Interview: Behind the snarl of CM Punk

CM Punk

WWE Champion CM Punk on the CTA Blue Line March 8, 2012 (Chicago Tribune/ Phil Velasquez)

Little did fans know Punk had signed a contract extension shortly after the pay-per-view had begun broadcasting.

Eight days later, Punk returned to WWE TV, lost the title at the next pay-per-view and then lost his match at the pay-per-view after that. But he won the title back in November and will defend it at Wrestlemania (the Super Bowl of wrestling). Besides, WWE's higher-ups are starting to see what many fans have been seeing in Punk all along — well, most fans.

"We heckled him at a house show here in Hartford (Conn.) a year and a half ago before he had blown up," says Michelle Beadle, co-host of ESPN's "SportsNation" and a die-hard wrestling fan, over the phone from ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. "'Who is this dork with a Pepsi tattoo?' Fast-forward a few months, and now I'm, like, 'That's the greatest wrestler of all time.' ... We thought he was a dork, and now we're big fans."

Asked whether he has the marketability to be the face of WWE, Beadle, who calls Punk a friend, says, "He's where he is because he's been very successful. I don't think he will be that guy who is overly nice — that's just not his (shtick). If people want to take pictures with him on his own time, they may not get a nice answer or reaction from him. But I think he sells tickets. Attaching the wagon to that guy is not a bad idea."

He wouldn't reveal how long he re-signed for, but the 33-year-old Punk says he isn't interested in wrestling into his 40s. He has goals outside of wrestling, including opening a doughnut shop and naming his baked goods after wrestling terms such as "The Bear Claw."

One goal that doesn't seem to be at the top of his list? Marriage.

"I don't think marriage is in the cards for me," says Punk. "I think it's an archaic institution. I think people got married when their life expectancy was (shorter). It kind of made sense then. ... People now live to 100. But who's to say? I would love to find a woman who will absolutely floor me, make me stop everything, intrigue me that much that everything stops. I'm not positive she exists."

Punk believes dating within the industry helps, because of the grueling road schedule, but says you risk bringing your work home with you and talking about wrestling seven days a week. That's not to say he hasn't done it. Punk has been linked to WWE Divas champion Beth Phoenix and ex-WWE Divas Lita and Maria Kanellis, an Ottawa, Ill., native and former"Celebrity Apprentice" contestant now with the Ring of Honor wrestling promotion.

Kanellis notes that she dated Punk for a year and a half and got to know his protective side — she says he once texted her right before his Wrestlemania match to let her know a wrestler was flirting with her sister — as well as his sentimental side. "Giant Sweet Tarts are my favorite candy," says Kanellis over the phone from her Los Angeles condo. "And from the day I met him until the day I left WWE, he gave me giant Sweet Tarts — even when we weren't together."

Asked whether he considers himself romantic, Punk locks his hands together on the table at The Bongo Room and reveals a tattoo on his fingers: "Romance." "I'm a hopeless romantic," Punk says. "Nobody believes me."

Whether to make conversation or move the focus away from the tattoo, Punk praises the waitress for refilling his tea without his noticing. "You're good," he tells her. "You're (expletive) good. I held up my cup (for a refill) and spilled boiling water on my phone." Pressed about the origin of the tattoo, Punk says, "I don't even know. I think I just want my hands to be all tattooed to make it look like I was in a Russian gulag, and it made sense at the time, so …"

The conversation soon shifts to romantic comedies.

"Dude, you know what's a good movie?" Punk exclaims. "It's got Ryan Reynolds, and he has a daughter and tells her stories about four different girlfriends and she has to figure out which one was her mom. What I do on international flights is watch crappy, sappy love movies. ... Sometimes they're so bad, it's laughable. It kills time."

Punk says part of the reason he likes the movie "Definitely, Maybe" is because he can relate to it, but he doesn't elaborate. Also, he wants a daughter. He has a soft spot for children — even if they do stare at his tattoos and lip ring — and tries to make time for the young fans who want autographs and photos.

"I do envision myself having kids one day, and I always wanted a little girl," says Punk. "I figure it will happen regardless — especially if I don't want one. 'No, I can't have a little girl. It would be torture if I have a little girl.' It's like a wrestling curse."

Ever since he re-signed, Punk seems to have taken a greater leadership role in the WWE locker room. He volunteers to do interviews on his days off when a show's ticket sales could be better; he is adamant that wrestlers leave the locker room the way they found it; and he is giving more of the younger guys advice on their matches.

Kingston believes young wrestlers can learn a lot from Punk — just as he did back in the day.

"I'm really lucky Punk chose to take me under his wing," Kingston says. "A lot of people have a story about the first time they met Punk and how he was kind of a jerk. The earliest thing I remember is him coming up to me and saying, 'Hey, want a piece of advice? ... Remember, they all came here to see you.' I had been jumping around nervous, and he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable."

On the road, Punk takes Kingston along on his personal bus, which saves them the trouble of having to drive and find time for sleep. The bus was one of Punk's contract stipulations when he re-signed, along with a raise. But Punk claims it was never about the money. He says he isn't much of a spender. Still, he did make sure it was enough to make WWE think twice about not using him again.

And then there's the intro song he's been using since "returning" to WWE: "Cult of Personality." While most wrestlers have theme music created in-house, Punk asked WWE to pay for the rights for the popular 1988 Living Colour song.

Was it expensive?

"Yeah," Punk says about the song he listened to during his Little League baseball days. "But (expletive) it."

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