There he was, with nearly 15,000 WWE fans packed into the Allstate Arena near Chicago for Money in the Bank. The heat of the lights was nothing compared to having that many wide-eyed devotees bringing their chants to a fever pitch – “CM Punk! CM Punk! CM Punk!”
It was the start of a special run, the first of a series of defining victories that took place in America’s biggest cities for The “Voice of the Voiceless.”
The WWE fans in Illinois weren’t only expecting a five-star match on July 17, 2011, they were expecting something much bigger than that. Something that proved Punk was a man of his word and worthy of such an overwhelming show of support. With emotions high and the arena shaking, he delivered by pulling off the unthinkable: beating John Cena for the WWE Championship on the final night of his WWE contract.
With that memorable show in his home state, The Second City Savior didn’t just further carve out his legacy in WWE. He showed that he can meet some of the greatest of expectations – the ultimate burden of performing in a big city. He became a people’s champion for all of Chicago, or as Punk calls it, his very own “Gotham.”
But unlike Batman, Punk extended his feats to other cities far and wide. Just a month later in Los Angeles at SummerSlam, Punk rose to the occasion again in his first match back after re-signing with WWE. With the WWE Title picture muddled due to two separate championships, one belonging to Punk and one to Cena, The Straight Edge Superstar staked his claim as the Undisputed Champion before an opportunistic Alberto Del Rio cashed in his briefcase to take the title.
Think that L.A. victory over Cena was a big-city coincidence? No way, according to Punk.
“The more people say I can’t do it, the more people say I’m gonna be crushed under the weight of carrying WWE on my shoulders, the stronger I am,” Punk said. “To me, the more high-pressure the situation is, the better CM Punk is.”
If you need another example that Punk’s words ring true, just ask the sellout Survivor Series crowd who watched him topple Del Rio to recapture the WWE Title in Madison Square Garden. And perhaps no crowd is more demanding than a New York City crowd. As Punk will tell you, they can be relentless one minute and worshiping the next.
“They’re gonna give you 100 percent if you give them 100 percent,” Punk said. “If they don’t like you, they’re gonna let you know. And if they love you, by God they’re gonna let you know.”
That 100-percent effort seems to go a long way when it comes to pleasing big-city fans. They know how much of a bear it is to stand out in a city crammed with millions of others gunning for the exact same goal. And if any Superstar can tell you what it’s like to hustle your way to the top, it’s definitely Punk.
“I’m a working-class kid who came from the independent scene. I came from nothing,” Punk explained. “And I guess if you wanna paint a happy-ending story, 14 years of hard work has brought me to the top of WWE. I’m the WWE Champion. Everything that I complained about, I got, but I got it through hard work, so I think the fans in those cities recognize that.”
If Punk wants to keep that WWE Championship “where it belongs,” it’s going to take a lot more of that hard work as he prepares for a Triple Threat Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match on pay-per-view against Del Rio and The Miz on Sunday, Dec. 18.
What will Punk have in store for the WWE Universe at WWE TLC in Baltimore, the largest independent city in the U.S.? If his recent tear is any indication, it’ll be something special.