A Love Letter to The Return of CM Punk
How many times have you watched the first segment of Rampage on Friday night? I'll make a confession right now. I've watched the 4:40 clip on YouTube of Punk's entrance on over a dozen occasions. I watched it during my lunch break at work on Saturday, I even watched the clip on the walk home from a night out on Saturday night, (they didn't have Cult of Personality at the karaoke bar, which made me very sad,) at half 2 in the morning. So why have I watched this clip on multiple occasions? Because it reminds me of why I love professional wrestling.
Among my group of friends, I am the "wrestling guy" and I'm on an island on my own in that characteristic. Being a fan of wrestling at the age of 35 in 2021 isn't the same as being a fan of wrestling aged 12 in 1998 and I'm going to be honest with you guys, there have been days when I've wondered if it was pointless being a wrestling fan through the Benoit homicide/suicide and #speakingout and I've also found it hard to explain to my friends why professional wrestling can be great. What do I show them? Mankind vs Undertaker- Hell In A Cell? Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin from Wrestlemania 13? which is one of my favourite matches of all time but to someone outside from the wrestling bubble, the blood that oozes from Austin's face that night is a turnoff. Maybe I'm not a good salesman but professional wrestling always has been a hard sell to an outsider but last night it was no longer a hard sell.
If someone ever asked me why I liked professional wrestling so much, I would show them the video of CM Punk's entrance from Rampage in front of his hometown fans. It was 15,000 people showing their love to another human being and that human being showing that love back.
Was it the biggest pop in wrestling history when the opening bars of Cult of Personality started? If there is another one I want to hear it. You can barely hear the opening guitar riff the fans are that loud and if there was a decibel meter at the United Center it would have broke when Punk walked through the tunnel.
If the pop gave you goosebumps, it would be Punk getting on his knees letting the occasion sink in that would bring out the emotions. For those 50 seconds when he was on the ground, he was the king of the world. 15,000 people were chanting his name and Punk was getting overwhelmed by the situation. He was at a big time wrestling event for the first time in seven years, a situation he probably never thought he would ever be in again and for those 50 seconds you saw the weight that a person has been carrying for seven years finally come off his shoulders.
Without wanting to get ultra nerdy here, what follows is the greatest camera shot in pro wrestling history. Punk is looking up to the fans to his right looking like a kid seeing Wrigley Field for the first time and behind him is a sea of faces all looking at him, some of them for the first time in their lives. It truly is a beautiful camera shot even if the ground cameraman gets in the way doing his job.
The "crying fan" discourse that evening was typical twitter in its bad and good. The usual suspect troll accounts tried to mock him and then a majority expressed their appreciation for "crying fan". He probably wasn't the only person in the crowd who cried but he was the guy who the cameras focused on. We may never know who that guy was. Various people have tried to track him down with no avail so far. Chicago has a history with fans never wanting to be tracked down so we may never know what was going through that fans head at that time but a lot of people have had a shitty last 18 months and for one night that shittiness was forgotten and for some people emotion got the better for them. It's what happens when you care about something and that fan and the many in attendance care for and love CM Punk.
Punk's joy is something to behold. It's a joy that we had not seen for so long from Punk. The weight of the world now off his shoulders, he hugs fans, even jumping into the crowd at one point. Two different soundtracks play in the background, both of them striking in its uniqueness and also familiarity.
Hearing the fans singing along to "Cult of Personality" is unique compared to the scenes of WWE in the early part of the 2010's. Fans never sang Cult of Personality during that period, yet when the fans were singing on this night, it felt wonderfully familiar. Just two nights before, 5,000 fans sang "Judas" a capella in perfect unity. It was a sign of how fun AEW is at this moment. Watching this mutual show of love put a smile on a face. Also, the commentary is perfect for this moment in its sparseness. There is no-one screaming "WHAAAAAT" or "It's CM Punk". Excalibur confirmed that CM Punk was All Elite, JR compared the moment to the great Michael Jordan moments in the United Center in the 90's, Tazz talked about goosebumps and Mark Henry sounded amazed by the moment. Your commentators for the event of CM Punks first entrance in wrestling for 7 years weren't those at the announce table. They were the 15,000 fans who shouted and screamed their love of one human being.
I said at the start that this moment would be what I would show people when I talk about why I love professional wrestling so much. Friday night was about community, it was about shared experiences and it was about connection. No man in modern wrestling has the connection to a set of fans that Punk does to the public in his city of Chicago, and in explaining that night, you have to use the words love and emotion because for five minutes you saw the love and emotion of people pour out, which makes moments like this all the much better.