CM Punk is most famous for being the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era for having held the title for over 400 days. He won multiple world championships during his 15 year career in professional wrestling, including the ROH World Championship and ECW Championship. He also won the World Tag Team Championship and the Intercontinental Championship, making him the fasted man in the history of the WWE to be a WWE Triple Crown Champion. He originally came to prominence on the United States independent circuit as a member of the Ring of Honor roster, or ROH roster, until he signed a contract with WWE and the rest was history. The name CM Punk became synonymous with wrestling. He was the modern Hulk Hogan. He was the Tiger Woods or LeBron James of wrestling. CM Punk was at the very top, stayed at the top, and retired at the very top. The question is, what is he up to now? What could someone who’s life depended on wrestling, whose life was wrestling, do once they had finally retired from doing what defined them as a person?
Philip Jack Brooks, better known by his ring name, CM Punk, began his wrestling career in 1999. He joined a backyard wrestling federation called the Lunatic Wrestling Federation, or LWF with his friends. He was put into a tag team with CM Venom, and he decided to make his ring name similar. While his friends saw wrestling as a fun activity, it was always something more to CM Punk. He became obsessive, and wanted to become a professional. He soon left the LWF to enroll as a student at the Steel Dominion wrestling school in Chicago, where he was trained by professionals Ace Steel, Danny Dominion, and Kevin Quinn to help him become a professional wrestler himself. It was there that he first met Scott Colton, who went by the stage name Colt Cabana, and they instantly became best friends. Years down the road CM Punk would have an eye opening interview with Cabana.
After appearing in the IWA and Pro Wrestling Zero One, CM Punk joined the Ring of Honor, and soon established a heated rivalry with another wrestler, Raven, that featured numerous events. The rivalry stemmed from CM Punk likening Raven to his father, who was a raging alcoholic. The feud lasted a while and after its final match, titled “The Conclusion”, in which Punk came out victorious, it was considered to be on the top Ring of Honor feuds of the year. The feud gave CM Punk some well deserved publicity, and he started to climb the ranks of Ring of Honor. He ended making it to the Second Anniversary Show and finished second in the tournament to A.J. Styles, just coming short of being named the first Ring of Honor Pure Champion. However, shortly after, he won the Ring of Honor Tag Team Championship twice with good friend Colt Cabana. After more accolades during the next couple years, Punk had made his mark on the wrestling world. In September 2005, he was assigned to the Ohio Valley Wrestling league, a developmental territory for the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. He soon became the OVW Television Champion after defeating Ken Doane, which led to feuds between Punk and Brent Albright, which stemmed into more matches, and also more publicity and exposure for CM Punk.
He was soon moved to the WWE roster full time. He would continue to occasionally make OVW appearances, but it was now his time to shine in the big league.
After a year of fighting in the ECW, CM Punk was drafted to the Raw brand during the 2008 WWE Draft. In his first ever match, he had an immediate impact. He won the World Heavyweight Championship, and also the Slammy Award for the “Oh my God” Moment of the Year. He continued to hold his title for over 400 days, the longest ever in modern wrestling. He soon after won the World Tag Team Championship. A year later, Punk was drafted from Raw to Smack Down. He continued to have massive success in the WWE, including taking down John Cena in 2011. He would continue fighting in the WWE until 2014, where he suddenly retired, at the very top. At first, no one was sure why. At the age of 35, he was still in his prime, and he was beloved by the world. He had so much fame, and just let it go.
In a groundbreaking interview with his good friend Colt Cabana, Punk broke the silence, and explained his shocking decision to retire from the WWE.
“I don’t honestly know where to begin because I could go back and probably start at when I re-signed. I was out the door and I had my mind made up I wasn’t going to re-sign and I had a meeting with Vince. I wouldn’t say he convinced me to re-sign, I would say I talked myself into giving it the old college try. And there’s all these people that believe all these powerful words I say like ‘change’ and changing the place, and people constantly tweet me all the time saying “you know, you can’t change the place from your couch in Chicago” and I absolutely disagree because that’s exactly what I did. It almost took me sitting on my couch to, not to change the place permanently no, but when I split in January, they changed everything. Part of me thinks they changed a lot of stuff to spite me, and that’s fine because certain people who deserved certain things at a certain time got those things. It was something that I never got, and it was nice to see that. I don’t want to sound like an old-timer, it’s about telling my story. And I’m going to do it in a positive, non-bitter way as much as possible. News flash for you ladies and gentlemen, it’s okay to be bitter about certain stuff and you have to eventually work your way through it and get over it, which is what I’ve done. But there are a few things that still get me to this day and they will probably come out. I just don’t want to sound like that bitter guy, that’s why I don’t want this to be a shoot interview. I don’t want to be ‘hey let’s just talk sh-t and bash WWE’. You know, whenever they had me backed into a corner, I know I wasn’t the easiest guy to deal with. I’m the happiest I’ve been in three years honestly. I’ve found these other things that have made me happy and I found that this thing that I thought I loved just made me miserable all the time. I was miserable, I was unhappy, so I made myself happy and left. That’s what it boils down to. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I think it’s been a long time coming. This will probably come up in the next episode, but I was disgruntled with storylines and was banged up. I was mad that I wasn’t in the main event of WrestleMania. I was mad I was wrestling Triple H. There’s an element of truth in all of those things, but I can’t say there was one big thing that led to my decision. The big thing that led to me decision was my health.”
That was him telling the story of why he re-signed with WWE after 2011, even though he was having second thoughts.
When Punk was asked by Cabana if concussions were a big part of his retirement, he said: “Yeah, it was a big part of it. But also, I knew this Network was coming out and for months I was asking everybody ‘Hey, so WrestleMania is probably seventy bucks in HD and now you’re selling it for $9.99?’ I felt like I was the only one asking questions. And guys like Randy ask me, but I don’t know either. I ask Vince and he just laughs as I ask ‘Well don’t you think you should figure it out before I work that pay-per-view so you can pay me accordingly?’ And if you ask questions, you get punished. You get taken off the pay-per-view, off of Raw, off the house shows, and not making any money. WWE doesn’t do anything to protect the wrestlers, they just do things to protect themselves. That sounds really harsh, and like I said earlier, I don’t want to sound bitter towards the company, but they don’t let anybody know they are doing these fantastic things for concussions for the boys. The NFL has so much going on with concussions and stuff and Vince doesn’t want to do that. I got a concussion in the Royal Rumble and it’s pretty obvious, I knew I had one, everyone knew I had one. I took this test while texting you and ‘passed’ with flying colors. They then wanted me to run the ropes because they still thought I had a concussion. So I said your test is worthless? I was doing this weird stubborn thing where I wanted to work because if I didn’t, then I’d get punished. I never had a break. That was the thing with the movie. I was working hurt and having weekends off would’ve been great because I wasn’t throwing myself at the ground. I was beat up and already needed a knee surgery at that point, but I was the champion so I had to keep going. I told Vince I needed this knee fixed and would do it after I dropped the title to The Rock. And I was still trying to convince Vince that dropping the title to Rock wasn’t the right thing to do. Even if I did that, a three-way with me, John, and Rock at WrestleMania was the way to go. Or let me keep the title and I wrestle Undertaker.”
Since then, CM Punk has signed with UFC to fight starting in 2015. On that, he says: “The whole thing’s a fight. I’ll give you a perfect example. I’m in Boston and I’m talking to Vince about re-signing and he says ‘If you do this, we’ll give you this, we’ll give you that. With this, he says fine you can have that.’ I had already been approached and you have to understand that my promo in Vegas was called the ‘pipe bomb’ and I despise that word now because everyone refers to promos as pipe bombs now and it’s very weird and maybe that’s just how I should embrace that or own that too. I’m talking to Vince and I tell him that since that promo, we’ve received more mainstream attention and everyone wanted to interview me and all this weird stuff. I had legitimate companies that approaching me and wanted give me money to sponsor me, like guys in UFC who get paid a ridiculous amount of money to walk around and promote these companies. I had a pretty big money deal on the table and I went to Vince saying ‘So yeah, there’s going to be a new CM Punk.’ And I would like to have a new hair style and a new look so I was like maybe I’ll switch to fight shorts so I can have these sponsors that are already in place and I had the idea so I wanted to do the sponsorship thing and I felt I deserved it. I got all these new eyes on the product. Vince said nope, no you can’t do that. The sponsors for Raw would get mad and other wrestlers would get mad so I just let it go. Brock Lesnar comes back a year later and the guy has sponsors and stuff and that’s good, because Brock got that. Good for him. He had preexisting sponsors and that’s part of his deal. I thought this was cutting-edge and it’s going to be a new means of income for not just me, but for the boys! I was still in that mentality that I wanted to help everybody out and I didn’t get it, but Brock gets out with any explanation from Vince. I go to him and say ‘Hey, that was my idea, I wanted to do that’ and Vince just laughed it off and tried to blow smoke up you’re a–. What’s the difference? Is the difference that he’s a superstar and I’m not? Because if that’s the case, then let me go. That’s always what I said. I am exactly everything that say that I am. I just need the machine to get behind me. And then boom. I was the first guy to outsell John Cena in merchandise and no one has been able to do that since. I’ll give you another example. My friend Chael Sonnen is fighting in Chicago for UFC and they’re totally cool with the idea, I’m going to walk him to the octagon and tomorrow’s the Royal Rumble so get some last minute buys and whether or not Chael loses, no offence to him, but no one’s going to be talking about Chael, they’re going to be talking about the WWE Champion walking him to the octagon. And they said, “Oh my God, Phil, no we can’t do that, that’s barbaric. Somebody’s gonna die.” And then I reminded the asking ‘I don’t know if you remember Owen Hart or not’ because he sorta died in the ring. That’s what he said, somebody is going to die in the octagon. You know, that’s such an opportunity for the company. It’s more promotion, it’s more eyes on the product. It’s my hometown, the place would be going crazy for me, and he says no. Then the next week or so, Triple H walks Mayweather to the ring and I’m just like ‘Oh, okay, I’m learning my lesson, it’s easier to not ask for permission and just do my own thing.’
Today, CM Punk plans to keep training for the UFC, and he also spends time writing comic books. He also has plans to start acting. Later in the interview, he discussed with Cabana how he was working on a movie with John Cena. Punk seemed kind of bittersweet about the idea, saying that Cena could almost get whatever he wanted, and whatever he says goes.
“It’s a very creatively stifling, toxic environment. Those are just two examples of two very cool things. I have been offered television shows, movies, the chance to do stunt work, a number of different outside projects, half of which I can’t even remember right now because you just move on and I forget. And it’s not just me, there’s a handful of guys. I don’t want to bash John Cena either, I like John. I haven’t talked to him since I left, and I haven’t talked to a lot of people since I’ve left. I’ve been offered things and I go to the office like a good little soldier and they tell me I can’t do it and then two weeks later John Cena is doing it. The same exact thing! I’ll give you an example. This is internal, but it sets the tone. I was the champ and this was about two years ago this time. Triple H came up to me and said ‘Hey, the studios wants you in a movie’ and I was like ‘Oh, cool, they’re lame but it might give me some credit, something to work with and it’s a new experience in case I want to pursue acting after my wrestling career.’ And I would get house shows off. And that was about the time I wanted house shows off because I tore my knee up in September working John Cena at Night of Champions. I put him in a lock and he tried to roll to get out of it and it just twisted my knee and twisted his ankle. So it’s all set, the movie is 12 Rounds 2, I think, and I remember talking to you about it and you’re like ‘No, don’t do it, it’s a John Cena movie’ and the big thing was getting house shows off. So I agree to do it and we’re going back and forth, I’m signing papers and Hunter tells me the dates they are shooting the movie and that’s during the European tour. I tried telling him it was during the tour and he just denied it. I said, ‘Hunter, it’s always two weeks after WrestleMania and two weeks before Thanksgiving. Are you sure Vince doesn’t want me on the tour?’ At that time I was the champion and felt I needed to lead the locker room by example and I appeared everyone and I did everything John Cena did to put it in perspective. They just don’t advertise it. I did as many Make-A-Wishes as John did, but they only talked about him. So Hunter went and checked the schedule and the next day on the internet I see Randy Orton is starring in 12 Rounds 2. So I called Hunter and said “So, you couldn’t have called me and told me” and he said ‘Well I tried getting them to switch the schedule, but they couldn’t, so we went with the second option.’ That’s just how they are.”
His fans are anxiously waiting to watch the legendary wrestler start his UFC career. His early retirement from wrestling not-with-standing, CM Punk was able to maintain his fame, and use that to come out and explain what he thought were major problems with the WWE. He was able to tell the world something most would never think about even attempting to tell, and that courage is what makes CM Punk so legendary. The next time you start to wonder what happened to him, or what he is doing now, know that he is now taking part in a less dangerous, less corrupt, and more relatable UFC. At 37 years old, CM Punk still has time to increase his already huge fame. The fact that he put himself into this situation shows how smart and successful he really is.