By the time CM Punk walks down the aisle for UFC 203 on September 10, it will have been a whopping 959 days since the last time he publicly competed in any sort of official athletic contest, his last event being WWE’s 2014 Royal Rumble. But what’s even crazier is the building in which he will return to combat sports — Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena — is the exact same building he walked out of on January 27, 2014, when he decided he had enough of WWE and went home.
Much has been written about Punk’s acrimonious departure from WWE, and there’s no need to rehash it here. Instead, let’s take a look at Punk’s history with “The Q.” While it’s not an arena one might readily associate with the former WWE Superstar’s career (obviously, the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., is the most iconic backdrop for Punk’s success), there’s a surprising amount of symbolism and career milestones inside this building.
While CM Punk had spent years wrestling in various venues around Cleveland on the independent circuit (this battle royal from 2001, also featuring very young versions of Chris Hero and Colt Cabana, was one of his first appearances on a pro wrestling card in the city), his first WWE wrestling match inside the Q was against Hardcore Holly on the March 20, 2007, episode of ECW. It also marked the debut of his now-iconic Go to Sleep finishing move on TV (though it wouldn’t be identified by name until a few weeks later).
The Cleveland crowd, always a hotbed for indie wrestling, roots for him the whole way. This should come as no surprise, either. Sure, Punk wasn’t from there, but he knew what it took to survive in a large, cold, Midwestern city, as he pointed out in his speech at an awards show in 2014. (Full disclosure: I was his speechwriter for said awards show.)