CM Punk was once again in the news this past week and as usual has created internet Armageddon with his forthright approach to interviews. This time Punk, real name Phil Brooks, caused controversy in a Sports Illustrated Q&A (which you can read here) where he was quoted as describing wrestling as "fake" which it seems has infuriated many fans around the world.
Wrestling has pre-determined outcomes and the "opponents" work together (some more willingly than others ahem) to create as entertaining a match as possible in the time they have been allocated. Every effort is taken by the wrestlers to ensure that their opponent suffers no or little pain or injury during the contest. There is the odd exception to this of course and there are numerous examples in history of wrestlers refusing to wrestle against certain people or take certain moves from an individual.
However, like a Hollywood stunt man as wrestlers are so often compared to, things can go wrong and WWE stars are at risk of serious injury or even death. Describing it as fake can anger some people as they see that real risks are being taken and would point to someone like former high flyer "The Dynamite Kid" Tom Billington, who can now only get around using a wheelchair, as just one example of how "real" wrestling can be.
Having read the full article I believe people are wrong to be angry with Punk and that this is an example of a comment being taken out of context to make for a good headline. The one line taken out and read in isolation may sound like he is trying to be disrespectful or gain media attention, but it is not a fair representation of the whole story.
Brooks was last making headlines in December when, during a two part podcast with former Ring of Honor colleague and now close friend Colt Cabana he made a number of disparaging remarks about former boss Vince McMahon, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, WWE medical staff, WWE creative staff and current superstar Ryback amongst others (seen above injuring Punk for real).
The fallout would continue into February of this year when Dr. Chris Amann filed a defamation lawsuit against Brooks seeking more than $1 million in compensatory damages as well as an undetermined amount of punitive damages (something I predicted would never come to pass here) Punk has not yet publicly commented on this.
This is exactly why people want to hear what Brooks has to say, he is brutally honest and he isn't afraid of leaving behind him a trail of destruction. The bottom line is he sells newspapers and magazines, he gets website clicks and then he inspires a host of articles and podcasts from others about what he has said. If you reflect on the whole interview, rather than just the "F-bomb", a different picture will be painted than of someone who is trying to undermine and publicly disrespect his former co-workers.
He is very respectful and shows a great deal of gratitude towards the WWE fans, "I understand that I have this gigantic fan base from almost a different life. And it would be foolish to ignore that. So, I accept it. I’d be crazy to think I could ignore and turn my back on it. That would be wacky." Being comfortable in being called by his in-ring name CM Punk is hardly the behaviour of someone who does not respect pro-wrestling. He also gives a nod to obsessives like me who like to feed on backstage news however trivial "A lot of people are more interested in the backstage goings-on than what they see on television. A lot of ways it’s more fascinating. It’s a competition for sure." Again Brooks is showing empathy and understanding towards WWE fans.
It is clear that Punk didn't have too many friends in WWE, something he references "You travel with your friends. But, yeah, you’re on your own.", but he talks about former WWE champion Brock Lesnar in glowing terms "I love him. I think he’s awesome." He talks about his own career as a professional wrestler by saying "I'd accomplished pretty much all I wanted." Notice he uses the word accomplish here suggesting that there is more than an element of reality.
Brooks is a long-time fan of wrestling and in the years he wasn't just a fan, he was wrestling himself. Anyone who thinks he hates wrestling, and not just the business side of things, and was upset by his use of the word "fake" is being a little bit too precious. It is very clear that he is angry at the way he was treated and the way the company (in his opinion) showed a complete disregard for his well-being and safety. If we are talking simplistically, yes wrestling is fake, but if he was talking with contempt for wrestling then he would be showing contempt for most of his life so far. He was saying he is not offended by the word fake as on a basic level yes it is fake fighting, especially in comparison to something like UFC.
What I would say is that Brooks is in danger of becoming that stereotypical bitter ex-WWE employee he said he didn't want to become in the Cabana podcasts, if he continues to answer questions about his time in WWE. He said the podcast was his way of having his say so he could move on, well until his lucrative autobiography is published I think it is time he did and left the past in the past.