“Oh, I can so just sit here and cry.”
Andy Bernard, ladies and gentlemen. Truer words have never been spoken, even if they didn’t originate in professional wrestling canon. From The Office to AEW, I’m not sure a moment is more fitting to well up over than the one we all just witnessed Friday night on AEW Rampage. We all expected him to be there, even those of us whose belief in these larger-than-life things happening in wrestling had been worn down to an unsightly nub over the last many years. It was happening. Considering all we thought we were certain of, the reactions seen all over wrestling fandom were as real and raw as I ever remember seeing them. I’ll never forget it.
For me, the tears started early. Combining expectations almost certain to come to fruition and all-time anxiousness, it was only a matter of when, not if. Even still, by five minutes to 9pm (CST), a full and raging tsunami was locked and loaded directly within my eyeballs. A spark was all it needed, and it was game over for me until well after the show had ended. Turns out, the spark wasn’t even Punk himself; it was the fans jam packed into the United Center losing their collective minds before Cult of Personality even began.
They were brilliant. Chants filled the venue, louder than I ever remember hearing on my TV at home. The energy they brought made it seem to me like I was in the building too, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a stormy ocean of excitement and anticipation. Seven years of waiting and wondering built to a moment that these fans helped to make legendary. So, even though nothing of note had happened within the show, even though Punk hadn’t sauntered out onto the stage, and even though we had been given no concrete payoff to weeks of build, the waterworks began, and I became a puddle of ridiculous emotion and tears. All for professional wrestling.
Because why not, right? This is why we watch. As adult humans investing in any form of entertainment that requires a significant time commitment, how could we possibly not invest our hearts and emotions? Many of us have been fans for decades, even spanning generations within families. We relate to characters, the humans behind them, and to the stories so masterfully written and told in front of our very eyes. When something hits just right, of course we display emotional reactions.
Perhaps you’re more of the “fuzzy feelings” type. Maybe a smile finds its way to your lips that you just can’t seem to shake. There are those who just have to tell everyone they know about this incredible thing they just saw or experienced. Others, like me, cry.
I wish I had five thousand more words to explain how deeply Punk’s return impacted me and why it did so, but I’ll spare you that. I’ll just say that it means something, and that’s clearly true for millions of people across the world for reasons all their own. So many people related to his struggles, his feelings, and his experiences, whether in large ways or small. It didn’t matter. Very few people have that effect. That’s why when he left seven years ago, we didn’t forget. You don’t forget people like CM Punk.
When his music finally hit, as I frantically wiped a nonstop tear barrage from the depths of my soul, and he walked out onto the ramp, I swear the Earth stopped spinning for a moment. It was him. It was really him. The reports had been correct. The rumors were true. The build was legitimate. They had promised without promising, and they had delivered. It was as surreal a moment in professional wrestling that I ever remember having in over two decades as a fan.
The pop was deafening. The emotion spewed forth unrivaled and real. Fans jumped, screamed, and lost their collective minds one by one as the cameras panned over a sea of literal insanity. It was much calmer in my home, as I sat on my floor (who could sit normally on their couch at a time like this?!) with my arms wrapped around my knees and tucked under my chin. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and just absorbed the sound of sheer and unbridled joy. I wanted to remember more than just the visuals but the way my body shivered, and my mind raced as well.
When he knelt on the stage, the emotion in his face and within his eyes told a story only he knows and will ever know. It doesn’t matter what that story is, just that it carries such a weight within him that this moment in time meant the world. His gaze traced the United Center, absorbed the faces exploding with passion and happiness, and he let himself feel. I cannot imagine what that must have been like, to be showered with as much love and respect as he was in those moments, but I have to believe that it felt a little like coming home. He would go on to admit as much only a few minutes later.
Emotion, folks. Raw. Real. Contagious. You can’t force that. It just is.
I relate so heavily to those fans I saw crying in the stands and to those in videos after. Fightful’s own, Kate Hensler, made an appearance on the Rampage/Smackdown post show and talked about the gravity of the evening, after sharing her own tears on social media only an hour earlier. These are not moments to be ashamed of, not in the least. As fans, we dedicate full spaces of our lives to this thing of ours, and when moments pull the right string, it’s more than appropriate to shed tears. As an entire community, that string was pulled on Friday and may have been detached all together. Shit, I may never stop crying!
That’s just how beautiful a moment it was. So, I did sit there and cry. I’m proud to have done so. I’m grateful I have something in my life that I can feel so safe and excited about that my emotions can take on a life of their own. We all should be.
Wherever you watched, and in whatever way you chose to lose your mind and let your emotions run wild, I thank you. Thank you for helping to create such a magical atmosphere around something we all love so much. Amidst the toxicity that has become commonplace on social media, for a perfect evening, we were one.
He’s back. CM Punk is finally home.
Now, pass me another tissue.