(writer's note: to retain the emotion I feel about this, I am posting my first draft of this. I'm not going to sit and edit this. I want it to come out as raw and unfiltered as we all felt seeing it)
7 years. 2,763 days separated January 26, 2014 to August 20th, 2021. After so long away, after hundreds of rumors, after thousands of chants, and after it seemed so impossible this would happen, countless fans (myself included) gave up hope.
Tonight it happened.
CM Punk...The Best In The World, The Straight Edge Messiah, and The Voice Of The Voiceless has come home.
Unless you've been living under a rock the past two hours, by now you know that tonight on All Elite Wrestling: Rampage CM Punk returned to the squared circle. Not only did we get confirmation that the rumors were true. We got an announcement for his first match back.
Darby Allin vs CM FN Punk at All Out.
But I'm not here to write about that. One of my colleagues has already laid it all out for you.
I'm here to tell you what I truly believe CM Punk means to me and millions of others. Okay well maybe just me, I'm not arrogant enough to speak for millions of people (or am I?).
CM Punk is one of us. He, like every other wrestling fan grew up loving the sport and dreamed of one day stepping between those ropes and giving the fans the same feeling his favorites gave us. Unlike so many of us, Phil Brooks succeeded in doing this. Actually he didn't just succeed in his goal, he exceeded all expectations. Just as importantly Punk's talent in the ring influenced damn near every up and coming star in the wrestling world. Especially many of the guys and girls in AEW.
But, this is a story we've seen so many times. Over and over, we've seen ladies or gentlemen go from a humble beginning only to have a meteoric rise to superstardom...only these stars lost part of what made them who they were.
I never felt like that was the case with Punk. He still seemed like that kid you'd run into at any punk or hardcore show in the world. He seemed accessible, appreciative, and genuine. Being someone that grew up in the punk/hardcore/emo music scene, it was beyond cool to see "one of us" make it.
For those of you who've never been part of the punk rock music scene, many of us feel like outcasts, misfits, the throwaway kids, and generally just fuck ups. The punk rock subculture is basically a huge family. So seeing CM Punk blow up, felt like we blew up ourselves. It was finally "one of us" in the mainstream spotlight, surrounded by adoring fans. The wrestling fans in our little tightknit scene were ecstatic when he won his first WWE Championship. We felt represented in the mainstream in a positive way for one of the first times (look up local news reports about punk rockers in the 80s and 90s if you're unfamiliar). Even as a heel, we still felt represented. As I've stated in so many political conversations (which I won't go into on this website ever, wrestling fandom is a family too and I don't want to alienate anyone) REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
When Punk first debuted in WWE, I was Straight Edge. I know the old saying, if you aren't Edge now you never were, but at the time I was. Seeing that tattoo emblazoned on his stomach, the X's on his hands, and knowing he lived a lifestyle I chose (admittedly that I left through personal reasons that I'll answer if asked) made me feel even more represented.
That meant the world to 20 something Zach. It still does.
CM Punk made me feel like less of a misfit, an outcast, a throwaway kid, and a fuck up. He made me believe that all of us could make our dreams come true.
That's why he resonates with so many people even after all these years.
When Punk walked on the stage, I felt the tears start to form in my eyes. The same tears that formed when Jushin Thunder Liger retired, when Katsuyori Shibata returned to the G1 to announce "I'm alive", when Kagetsu had her retirement gauntlet match, and when news broke about Hana Kimura's untimely death.
When I said that he seemed like the kinda guy you'd see at a random punk/hardcore show, he was. When he was in Ring Of Honor, I saw him at an AFI show, then a Rancid show, then at a Bane and Have Heart the night before WWE was in Atlanta and I saw him there.
Fast forward a couple of years, and my girlfriend and I are chilling at Riot Fest in Chicago and I pointed to the side of the stage, during which band I can't remember, and said "holy shit that's CM Punk". At the time she was new to wrestling, and didn't understand what a big deal it was. Tonight she sat next to me, and I think she realized what a BIG AND MASSIVE DEAL CM FN Punk is to us.