To navigate the world of high school, some teenagers start rock ’n’ roll bands. Others build wrestling rings in their backyards and have throw-downs with dreams of sports entertainment glory. CM Punk fell in the latter category.
“There was no manual when I was a kid to deal with my parents or high school or bullies or whatever, so a lot of the time you figure it out yourself and you do it yourself,” said Punk.
Punk, a 34-year-old Chicago native, wasn’t your standard bloody backyard brawler, either. “My mindset on everything – everything I do is like punk rock – is do it yourself,” Punk said. “I wasn’t jumping off my roof, I was trying to technically wrestle like (wrestling legend) Bret Hart in a backyard.”
Over the years, Punk has gone from backyards to the biggest show of them all: on Sunday, April 7, he’ll compete at WrestleMania 29 at East Rutherford’s MetLife Stadium.
Punk has already secured his place in wrestling history, having held the World Wrestling Entertainment Championship for 434 days, the longest title reign in 25 years. But on Sunday, he has the chance to do something no one in his business has ever done: defeat professional wrestling phenom the Undertaker at WrestleMania, who over the decades has racked up an undefeated 20 bout streak at the annual spectacular.
While Punk has faced off against the Undertaker in the past, this will be their first time going head-to-head at WrestleMania.
“I think Wrestlemania always changes the equation, no matter who you’re in the ring with,” Punk said. “I could be in the ring with (fellow WWE star) Zack Ryder and it’s a different environment than wrestling Zack Ryder anywhere else. You beat the Undertaker anywhere else and it’s a huge victory in itself, but to beat him at WrestleMania obviously should be the goal of everybody, because he’s built this (winning) streak up to be this huge, monumental thing, so naturally I want to break it.”
As part of the storyline leading up to the Punk vs. Undertaker showdown at WrestleMania, on air Punk has been exploiting a very real loss to the wrestling community: the death in March at the age of 58 of Bill Moody, who appeared for several years as the Undertaker’s manager, Paul Bearer, and also worked under the name Percy Pringle III.
“My job is to get people to be mad at me and I think I do that very well; I think I blur the lines,” Punk said. “Everything is designed to push people’s buttons – so it’s unfortunate that Percy had to die for him to be a part of this story – but trust me, he would have loved it, he really would have loved it.”
Punk’s boundary-pushing antagonism recalls the style one of his early wrestling heroes, legendary ’80s heel “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
“Nobody knew what crazy Piper was going to do,” Punk said. “I would like to believe that there are some people out there who don’t know what crazy CM Punk is going to do.”
When Punk comes to New Jersey for WrestleMania this weekend, he’ll be on the home turf of some seriously rocking friends: Garden State punk legends the Bouncing Souls, Basking Ridge natives who made their name in New Brunswick before relocating to the Asbury Park area in recent years.
For a time, Punk used the Souls’ “Ole” from the band’s “Hopeless Romantic” (1999) album as his entrance music, and when Punk left wrestling promotion Ring of Honor in the summer of 2005 he used “Night Train” from the Souls’ LP “Anchors Aweigh” (2003) as his farewell.
In December 2012, Punk was one of four celebrity friends of the band who got to write a set list the band performed as part of its epic Home for the Holidays series of shows at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. On the night they played his hand-crafted set, Punk turned up to enjoy the night in person.
“That was ridiculous, that was amazing, and that’s one of the things that my silly life has afforded me to be able to do,” Punk said. “It was good to be down there just hanging out for once. I had just gotten knee surgery a couple of days prior, so the smartest thing for me to do was go to a punk rock show and stage dive and jump around, but you can’t hold a good man down.”