As we’ve mentioned, this week marks the fifth anniversary of CM Punk‘s infamous, industry-altering “pipe bomb” promo. Punk certainly turned his career upside down when he took a seat in 2011 and unleashed his semi-uncensored thoughts on the WWE Universe, but his career didn’t start on that stage. Punk had already been wrestling a good dozen years by that point, seeing and doing far more than most wrestlers of his era.
So, rather than looking at the pipe bomb again, let’s go further back to Punk’s sometimes under-appreciated salad days. Here are a few things fans ought to know about the early life and career of CM Punk …
CM Punk’s television career began at the age of eight.
Phillip Jack Brooks was born in Chicago on October 26, 1978. As he’s alluded to numerous times over the years, young Phil had a tumultuous childhood. His dad was a barely-functional alcoholic, and his parents reserved most of their praise and attention for his four siblings. As a teenager, Phil moved out of his parents’ house and was essentially adopted by his best friend Chez’s family. He’s had little to do with his biological family since.
But hey, CM Punk’s childhood wasn’t all doom and gloom! There were also scary clowns involved! Punk is always reticent about his upbringing, but in 2010 a random aunt decided to bust that wide open, sending video of an 8-year-old Phil Brooks on The Bozo Show to a local Chicago news station. Thanks Aunt Christine! In the video, we see lil’ Punk play musical hats (during which he annoys the adults with an impromptu snappy remark, naturally) and grab a copy of Don’t Wake the Dragon from the terrifying Bozo himself. It’s an appropriate introduction to show business, given where Punk ended up working.
The “CM” originally stood for “Chick Magnet,” regardless of what Punk will tell you now.
The “Chick Magnet” thing was mostly aspirational at this stage.
So, what’s the “CM” in CM Punk stand for? Over the years Punk has claimed it meant everything from Chicago Made to Cookie Monster. All the red herrings are partly just Punk being clever, but they may also be designed to throw fans off the slightly embarrassing reality. Namely, that “CM” probably stands for Chick Magnet. Kinda douchey, but true.
Punk started his career running and wrestling for a surprisingly successful backyard promotion called the Lunatic Wrestling Federation, where he was part of a tag team called The Chick Magnets. The dynamic duo consisted of Chick Magnet Punk and his partner Chick Magnet Venom, but they quickly shortened the first part of their names to CM, because hey, you don’t have to call yourself a chick magnet to be one. CM Punk would certainly know. By the way, the Lunatic Wrestling Federation still exists, and CM Venom is a real dude, so this origin story checks out on multiple levels.
Punk’s career (and life) nearly ended early due to a fractured skull.
All wrestlers deal with injuries, but CM Punk’s career, and possibly life, was almost derailed before it had barely begun. In 2002, Punk was wrestling indie staple Reckless Youth, and the two bonked heads on a neckbreaker. Usually that wouldn’t be a huge deal, but Punk ended up with a fractured skull, swollen brain and spinal hemorrhaging. The doctors told him they’d seen people die from lesser fractures, but Punk, being the stubborn bastard he is, turned down any painkillers, and instead just went home, laid in a dark room, and healed himself. He was told he shouldn’t do anything physical for 14 months – he was back in the ring within six weeks.
He learned his craft from Eddie Guerrero and Raven.
After rolling around in backyards for a bit, Punk got himself some legit training and was soon wrestling pals Colt Cabana and Chris Hero in Louisville’s IWA Mid-South and other indie promotions across America. Punk began to make a bit of a name for himself, but by his own admission, it only truly clicked once he faced Eddie Guerrero in 2002. Eddie was cleaning up his drug issues while on a forced sabbatical from WWE, and he and Punk feuded over the IWA Mid-South Title. Eddie taught Punk psychology and timing (two things the not-terribly-athletic Punk relied on heavily throughout the rest of his career) and to this day, he considers Eddie his favorite opponent and the real best in the world.
If Punk’s in-ring skills were learned from Eddie, it was Raven who taught him how to work the mic and tell a story. Punk joined the fledgling ROH in late-2002, and soon butted heads with the veteran Raven. The feud, which hinged on Raven’s past drug abuse, was the first time Punk really got to dig into his straight edge character, and opened Punk’s eyes to many aspects of the business. It may seem somewhat ironic that the straight edge CM Punk’s two biggest influences were men who struggled with drug issues, but Punk isn’t really the sanctimonious shill he sometimes portrays on TV. Well, at least not all the time.
He had a brief, forgotten run in TNA.
“I’m, uh, just in TNA to get directions on how to get away from TNA.”
Punk’s association with Raven would eventually carry him into TNA, back in those strange, early days when they were doing weekly pay-per-views. Punk’s TNA run has been mostly forgotten, because, well, it was TNA, but also because the stint didn’t last long. In early 2004, Punk got into a legit brawl with Teddy Hart (of course he did) and was booted from the company only a year after he started.
Triple H and Shawn Michaels delivered a tag team burial during CM Punk’s WWE tryout.
In and around 2005, Punk landed on the WWE radar, working some Heat matches and getting an official tryout with the company. It was at that tryout that Punk made his first, very powerful, WWE enemy. According to former WWE writer Court Bauer, Triple H and Shawn Michaels went full DX on Punk during the tryout…
“Triple H along with HBK buried CM Punk. I think it was his 2005 tryout. Maybe he didn’t know the name, and wasn’t familiar with who it was, but they buried him. They annihilated his look and his work and I’m like ‘You just sunk the guy in front of the Chairman!’ They were shredding this poor guy.”
Punk was ultimately hired anyway, but those who have followed his backstage trials and tribulations know he and Triple H never really warmed to each other. In fact, it was Punk turning down a WrestleMania match against Triple H that led inexorably to his 2014 walkout. At least Hunter was honest about the bullsh*t Punk would be facing for the next nine years.
He legitimately signed his WWE contract on the ROH title.
As Punk was preparing to sign his life over to WWE, he was immersed in the original Summer of Punk storyline in ROH. Much like the story that followed his 2011 pipe bomb, Punk won the ROH title after admitting he was leaving the company, then turned heel by insisting he was going to take the title with him. The storyline was hot fire, and one of its best moments saw Punk signing his new WWE contract on the ROH Title. It was a marvelous f*ck you to the fans, and it was totally legit – Punk really hadn’t put pen to paper yet, and signed his deal with the devil right there on the belt that was supposed to represent everything anti-Sports Entertainment.
Jeff Hardy was supposed to win Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 24.
After signing with WWE, Punk kicked around OVW and the new ECW for a few years. He was a Paul Heyman guy and had his share of modest successes, but his career only really took off once he won the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 24. It was a life-changing victory that definitely wasn’t in WWE’s original plans.
The idea was to have Jeff Hardy win the briefcase, but he was nailed with a 60-day Wellness Policy violation shortly before WrestleMania and scrubbed from the show. With no other obvious winners in the match (seriously, Carlito, MVP and Mr. Kennedy were in there) Punk got the briefcase more-or-less by default. Three months later, he’d cash in to become World Heavyweight Champion. Jeff Hardy’s drug use, and Punk’s lack thereof, continued to work to Punk’s benefit in 2009 when the two would battle over the title. It was the first time Punk was really allowed to be himself in WWE, and the feud would net him two more title reigns.
He wrote a “six figure” check to save Joey Mercury’s house.
CM Punk has a reputation as a bit of a jerk, which he’s done his fair share to earn, but there’s also a kinder, gentler side to the guy. Punk’s close friend Joey Mercury was released from WWE in 2007 for drug issues, and rapidly fell on hard times. Eventually, with Punk’s help, Mercury started to get his life back in order, but by this time Mercury’s house was in foreclosure. So CM Punk gave Mercury a check to pay off his house. A six-figure check, during a time when Punk wasn’t yet on top or making main event money.
A couple years later, when Mercury had kicked his addictions, Punk pushed WWE to rehire him as a member of the Straight Edge Society. That partnership wouldn’t last long, but Mercury has been gainfully employed with WWE ever since, working as a producer, and briefly as a mute stooge for Seth Rollins. Maybe remember this little tale next time you feel the urge to rail on about how selfish Punk is for leaving WWE or whatever.
The Miz main eventing WrestleMania was the final straw.
Can you fault Punk for being mad Alex Riley got a better ‘Mania spot than him?
As 2010 rounded the corner into 2011, CM Punk found himself particularly disillusioned with WWE. The Straight Edge Society had been scrapped for no particular reason, and Punk had been traded to Raw where he was immediately lost in the shuffle. Punk had been stalling on signing a new contract, but the final blow came when The Miz got to be the nominal heel champion involved in the John Cena/Rock main event fracas at WrestleMania 27. Most fans weren’t thrilled to see Miz in that position, but Punk took it as a personal insult, and vowed not to resign when his contract expired that summer. The stage was set, the fuse was lit and CM Punk’s career, and the WWE as a whole, was in for a shakeup.
There you are, a few facts about The Best in the World’s beginnings. Any interesting stuff I missed? What are your favorite Punk moments from before the pipe bomb changed everything? Prove you’re best in the comments section, below.