Well after sunrise in the Sunshine State, the WWE Champion corrals a small entourage of fellow Superstars en route to the University of Miami for a rigorous training session. CM Punk has been in Miami for 24 hours, and yet his opponent is hours away from his arrival – which isn’t a shocking revelation for the titleholder.
“No, I’m not surprised. I think that’s par for the course,” Punk says. “On Twitter, it’s a little strange taking pictures of yourself in a mirror and say, ‘I’m coming for you.’ All right, I’m waiting for you.”
The Straight Edge Superstar sets aside further social media discussion. He’s been bellowing “hashtag” over fellow Superstars’ shoulders while they’re tweeting at WrestleMania week events. His focus is instead his body.
“My workout is going to include working out … not yoga,” Punk explains. “I do yoga constantly, but that’s not all I do. I incorporate other stuff into it. I don’t make ferocious faces after doing yoga, either.”
GETTING WITH THE PROGRAM, 12:49 p.m.
Punk pulls up to the University of Miami with oversized, analog headphones snug around his neck. Orange and green letters decorate the two long corridors to a sprawling gym filled with raucous players from the Hurricane football program.
It’s an odd mix as The Voice of the Voiceless, in his hoodie and signature cap, paces up and down rows of rested weights and a box full of bananas, in between the big men on campus. The tattooed Superstar devises a quick strategy for working out and stations himself at a spot just beneath appropriate signage. “Champions are made here” … but today, they also visit.
WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, 1:01 p.m.
In between his inked-stenciled fingers, CM Punk clasps a pen to scribble meticulous notes in a black journal. He documents his reps in between swapping weights for “clean and jerk” lifts, which cause his tattoos to contort around his wrists and elbows with each raised bar. The WWE Champion continues with planks, dumbbell lunges, leg presses and more. Everything’s recorded in a book that has likely traveled to places most people will ever see in a lifetime.
THE BUS, 3:16 p.m.
Aboard a long aluminum coach bus, the WWE Champion welcomes perfect strangers onto his sleek chariot … provided they remove their shoes first. This is the vessel by which The Straight Edge Superstar travels between cities on the road, complete with a kitchen, bathroom, shower, sofas, bedroom and more closet space than some Chicago apartments. Once inside, Punk prepares a meal that looks more like a science project or maybe a scene from “Re-Animator.”
He digs into his fridge, then packs bunches of vegetation into his juicer for vitamin-reinforced replenishment. Punk explains that this is a ritual that’s typically performed first thing in the morning for a wake-up zing, then followed up with additional doses daily, totaling six or seven 20-ounce servings per day. While not presently in one of his infrequent “juice fasts,” The Straight Edge Superstar throws down a small glass of wheatgrass, then a ginger shot stronger than anything ever concocted by the APA. The cleansing is fulfilled with doses of pure lemon juice then cranberry juice, which begs the question if Punk’s Pepsi tattoo is now more nostalgic given his newfound blending passion. (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)
PUNK CULTURE, 3:12 p.m.
After swishing his fresh fruit and veggie cocktails, CM Punk advances past his XBox, couch crevices overflowing with wrestling DVDs – Night of Champions 2011, the latest “Stone Cold” home video release, “Bending the Rules” and classic Hart footage – plus, notably, a Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living action figure that “guards the bus.”
This indiscriminate litany of baubles is just the beginning. Open his closet and you expose a pop culture porthole. Among the vortex: a trio of plastic monster masks including a Bela Lugosi-like Dracula; two stacks of hardcover comic book collections (a.k.a. “trades”) written by the likes of Mark Millar and one of Punk’s personal favorite (and oft tweeted) writers, Ed Brubaker; personal X-rays; and, somewhere under it all, his 2011 Slammy Award.
BED TIME STORIES, 3:25 p.m.
The caboose of the coach contains a comfortably sized bed where Punk perhaps spends more time reading than sleeping. He scoops up “Locke & Key,” plucks out a plane ticket bookmark – a time capsule to be discovered during future re-reading – and enjoys a few pages. The wild imagery isn’t unlike that found in another favorite tome of his called “With the Light of Truth” by friend Dan Smith, which features the art of straight edge tattoo artists.
Running on little more than two hours of sleep, The Second City Savior savors each panel without looking a bit tired, despite what you may think.
“I just have bags under my eyes because I have bags under my eyes,” he states.
Given his described inability to maintain “ordinary” sleep patterns, the WWE Champion explains that he winds down most frequently with his eyes fixed on the pages of books or graphic novels. Collections like “100 Bullets,” “Preacher,” “Ex Machina” and “Y: The Last Man” have kept Punk company on planes, buses, trains and more for a number of years.
“I’m a writer guy; I’ll read whatever [books] certain guys write,” Punk asserts. “I’d love to [write a comic]. I’ve got a couple of ideas. I’ve talked briefly about doing a Thing one-shot because of the battle cry, you know, ‘It’s clobberin’ time.’ I’ve also got a couple of Punisher stories in my head to tell.”
BIENVENIDOS A MIAMI, 4:50 p.m.
While CM Punk is elsewhere letting his hair down and departing from his usual “bad guy lawyer”-meets-Ponyboy Curtis “greaser,” a car pulls into the bustling hotel in downtown Miami. It belongs to Chris Jericho.
WWE’s first-ever Undisputed Champion glides into the hotel, checks in and almost immediately seeks WWE.com to formally respond to The Voice of the Voiceless’ unsavory comments.
“I think that Punk is a complete mark for himself,” argues Jericho, while pulling his luggage in tow through a hotel lobby. “It makes me laugh that all he cares about is getting his picture on billboards and banners and ice cream bars. All I care about is winning titles and providing classic, memorable moments that people will never forget.”
He adds, “All I know is that DDP Yoga works for me. It’s the best training I’ve had in my life and it’s funny how I’ve been wrestling 10 years longer than CM Punk, but he’s the one who’s always walking around with more ice on him than an eskimo in February. I’m pain-free.”
It’s a fine welcome to Miami.
FOOT NOTES, 5:20 p.m.
Chris Jericho is barely unpacked in his swank suite toward the top of the hotel when he toe-tosses his flip flops into a corner and curls into the seats of his hotel room couch. Pen and notepad in hand, the No. 1 contender to the WWE Title comfortably jots shorthand “strategy” bullets, he says. Like ideas for new song lyrics, the thoughts come to him suddenly and he reacts before the inspiration slips away.
These moments are everything to Jericho, who specifically reflects back on his show-stealing performance with The Showstopper at WrestleMania XIX. This squared circle veteran is seeking something just as special and unforgettable this weekend in Miami.
“People are really primed to see this match [with Punk],” he says, “it has the potential to be one of the best if not the best on the show. There’s a real chance to do something very classic and special here.”
Jericho continues, “This is exactly the reason that I came back. When I saw [CM Punk] starting to say he was the best in the world, that’s where I had to draw the line. That’s a direct rip-off of something I’d said and something that was synonymous with me. He’s had some moments, but he doesn’t have the same body of work that I do. I’ve done two things CM Punk has never done: headlined WrestleMania and stolen the show at WrestleMania.”
AXXESS MAT-RIMONY, 6:56 p.m.
Bridges away from his opponent, WWE Champion CM Punk attends opening night of WrestleMania Axxess, which has yet again grown substantially in size since the previous year. Just when it couldn’t get any bigger, for the first time ever, two WWE fans get engaged live at the WWE event, right in front of their favorite Straight Edge Superstar.
An instant after Maria Rosemberg of Chattanooga, Tenn., delivers a symbolic two-liter Pepsi bottle to her idol CM Punk, Maria’s boyfriend Oliver Whittaker takes a knee and surprises his fair lady with a very heavy proposal.
Shocked, overwhelmed and ecstatic, Maria says “yes.” Punk hollers loud to the crowd with the play-by-play as the couple first brought together by WWE eight years ago now takes the next big step in their relationship.
According to a Whittaker – still nervous as all hell – “Team MariOlly” started as contentious rivals advocating their favorite Superstars online across the pond from one another. Their debates developed into a friendship and, ultimately, a relationship. Now, their WWE-themed webcam meetings will turn into matrimony. (WATCH)
GEEK-WORTHY GIFT, 7:06 p.m.
When all the cheering dies down after a live Axxess engagement, the night of firsts continues as CM Punk meets one WWE fan who clearly knows him pretty well. The Straight Edge Superstar receives what he describes as the “best gift anyone has given him”: a sealed and graded “G.I. Joe” comic book – the first issue, in fact. For an individual with a Cobra tattoo on his right shoulder, it’s the perfect addition to his collection, perhaps soon to be added to his bus treasures.
“The Larry Hama ‘G.I. Joe’ run is what really got me into comics,” the WWE Champion says. “I didn’t know other comic books existed, but I remember picking up Joe books at the gas station. Then, one month they didn’t have it and I discovered that there were such things as comic shops.”
ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET, 8:55 p.m.
Emanating from a mansion on Miami’s Star Island, the WWE Premiere Party hosts celebrities, Superstars and more for an amalgamation of fashion show, live auction and art exhibition – all part of charity fundraising for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. While the red carpet scene may not be for someone like CM Punk, media from around the country snap tweet-worthy photos and videos of the much-quotable Chris Jericho, describing the significance of the evening while also addressing his WrestleMania opponent.
“It really is an extravaganza, a weeklong festival,” Jericho tells his interviewer. “That’s what WrestleMania is.”
Off the crimson carpet and away from flash photography, Jericho also offers WWE.com a more pointed appraisal of the WWE Champion.
“Punk walks around and acts all flippant and sarcastic, and I think he should be more concentrated on living up to what he says that he is,” Jericho boldly contends. “He’s not the best in the world yet; he has the potential to be that.”
He adds, “This is really a chance for him to prove that he’s the best in the world. That’s what I’m doing and I’ve already done it. I have the awards in the closet to prove it. And I’m doing it again on Sunday.”
PARTYING LIKE ROCK STARS, 10:14 p.m.
Inside the party, Chris Jericho surveys the art on the walls and on the easel in front of WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler, who’s applying the finishing touches on a live art piece to be auctioned later in the evening.
Leave it to the rock star to find another rock star. The “Best in the World at What He Does” saunters about and seeks conversation, finding it very quickly with fellow rock singer James Durbin of “American Idol” fame. Just as the Divas hit the runway for the live fashion show – which later includes The Miz, showing off an elegant wristwatch – Jericho chats it up with the reality TV sensation and WWE fan. Well outfitted as usual himself, the ring warrior alludes to a potential fashion statement he may plan to provide Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
There’s an aura about this evening, and a charm akin to the white of Jericho’s toothy grin. The No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship peeks toward the engulfed stage, but he’s moreso focused on the grander one just days ahead.