An unmistakable mystique and aura surrounds CM Punk every time he appears on-screen for AEW.
That was especially noticeable this week on Dynamite when Punk cut a heartfelt promo about living and breathing wrestling, as well as the role the city of Philadelphia has played in his career. That raw energy resonates with him every time “Cult of Personality” hits in AEW.
“It hits me on a different level for a lot of reasons,” Punk says. “I’m not the kind to stand in the back and wait to go out. I’m running around backstage and I’m mingling. There’s a group of people, with their faces constantly changing, always around. And just seeing the look on their faces, that hits me right in the chest.
“Wrestling is different. You’re not supposed to be a ‘mark’ and you’re not supposed to take pictures with someone you share a locker room with. The culture is different in AEW. I get excited when Adam Cole’s music hits. I think he can see that on my face. There is an excitement in the locker room, and then I see the fans, and it’s amazing. Every new city I go to, these people haven’t seen me in seven years. It’s like Aug. 20 all over again for me.”
This week’s Dynamite hit a high note when Punk laid out a challenge for Daniel Garcia, the 23-year-old indie phenom currently tearing it up in AEW. Punk and Garcia meet Friday night on Rampage, which is an opportunity to see the present and future of pro wrestling share the ring at the same moment.
“Daniel Garcia is light-years beyond his age,” Punk says. “He’s just shy of half my age, and I can only compare him to when I was that young. He’s in a better spot than when I was that age. Everything builds off a great foundation, and he’s very fundamentally sound. He’s trained by Pepper Parks [AEW wrestler The Blade], who is an excellent f------ wrestler. He’s respectful, he listens, and he’s not corny and doesn’t kiss a--. He’s everything I possibly want in a wrestler on a television show.”
Garcia is in the midst of a remarkable week. He and Alex Shelley put on a clinic Thursday night for Beyond Wrestling’s Season 3 debut of Uncharted Territory, and—in addition to the pretaped match against Punk airing on Rampage—Garcia will spend his Friday night wrestling the great Minoru Suzuki at West Coast Pro Wrestling’s No Leaf Clover show in California.
“Daniel Garcia, myself, Alex Shelley and Minoru Suzuki, those are four names you could place in four different generations of professional wrestling,” Punk says. “Minoru Suzuki, and then me, and I was in Ring of Honor when Alex Shelley was the next generation. His f------ stable was Generation Next for Christ’s sake. He was like the next guy. And now that’s Daniel Garcia. It’s crazy.”
Barely a month into his pro wrestling return following a seven-year hiatus, Punk is embracing his role in AEW. He views it as similar to the way NHL legend Ray Bourque fit into a hungry new team when he moved from the Bruins to the Avalanche, then filled all the missing gaps en route to winning a Stanley Cup in 2001.
“Ray Bourque, that’s exactly who I am,” Punk says. “You’re going to have to Google that if you’re not a hockey person, but that’s exactly who I am. I’m the f------ old guy on the team, and I’m there to score goals, block shots and do whatever the f--- I can to help the team win. I’m there in those in-between moments in the locker room to help people along. That’s my role backstage.
“To me, that’s the story I want to tell on the screen. I see some of the comments like, ‘CM Punk’s not in the story line.’ Yes, I am. The story is I’ve been gone for seven years and I came back. I’m starting at the bottom and making my way to the top. That’s the story.”
Punk’s wife, AJ Lee, who created lasting moments during her time in pro wrestling, also made headlines this week with a comeback of her own. Women of Wrestling announced that Lee will be an executive producer and color commentator as WOW relaunches on CBS affiliates in the fall of 2022, which is tremendous news for the industry.
“I’m very excited for her,” Punk says. “She’s doing what she wants to do. She’s going to get to write and use her voice to do something that she maybe thought she wouldn’t get the chance to do again. It’s no bumps, and it’s a chance to help foster and grow the next generation of females in wrestling. That’s a perfect, perfect spot for her.”
The wrestling industry continues to feel rejuvenated, especially with Punk’s return. And the match against Punk marks a unique breakthrough opportunity for Garcia. Though Garcia has wrestled all across the indies, leaving a lasting impression in a match against CM Punk represents an entirely different level of greatness.
“It’s going to be goddamn pro wrestling,” Punk says. “I love that we did it in Philly, which has always been super great to me. I remember my debut pay-per-view in WWE with 18,000 maniacs in Philly chanting my name, to now where I’m at. This is where I need to be. This is where I belong, and we’re going to find out if Daniel Garcia belongs here, too.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.