"WWE is like watching a live rock band on stage beating each other up while at the same time performing an improv comedy routine."
This is how former WWE World Heavyweight Champion (and one-half of the current tag team champs) CM Punk describes the world of pro wrestling to me and it's one of the best summations of the "sport" I've ever heard. "People like to say we offer a little bit of everything, but we offer a lot of everything," he continues. "It's different than anything else out there because you get so emotionally involved in the characters. There's a story to it, everyone has their own story, and that individuality is really what sets it apart from everything else."
And it's that story, more importantly the CM Punk story, that has me on the phone with one of WWE's most passionate young performers, as he is one of only five singles stars to be featured with his own storyline in the video game WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009.
So I figure, who better to play through career mode with than the man whose career I'm controlling on my TV?
If I'm going to win the game and succeed on my Road to Wrestlemania, I could at least use some inside knowledge to the real life of CM Punk, maybe some scouting reports on my polygonal adversaries. Maybe a straight answer from the straight edge superstar about what CM really means.
Turn on the game and cyber CM starts talking straight edge. That's when I ask the real wrestler for the story behind the tats, the story behind the lifestyle that defines not only his character, but his real day-to-day life.
"I've always been straight edge, I just didn't know it," says Punk. "I never smoked or drank or did drugs. Through music, I found out that there was this whole culture of people who were just like me and they called themselves straight edge. When I found out, I was like, cool, that's me. It was something that made sense. I had a label for myself finally, and I ran with it. There's a lot of pride in me with being straight edge. I have it tattooed on my body. And once I found out that there was a name for how I was, my life changed.
"I'm one of those old souls and I had just seen so much stupid stuff at a young age at parties. I always ran with an older crowd and my dad was an alcoholic, so I just never saw the reason to use a crutch. I'm a meet my problems head-on kind of guy. If there's a problem, I want to take care of it. I don't need to drink to forget about it or get high. That's just not me."
Punk, who grew up in the Chicago area wanting to be a wrestler, started pursuing his career with a dream and a computer, looking up local wrestling schools on the Internet.
"When I was 15 watching pay-per-views with my buddies, we'd go out in the backyard and roll around, goof off, and hit each other in the head with lawn chairs," says Punk. "It's just in my blood. I became obsessed with becoming a pro wrestler, then when I found a school, I ended up paying a bunch of money to get beat up every day. I was off and running."
And we were off and running in CM's cyber career in the video game. Punk, who now is a staple of the Raw roster, is a featured ECW performer in the game's storyline, a show where Punk was introduced to WWE audiences as he was able to cut his teeth on the stylized violence (and improv comedy) that is WWE. There are only 82 days to Wresltemania and the storyline in the game features the dramatic build to WWE's Super Bowl of pay-per-views. First feud in the game is actually against an opponent Punk has yet to face in the ring for real, Jeff Hardy. And considering their extremely different lifestyles, this could be a money main event in future shows. "I'm positive you'll see this feud in the future," says Punk. But for now, let's concentrate on the game.
"Jeff is the biggest risk taker in WWE, so I'd play conservative," Punk explains, providing pointers on winning my first match. "I would sit back and wait for him to take that risk, then move out of the way. When he falls, kick his butt."
And Hardy takes even more risks in the game than he does in real life. When he tries to attack me from the air, I do just like Punk says, move out of the way and stomp. I pick Hardy up, kick him in the head, and after a few minutes, it's time for Punk's patented Go to Sleep finisher.
Says Punk: "The Go To Sleep is perfect for me because I use my feet and my knees unlike any WWE superstar in history. You pick that guy up, and the fans know what's coming. You boost him over your head and knee him on the way down. It's gravity. It's poetic. You knock them out and they go to sleep. There's just something about that that's me."
And that's 1-0 for me ... er, Punk. Cyber Punk, that is.
After winning the match, Punk is whisked off in a private jet to the next event. When they show the arena, we're inside Punk's elaborate dressing room (complete with star on door). Inside he's got a computer, some trucker hats, weights, and two shirts. Unfortunately for the real Punk, most nights the locker room is nothing like this, but he doesn't seem to mind. "As long as it has running water and it's warm, I'm happy," he laughs. "If I had a dressing room that nice, I'd share it with the other wrestlers," Punk adds. "That's too nice for just me."
In the game, cyber Punk is shown walking around backstage now, and he just happens to run into Jeff Hardy. Lucky for WWE the cameras also just happened to be there to catch the action. After a brief confrontation, the game's ECW champ, Tommy Dreamer appears and books an Extreme Rules match between Punk and Hardy, with the winner getting a title shot at the Royal Rumble. It's on.
But the real Punk has a couple of words of advice on getting hit with weapons, like "protect yourself" and "it hurts".
"Honestly, I don't like getting hit with anything, but getting sent through a table is no picnic," says Punk. "I think people don't take into account how the table shatters, you get splinters, and you wind up chewing on wood for some reason. It's like when you go to the beach and you get sand everywhere, after you get sent through a table, there is just wood everywhere. There are screws that end up sticking in your leg, so you end up bleeding. It's not fun. People think the table just cracks and that's it, but it's a lot more painful than that."
Point taken. Luckily for cyber Punk, THQ hasn't implemented table screws in their game yet, so I'm not worried. And the funny thing is, you're given a bonus goal in the match to put Hardy through a table. I end up hitting Hardy with chairs and a guitar to bust him open, but I pin him before putting him through the table. I win the match, but miss out on the reward of completing the side goal (which could be unlocking a hidden wrestler).
Before Punk gets his shot at Dreamer, though, he gets booked in a tag team match where Hardy is now his partner as they take on John Morrison and Elijah Burke. Morrison even leaves Punk a voice message in the game threatening him, trying to psyche him out before the match. Funny thing is, Hardy claims to be hurt due to our Extreme Rules slobberknocker and doesn't want to be tagged in, so Punk basically goes it alone and picks up another win after making Morrison Go to Sleep.
Next episode of ECW and now Dreamer wants you to watch his back as he faces Burke. Here, Punk basically stands outside the ring and beats on Morrison (who is in Burke's corner), for continuing to leave messed up messages on his phone. After a few minutes, Morrison jumps in the ring and starts beating on Dreamer. This is where it looks like Punk might turn heel and hit the champ, teaming up with the thug team of Burke and Morrison, but Punk plays it cool and protects Dreamer, setting up the title match at the Royal Rumble.
The championship encounter is another Extreme Rules match, a perfect fit for Dreamer, who is nicknamed the "Innovator of Violence".
"Tommy is a nut," Punk laughs. "Fans would hand him steel pipes or sewer grates or whatever and he'd smack people in the face with it. Dreamer and I always joke around about how he's my mentor and I'm his protégé. I've actually known Tommy for years and years and years and he's always helped me out tremendously."
Unfortunately for Dreamer, he's no match for cyber Punk, who grabs weapons from fans sitting ringside and smacks Dreamer over and over in the head until it is time to hit the Go to Sleep for the title. CM Punk is the new ECW champion. But there's something wrong with Dreamer. Maybe I hit him a few times too many with the steel chairs because now the medical personnel have entered the ring and they're carrying Dreamer out. He's hurting so much, I almost feel bad for using so many weapons on the poor polygon.
When the game flashes forward to the next episode of ECW, Stephanie McMahon is out and explains how Dreamer is out with a punctured lung. She also says that she is abolishing Extreme Rules matches from now on and is stripping Punk of the title. Say what!?! She says Punk is too extreme for ECW and that there will be a tournament to see who the next champ will be. That might have been the shortest title reign in ECW history.