The Way You Make Me Feel: On Wrestling, Art, and the Power of Emotion

We all saw him. It took less than an hour for him to become a Twitter sensation. He had his detractors (bad) and his supporters (good). Wrestling Twitter came out in droves to defend him as soon as a few critics tried to make fun.

He will forever be known as ‘Crying CM Punk Fan’ and, for just one night, he was the voice of the voiceless.

When CM Punk returned to the world of professional wrestling, it truly was a ‘hell just froze over’ kind of moment. It was one of those instances in which those who saw it will always remember where they were and what they were doing. Me? I was sitting in my favorite chair, covered in potato chip crumbs and drinking a commemorative Pepsi.

But for the people inside of the United Center in Chicago, when those first few licks from Cult of Personality piped in over the speakers, it had to have been…magic.

It was emotional, okay?

It was obviously emotional for CM Punk. It was his first time in front of a wrestling crowd in over 7 years. The tears in his own eyes, on his own cheeks, proved that it was magic for him.

Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling

But it was ‘Crying CM Punk Fan’ that became a meme. And while some people tried to tear him down, others adopted him as one of their own. Punk himself said that if people were making fun of that fan, they were making fun of him. In truth, they’d be making fun of all of us.

My name is Nick (Hi Nick!), and I have cried because of professional wrestling. In fact, let’s tell the truth and shame the devil; pro wrestling has given me many instances that left me in tears. That’s how wrestling should be. It’s how any art, any form of entertainment, should be. Whether it’s a movie, a television show, a book, or a song on the radio – entertainment is at its best when it makes us feel.

When Captain America finally proclaimed “Avengers assemble!” I cried. Not ten minutes later, when Tony Stark told Thanos, one last time, that he was Iron Man, I cried again.

When The Dark Knight flew his Bat-Plane to get a bomb away from Gotham City, presumably sealing his own fate in the process, I cried.

I cried when The Bride killed Bill and he took his final five steps. I cried when Dr. Frank ‘n Furter sang about going home in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I cried when Eric Draven realized his bride had been killed and he had to follow The Crow.

I cry when art moves me, that’s all.

In terms of wrestling, there have undoubtedly been moments that have left me wweping (see what I did there?).

The first time it happened was actually the first time I ever saw anything happen in a wrestling ring. I was flipping through channels, probably looking for episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or Batman: The Animated Series (the ’90s ruled). As I was flipping, I came across two men staring each other down, looks of unadulterated hatred plastered across their faces. One of the men was in a wheelchair. All of a sudden, the other guy kicked the wheelchair-bound man in the face, knocking him out of his chair. Immediately, my eyes welled up with tears (I’m a very sensitive, precious baby boy) and I sought comfort in a cold glass of Nesquick. It was one of the many interview segments involving Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. It cemented me as a professional wrestling fan. It changed my life.

I cried because of pro wrestling before I even knew what pro wrestling was.

I like crying. It’s an outlet. It’s a way to remind yourself that you actually feel things. For many, many years, I tried not to feel things and I went to great lengths in order to avoid those pesky things called feelings. I drowned my feelings with alcohol for nearly a decade and was quite successful at burying them at the bottom of a bottle. But then, I got better. I realized, to borrow a phrase, that “I was never going to get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”

So, when Punk uttered that exact phrase on Rampage, I got chills. And, yes, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. In fact, I pretty much had tears in my eyes from the moment his music hit. And I have a feeling that I wasn’t alone.

Professional wrestling, like any form of art, is intended to make us feel things. It’s intended to draw emotion out of us. Sometimes that emotion results in simple cheers or boos. But other times, in certain, special moments, that emotion projects something different. Sometimes, just sometimes, it triggers something inside of us and moves us to tears.

I don’t know what that fan was going through at that specific moment. Maybe his life was great. Or maybe it wasn’t, and maybe professional wrestling was an outlet for him. Maybe his journey resembled that of Punk’s. Maybe he finally quit a job that he hated. Maybe he was tired of feeling underused and underappreciated. Maybe somebody close to him left and never came back.

I dunno man, maybe he just really, really likes CM Punk.

It doesn’t matter the reason he was crying. What matters is that, in that moment, he was overcome with emotion and he wasn’t afraid or embarrassed or ashamed to express it. When I saw the guy, I didn’t notice the tears in his eyes at first. What I saw was a person literally reaching out to somebody. He was offering his hand – to CM Punk, to all of us. He was reaching out because, maybe, he was hoping somebody would reach back.

How often does wrestling allow us to that? It doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s just…magic.

In preparation for AEW’s All Out, I rewatched the former Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech, as well as his comeback speech. As I did when I first saw both, I cried.

I cried again at the end of All Out when Bryan Danielson made his AEW debut. Because finally, finally, Danielson would get to be wholly, fully, completely himself. I never felt like his comeback in WWE was handled as well as it could have been. Bryan’s story is, quite possibly, the greatest real-life story professional wrestling has ever had. The perennial underdog spends years fighting the powers-that-be to succeed. He fights his way to the top, finally headlines WrestleMania and wins the World Heavyweight Championship, and is then forced to vacate the title and eventually retire. But then! The underdog fights for his dreams because his dreams fought for him and he is able to come back to do the only thing in the world he ever loved. That is a story. That is a saga. That is a ballad. It’s the kind of stuff that makes us, the wrestling fans, feel.

Those feelings overwhelmed us at All Out, when both Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson debuted with the company. It happened yet again on Monday Night Raw when Big E finally won the WWE Championship after years of playing second fiddle (or, I guess, trombone) to his peers. When Big E pinned Bobby Lashley, held up the championship and was embraced by his two best friends; yeah, I felt that. And ya know what? That’s okay. Art is supposed to make us feel. It’s supposed to overwhelm us and provide an escape. It’s supposed to tug at our heart strings and move us and inspire us and drive us. That’s what good art does. It doesn’t happen in wrestling a lot. But when it does, there’s nothing like it.

So, ‘Crying CM Punk Fan,’ don’t ever let somebody mock you for allowing yourself to be moved by a moment. That goes for you, too, dear reader. Don’t you ever think that you’re not allowed to react to something because of some arbitrary standard that somebody else has set for you. If something moves you, be moved. If something brings you joy, smile until your face hurts. And if something makes you cry, let them tears flow, baby! That’s what art is. That’s what art does. And if these past few weeks of professional wrestling have taught us anything, it’s that the art of wrestling is powerful stuff. So, in the words of the new WWE Champion, it’s okay to let yourself “feel the power.”