“CHAMPION OF MIAMI,” 10:33 a.m.
If you ask Punk what “CM” stands for today, it’s “Champion of Miami.” The Voice of the Voiceless is chomping down the earthy blend of green “chuice” as he sits on a bus that’s bound for Sun Life Stadium. It’s WrestleMania Sunday, which explains why the WWE Champion is, unexpectedly, fixed in the front seat of a lengthy charter bus to transport him and his fellow Superstars to the site of The Show of Shows.
“I don’t really feel the pressures or magnitude of WrestleMania until the day of,” the champion states from underneath his “1969” Chicago Cubs cap. “I’m definitely feeling it now. We’re maybe eight hours away from kicking off the show. We’re going to blow off a bunch of fireworks and then it’s really on.”
Punk seems like the type to be toward the rear of the coach (and he probably is), but his eagerness for this day plants him as close to the grand stage as possible. He’s able to get through three songs on his iPod – played at high, speaker-like volume on his neck wrapped headphones – until the very last Superstar climbs aboard: Mick Foley. It’s off to the races, or rather, the longest, hardest, greatest race of the year.
THE LAST ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA, 10:58 a.m.
The vessel transporting WWE’s ring warriors pulls away from the WrestleMania hotel en route to Sun Life Stadium miles away. Up ahead of the bus is a police escort blocking traffic for the first of several WWE charter buses. Punk’s skull is wrapped with his analog headphones pumping a rabid metal melody while he snaps pics of the motorcycle mounted policemen up ahead and dreams up an alternate reality for the scenario.
“One of my favorite things about WrestleMania is the police escort,” Punk explains. “I kind of look at a little different than everyone else, I’m sure. I look at it like we’re a bus full of convicts, maybe getting carted off to death row. Some of are going to live, some of us aren’t.”
Within a few moments, The Second City Savior has a visual on the site of his all-important performance that draws nearer. He turns his head to size up the massive beacon-like stadium before the bus makes a right turn to deliver the WWE Champion to his battleground.
TIME TO REFLECT, 11:21 a.m.
The WWE Champion has already disembarked his bus when another pulls up not far behind. This one contains the No. 1 contender to CM Punk and a man who’s sunk to deeper lows than ever to get inside his opponent’s head, though his is raised high as he surveys Sun Life Stadium for the first time. There are no more signings or red carpets in his way. This is the moment Chris Jericho has waited and plotted to see come to life.
“WrestleMania week is such an extravaganza with all the pomp and circumstance,” Jericho says, “but to me it’s really just a nuisance in a lot of ways. I understand why we do it, but I’m here for one reason and one reason only and that’s for WrestleMania.”
The nefarious Superstar’s checkered glasses reflect the appropriately immense site of WrestleMania XXVIII as he reveals his passion for this stage, among the reasons he returned to WWE.
“If you’re going to prove that you’re the best in the world, this is the place to do it,” he proclaims. “I would’ve been here at 7 a.m. if I could’ve been because I don’t want to be anywhere else. I would’ve slept in this arena and woke up here. It’s game time now. It’s all about living up to what I say I am.”
COMMON MEN, 11:50 a,m.
There is certainly a correlation between The Voice of the Voiceless and The Common Man, making their run-in notable. The WWE Champion gets a pep talk from WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes in the locker room area within Sun Life Stadium. The legendary performer checks in with the Chicago native and wishes him the best tonight at The Show of Shows.
Tonight, Rhodes’ son, Cody, defends the Intercontinental Championship but Dusty still shows his paternal instincts with The Straight Edge Superstar. The “American Dream” pats Punk on the chin affectionately, providing the champion with a motivational encounter hours before showtime.
THE “SOCK” SAYS … , 12:19 p.m.
It’s only a few moments before CM Punk kicks off his Nike running sneakers to start getting prepared for his match. The shoes may still be slightly damp following his outing in the Miami downpour yesterday even though he spent the very early morning blow drying them.
As Punk changes, he exposes his bright orange socks with a very apropos message embroidered in. The left foot reads, “Anti” and the right, “Hero.” Truer words were never woven.
TRUE FRIEND, 12:32 p.m.
Former co-holders of the WWE Tag Team Titles and truly good friends, Kofi Kingston and CM Punk squad up in the locker room. They’re two men with significant roles tonight at WrestleMania. Should Kofi and his team fail, it puts John Laurinaitis in full control of both Raw and SmackDown – a prospect The Straight Edge Superstar is certainly not excited to see. They’ve grown together, traveled together and fought together over the years and this afternoon, they show solidarity in a booming embrace.
Kingston believes his buddy and fellow comic book fan will prevail at WrestleMania.
“True! CM Punk is a guy who sets his mind to something,” Kingston exclaims. “I know he’s been thinking about this match for a long time, it’s gotten ridiculously personal and both guys are going to walk out with bumps and bruises, but I know that Jericho is going to be on the losing end for sure.”
PLANS TO LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, 1:23 p.m.
The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rollah rolls his suitcase into the locker room and props it up to unpack his gear. The first item out of the luggage is the challenger’s newest prized clothing possession, his signature illuminated jacket – this one covered in colored lights.
Chris Jericho is known for making a fashion statement on big occasions, especially The Biggest Spectacle of Them All. He makes this important night no exception, which is why he sought out something different, even prior to his return in January. With a Google search for distressed leather, Jericho discovered his latest accoutrement, created by the same designer who’s made items for David Lee Roth, Justin Bieber and Alicia Keys.
Solo in the backstage area, the No. 1 contender activates the light display, turning them off and on with a tiny remote control. The twinkling dances on the locker room nook as Jericho envisions what he vows will be victory tonight. By the end of this evening, it’s possible that Jericho will have not one but two new pieces of attire: this coat and the WWE Championship.
SHOWSTOPPER MEETS SHOW STEALER?, 1:50 p.m.
In the 88-degree south Florida heat, CM Punk traipses down a lengthy ramp toward a ring thousands of WWE fans will be focused on in mere hours. The Straight Edge Champion was wowed by this same setting days ago and today, the sensation is only enhanced. Towering palm trees support a canopy overhead which provides shade for Punk during a candid discussion with “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels.
The Showstopper forged a legacy in this exact ring in some of the most unforgettable bouts in WrestleMania history. This is something CM Punk specifically aspires to do himself, especially tonight. People around the world are wondering if Punk and Jericho will steal the show and even though HBK plays a critical role in this evening’s Hell in a Cell Match, even Michaels must admit that he’s anxious to see if they can do it.
YOGA WITH A BANG, 2:39 p.m.
With everyone from MGK and Flo Rida to Brodus Clay and (especially) Michael Cole walking about backstage, there are very few quiet corners in Sun Life Stadium. Chris Jericho scours the locker room area until he finds a tight alcove with just enough space for a little “DDP Yoga.”
It’s essentially the final workout for the challenger prior to his championship clash with CM Punk. Jericho flips open a portable DVD player and footage of Diamond Dallas Page in yoga pants rolls on the screen. DDP’s movements are mimicked in close quarters by Chris Jericho, who bends his legs and raises his arms to craft Page’s signature diamond hand gesture. Bang! The first-ever Undisputed Champion is limbered and poised for the title.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME, TWICE FOES, 3:12 p.m.
One year ago, a Once in a Lifetime collision was set the day after WrestleMania XXVII and John Cena spent 12 months preparing for The Show of Shows in Miami. In that time, he clashed with the man sitting to his immediate right, WWE Champion CM Punk. Punk won.
The WWE Universe remembers all that business at Money in the Bank 2011. It’s also hard to forget The Straight Edge Superstar’s consecutive triumph over Cena at SummerSlam 2011. These duels only birthed a mutual respect amongst WWE’s most popular – and polar opposite – competitors. In fact, their only commonality right now is that they have arguably the biggest battles of their careers ahead of them tonight, Punk against Jericho and Cena against The Rock.
It’s not awkward but it’s not terribly warm between the top stars. It’s actually borderline buddy cop movie as the very dissimilar pair leisurely converses in a production area well before the grand stage is engulfed by nearly 80,000 WWE fans.