I'm a wrestling fan.
I've been one since I was about eight years old. The first wrestler I ever met in person was the Big Boss Man, who came to my father's hospital to visit sick kids one day in the late 1980s.
My time in high school and college synched perfectly with the rise of the Internet and the Attitude Era, where wrestling fans from all over the world could find each other online and discuss storylines and rumors.
Eventually I found myself writing for a fairly popular, but now defunct wrestling site - (SCOOPS, for anyone who remembers late 90's online dirt-sheets) - which put me in contact with some wrestlers in person. I would attend the same autograph signings, book signings, various appearances wrestlers like Bret Hart, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Mick Foley, Edge, and many others.
As cool as it was to sit down and talk with these guys, and observe them out in the "real world" - it was startling how guarded they were. Most of these appearances were fairly easy paydays for them. Show up for an hour or two, sign some autographs, shake some hands. But most of them never seemed to enjoy being there.
You got the sense the whole "dealing with the public" aspect of being a pro wrestler wasn't their favorite part. For years that confused me, since fan interaction seems to go hand in hand with being a celebrity. One would think pro wrestlers who perform on tv in front of thousands every week would be used to being around fans.
But then I started to look at some of these fans. And while every aspect of entertainment that can draw an audience will have its share of colorful diehards, it seemed pro wrestling attracted a different level of obsessive.
And while it warmed all our hearts to read the story of Connor the Crusher and his relationship with Daniel Bryan, or hear about John Cena fulfilling his 400th Make A Wish, the fact remains that only a fraction of the WWE's fanbase are children.
Most are adults. Most are fans who've been watching since at least the Attitude Era.
These are the people who make up a bulk of those on line for autographs.
These are the people who are usually camping out overnight for front-row tickets.
These are the people who book the same hotels the wrestlers are staying at so they can hopefully meet them at the bar after the show.
These are the people who find out online where their favorite superstar lives and then tracks them down and stakes out their home.
These are the stalkers, the obsessives, the delusional. They are people with emotional and psychological problems for whom these WWE superstars represent some fantasy-come-true.
The history of pro wrestling has always been filled with instances of fans getting physical with performers. From the carney days, fans have tried their hands at proving how fake everything was, whether it was during a show or afterwards at the bar.
This is something different entirely. What WWE performers have to deal with today when they go out in public isn't just some drunk trying to impress his buddies. In many instances, it's a lot darker than that.
In 1990, a woman named DeAnn Siden began a six-year infatuation with wrestling icon Rick Flair. Siden spent the next eight years following him from city to city, getting kicked out of wrestling venues, and eventually threatening his life.
In 2007, 45-year-old Teresa Kimbrell was arrested after she drove all the way from North Carolina to the home of her favorite wrestler, Chris Benoit, who lived in Georgia. She was charged with simple battery and disorderly conduct after a neighbor said Kimbrell swore at him and threw rocks at him because he wouldn’t talk to her about the Benoits.
In 2009 Chris Jericho was attacked by a mob of fans outside a RAW show in Canada. Two fans were arrested and Jericho made news for footage of him hitting a female fan while defending himself leaked online.
In 2010, 22 year old wrestling fan Zavr Peygumbari got arrested after he called WWE's headquarters in Stamford, CT., over twenty times last week threatening to blow up the building according to CTPost.com. During the calls, Peygumbari told the operator that he will be visiting the offices with a machete and a machine gun because they released former Women's champion Mickie James.
In 2011, then-Diva Maryse Ouellet was granted a restraining order from an L.A. County Superior Court judge against 61-year-old obsessed fan/stalker Lee Silber, requiring the guy to stay at least 300 feet away from the Diva for the next three years. Ouellet claimed Silber harassed her constantly, leaving more than 50 delusional voicemails on her cell phone, sending her increasingly scary letters, promising to track her down in L.A. and "take me to heaven with him."
In 2013, while visiting South Africa on a trip, a crazed WWE fan was arrested after climbing into the ring and striking Randy Orton in the groin.
That is just a small sample of the incidents that have occurred between obsessed wrestling fans and the performers they idolize.
It's why every smart superstar has a bodyguard with them when they do autograph signings and why most WWE meet and greets are strictly controlled environments resembling presidential visits.
A WWE superstar is a celebrity the same way an actor or pro ball player is, the only difference being inherent in the job of a WWE superstar is connecting with and attaining more fans. More fans equals more success. More success equals more money. Therefore more fans equals more money.
But with more fans comes more stalkers and obsessives. With greater fame comes more crazy people who think they have a connection with you. More crazy people trying to involve themselves in your personal life leads to distrust and a bunker mentality.
Which leads to WWE stars to have a polite, if detached, relationship with most of their fans.
Or in the case of CM Punk, a complete dissolving of the relationship altogether. Whatever other reasons he had for walking away, it's hard to imagine dealing with crazy, obsessive fans camping out in his backyard is going to do anything towards making him want to return.
Luckily for Punk, he apparently saved his money and can afford to walk away and hide from the obsessives. For the rest of the WWE roster, they'll figure out the best way to get through the dark side of fame is just to keep your head down and get on the bus to the next town.