Headed back to the Chicagoland area for the WWE "Payback" live pay-per-view event this Sunday at Allstate Arena, I talked with WWE Superstar and Chicago native CM Punk about using Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" as his entrance music, singing the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field and more...
In May of 2012, I very unexpectedly had a spur of the moment opportunity to interview then WWE Champion CM Punk at the third annual Dempster Family Foundation Casino Night charity event at the Palmer House Hilton.
At that point, Punk, only months prior, had led one of the more unique and creative angles in recent wrestling memory, one that saw him win the WWE championship on the day upon which his contract was set to expire, the catch being that he had, to that point, refused to sign a new contract with WWE, considering leaving the promotion with the belt instead.
The angle didn't so much begin when he won the title, which he actually went on to trade back and forth with the likes of John Cena as is frequently the pro wrestling style, but a few weeks before when he cut a supposedly unscripted promo for the ages live on cable television, cracking wise on the state of wrestling, firing away on his bosses and ultimately threatening to leave the promotion with the title for greener pastures care of the competition.
It was the type of anti-authority/anti-boss tirade that just about anyone, wrestling fan or not, could relate to on some level and, from there, a media whirlwind began that saw him guest on Jimmy Kimmel, and, amongst other appearances, arrive, title belt in hand, to take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in his hometown of Chicago while the cameras ate it up.
Eventually, CM Punk would go on to reside over the eighth longest title reign in WWE history, a reign that only recently ended.
Scheduled to return to the WWE this Sunday at the "Payback" pay-per-view in Rosemont at the Allstate Arena in a match against Chris Jericho, my 2012 interview with the Chicagoan and noted music fan hits on topics like his entrance music (Living Colour's "Cult of Personality"), his love of Florida punk rockers Against Me!, an apparent dislike for Alter Bridge (who can blame him?) and much more...
Q. I think the first time I actually saw you wrestle, it was on an AWA card at a high school gymnasium in Joliet. 1999 maybe? I want to say The Iron Shiek, King Kong Bundy and George “The Animal” Steele were also on the card. You’ve certainly come a long way since then so what’s it like in the past ten or twelve years, to have come this far?
CM Punk: I’ve been wrestling for fifteen years and every time I think of where I started and when I get to an event like throwing [out] a first pitch or singing the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field, it really humbles me. I’m not the kind of guy that really thinks I’m a celebrity or feels that I’m important or anything like that. I started wrestling in backyards and stuff and now I’m main eventing Wrestlemania in front of 90,000 people so it’s pretty wild. It feels awesome.
Q. Tell me a bit about what it’s been like for you being a part of Wrestlemania…
Punk: Biggest show of the year, obviously. We like to say it’s our World Series, it’s our Super Bowl, it’s our World Cup. It’s everything that’s the biggest day for sports. And on top of that it’s like the opening of Avengers. It’s got the big Hollywood movie feel. It’s entertainment, it’s sports… It’s really everything. And it’s the most high pressure situation you could possibly be in if you’re a wrestler like me. And I love those situations. So it’s the biggest day of the year for me.
Q. Well you very legendarily showed up with the title belt at Wrigley Field in 2011. As a Chicagoan and a Cubs fan, how did that feel?
Punk: Wild, you know? I could never afford to go to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs… so to be actually invited, and to be bringing the WWE championship with me… It’s little goals like that that really blow my mind. Stuff that if you would’ve told a fifteen year old me, I would’ve probably just laughed at you: “Yeah, no way. Get out of here!”
Q. You were involved in a very controversial storyline in late 2011 where you were one of the first people to kind of take on that “fourth wall.” The promo you cut that night on Raw is pretty legendary now amongst wrestling fans. What’s it like to have been involved in an angle like that which broke new ground?
Punk: Well the fourth wall that I referred to in that promo… this is often misconstrued. I get what people are thinking that I meant but I simply meant that fourth wall that separates the fans from us, the performers… Like the fourth wall in theatre.
Vince McMahon hates it when you look directly into the camera, right? And that was all I was doing was just specifically trying to piss off Vince McMahon… Because I was out the door. I was leaving… So I didn’t care! So I looked right in the camera and went “Oh look at me! I’m breaking your fourth wall!” And yeah, that promo obviously goes down in wrestling history and I’m extremely proud of it. It came from the heart, it was one hundred percent real, it wasn’t scripted and that was probably one of the top moments of my career.
Q. You brought back Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” and it works really well as your entrance music. Why bring back a song like that?
Punk: I think it’s awesome. I’m not gonna say I lucked into it… but I used that song wrestling on the independent circuit before I got signed with WWE. And I felt like I needed a change even before I re-signed. So I was trying to get that song for a while but I didn’t re-sign my contract so it seemed kind of like a silly thing to argue about so I just let it go. But once I re-signed [in 2011], I said “I gotta have that song. It’s a new CM Punk so I need new music.”
Q. Growing up, I imagine you were a wrestling fan?
Punk: Oh, yeah. Huge!
Q. Favorite wrestling theme song of all time?
Punk: It’s way too hard to call… Off the top of my head, I’m saying Slick’s “Jive Soul Bro.”
Yeah, you can’t beat that!
Q. Least favorite theme song? I'm partial to The Bushwhackers'...
Punk: I mean, it works for them…
Q. Let me put it this way… if you could walk into a bar in Wicker Park and shut it down by playing the worst possible theme song that you could think of on a jukebox, what would it be? Something that would get people who don’t know it to say to themselves, “What the hell?”
Punk: Yeah… but that wouldn’t necessarily make it a bad song or a bad theme song. It just might be considered abrasive to people’s ears…
Q. Ok, well maybe that’s a better question: What kind of music do you consider abrasive to one’s ears?
Punk: Alter Bridge. Terrible. I mean, that does it for me. That would probably make people dance and have a good time but it makes me want to pull my hair out.
Q. Favorite wrestler growing up?
Q. Wrestler you loved to hate while growing up?
Punk: Wrestler I loved to hate… Man, I don’t know if there was one that I loved to hate… Because I always liked the bad guys. I liked the Shawn Michaels! Wrestler I loved to hate… Rick Martel.
Q. Are we talking “The Model,” or like “Strike Force” Rick Martel?
Punk: The Model… Yes, yes, “The Model.”
Q. Anything else you’re listening to right now?
Punk: A lot of Against Me! but that never changes. Every day is an Against Me! day.
*** This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan
(Details on Sunday's WWE "Payback" event at Allstate Arena after the jump)
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