CM PUNK is one of the rising stars of independent wrestling. He can be seen on NWA: Total Nonstop Action on PPV. He was worked for such promotions as IWA-Mid South, IWC, MLW, IPW Hardcore and Ring of Honor where he will begin a training school for the promotion in the coming months. This interview took place before a match up with Alliance of Defiance member Scoot Andrews on IPWs International Aggression show on June 21st.
Alan Wojcik: Where did you grow up and was wrestling part of your childhood?
CM Punk: I was born and raised in Chicago. Since I was 5 all I wanted to be was a wrestler. My friends wanted to be fireman, policeman and all that crap. Ive never wanted to do anything else and to this day havent any plans of doing anything else. I was primarily a WWE fan. Growing up in Chicago I didnt get to see NWA that much.
AW: What led you to training, who were you trained by and what do you remember of it?
CM Punk: Training was hard. I trained in 1997-98; sorry my head gets foggy sometimes. I was such a huge fan. After WWE PPVs, I would be over some friends house and we would break someones coffee table and roll around on the carpet. I decided to do it right and get trained. So I did my shopping around the Chicago area for a school. I found a school called the Steel Domain run by Danny Dominion and Ace Steel who trained me, plus I must give an honorable mention to Kevin Quinn who also trained me. They were both really good teachers. Training was really tough. They would beat the crap out of me. One specific day I was doing armdrags with Kevin. He wanted them to be absolutely perfect and I ended up doing about 400 armdrags. Which makes your arms a little tired the next day (laughs.) Anyone who thinks its easy is crazy and to anyone that is in training and it is easy, you arent getting your moneys worth.
AW: Who was your first match against and what do you remember of it?
CM Punk: My first match was quite memorable. It was me and my tag partner Ricky Noga. Ricky was the first guy to sign up and graduate from the Steel Domain. I was the fourth or fifth student they ever had and their second graduate. We teamed up against Danny and Ace somewhere in Wisconsin. Danny and Ace were the heels because they could dictate the match. Ricky came out in his Hawaiian outfit. Here I come with my purple hair and tattoos all over. Im supposed to be baby and the fans didnt like it. As I was walking around the ringside area there was this old guy with five oclock shadow and overalls, looking like if he went by a graveyard, shovels would be chasing after him. He was yelling so hard at me that his glass eye came out of his head. I was horrified. But he just picked it up, blew on it and put it back in the socket like nothing happened.
AW: What led to the creation of CM Punk? Namely you and I subscribe to the same Straight Edge attitude. Is it a gimmick or is that what you really live by?
CM Punk: There is no gimmick at all; its how I live my life. For those that dont know, being Straight Edge means no drinking, no drugs and no promiscuous sex. It was a youth movement, subculture type deal. It was actually started on accident by a hardcore band called Minor Threat back in 1981. I can have fun without getting f#$ked up. Im sure you feel the same way when you go out to clubs. I have seen lots of crazy sh#$ by the time I was 15. That kind of stuff helped further my decision. I dont walk into Starbucks and tell customers how much I am better than them. But there really is no character, what you see in the ring is me. Punk was a childhood nickname. Plus I love punk rock music, so it was a natural fit when it came to coming up with a character name.
AW: For your lady admirers out there, how many tattoos do you have and what is the meaning behind some of them?
CM Punk: (Punk takes several moments to count up the tats) I got about 10 or 11. Most of them have double meanings. We would be here all night talking about them but Ill tell you a few. I have my lucky number on me (which is the number 13,) I loved GI Joe growing up so I got the COBRA symbol on me. Ive got the Pepsi symbol which has double meaning. I love Pepsi plus most of the jocks where I grew up got beer tattoos, so it helped the Straight Edge attitude. I got Drug Free on my knuckles, which is self explanatory. I got a purple Pez dispenser on my arm. Thats all I wish to talk about them.
AW: When did you come up with your finishing move the Pepsi Plunge (a pedigree piledriver from the top rope?)
CM Punk: I didnt invent it. There is much speculation as to was the first person to do a pedigree from the top rope. It was used sparsely. But it was Adam Pierce who used it in Wisconsin before he moved to California. We began feuding in a promotion, Mid-American Wrestling, and I began beating him with his own finishing move. The promoter of the group, Carmine DeSpirito, decided that when Pierce left after losing a loser leaves match to me it should become my finishing move. Ian Rotten asked me to use it in IWA Mid South, so it escalated from there. Its a tricky finisher because its hard to set up.
AW: You have wrestled for many promotions and I will not list them all in this interview. What criteria do you use when you accept a booking from a promoter you may have never worked with before?
CM Punk: In the past it was different. I got my name out there by the fact I would work anywhere and for anybody. I would drive all over hell and creation to get my name out there. Suffice to say my name is out there now. For any promoter that wants to book me it is transportation, a hotel and a decent payday. I dont ask for anything weird like a bag of green M & Ms. One thing is I wont work for a promotion that I will not be able to learn anything from the guy I work in the ring. My name is out there enough that all I want to do is keep learning.
AW: Being you are based out of Chicago, you have worked for several middle-America based promotions. One of them was IWC where you worked with fellow NWA: TNA wrestlers AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels. What was it like to be in the ring with them?
CM Punk: I had wrestled Daniels before and we gel in the ring and have had some great matches in my opinion. That match was the first time I had worked with AJ. I remember the promoter telling us to go a half hour, the three of us not wanting to go a half hour and we ended up going forty-five minutes (laughs.) I watched the match on tape the other night and it was mind boggingly hilarious. If you watch this match and you dont know who the three of us are, you would think we f@#ing suck. We were all over in this match and it broke it down to having fun in there. The finish was tremendous and thats what I hope the fans remember when they watch that match. Anytime I can get in the ring with either of them is great. They are two of my best friends in wrestling. I have yet to work a singles match with AJ, but I am working on trying to book that. Hint to any promoter out there reading this (laughs.)
AW: You have also worked against NWA: TNA star Low Ki.
CM Punk: That match was good even though we didnt have much going into it. We are two guys that are alike in and out if the ring. We are both misunderstood in the way we approach the business, which is very serious. We both love to grapple and love the athletic aspect of wrestling. Its hard to work a guy for the first time and have a great match, but we did it.
AW: You also worked for Mid America Wrestling. In reading over some of their past matches, it seems to be a hard-core promotion. Did you ever want to get in the ring with guys like Corporal Robinson and Mad Man Pondo?
CM Punk: I never had any desire to do a hardcore match but I did have the desire to work those guys. Unbeknownst to many people both of those guys can actually wrestle. It would have been interesting to have had a match like that, straight out wrestling. IWA and MAW are the places where I started. I feel I am one of the people to bring the wrestling into IWA, which was just a straight hardcore death match group.
AW: When did you debut in IWA-Mid South and what were your initial impressions of Ian Rotten?
CM Punk: I think it was September of 2000. My debut match was against Colt Cabana, he had been there about a week or two before I arrived. It was Dave Prazak that recommended Colt and I to Ian. Ian had been looking for guys that could do straight out wrestling. Looking back it wasnt a great match but after I worked Cabana it blew Ians socks off. He said he couldnt afford to pay me a lot but I would have an open invitation if I was free to come down and work. I really learned to wrestle in IWA by working guys with many different styles and I still have that open invite to this day. In MAW I learned to cut heel promos and how to work the crowd. I owe Ian a lot because when youre first starting out you dont get offered lots of bookings. It was great to have that invite every Saturday night. Ian does things a little weird in his bookings but I have no complaints.
AW: Looking over your opponents one name kept coming up, Colt Cabana. What is it like to team with him and also wrestle him in singles matches?
CM Punk: I hate teaming with him but I really enjoy working with him. There was a spell where we got sick of each other because we were working each other almost every night (laughs.) I never complain about working anyone and I try to make things different if its the same guy a couple of times in a row. I think the CM Punk/Colt Cabana feud was like that. We never did the same match twice and never half assed it. We both trained at the Steel Domain around the same time and he was the first guy I clicked with. It was on a trip to a show together that we agreed that if we want to do this for life, we need to work every weekend and bust our ass in the ring every time. I helped him get into MAW and he helped me get into IWA. We had some great kick-ass matches. We even caught the eye of Ring of Honor and brought the feud there before hooking up as a unit. Colt is a great worker and you cant mention our names without the other right behind it.
AW: During your IWA stay you made news by wrestling Chris Hero in two unique matches. One was a 55 minute long tables and ladders match, the other was two of three falls match. What are your memories on those two encounters?
CM Punk: The 55 minute match was supposed to be the blow-off for our feud in IWA. The feud had stretched over two months. I was tremendously over in IWA as the biggest bastard you had ever seen and Hero was the biggest babyface. The story being I won my first IWA Heavyweight title from Chris and every time he was close to winning it back, he would lose by a hair. We would go to a time limit draw, then we had a no time limit match and my manager would interfere. In the two of three falls match the time limit ran out. It escalated to that Tables and Ladders match. That match was on a show that was held in IWAs old venue. It was where both of us had made our names. We werent the main event that night. But we decided the hell with it; we are going to have the best match the building ever seen. Surprisingly we did it. I remember standing at Gorilla position and Ian asked me how long the match was going to be and I said tops twenty minutes (laughs.) We got out there and something magical happened out there. We ended up going 55 even thought it seems like 10. People reading this need to know how big a heel I was in IWA. I got into fan fights, riots and women would try to slap me. A lot of times it is planned for the locker room to clear and celebrate in the ring. After the match, Hero is a bloody mess and I am exhausted. The locker room cleared out and my first instinct was to run from all the babyfaces. They grabbed me and Hero and put us on their shoulders. It was an amazing moment. As I said that was supposed to be the blow-off match but we ended meeting up again in the Ted Petty tournament. We keep having hard hitting matches. One night the crowd was down and the Smart Mark Video guys didnt tape the show, so I told Ian I wanted to do a time limit draw with Hero for the belt. He was cool with it and I told him I wanted to go an hour just to see if we could do it. Before that match we trained with Dave Taylor, Fit Finlay and William Regal to prepare for it. We both know what we were going to do before we got there. It was like an old-school 70s Dory Funk-Harley Race match. From that hour draw, Ian decided that next we would go into a 90-minute two of three falls draw. I love wrestling for that time frame. I liked that match and it is one of my personal favorites to watch on tape. I am surprised that fans like it because 90-minutes is the length of some PPVs these days.
AW: During your title reign you worked two current WWE wrestlers, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. What was that experience like?
CM Punk: Im not one to get nervous before a match. I cant say enough about Eddie and Rey Rey. It was simply tremendous. For a guy like Eddie to come in and say to him three way dances dont make sense, I kind of agree with him. But I like to specialize in doing them and I like to make the matches make sense. So Rey and I came up with some things and took what we had to Eddie. He liked what we did. I didnt miss a beat and many people have said I belonged in the ring with them. That is flattering because I dont think I belonged in the ring with two international superstars. We had one hell of a three way. I earned Eddies respect in that match. So much that I talk to him at least twice a week. He has helped me out more than he ever needed to. I am the only guy in the indies that got to work with him four or five times during his WWE stints. We worked some one-on-one deals. I love him like he was my dad. I would do anything for that guy.
AW: During your IWA stay you became what could be called the King of the Indy tournaments participating in the IWA Sweet Science 16, the J-Cup, the I-8 and most recently the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup. How do you feel these tournaments differ from each other and do you have a favorite one?
CM Punk: My favorite is the Sweet Science. That tourney had some of my friends like Chris Hero and Mark Wolf. I dont have a place I would call a home promotion but I think IWA could be real close. Its where I came up in the business. I got to beat up the Insane Clown Posse on one of the Sweet Science shows. Thats a crowning achievement in my career since those guys are such asses. Tournaments are fun yet tricky because one bad match can stink up the whole show. I have been fortunate that Ive had good runs in tournaments. The Peterson Cup was different because it was my first time working in Florida. I got to meet a lot of new people and see old friends like Scoot Andrews. I love wrestling so if I can work two or three times in one night Im happy.
AW: At the J-Cup you wrestled the winner of the Peterson Cup, Reckless Youth.
CM Punk: Reckless is a good friend even though he fractured my skull in that match. I forgave him for it even though it was entirely all his fault. Of course Im joking Reckless (laughs.) Working Reckless was cool but I wish I had been 100% for that match. I wrestled in the I-8 the night before and got a severe concussion. Flying to Jersey I dealt with all kind of airport hassles. I got to there airport at 6am and didnt leave it until 230pm because they screwed up all my flight information. I landed in Jersey and rolled into the building just as my name was being called for the participation introduction. I dropped my bags, walked out to the ring and walked to the back to get dressed. I worked Really Real in the first match then fractured my skull in the match with Reckless. But it was good times at the J-Cup.
AW: One of your current regular organizations you work for is Ring of Honor. When did you debut and what were your initial impressions of Gabe Zapolski and Rob Feinstein?
CM Punk: I got a phone call while I was out with my head injury. The first thing Gabe asked me was how my head was, which was rally cool. Then he asked me if I would be ready to work in November and I told him no problem. I got myself and Cabana in the group. We were working the 3PW show on I think September 21st and we walked across the street to the Murphy Recreation Center where ROH runs and they asked me to do an in-ring promo. I went out there and was surprised at the reaction as the fans knew who Cabana and I were. That was the start of a great business relationship. Gabe and Rob treat me great and ROHs locker room is tremendous. I get to see my friends at least once a month. I get to cuddle with Samoa Joe and hang with Daniels and Ki. I definitely love the atmosphere there.
AW: Certain internet writers consider Ring of Honors ring style the best in the business and their fans the smartest in the country. What is your view on those beliefs?
CM Punk: it is more an emphasis on athletics and not sports entertainment. They do a little bit of sports entertainment but theyre more focused on the work rate. I cant stress how much I like their style. Id rather get my teeth knocked down my throat then a guy throw a punch and it miss. Some people will say that attitude is crazy and wrestling is fake, it shouldnt be the way I want to do it. I love wrestling to death and will protect it with my life. I like to get in there and wrestle. Their fans are hard on you but if you can wrestle they will respect you and appreciate your work rate.
AW: During my research the name Second City Saints came up. For the fans like me that dont know, what is the Second City Saints?
CM Punk: Second City Saints is a creation of mine. The name was thought up by me and Josh Prohibition. I am the big Straight Edge bastard in ROH and Ace, Colt and I are from Chicago, the Second City. Steve Corino and Christopher Daniels have groups so now I do as well. My group consists of me, Ace Steel, Colt Cabana and Lucy (Daffney of WCW fame.) It is also a play on words. I am a saint because I am drug and alcohol free yet I am a hypocrite because Im the one going around beating everyone down. Christopher Daniels is an angel and I am a saint. I like the group with Cabana being goofy to my straight guy.
AW: In Ring of Honor you began a feud that as gone onto NWA: TNA and MLW with the man known as Raven. What is it like to wrestle Raven?
CM Punk: I cant really say enough good things about Raven. Im sure that there are people that will say tons of bad things about him. He has such a mind for pro wrestling. He has taught me so much. I am completely fortunate to have been taken under his wing. He will freely admit to me being his protégé. Even if he is talking to someone else in the locker room I will sit down and listen. That is the one thing I learned in this business, sometimes you need to sit there and keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. I am so fortunate and blessed to have Eddie Guerrero and Raven take me under their wings. Raven put me over with TNA. We click. We have a natural feud with me being drug free and his past. I am the young snot nose kid trying to make my name off of his and Raven saying my time isnt done yet. His mind for wrestling is amazing. To him it is a game of chess and its all about the people. I have so much to learn and I am fortunate to have him as my teacher. He is becoming a good friend that doesnt have to help me out but does. I would like to thank him again right here and now. I cant wrestle some of my heroes like Roddy Piper and Dynamite Kid but Raven is still here and I will continue to learn from him every day. I think if you cant learn something every time you get in the ring its time to quit.
AW: Speaking of learning and teaching, in the next couple of months you will become the head trainer of the Ring of Honor training school. How did that come about?
CM Punk: Basically I was asked to do it. For it to happen I need to move from Chicago to Philly. That took some soul searching and serious thinking. Lots of people out there will think I am not the best candidate for ROHs school given their talent roster has names like American Dragon or Low Ki on it. I am sure availability had something to do with it. The people that dont think I am qualified might be right but I like to apply my trade and the training will be hard. Ace Steel trained me and he also happens to be my roommate. He tells me when I do something right or wrong in and out of the ring. I want to give back to the business like he has. I am very excited to get started.
AW: You mentioned being on NWA: Total Nonstop Action. How did you get involved with the group and what do you think of their locker room as opposed to other groups like ROH or MLW?
CM Punk: I got into NWA:TNA through an old friend from Minnesota, Mortimer Plumtree. After my concussion and head fracture I was in Philly traveling with my good friends Josh Prohibition and M-Dog 20. Ace called me and told me to come home; we were going to be on the PPV. We got there and saw on the booking sheet we were going to be a tag team that was going over and getting into the battle royal. Like lots of times in this business, dont count your chickens till they hatched. I did the PPV in September and never heard back but Ace went back and now its switched to where I am going back. To me thats not fair because Ace is an incredible talent. I kept plugging along. I did some dark matches for them after being on the PPV. Some people would say that nuts since I had been on PPV. I even did a dark match with Colt. I have been back four weeks straight and going back again this week. I think Raven has something to do with that. Their locker room is awesome and kind of like ROHs. Lots of friends like Julio Dinero, Alexis Laree, Jerry Lynn, Daniels, Raven and Low Ki. I crash with Jeremy Borash who is also an old friend from Minnesota. Im having the time of my life.
AW: What is your opinion of the Jarretts and Vince Russo, the bookers of NWA: TNA?
CM Punk: They have to be doing something right. Lots of people didnt think they would be here a year ago and I was at their one year anniversary show. Vince thinks more along the lines of movies and sports entertainment. But hes doing something right to be still with the group. I dont get to see those guys much because theyre so busy doing behind the scenes work plus appearing on-camera. Of the three of them, I get to deal with Jeff Jarrett more than anybody. He is nothing but kind and talks to me all the time. Jerry Jarrett is quiet and reserved. But I love working for all of them, no complaints.
AW: As we sit here, you drove over today from appearing on an MLW show in Ft. Lauderdale. How do they differ from all the other groups we have mentioned?
CM Punk: MLW is the only group to actually try and fall into the former ECW mold. They use most of the talent that ECW used and their backstage crew is also former ECW people including Joey Styles. Anytime you can get the best talent from all over the country, the show is going to be good. Guys like Red (Amazing Red who wrestles for MLW as Fuego Guerrero,) Los Maximos, Christopher Daniels, Raven. I said it myself last night in the locker room. Im sitting in a locker room with guys like Kenzo Suzuki from World Japan, Kojima from All-Japan, Mike Awesome and Steve Corino and Im wondering who the hell booked me to be here with these guys? Im with superstars. Its great to be apart of the MLW family and I hope it lasts.
AW: We briefly talked about the IPW/NWA Florida sponsored Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup. You had a first round match with fellow NWA: TNA star Jason Cross. Any memories of the match?
CM Punk: First round matches usually arent very long, which is hard for me because I like to have long matches and tell a story. Telling stories in shorter matches something I am going to get better at. It was our first single match and I thought it went well. The people and the fans said they liked it. Im waiting to see it on video.
AW: On the second night there was a match between IPW stars Agent Steele and Navy Seal. Steeles fellow Alliance of Defiance member Scoot Andrews came out and attacked Seal. You and Colt Cabana to the ring and saved Seal. Any comments on wrestling Steele and Andrews?
CM Punk: Any time you can wrestle Scoot Andrews, which for me isnt often, is a good time. I wrestled for MCW and ROH at the same time he did. He is a good friend. I am looking forward to our singles match tonight.
AW: What are your thoughts on IPW owner Ron Niemi?
CM Punk: Ron is a great guy to work for. He helped me get here today; he really wanted me on the show. It looks like if the scheduling works out anytime I wrestle for MLW, I am going to work for IPW. I enjoy working here, lots of great guys like the Strongs and Scooter.
AW: I would like to close the interview with some fun questions. Do you prefer to be a heel or babyface and why?
CM Punk: Definitely a heel because back in my Minnesota days working for Steel Domain and other groups I mastered being a babyface. But I think my look tends to be more towards the heel side. Ironically my drug and alcohol free lifestyle makes me a heel, which to me is hilarious.
AW: Guess that makes me a heel as well (both of us laugh.)
CM Punk: But I think it works better that way, I can be pious and holy than thou and really Im just a big prick. Its easier to get the fans to hate you than to respect you.
AW: You have wrestled in singles, tag matches, three-way and even four-way dances. Which is your preference?
CM Punk: Off the bat, I am going to have to say singles matches. There is a less of chance of calamity. I dont like tag matches unless I really trust the guy I am tagging with and the guys Im wrestling against because tag matches are real tricky and not many people know how to do them the right way. I dont like having to rely on a partner. I dont like when a match goes wrong because of someones stupid mistake, which may sound harsh but thats the way I am. Four way dances are fun when I have a heads up and can prepare for them. If put together the right way, those kind of matches can be great. Singles matches are the best because the ratio of screw ups is lower.
AW: If the WWE called tomorrow and offered you an OVW developmental deal would you take it?
CM Punk: Thats a tricky question. Its one to think about real deep if it ever happened. Thats like if you could have a million dollars in a briefcase. I dont think I could answer that one right now.
AW: You had some dark matches with them recently.
CM Punk: I did a Raw dark match in Philly with Killer Kulsa Singh (sic.) I worked the Road Warriors on the Smackdown dark match.
AW: Speaking of the Road Warriors, they are the IPW Hardcore tag team champions. Do you have any comments on wrestling them?
CM Punk: It was awesome. They gave me a whole lot. They sold for me like a million f$%king bucks and they put me over as much as they could. Plus they gave the Doomsday Device to the other guy (laughs.) After the match we talked and they gave me some advice.
AW: Where do you hope CM Punk will be by the end of 2003?
CM Punk: Healthy and still wrestling, thats all that matters to me. I would like to be in Japan by the end of 2003.
My thanks to CM Punk for taking time out of his very busy schedule. For more on CM Punk log onto his website, www.angelfire.com/wrestling3/xcmpunkx For more on Ring of Honor events log onto www.ROHwrestling.com , for info on MLW check out www.mlw.com, for NWA: TNA news log onto www.nwatna.com and www.ipw-hardcore.com for new on IPW events.