Livin' large versus walking the Straightedge
Johnny Nitro can't help but chuckle when he thinks about what CM Punk does during his free time, away from the squared circle.
Sipping on Evian, the ECW World Champion narrowly avoids gagging on his water when he even thinks about how the No. 1 contender to his title may spend a Friday or Saturday night if he's not entertaining our fans.
"A lot of people call Punk ‘gritty,' ‘underground,' like he's some indie-rock type," Nitro said, gazing above the ruby red shades on his nose. "To me, that's just another way of saying, ‘loser.' If you don't have any friends, and you're off sitting by yourself in a corner, what does that really say about you? It says no one wants to hang out with you. Hardcore-Straightedge? Basically it comes down to this: Punk's out playing skee ball at Chuck E. Cheese's. I'm hanging out with K-Fed in Las Vegas. Who do you think is having a better time? Who would the fans rather be? I'll tell you -- JOHNNY NITRO."
Wow. A so-called A-lister who can only manage to hang out with the former Mr. Britney Spears in Las Vegas. Running buddies aside, Nitro's ring skills are indisputable. He stunned all of ECW and the sports-entertainment world when he defeated Punk for the vacant ECW World Title at Vengeance: Night of Champions last month and has turned heads with his new intensity and focus in recent weeks, defeating hardcore icon Tommy Dreamer twice, once in an Extreme Rules Match.
With their rematch for the title at The Great American Bash less than two weeks away, it's apparent that two men could not be more different than Nitro and Punk. They represent opposite sides of the spectrum. Nitro is accustomed to Hollywood bright lights and decadence, the finest things in life. He grew up surrounded by wealth and never had to want for anything. The finest trainers in the world helped him mold his chiseled physique.
On the other hand, Punk grew up poor in Chicago and had to fight for every single accolade and possession he had. He is the Straightedge Superstar who doesn't indulge in waste and whose only addiction is competition. He doesn't possess Nitro's six-pack abs, but his body is a canvas for an array of tattoos. A self-made Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu technician, he has a cult following drawn to his never-say-die attitude.
"I'll admit it: I'm not the greatest. I'm not the best-looking," Punk said. "I'm not the fastest. I'm certainly not the biggest or the strongest. But I will never quit, and I will always get back up."
When reached, Punk was in his hotel room in New Orleans, studying tapes of Nitro and watching matches of wrestling competitions emanating from Japan. Stroking the brown stubble on his chin, he laughed to himself when told of Nitro's comments. Still, he refused to discredit Nitro the competitor.
"I'm not going to take anything away from Johnny Nitro, regardless of what path he took to get here," the Straightedge Superstar said. "Regardless of whether he was the quarterback that got everything handed to him, he still has the talent to back it up. Me, I was the kid who got the hand-me-down equipment in school. I never had the money or means to pursue everything I wanted to, so I had to make my own way. The big difference between me and him is he's the A-lister who wants to prove to the world how good he is and show everybody else that he's a star. For me it's all about winning. It's all about competition."
Still, Punk couldn't resist taking a shot at Nitro the man. Let's face it; a man who wears the kind of fur Nitro flaunts is an easy target, even if he is the ECW World Champion.
"All the negative things he has to say about me, maybe that reveals some insecurity he has about himself," Punk said.
When Nitro thinks about Punk's "Straightedge Lifestyle," he yawns. "Borrrrriiiing," he says. Real men wear fur. And didn't Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart wear pink for most of their careers? Didn't Hulk Hogan and Jesse "The Body" Ventura walk around wearing feather boas? Punk, Nitro insists, is the one who's insecure. Why else would he call himself the Straightedge Superstar?
"I'm the most confident Superstar in ECW and all of WWE," he said. "Why? I can wear fur and draw attention to myself because I'm not afraid of what people will think. … I'm just thinking about having a good time, livin' large, being champion -- that's how I roll. CM Punk's the one who's concerned about image, what people think of him. He's the one with all these tattoos. "Straightedge-Hardcore" T-shirt. Diet Pepsi tattoo on his arm. If I had a Pepsi tattoo on my arm, I would be pretty insecure about that. I would have gotten that changed a long time ago."
Whether Nitro lives large or Punk prefers to walk the Straightedge, these two ECW Superstars share one thing in common -- a passion for the ECW World Title. And how each man spends his Friday nights will mean little when the gold is up for grabs at The Great American Bash on July 22.
"When it comes down to it, it gets done in the ring," Punk said. "And he [Nitro] can get it done in the ring. I can get it done in the ring. This will come down to skill set, and on any given night, either Johnny Nitro or CM Punk can win this thing. It won't matter what Nitro wears to the ring. It won't matter how many L.A. parties he attends."