CM Punk saw his UFC career reach a rumbling, stumbling halt at UFC 225, just three and a half years and two fights after it was announced. After Punk's victory over WWE doctor Chris Amann, many fellow fighters and former wrestlers extended their admiration for the former WWE Champion's drive.
WWE color commentator Corey Graves wasn't one of them.
A longtime friend of Punk's, Graves' tweet-storm surprised many, and drew the ire of many more. He would later clarify, at least to a degree.
Thinking back to the displeasure Graves and Booker T expressed when they claimed that wrestling media in particular reported irresponsibly on their "beef," I reached out to Corey Graves, who was willing to share his story.
I'd heard through the grapevine (although far from solid enough to report) that Punk had offered several of his friends an ultimatum to leave WWE or lose him as a friend as a result. Graves, said it was the first he'd heard of such a claim, and offered up his experience.
"Well, to be honest, I’d never heard or been given that ultimatum," said Graves. "It kinda shocked me when I texted him about grabbing dinner because we were in Chicago and he told me he no longer had any interest in being friends with me or anybody related to WWE."
A tweet had surfaced from September 2016, when Graves posted in respect of Punk after his swift UFC debut loss to Mickey Gall at UFC 203. Graves told me that he reached out to Punk ahead of the fight, which was when he was met with the cold response. However, Graves chalked it up to pre-fight preparation.
"I respected his drive, and him doing his own thing," said Graves. "He sent me the text shortly before his first fight. Part of me just thought he was in a zone and I didn’t take offense. I texted him the day of his FIRST fight something along the lines of “I know life is nuts, I still love you good luck” Probably not verbatim, but you get the idea."
The 34-year old Graves said that he had no contact with Punk after the exchange in 2016. Shortly after Punk left WWE in January of 2014, Graves experienced his own exit from in-ring competition. He was forced from the ring due to concussion-related issues, and has since served as a color commentator and host across multiple shows. Graves indicated that Punk's disdain for not just the wrestling business, but the people in it is what affected him.
"What really set me off was this week when he essentially disowned the business that made him," Graves said. "My only issue with him was that he turned off people that actually loved and supported him. Beyond “the business” and he never wanted anything to do with us...yet continued to present himself as this “Punk” hero."
I asked for a little clarification when Graves mentioned that he was set off 'this week.' Punk emerged victorious over a WWE doctor in a multimillion dollar lawsuit just days ago. Graves said that testimony, nor the result, inspired the tweet.
"Dude, this has ZERO to do with court, or testimony or any of the above. Nothing that I tweeted was corporate," said Graves. "I’m simply hurt/pissed off that a guy that I looked like as a big brother-type has turned his back on me and everyone that loved and supported him only because of the name on my paycheck. I’m definitely not the only one. I won’t name names, but there is a large group of us to this day that inexplicably lost a solid friend because of where we work."
Graves and Punk have known each other for well over a decade, and wrestled each other as far back as 2002 -- at least as far as online databases are concerned.
Before wrapping up our conversation, the former Sterling James Keenan told me that he's aware the opinions of those online will be formed on their own, and he's convinced he'll inevitably lose in that regard.
He didn't seem too concerned at the prospect of such. After the original article published, Graves posted a few additional tweets, seemingly taking aim at Punk's skill set.
Fightful.com will break down the story on this week's podcasts. You can check out our full UFC 225 coverage at this link, our post-show podcast at this link, and reactions from several other fighters and wrestlers at this link.
Editor's Note: Some of Graves' quotes have been rearranged for clarity.