As WWE celebrates the return of WrestleMania to the New York-Jersey area in 2019, WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon talks about the glorious past of The Showcase of the Immortals.03/16/2018 - 14:00
Dueling Diary: CM Punk and Chris Jericho, Day 5
If you ask Punk what “CM” stands for today, it’s “Champion of Miami.” The Voice of the Voiceless is chomping down the earthy blend of green “chuice” as he sits on a bus that’s bound for Sun Life Stadium. It’s WrestleMania Sunday, which explains why the WWE Champion is, unexpectedly, fixed in the front seat of a lengthy charter bus to transport him and his fellow Superstars to the site of The Show of Shows.
“I don’t really feel the pressures or magnitude of WrestleMania until the day of,” the champion states from underneath his “1969” Chicago Cubs cap. “I’m definitely feeling it now. We’re maybe eight hours away from kicking off the show. We’re going to blow off a bunch of fireworks and then it’s really on.”
Punk seems like the type to be toward the rear of the coach (and he probably is), but his eagerness for this day plants him as close to the grand stage as possible. He’s able to get through three songs on his iPod – played at high, speaker-like volume on his neck wrapped headphones – until the very last Superstar climbs aboard: Mick Foley. It’s off to the races, or rather, the longest, hardest, greatest race of the year.
The vessel transporting WWE’s ring warriors pulls away from the WrestleMania hotel en route to Sun Life Stadium miles away. Up ahead of the bus is a police escort blocking traffic for the first of several WWE charter buses. Punk’s skull is wrapped with his analog headphones pumping a rabid metal melody while he snaps pics of the motorcycle mounted policemen up ahead and dreams up an alternate reality for the scenario.
“One of my favorite things about WrestleMania is the police escort,” Punk explains. “I kind of look at it a little different than everyone else, I’m sure. I look at it like we’re a bus full of convicts, maybe getting carted off to death row. Some of us are going to live, some of us aren’t.”
Within a few moments, The Second City Savior has a visual on the site of his all-important performance that draws nearer. He turns his head to size up the massive beacon-like stadium before the bus makes a right turn to deliver the WWE Champion to his battleground.
The WWE Champion has already disembarked his bus when another pulls up not far behind. This one contains the No. 1 contender to CM Punk and a man who’s sunk to deeper lows than ever to get inside his opponent’s head, though his is raised high as he surveys Sun Life Stadium for the first time. There are no more signings or red carpets in his way. This is the moment Chris Jericho has waited and plotted to see come to life.
“WrestleMania week is such an extravaganza with all the pomp and circumstance,” Jericho says, “but to me it’s really just a nuisance in a lot of ways. I understand why we do it, but I’m here for one reason and one reason only and that’s for WrestleMania.”
The nefarious Superstar’s checkered glasses reflect the appropriately immense site of WrestleMania XXVIII as he reveals his passion for this stage, among the reasons he returned to WWE.
“If you’re going to prove that you’re the best in the world, this is the place to do it,” he proclaims. “I would’ve been here at 7 a.m. if I could’ve been because I don’t want to be anywhere else. I would’ve slept in this arena and woke up here. It’s game time now. It’s all about living up to what I say I am.”
There is certainly a correlation between The Voice of the Voiceless and The Common Man, making their run-in notable. The WWE Champion gets a pep talk from WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes in the locker room area within Sun Life Stadium. The legendary performer checks in with the Chicago native and wishes him the best tonight at The Show of Shows.
Tonight, Rhodes’ son, Cody, defends the Intercontinental Championship but Dusty still shows his paternal instincts with The Straight Edge Superstar. The “American Dream” pats Punk on the chin affectionately, providing the champion with a motivational encounter hours before showtime.
It’s only a few moments before CM Punk kicks off his Nike running sneakers to start getting prepared for his match. The shoes may still be slightly damp following his outing in the Miami downpour yesterday even though he spent the very early morning blow drying them.
As Punk changes, he exposes his bright orange socks with a very apropos message embroidered in. The left foot reads, “Anti” and the right, “Hero.” Truer words were never woven.
Former co-holders of the WWE Tag Team Titles and truly good friends, Kofi Kingston and CM Punk squad up in the locker room. They’re two men with significant roles tonight at WrestleMania. Should Kofi and his team fail, it puts John Laurinaitis in full control of both Raw and SmackDown – a prospect The Straight Edge Superstar is certainly not excited to see. They’ve grown together, traveled together and fought together over the years and this afternoon, they show solidarity in a booming embrace.
Kingston believes his buddy and fellow comic book fan will prevail at WrestleMania.
“True! CM Punk is a guy who sets his mind to something,” Kingston exclaims. “I know he’s been thinking about this match for a long time, it’s gotten ridiculously personal and both guys are going to walk out with bumps and bruises, but I know that Jericho is going to be on the losing end for sure.”
The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rollah rolls his suitcase into the locker room and props it up to unpack his gear. The first item out of the luggage is the challenger’s newest prized clothing possession, his signature illuminated jacket – this one covered in colored lights.
Chris Jericho is known for making a fashion statement on big occasions, especially The Biggest Spectacle of Them All. He makes this important night no exception, which is why he sought out something different, even prior to his return in January. With a Google search for distressed leather, Jericho discovered his latest accoutrement, created by the same designer who’s made items for David Lee Roth, Justin Bieber and Alicia Keys.
Solo in the backstage area, the No. 1 contender activates the light display, turning them off and on with a tiny remote control. The twinkling dances on the locker room nook as Jericho envisions what he vows will be victory tonight. By the end of this evening, it’s possible that Jericho will have not one but two new pieces of attire: this coat and the WWE Championship. ( WATCH)
In the 88-degree south Florida heat, CM Punk traipses down a lengthy ramp toward a ring thousands of WWE fans will be focused on in mere hours. The Straight Edge Champion was wowed by this same setting days ago and today, the sensation is only enhanced. Towering palm trees support a canopy overhead which provides shade for Punk during a candid discussion with “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels.
The Showstopper forged a legacy in this exact ring in some of the most unforgettable bouts in WrestleMania history. This is something CM Punk specifically aspires to do himself, especially tonight. People around the world are wondering if Punk and Jericho will steal the show and even though HBK plays a critical role in this evening’s Hell in a Cell Match, even Michaels must admit that he’s anxious to see if they can do it.
With everyone from MGK and Flo Rida to Brodus Clay and (especially) Michael Cole walking about backstage, there are very few quiet corners in Sun Life Stadium. Chris Jericho scours the locker room area until he finds a tight alcove with just enough space for a little “DDP Yoga.”
It’s essentially the final workout for the challenger prior to his championship clash with CM Punk. Jericho flips open a portable DVD player and footage of Diamond Dallas Page in yoga pants rolls on the screen. DDP’s movements are mimicked in close quarters by Chris Jericho, who bends his legs and raises his arms to craft Page’s signature diamond hand gesture. Bang! The first-ever Undisputed Champion is limbered and poised for the title.
One year ago, a Once in a Lifetime collision was set the day after WrestleMania XXVII and John Cena spent 12 months preparing for The Show of Shows in Miami. In that time, he clashed with the man sitting to his immediate right, WWE Champion CM Punk. Punk won.
The WWE Universe remembers all that business at Money in the Bank 2011. It’s also hard to forget The Straight Edge Superstar’s consecutive triumph over Cena at SummerSlam 2011. These duels only birthed a mutual respect amongst WWE’s most popular – and polar opposite – competitors. In fact, their only commonality right now is that they have arguably the biggest battles of their careers ahead of them tonight, Punk against Jericho and Cena against The Rock.
It’s not awkward but it’s not terribly warm between the top stars. It’s actually borderline buddy cop movie as the very dissimilar pair leisurely converses in a production area well before the grand stage is engulfed by nearly 80,000 WWE fans.
PRESSED FOR TIME, 4:57 p.m.
Media gather for the final press conference before WrestleMania XXVIII goes live. Among those scheduled to meet the press is Chris Jericho. By now, the No. 1 contender has had his fill of “kissing babies” and the like, as he puts it. Still, he once again steps into his suit, then enters into a cart to traverse to the opposite end of Sun Life Stadium where he fields questions from various media.
This is the “culmination” of a plan initiated many months ago. There still remains one more facet of this master strategy, but he’ll have to beat the “Best in the World” first.
WEAR AND TEAR, 5:08 p.m.
The Voice of the Voiceless has paced through the corridors at Sun Life Stadium for hours. In that time, he’s received a text from The Excellence of Execution and idol of Punk’s, Bret “Hit Man” Hart. The encouragement comes in via phone call from The Hot Scot as well, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. They are two WWE Hall of Famers who competed in a legendary mat classic for the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania VIII exactly 20 years ago. For Punk there is no greater honor than to be recognized and supported by these ring masters.
The emotions are overwhelming and the immensity of the day clearly affects the WWE Champion. His very human expression of drowsiness is easily relatable and while a mid-afternoon nap is out of the question, a boost is in order.
JUST DANCE, 5:24 p.m.
Chris Jericho and Maria Menounos have plenty to talk about, which is why the “Dancing with the Stars” contestant and “Extra!” host has no reservations in seeking Y2J for an exclusive interview. Jericho, a “Dancing with the Stars” alum himself entertains Menounos’ interview just hours before she herself steps inside his four-cornered territory in a Divas tag clash.
Not one to be outdone or outshined in any fashion, Jericho seizes the microphone and reverses roles with the TV beauty. He even calls forth dance pro Derek Hough, who was watching from behind the camera, to make it full-spectrum discussion.
“FREE” TIME, 5:59 p.m.
The scent of herbal oils intoxicates The Straight Edge Superstar as he temporarily drifts into a realm of sanctity. Receiving massage therapy, CM Punk, for a moment, is free – of challenges, pressure, hostility, persecution, enemies. The past several weeks have mentally taxed the WWE Champion more than any other considering the personal attacks against his family by Chris Jericho. The realities slip away for at least this short period. But when it’s over, CM Punk will charge head-first back into the reality against his antagonist.
CAPE AND SCOWL, 6:46 p.m.
Costumed heroes are common in the four-color comic books read by CM Punk. At this moment, it’s time for The Straight Edge Superstar to undergo his own transformation by adorning himself with the WWE version of a cape and cowl. This is where he flips the switch and becomes the “Best in the World.”
A propped open iPad plays the symbolic anthem that’s in Punk’s blood, Rancid’s “Radio,” the song that started it all for him. It pairs well with a tattooed logo from an Operation Ivy (Rancid before they were Rancid) album cover on his left calf that the WWE Universe has probably never seen.
The Straight Edge Superstar slips on his tights first. Then, over his feet and up his legs, Punk slides on his boot covers with a three-star signature and trim of olive green and red, his favorite color. Punk takes the moment to describe his emotions.
“The biggest difference from this year and last is that I’m still here,” he says, paradoxically. “Last year, I was here but I was maybe mentally out the door. I’m still pissed off, I still have a lot to prove and that’s good.”
Punk continues, “It means I’m still hungry. I’m still willing to sacrifice. I’m invested 100 percent in the company, emotionally, physically and mentally.
The hands on his wrist tape watch would probably display a quarter to clobbering time right about now.
IT’S COLT CA-BA-NA!, 7:10 p.m.
“Yeeyyyyy!” The WWE Champion is met by one-man ballyhoo in the skybox of the Sun Life Stadium. His elated cheerleader is the tattooed Superstar’s best friend, Colt Cabana.
The guy who Punk turned and waved to during his infamous pipebomb blast in summer 2011 is live here at WrestleMania. The independent wrestling sensation and affable podcast host traveled to Sun Life Stadium to see his buddy, Punker, beat Chris Jericho.
“It’s such an exciting time for me as [Punk’s] friend,” Cabana says. “This is the biggest stage. So many people have come from all over the world and Punk’s one of the top dogs at this event. His plan is to go out here and literally try to steal the show.”
Cabana has been present for some of The Straight Edge Champion’s defining moments and he’s expecting tonight will be no different.
“I was there when he won both Money in the Banks, I was there when he was a gangster in the car,” Cabana explains. “I know how huge this is going to be. I’m excited for next year, five years, 10 years when he’s the King of WrestleMania.”
The wrestling funnyman chats it up with CM Punk among some other mutual friends. They surround him to tell him to “kill it” and Punk vows to do just that.
“Nothing less is acceptable,” he says.
BEST IN TRUNKS, 7:39 p.m.
It’s a bold claim that’s stitched and studded on the rear of Chris Jericho. Prematurely, the challenger to the WWE Title unveils a new pair of trunks, the gear he’ll wear into combat for the match he seems to believe he’s already won. The crystals gleam in the locker room and will shine even more brilliantly underneath the spotlights of the Sun Life Stadium. Of course, the greatest luster would come from the WWE Championship should it fall in his possession.
CLOBBERIN’ TIME, 9:31 p.m.
The moments are fewer until CM Punk and Chris Jericho square off and the champion’s found his game face. It’s some form of a bark that emits from his tattooed throat as he pounds his way down the locker room hallway toward the mouth of ’Mania. The scene is intense as the WWE Champion is fueled by the pounding metal in his headphones.
After learning of the new stipulation to his title defense, Punk appears furious. He stomps up the ramp, jogs in place then turns and suddenly dashes at full speed back down, all the way out of the loading dock to the rear parking lot. This repeats twice more before his nemesis’ music hits, signaling Chris Jericho’s ring entrance.
Punk’s up next and prior to his climactic emergence into the stadium, he addresses cameras documenting this milestone.
“One life, one chance. Gotta make it right,” The Second City Savior speaks to the lens. “… It’s clobberin’ time.” ( WATCH)
(SUB)MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, 9:54 p.m.
The clash is exactly as anticipated. In front of the entire WWE Universe, CM Punk and Chris Jericho perform like the elite level Superstars they are, enduring one other’s most effective maneuvers. Impressively, Punk sustains a Code Breaker off a top rope springboard, the Lionsault and more. When Y2J turns a turnbuckle hurricarana into the Walls of Jericho, it’s nearly curtains for the champion, but his fortunate flexibility therapy seems to aid the tattooed titan from tapping out, even when locked in the second Walls of Jericho – this one with a knee dug deep into Punk’s back.
In the open air of the night, Jericho writhes out of a GTS and dodges more than one flying body tackle from the tattooed Voice of the Voiceless. It’s the right amount of torque but not enough to force the freakishly flexible Punk to tap out. The stakes are too high.
GRIPPING OUTCOME, 9:56 p.m.
“Cult of Personality” echoes throughout the Miami sky and “Bana” (as Punk calls him) and Lars simply lose it at ringside when they see they friend, CM Punk, trump Chris Jericho live on pay-per-view.
An incredible series of hold reversals leaves the pompous No. 1 contender with nowhere to go when the Straight Edge warrior binds his foe in the Anaconda Vise. Snared in the inked arms of the WWE Champion, The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rollah suffers like he made Punk agonize for weeks and though he flails for release, there’s no way to leverage out given the champion’s quick weaving to avoid any of Jericho’s defensive strikes.
Punk’s repugnant challenger was confident he’d overcome the slick-haired Superstar in front of a worldwide audience tonight. Instead, Y2J tapped out in the center of the ring to bring almost 80,000 strong to their feet.
FAN FEEDBACK, 10:13 p.m.
On the way back to the dressing room after his grand stage victory over Chris Jericho, WWE Champion CM Punk must weave past a gaggle of costumed “mommas” and musical artist entourages. While Y2J slinks off into the shadows, Punk playfully hops aboard a makeshift conga line in the corridors with Brodus’ dancers, but is also met by applause, praise and pats on the back from quite a few individuals. At the top of that list of live appreciation is the kudos coming from WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels. HBK’s notoriety for showmanship at WrestleMania may be something to covet for The Voice of the Voiceless, apropos of “the best.”
Next up is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who fashions a similar power stride en route to the same ramp Punk just descended. It’s time for the final bout of the night – which the champion feels is the spot he and Jericho should’ve occupied – and The Great One is ready to make history. But first, The People’s Champion gives credit where it’s due for one hell of a contest.
Finally, the WWE Title holder reaches his room and simply swipes to scroll through pages of new text messages and notifications from friends, family, peers and more – all supporting The Second City Saint’s remarkable efforts in Miami. Tonight, everyone’s a CM Punk fan and after a match like that, it’s hard not to be.
BEST IN THE WORLD, 10:20 p.m.
The locker room is near empty when CM Punk carries the WWE Championship back into it. Without any hesitation, he drops to his knees and casts a grin of mixed emotion; exhilaration and perhaps even disbelief at the events of tonight and this year.
This is the comic book ending to The Second City Savior’s tale – the story arc not the series. Punk realizes there’s more ahead; he welcomes it. Right now, however, crouched and leaned against a locker room altar, he’s earned satisfaction and solace by forging a WrestleMania moment that was never supposed to happen.
He’s used to putting opponents to sleep, but tonight, at last, CM Punk can be the one who rests knowing that the anti-hero won and in grand fashion against Chris Jericho.
There is a lot of celebrating to do, “chuice” to swill and cookies to devour. The “Best in the World” can place his head on the golden, lustrous “pillow” he just fought like hell to retain. All The Straight Edge Superstar wants is for this to last.
“If I take my gear off, the night is over,” frets Punk. “If I stay in it, maybe that can make it last a little longer.”
He decides, “I’m staying in my gear.” ( WATCH)