The inside story of CM Punk’s return to wrestling – ESPN

Video The inside story of CM Punk’s return to wrestling – ESPN
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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – CM PUNK arrived at the United Center in Chicago at about 4:30 p.m. local time on Aug. 20, about 4½ hours before he was scheduled to make his return to professional wrestling after more than seven years away on All Elite Wrestling’s “Rampage.”

The former WWE champion and UFC fighter was nervous and anxious as he entered his hometown venue. He hadn’t slept for two nights. Punk tried to settle down by watching some of the wrestling matches being taped for other AEW shows prior to the live Rampage broadcast, but he couldn’t sit still or focus. He was hungry, but he couldn’t force himself to eat much.

Punk started second-guessing some things. He gazed down at his black-and-white sneakers and wondered if those were the right ones to wear. He looked in a bathroom mirror to see if his slicked-back dark hair looked OK. He continued to pace around the backstage area, trying to find comfort in a small group of people who he brought along with him, including Nora Flanagan, who he has known since he was 14 years old, and Lou D’Angeli, a former pro wrestling performer who was once known as Sign Guy Dudley in Extreme Championship Wrestling.

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With about 15 minutes until showtime, Punk and his friends moved just behind the curtain. Punk, a massive hockey fan, flashed a quick smile. This was a familiar location for him inside of the United Center.

Also read: CM Punk Reveals Significance Of AEW Rampage Ice Cream Bars

“This is where I always stand for when I do ‘Shoot the Puck’ for the Blackhawks,” Punk told D’Angeli. “I’m always nervous when I’m doing that, so this makes perfect sense that I’m nervous here again.”

Finally, the intro music for AEW Rampage played in the arena, marking the start of the broadcast. And when that stopped playing, the “CM Punk!” chants started, even though the sold-out crowd still didn’t know for sure he would be there.

That’s when Punk’s signature entrance music, “Cult of Personality,” by Living Colour, blared out of the United Center’s PA system – whipping the crowd into a frenzy, with a climbing decibel level that only grew to greater heights as Punk walked through the tunnel and presented himself to the spectators.

Punk, one of the most beloved wrestlers of the modern era, had officially returned to pro wrestling for the first time since he left WWE in 2014 under the most acrimonious of circumstances. On Sunday, he’ll perform in his first match back, against Darby Allin – a wrestler that Punk said would be his favorite if he was a teenager right now -at AEW’s All Out pay-per-view event at NOW Arena, near his hometown of Chicago.

The story of Punk’s return goes much deeper than that. There were multiple sold-out arenas, record-setting T-shirt sales and $500 ice cream bars along the way, but at its core, it’s about a man who has finally come home.

Also read: Ask 411 Wrestling: How Much Did CM Punk’s Ice Cream Stunt Cost?

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime spot,” Punk said of his return. “I’m never going to get a chance to do something like that again. I don’t know if there’s ever gonna be another chance for anybody to do something like that again. Perfect storm.”

The next morning, a wide-eyed Salls Cree watched the segment on YouTube from home. Up until that point, she really had no idea what all those ice cream bars were for. Her husband woke her up and she opened Instagram to 90 messages, mostly of people wanting the Punk ice cream bars, some from as far away as Italy and Colombia.

She looked on eBay and saw some people selling wrappers from that night for as much as $800. One fan bought a frozen, uneaten Punk ice cream bar on the site for $500. There will be 4,000 more Pretty Cool ice cream bars sold this week at the NOW Arena.

“I don’t think I quite understood how beloved he was to this city,” said Salls Cree, a Seattle native. “But the Chicago that I’ve gotten to know and the way they showed up for him, and he showed up for them. That was so Chicago to me.”

DURING PUNK’S ON-AIR speech, AEW sent out a news release with a quote from Punk simply stating: “I’m back,” just as Jordan had done when he returned to the Bulls in 1995.

Also read: How Chicago Wrestling Icon CM Punk Collaborated With Pretty Cool

When he got back behind the curtain, Punk saw Khan first, then walked down the stairs to hug D’Angeli.

After the embrace, Punk asked D’Angeli, “So, how was it?”

D’Angeli looked back at his longtime friend and replied: “You know how it was.”

Even days later, Punk was still living in the energy of that moment.

“Soak it in, man. Just enjoy it,” Punk said. “It doesn’t matter what happens in five minutes. It doesn’t matter what happens in five weeks. Tomorrow does not exist. Yesterday does not matter. Everything was about the present. And I think just as human beings, not enough of us take moments to just be present.”

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