Wrestlers are accustomed to working until 11 p.m., not leaving an arena until midnight, then driving several hours to the next town.
Mornings are meant for sleeping in, yet WWE Champion CM Punk is wide-awake after having just finished a Hartford-area morning television show to promote that night’s Monday Night Raw program on the USA Network. Punk, whose “Straight Edge” nickname acknowledges the fact that he does not use alcohol, tobacco or other recreational drugs, takes that moniker to the extreme.
He gets through otherwise bleary-eyed mornings on water and green tea. “I was a fiend. I was out of control with caffeine. I had to get rid of it, so about six months ago, I did,” said Punk, who will headline this Saturday night’s World Wrestling Entertainment Supershow at Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.
Punk start keeping people awake last summer when he almost left the WWE in a much-publicized storyline that saw him win the WWE Championship one night before his contract was set to expire. He then took a month off before returning at Summerslam, the company’s second-biggest pay-per-view event of the year behind long-running WrestleMania.
While many have balked at the notion that Punk planned on leaving the company, he insists otherwise. “I was 100 percent leaving. I was legit out the door. I can’t stress that enough,” Punk said this week. “I can’t put into words how much I was done. I was coming to work, shipping and whistling and everybody asked why.
I was counting it down. Nobody believed me.”What convinced Punk to stay?
“The biggest piece of advice I got was from my friend Lars Frederiksen (singer/guitarist for the rock group Rancid). He said, ‘I know you love wrestling. If you want it to change, you can’t change it from sitting on your couch. You have to do it from the inside.’ For the past year, I’ve been doing what I can to change stuff from the inside.”
Punk added an element of realism to his televised promos, bringing up events from his opponents’ past that would not be expected. For example, in his on-screen feud with executive vice president of talent relations John Laurinaitis, Punk referenced Laurinaitis’ past as a wrestler in Japan, something not previously mentioned on WWE television.
“That’s always been the goal,” Punk said of his adding realism to his storylines. “It’s hard to do on a weekly basis. Last year, we had lightning in a bottle. Last summer was awesome.”
As part of that storyline, Punk also brought up his beginnings in wrestling with the Ring of Honor company out of Philadelphia (which occasionally holds events in the Greater Boston area). That’s where he started working with wrestlers like Bryan Danielson (now known as Daniel
Bryan in WWE). The two are currently feuding over the WWE Championship and will compete in a Street Fight on Saturday night in Lowell.”It’s a hell of a story,” Punk says of their ascension to the top of the WWE after both were seen as too small for that level of success. “It’s always a pleasure to step into the ring with somebody like him. It’s the closest I’ll come to wrestling myself.”
For many who follow the wrestling industry, it seemed as though Punk would never even make it to the WWE, much less win its premier title.
“My goal was always just to wrestle. After a while, I wrestled for this company and that company and you attain everything you can possibly attain at whatever level you’re at. I was always looking for the next thing. I’m very goal-oriented and get bored quickly. There came a time when the only left thing to conquer was WWE. Everyone saying I couldn’t do it made it more appealing to me.”
Since he’s won the title, the Chicago-bred Punk has done everything from sing “Take Me Out (to the Ballgame)” at a Chicago Cubs game to make featured appearances at Comic-Con. “The wrestling business has afforded me the opportunity to do mind-blowing things I never dreamed possible,” Punk said. “It alleviates the pressure of being on the road. It makes all the hard work and sacrifice worth it.”
Punk is excited to return to Lowell, a long-time stop on the WWE calendar, although it only comes to town once every few years these days. “There are a lot of places in the Northeast that have always been WWE towns. Lowell is one of them. I remember the last time I was there (almost one year ago to the day, June 17, 2011, where he teamed with R-Truth in the main event of a losing effort against John Cena and Kofi Kingston), people were rabid.”
This time around, along with the Punk-Bryan street fight, Cena will wrestle The Big Show in a steel cage match, Sheamus will fight Kane for the World Championship, Christian will meet Cody Rhodes for the Intercontinental Championship, and Kingston, Brodus Clay and Zack Ryder, among many others, will also appear.
If you haven’t been to a WWE live event in a while, expect to see some changes to the presentation. Gone are the curtain and drapes from which wrestlers enter the arena. In their place are a stage and a video screen to make the event look and feel like a television taping. “I’m an old-school guy. I like the curtain and drapes, but the stage lets people experience what TV is like. The hope is it leads to them going to a television taping, but sometimes people can’t get to a TV show on a Monday or Tuesday night and the Friday or Saturday show might be easier. The stage sets it apart and makes it pop. It’s show business.”
World Wrestling Entertainment comes to the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell on Saturday night. The show begins at 7:30. Tickets are $95, $55, $35, $25 and $15 and can be purchased atwww.tsongascenter.com, by phone at 866-722-8780 or at the box office.