Tens of thousands of fans chant his name in the Now Arena in Chicago. To an outsider, he is a nobody. To wrestling fans, he is a savior and a hero.
Phil Brooks, better known by his ring name CM Punk, returned for his first wrestling match in over seven years in his hometown on Sept. 5. Punk’s return to the ring marks one of the biggest moments in the wrestling industry.
Punk was, in many eyes, one of the best wrestlers in the past 20 years. He became popular in the world’s biggest wrestling company, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2011, and had high-profile matches with the likes of John Cena and Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), holding one of the longest titles reigns in the company at 434 days. However, Punk no-showed all events after Jan. 26, 2014, and revealed he had been upset at the company for years at that point.
And rightfully so.
Punk was great in the ring and in promotional material, but was pushed away and forgotten about once a celebrity that could make WWE more money came along. WWE made Punk despise wrestling as a whole. Punk was vocal about it, but how many others were not?
At its core, wrestling is not a real sport. Its characters are made up, fights choreographed and lines scripted. A wrestling match is like a movie-like — just a performance that requires the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
For a great story, you need star power. And that is exactly what the WWE needed in 2011, so they promoted The Rock for their headline show, Wrestlemania 28. Punk was the champion of the company at that point. Yet, The Rock got the main event instead of who the company should have positioned as the main attraction. Punk felt it made the show look weaker and was disgusted with how the company put a movie star above the top worker. His number of appearances on programming grew smaller and smaller. After being put on the back burner for more marketable stars, how could Punk refer to himself as “The Best in the World”?
In addition to being underappreciated, the company had him perform under dangerous conditions during his last few months with the company, such as wrestling with broken ribs and multiple concussions. He was so mad at the company that he stated he would “never return to wrestling” in 2014.
Fast forward to 2021, Punk hinted at returning to WWE’s chief competitor, All Elite Wrestling (AEW), and it was made official on Aug. 20, when he made an appearance on AEW official programming. He announced he would fight a wrestler known as Darby Allin on Sept. 5, at one of AEW’s pay-per-views, All In.
Many were glad to see Punk return to the squared circle, but not so much in actually participating in a match. He was gone from the ring for seven years and was 42 years old. He may have had ring rust, and competing like that could tarnish the great reputation he garnered over the years.
However, when the match started, fans’ opinions changed. Punk put on a great performance in the match, telling the story that even though he was slower than Darby and was outmaneuvered at the start, his pure experience and knowledge in the ring were what brought him to victory. Punk ended up winning the match and shook Darby’s hand afterward — an uncommon occurrence for wrestling. While not a 5-star match in terms of pure wrestling ability, Punk’s match was considered amazing for its story
of Punk’s prolonged exile. Fans are excited to see what else Punk can do in this new era of wrestling, but one thing is for sure, the best is back.