight edge persona (no alcohol, no smoking, no drugs) – featured title reigns in IWA Mid-South and matches against AJ Styles (now with WWE), Colt Cabana (now with AEW) and the late Eddie Guerrero.

His mantra was that he was “straight edge” and therefore, “better than you.”

Since joining ROH in 2002, CM Punk’s rise began with a feud with Raven, the former star for ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) and WCW (World Championship Wrestling) before entering a three-match series with Samoa Joe, ROH World Champion at the time.

The second encounter between Punk and Joe landed the rare five-star rating from wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. Following a tryout match with the WWE in May of 2005, Punk accepted a deal from the sports entertainment juggernaut.

Even though he accepted the deal, Punk captured the ROH World Championship and held the title hostage, creating the first “Summer of Punk.”

In August, Punk lost his title and on the next day, wished ROH farewell.

Along with Bryan Danielson (you may know him as Daniel Bryan), Punk was considered an “indy darling.”

Punk transitioned to the WWE in September of 2005, starting off in its developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling. By 2006, Punk was called to be a part of the resurrected ECW brand, under the direction of the WWE.

Beginning ECW with a victory over Jusin Credible on August 1 in the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, Punk eventually became the brand’s champion in September of 2007. Punk would go on to the WWE’s two main shows – Raw and SmackDown – and wound up with two Money-In-The-Bank briefcases and two World Heavyweight Championship reigns.

The 2011 calendar year saw Punk elevate to new heights, beginning with the “Pipe Bomb” promo. For the uninitiated, a promo is where a performer gives a monologue on his opponent, or a subject that has to do with their character or storyline.

It was great television when it happened.

With his contract expiring in June of that year, Punk delivered a scathing speech on how the WWE was run and the incompetence of its owner, Vince McMahon, before the microphone was cut off. This led to the second “Summer of Punk.”

His match with John Cena at the 2011 Money-In-The-Bank event drew five stars once more, before winning the WWE Championship and taking off with the belt on his final night with the company.

While the second go-around wasn’t as brilliant as the first, Punk lost the title before regaining the championship in November. This started the 434-day reign of Punk, before he would drop the belt to The Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble.

At WrestleMania, Punk lost to The Undertaker, preserving the latter’s undefeated streak. In January of 2014, Punk, who was battling injuries – which included a staph infection – sustained over the years, quietly went into retirement.

Later on that year, Punk provided a full expose on the WWE on Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast. While fences have been mended since then, Punk expressed no desire to return to the squared circle.

Then, came August 20.

Without formally acknowledging Punk’s heralded return, fans packed the United Center for AEW’s First Dance edition of its Friday show, Rampage. In the opening moments of the show, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” blared over the speakers, and out came the man himself.

Fans cheered. Supporters chanted his name. Some even cried, soaking in the magnitude of the moment.

It was surreal, even when watching the moment on television. It was simple, and it was captivating to watch.

“The most important thing for me to say is that – this is for everybody at home, this is for everybody who bought a ticket, this is for everybody in the back,” Punk said. “If, at all, through my personal journey, my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down…let me just say that I understand. If you all try to understand that I was never going to get healthy – physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally – staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”

“August 13, 2005 was my last match in Ring of Honor, and I famously came out with tears in my eyes,” Punk continued. “Walking out here today, I now know why I was crying. 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. I cried because I knew that I was leaving a place that I love and it was a home, and I knew where I was going. It wasn’t going to be easy for a guy like me. Because I’m one of you.”

Since coming through the independents in the mid-2000s, Punk had a knack of being relatable, despite his straight edge character and overwhelming success. The man knew how to speak and appeal to the masses.

“August 13, 2005, I left professional wrestling,” Punk said, before taking to his feet. “August 20, 2021…I’m back. I’m back for you. I’m not going to lie; I’m back for me, too. Because there’s a hell of a lot of young talent that I wish I was surrounded by 10 years ago. So in saying that, I sit back and say, ‘well, hell, they’re there now, so why aren’t you?’ Here I am.”

Punk then proceeded to address All Elite Wrestling, and its multitude of wrestlers.

“I’m back, because I want to work with that young talent that had the same passion that I had stamped out,” he said. “I’m back, because there’s a couple of old scores to settle in that locker room.”

CM Punk called out Darby Allin, AEW’s rising star hailing from Seattle. It was then and there that Punk challenged Allin, accompanied by Sting in the rafters, to a match at AEW’s next pay-per-view – All Out, set for Sunday at Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

I’m sold. Take my money now.

Pro wrestling is full of “never say never.” There’s also a phrase of “wrestlers don’t retire, they just stop taking bookings.”

Punk’s return made me excited, but not for the WWE. Could it be the watershed moment where AEW can challenge WWE’s hegemony? Only time will tell.

There’s speculation that Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole and Bray Wyatt (Windham Rotunda) could follow Punk to become All Elite. Will Danielson, Cole and Wyatt – known for his character of “The Fiend” – join the company owned by the Jacksonville Jaguars ownership?

Who knows? That’s what makes wrestling fun, is its unpredictability.

Things got ho-hum over the past decade, even back when the WWE purchased WCW and ECW in 2001. Since then, viewers have slowly drifted away from watching wrestling on television.

I’m glad that the landscape is shaking up a bit, because some of you may come back.

Before I depart, I want to toss out a big idea. Is it possible to bring professional wrestling to Calhoun County?

Roger McKinney and I visited it before the South Central Calhoun volleyball game against Ridge View this past week in Schaller. I have some contacts (my friends Jeremy Hall, Duke Cornell and Todd Countryman come to mind) who would love to bring the sport to either Rockwell City or Lake City.

I also developed some contacts here that would support the idea of bringing it in for one-time shot.

The questions are many. For example, where could we have the show (you need a place with a tall ceiling)? How the funds can be put together to attract 3XWrestling (based out of Des Moines) or Magnum Pro (based out of Omaha)?

Those inquires are just the tip of the iceberg.

It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’d love to bring in a pro wrestling show to Calhoun County in the near future.

I’ll put up a poll on our website, www.thegraphic-advocate.com, and I want your opinion. Who would be down to drop $20 for a front row ticket? Who would pay $10 (for general admission) to cheer the good guys, boo the bad guys and have a great time?

Let me know. Until next time!

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