Wrestling is Punk. It’s about time that we remember that.
For twenty years, wrestling has been underground. Since the biggest corporation in sports entertainment drove the second biggest corporation in sports entertainment out of business, the monopoly has been in place. Moreover, in doing so they took the third company down with them. Soon, the grit was gone. Whatever spine the millionaires had, it disappeared rapidly once the prospect of becoming billionaires was put in front of them.
That is the world most of us grew up with. Twenty years of homogeneity. Sterile, formless sports entertainment. A presentation so facile that some of the greatest performers the sport has ever seen struggled unimaginably to shine through. A veneer of vaseline blurred our screens, layer by layer until all that was left was a vague depiction of what used to be called pro wrestling.
Others tried, to varying success. Some were ahead of their time, creating organisations from nothing that have survived to this day. Some were stuck in the past, relying on nostalgia over the incredible future prospects that could have led the way to a better place and time. The nascent independent wrestling scene of North America took its first steps into an uncertain world. Grass roots movements took hold and fought hard for their place. For new wrestlers, options were limited and the future had grown darker.
Indulge me for a minute, I’d like to tell you a bit about me. I loved wrestling when I was very young, but I couldn’t watch it. Where I grew up, wrestling was something that was on very late at night on sports channels only the rich kids’ parents could afford. For me, wrestling was action figures, video games, and, if I was very lucky, video tapes. It wasn’t a very sustainable way to be a fan of something and I gravitated away to other things. When I was a teenager, a cousin of mine moved away and left me some of his video games. One of them was a Smackdown Vs Raw, somewhere between ‘07 and ‘10 – I can’t remember which. At that point it had been a few years since I had engaged with pro wrestling in any way, so I threw it on to have a look.
Scrolling through the roster of the day, I recognised many and many I did not. One of them caught my eye. This was the first time I was made aware of CM Punk. I remember exactly what my first thought was; “Oh shit, someone put my create-a-wrestler in the game”. The long hair, the tattoos, I mean for god’s sake the dude has Punk in his name, he couldn’t be more me at 17 if he tried. So, I decided to look him up. Thankfully, broadband had been invented since the last time I had any interest in wrestling so it didn’t take long to learn a whole bunch about this guy. Before I knew it, I was staying up until four in the morning to watch Wrestlemania 27. Hey I was new, how was I supposed to know how bad it would be? Sure, the end of that show had me wondering why the hell I was taking an interest in WWE, but that CM Punk guy had me hooked.
Call it providence, call it exceptional timing and luck but the Summer of Punk was just the time I happened to fall back into wrestling. I couldn’t have known how significant the timing would become. I spent that time diving deeper and deeper into wrestling, I became obsessed. I discovered the world of wrestling that existed outside of WWE, a world I had never known. As a kid I had some idea, I had heard of WCW but all it meant to me was that I had a Sting among all my WWE figures, like that one Mega Bloks brick in your bucket of Legos. My world quickly became Ring of Honor and Chikara, El Generico and Colt Cabana. I fell in love with all things wrestling.
I spent much of my teenage years in bands, playing loud, cramped gigs in hot, tiny rooms. That was my life and my dream, I loved that life. I can’t tell you how much it elated me to see wrestling presented in such a similar format. For me, wrestling was always bright lights and pageantry. To see wrestling, really great wrestling, in small dark rooms with a few dozen passionate fans, that hit home for me. That was when it all made sense for me. Wrestling is Punk.
As such, he made sense to me. The renegade who went to WWE to unapologetically be himself. The guy who bent noses and spoke truth to the powers that be because that was who he was. This was my guy, and I spent the next three years watching them slowly, surely, wear him down. It hurt; it felt like this poor guy was a sacrifice. The one who risked everything, who got damaged beyond repair just to stand on the hill and wave the flag that says “fuck you” to the people who tell you “you can’t”. They might have broken him, but he opened the door. He wiped the glittery smear off the windows and let us all see what was really out there. CM Punk is not solely responsible for the way wrestling has changed in the last decade, but undoubtedly things today would be very different without him.
I wouldn’t be so crass as to attribute the success of wrestling outside of WWE to CM Punk, simply I would say from my perspective he started me down this path. That said, I have to imagine I am not alone. I know from experience, from talking to my contemporaries that were there for that time, seeing Punk in WWE play out led a lot of us out that door. All that it took was for the likes of Ring of Honor, New Japan, and now AEW, to show us what they could do.
To me, this whole wrestling world beyond the WWE has been my new punk rock. A place where people can be themselves; they can perform their personas in their way. People can express themselves and their creativity in the ways they want to. That’s punk rock. When I look at the indie scene, especially when I look at all the unique shows places like GCW put on, I see my punk rock. I love it, it inspires me to see such creative people do their thing. This is why I enjoy AEW. Look, I don’t care. If you’re one of these weirdos who freaks out every time someone praises AEW without equally praising WWE, stop reading. I’m done tiptoeing around you. If you need WWE in your life to feel safe, then go ahead and stay safe. I’m not about to say AEW is the perfect company, I will be the first to point out their many faults (MORE WOMEN’S MATCHES PLEASE AND THANK YOU TONY) but in a world where WWE exists, how could I not give AEW their deserved praise?
AEW has become a beacon for wrestlers who want to do things their way. Jon Moxley, Christian Cage, Taynara Conti, Miro, FTR, the late, great and missed more everyday Mr. Brodie Lee. So much of AEW’s roster are people who didn’t fit someone else’s mould. Rather than accept that as some kind of divine judgement, they stepped outside of the confines and said no, I am who I am and I am worthwhile. That’s fucking punk rock. AEW might be another big company and yeah, it might also be run by a billionaire. That’s not very punk, but it’s a system that gives people room to be themselves. It’s not perfect and it never will be, but at least the windows aren’t barred and the doors aren’t locked. Even punks need a stage to perform on, maybe sell a few t-shirts while they’re at it.
In 2011, this punk kid found a new home in indie wrestling. As cliche as it sounds, I found a family there. That’s what punk is, finding family not with those who you share blood but with those who you would spill your blood for. Being a punk is being yourself, no matter what anyone tells you. It’s about expressing yourself, your beliefs, your love, and your politics. It’s about being unapologetically you. These days, you can do that in wrestling and you can be a star. You can paint half your face and call yourself half dead. You can be a 64 million year old luchador. You can make nerdy references, you can dress as your favourite character. You can get your mom to drive you to your match. You can put your hands in your pockets.
You can come back after seven years to the business that burned you, that took your passion and stomped on it. You can come home.
Wrestling is Punk, and Punk is fucking good.