The Trial of the Century: Part 1 of 2
I should start by addressing my erroneous title. This was, by and large, not the trial of the century unless you fall into one of the following sub-categories of human. Maybe you are a big ol' CM Punk fan. Or, you're a passionate supporter of Colt "Boom Boom" Cabana. Or you're a big fan of WWE's medical staff. Or you just love a good defamation lawsuit! This is a trial that most of us assumed would never see the light of day. Surely they'll settle, we reassured ourselves. Surely the ugly underside of WWE's travel schedule, the sketchy medical practices, the physical and mental toll it takes on performers; surely this won't be laid out in plain sight for the whole world to see. Wrestling, once again, seemingly at the insistence of the shady powers that be, was shown front and centre with no trousers on before a courtroom of bemused jurors and confused eighth-grade schoolchildren. To quote Mark Corrigan, "Daddy's hat has fallen off".
I approached this trial with the same level of "fingers in my ears so you can't make me lose sleep over it" commitment to non-information I usually save for any announced video game or movie. Don't tell me. Don't make me speculate. Don't make me think. I know I'll get wound up. I know I'll get anxious, I know it'll ultimately make me frustrated and upset. Well, despite all attempts to block this upsetting trial from my mind, it came looming into horrible focus this last month as every detail was reported on extensively.
Being a CM Punk fan has been an emotional experience for a long time.
Like many folks, I am a CM Punk fan. This, sadly for me, now has several asterisks and notations beside it. Being a CM Punk fan has been an emotional experience for a long time. The guy has clearly been robbed of something which I never really thought you could steal. His love of wrestling is gone. It's buried under man-made mountains of misery, anxiety and stress. I can't say I feel sorry for him in the traditional sense as he got to live his dream, and was compensated for it very well financially. But Punk has always had a difficult relationship with the public and this trial has made it worse. If you ever feel like going on a wild adventure into the pitch black cesspool of toxic fandom, check CM Punk's mentions. Literally, on any tweet. It's a hellscape! And every time I see CM Punk, I feel like the light has been drained from him, just a bit. It's a frustratingly hopeless situation, one which seems to inevitably end with him being back in a wrestling ring trying to reclaim something that's been taken away. We find ourselves in the age-old bind of "can a wrestler return after they've said or done x/y/z?" Punk has stopped short of saying he'll never return. In 20-year-plus-wrestling-fan-speak that means he will almost definitely return someday, in some capacity. It probably won't be soon. It might be very soon. It might be years. But I am convinced it will happen.
Every time I see CM Punk, I feel like the light is has been drained from him, just a bit.
I genuinely struggled with being a Punk fan from 2014 onwards. The tail end of his last run filled me with sadness. Here was a guy desperately trying to perform at a level his body just wasn't allowing, while new high-level talent were beginning to populate the roster. Between 2013 and 2014, fans experienced The Shield, Daniel Bryan’s ascent and the advent of a new, more independently focussed NXT. Invariably, all of these things made Punk’s struggle all the more difficult. His move-set reduced. His speed reduced. He looked tired. Not in the "hey man, I've been thrashing to coooool music all night long" sense - more like, "hey man I've been wrapped in ice and deep heat all night long". The most invested I got in his final few matches on WWE was by trying to work out if he had done a little poo in the ring that one time.
The trial itself did little to change my viewpoint. Much like getting drunk at the holidays and telling a family member about how they've wronged you over the years, it did more to underscore the nastiness than to alleviate it. There was very little whopping and hollering when we found out that his medical records were being shared and discussed with other employees. Or that he had been given unrecorded prescriptions. Or that he had had a serious staph infection. Or that it had been seen by four people. Or that the doctor hadn't lost any work, income, peer regard or professional standing from the podcast in question. "YEAH! TAKE THAT! Oh god, why do I feel all cold and sad suddenly?"
The other day we watched his pre-UFC interview with Ariel Helwani. It was the first thing Jo had seen of Punk, and I am convinced she now must think he's the most miserable wrestler on the planet. I can still remember seeing him in 2004 and being completely blown away; his passion was palpable, his star power and presence undeniable.
What has wrestling done to CM Punk?