It’s a happy 38th birthday of Phillip Jack Brooks, best known to wrestling and MMA fans as CM Punk.
Born in Chicago, Illinois to a stay-at-home mom and an engineer, Brooks ventured into wrestling through a backyard wrestling federation with his brother Mike and his friends in the mid-1990s. When another wrestler failed to show, he was put into a team known as the Chick Magnets. He became CM Punk with his partner named CM Venom. Eventually, the backyard federation got quite popular among locals and they ran shows out of a warehouse. But Mike embezzled money out of the small federation, causing the brothers' relationship to strain. According to Phil in the 2012 documentary Best in the World, he has not spoken to Mike since finding out.
He would leave for Steel Domain Wrestling, based out of St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Steel Dominion Wrestling school in Chicago. It was there he befriended Scott Colton, aka Colt Cabana. They followed one another through the independent circuit, often wrestling as allies or opponents. They would also befriend Chuckee Smooth, Adam Pearce, and Dave Prazak. The five would be known as the Gold Bond Mafia.
Punk gained significant notoriety as a member of Independent Wrestling Associaton Mid-South (IWA: Mid-South), winning their light heavyweight championship twice and their heavyweight title five times from 2000 to 2005. He would battle future world champions AJ Styles, Colt Cabana, and Eddie Guerrero. His highlights from his early days in IWA: Mid South include a 55-minute TLC match, a best of three falls match with Chris Hero that went an hour and a half, and several one-hour draws (including his last match with IWA Mid-South in July 2005 against Delirious). He left the company for about fifteen months in 2003 and 2004 due to Punk's perception of the mistreatment of Chris Hero by Ian Rotten.
It was during his time away from IWA: Mid-South he landed in Ring of Honor. He would engage in a blood feud with Raven, a feud that stemmed from Punk's straight-edge lifestyle, a lifestyle he adopted after seeing what alcohol had done to his father. Punk's straight-edge character, which followed him for the remainder of his wrestling career, leaned toward indifference or superiority depending on whether he was a hero or villain. Punk's rivalry with Raven lasted for most of 2003, concluding in a steel cage match in November with Punk winning.
Around that time, Punk joined NWA: Total Nonstop Action (TNA), teaming with Julio Dinero, and ironically, Raven as part of The Gathering. His tenure there wouldn't last long; shortly before a TNA event in February 2004, he got into a fight with Teddy Hart over Teddy's reckless style of wrestling. Though according to Punk the fight had no bearing on his career, around that time he stopped appearing on TNA shows after Dinero and Punk split from the popular Raven. Punk quit less than a month later following the Rob Feinstein controversy that resulted in TNA performers being pulled from Ring of Honor.
It was in 2004 Punk experienced some significant success in ROH, winning the tag team titles twice with Colt Cabana and making it to the finals of the ROH Pure Championship tournament. He would engage in a classic three-match feud with Samoa Joe. On June 12 at World Title Classic and October 16 at the aptly named Joe vs. Punk II, they wrestled to one-hour draws for the ROH World Championship. The second bout would be the first match in North America to receive a five-star rating from Wrestling Observer Newsletter since the first Hell in a Cell match in the WWF in 1997. Joe vs. Punk II would become one of the company's best-selling DVDs of all time (at one time, it was the best-selling). Joe would win the rubber match in December at All-Star Extravaganza II.
Following a tryout match in May 2005, Punk would sign with WWE. Just one month after his tryout match aired, he would win the ROH world championship from Austin Aries, then immediately threatened to bring the championship to WWE (he even signed his WWE contract on the ROH world title belt). The next two months, dubbed the "Summer of Punk", were spent on convincing Punk to do the right thing and defend the title on the way out. He would lose the championship in a four corners elimination match to James Gibson (the match also included Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels). The next night, his last as a member of the roster, he lost to his friend Colt Cabana. Punk was moved to tears and showered with streamers when he posed in the middle of the ring. Punk would make one last appearance for the company in an emergency situation in February 2006 when Low Ki left the company and most of the TNA talent were pulled from an ROH show due to an impending snowstorm.
Punk joined WWE's developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling in September 2005. Despite suffering a ruptured eardrum and a broken nose in his television debut, success came quickly for Punk. He would win the OVW Television Championship in November 2005 and the OVW Heavyweight Championship in May 2006. A month before his OVW title win, he had a small role in Wrestlemania 22, as one of the gangsters during John Cena's entrance. In July, he teamed with Seth Skyfire to win the OVW Southern Tag Team Championship. They would lose it just four days after winning them to Deuce & Domino. Skyfire and Punk were set to feud, but Punk would move up to the roster full-time following losing the OVW Heavyweight Championship to Chet the Jet.
Punk made his ECW debut at WWE's lone house show at the ECW Arena in June 2006; the next week, he made his ECW television debut talking about his straight-edged lifestyle, with an emphasis on his Muay Thai training background. He would go unbeaten from his debut TV match in August to his elimination at December to Dismember for the ECW Championship. His first singles loss came at a month later at the hands of Hardcore Holly. After failing to win the Money in the Bank briefcase at Wrestlemania 23, Punk briefly joined the villainous New Breed. He would leave the group just two weeks later when Punk cost Elijah Burke an elimination tag team match.
Punk spent the summer of 2007 chasing the ECW Championship. The title was vacated when Bobby Lashley, the champion at the time, was drafted to RAW. Punk was set to face Chris Benoit in the final of the mini-tournament at Vengeance: Night of Champions, but Benoit would no-show due to the infamous double murder-suicide. Johnny Nitro would be his replacement, and would defeat Punk to win the vacant title that night. He would earn opportunities on the next two PPVs, with Punk losing both times to the newly renamed John Morrison. On September 1, 2007, Punk finally defeated Morrison for the ECW title. He would hold the championship until January 22, losing to Chavo Guerrero.
In 2008, Punk won the Money in the Bank ladder match, enabling him to compete for the World Heavyweight Championship at any time of his choosing up to a year. One week after he was drafted to RAW, he made use of his Money in the Bank, beating an incapacitated Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship. He'd lose it on September 7 without being defeated for it when he was beaten down by Legacy. His replacement, Chris Jericho, won the match and the title. Punk finished out the year winning and losing the World Tag Team Championship with Kofi Kingston and qualifying for the Intercontinental Championship.
In January 2009, Punk won the Intercontinental Championship from William Regal, making him a triple crown champion. At 203 days from start to finish, Punk became the fastest triple crown champion in WWE history, beating Diesel's mark at 227 days in 1994. He would also break another mark in 2009, becoming the first man to win the Money in the Bank twice at Wrestlemania 25 (he's still the only man to win the match in consecutive years). Punk would be drafted to Smackdown shortly after his win and would feud with Umaga for a few weeks, culminating in a Samoan strap match at Extreme Rules. With Umaga out of the way (he had prevented Punk from cashing in his Money in the Bank more than once), he cashed in his Money in the Bank and defeated Jeff Hardy to win the World Heavyweight Championship at the end of the night.
The cash-in began a slow burn heel turn, one in which he claimed he was morally superior to Hardy because of his straight-edge, drug-free lifestyle. Punk would lose the title to Hardy at Night of Champions, but would regain it in a TLC match at Summerslam. Post-match, Punk was attacked by a returning Undertaker. In late August, Punk defeated Hardy in a "loser leaves town" steel cage match. With Hardy gone, he turned his focus to Undertaker. Punk retained the title via controversial means at Breaking Point in Montreal, but would lose it at Hell in a Cell a few weeks later to Undertaker.
Near the end of 2009, CM Punk took on a messiah-like personality, even changing his look some to look like Jesus. With a reformed Festus, now named Luke Gallows, he began converting people to his Straight Edge Society. He would convert a few people to his group, most notably Serena. He feuded with Rey Mysterio in the run-up to and the months following Wrestlemania XXVI. Mysterio won at Wrestlemania, Punk won a rematch at Extreme Rules in a street fight, and at Over the Limit, Mysterio won the rubber match; as a result, Punk was shaved bald. Punk hid under a mask over a month to hide his shame from being bald, but Big Show unmasked him in July. Joey Mercury, who interfered in the second Punk-Mysterio match, was also unmasked.
At Summerslam, the Straight Edge Society was defeated in a handicap match by Big Show. The group disbanded in the weeks that followed; Serena was released for not living out the gimmick, Mercury was injured, and Gallows dissented when Punk walked out.
Punk would be traded back to RAW in October, but a hip injury kept him on the sidelines for most of the remainder of the year. To maintain his presence on television, he temporarily took up commentary. It ended in late December when Punk assaulted John Cena on consecutive shows. It was revealed that Punk had assumed control of the Nexus. However, some of the group didn't stick around, instead choosing to align with Wade Barrett and the Corre. Punk and his new Nexus went after Randy Orton for him ending his world title reign back in 2008. They would prevent Orton from winning The Miz's WWE Championship at the 2011 Royal Rumble, but they would draw the ire of Orton. Over the next two months, every member of the New Nexus was punted in the head by Orton, leaving Punk as a man alone at Wrestlemania XXVII. Punk would not get punted in the head, but he would lose to Orton at the event and at Extreme Rules.
In June, he became the #1 contender to the WWE Championship; following the win, he announced that his contract with WWE expired at Money in the Bank and he would leave as WWE Champion. The next week, he ripped the WWE on-air on their practices as a company and its owner Vince McMahon. Many fans saw similarities to how Punk acted during his late days in Ring of Honor. Punk would distance himself from the Nexus, effectively dissolving the group. His anti-establishment views against WWE effectively made him a face again. At Money in the Bank, Punk would win the WWE Championship from John Cena in his hometown of Chicago. It would be the WWE's first five-star match since the inaugural Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels in 1997.
Punk made surprise appearances during his brief time away, including at San Diego Comic-Con, at an All American Wrestling Show saluting wrestler Gregory Iron, and at a Chicago Cubs game. In the mean time, WWE commissioned a tournament to crown a new champion. Rey Mysterio would win the tournament and the title, but would lose it just an hour and a half later on his first defense to John Cena. CM Punk returned following the win and hijacked the victory celebration, entering into a title dispute. The two would face off at Summerslam with Triple H as the referee. Punk won the match and the right to be called the undisputed WWE Champion, but he would lose it just moments later to Alberto Del Rio when Kevin Nash attacked Punk.
After being embroiled in a conspiracy plot to keep him away from the WWE Championship that also involved Miz and R-Truth, Punk strong-armed his way—literally—back into the title picture in late October 2011. At Survivor Series, he would defeat Del Rio to win the WWE Championship for the second time. He would go on to hold it for the next 434 days, the sixth longest reign in WWE history, and the longest since Hulk Hogan's four-year title reign ended in early 1988.
Early successful title defenses in the run included wins over The Miz and Alberto Del Rio in a TLC match, over Dolph Ziggler at the 2012 Royal Rumble event, two wins over Chris Jericho (Wrestlemania XXVIII and Extreme Rules), over Daniel Bryan at Over the Limit and against Kane at No Way Out. At RAW 1000, Punk turned heel when he attacked The Rock as he intervened in an assault against John Cena by Big Show. Punk justified his actions, claiming he, not people like John Cena or The Rock, should have been the focus of the company during his time as WWE Champion, and he should be treated with respect. He continued to successfully defend the WWE Championship, including wins over Big Show and Cena at Summerslam, against Ryback at Hell in a Cell, and against Ryback and John Cena at Survivor Series. In September 2012, he would pick up Paul Heyman as his manager.
In December 2012, just a day after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus, he would surpass John Cena as the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the last 25 years at 381 days. He defeated Ryback in a TLC match when he returned from injury in early January 2013. Later that month at the Royal Rumble, The Rock defeated Punk to win the WWE Championship, ending his run at 434 days. He would also lose a rematch against The Rock at Elimination Chamber and a #1 contender's match the next night on RAW to John Cena, effectively locking him out of the title picture for the time being.
The next week, Punk won a fatal-four way match for the right to challenge the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Following the real life death of Undertaker's longtime manager William Moody (aka Paul Bearer), Punk would disrespect Bearer's legacy, stealing the trademark urn and attacking both Undertaker and Kane with it. At Wrestlemania 29, Undertaker defeated Punk, extending his Wrestlemania streak to 21-0 and took back the urn.
He'd disappear from WWE television for the next two months (save for a single appearance about a week after Wrestlemania) until defeating Chris Jericho at Payback. Seeds of distrust were planted between Punk and Heyman, and it would bear fruit at Money in the Bank when Punk, on the verge of winning the match for the third time, was attacked by Heyman with a ladder. He spent most of the remainder of the year feuding with Heyman and his other clients, including Brock Lesnar (who would defeat Punk at Summerslam in a no disqualification match), Curtis Axel, and Ryback (whom he defeated along with Heyman at Hell in a Cell).
Punk was the first man into the 2014 Royal Rumble, lasting nearly 50 minutes before being eliminated by Kane late in the match. He did not appear the next night on RAW nor at the Smackdown taping two nights later. Eventually Punk was pulled from all advertising when it was revealed that Punk had walked out on WWE.
His absence wouldn't be acknowledged until the March 3 RAW when Paul Heyman walked to the ring with Punk's entrance music. In May, Punk said in an interview with RedEye Chicago that "it felt good" to be "retired at 35", leading many to speculate that Punk's wrestling days were behind him. This much seemed to be confirmed in July when Punk was moved to the Alumni section on WWE.com and when he thanked his fans in a brief statement. Later that month, Punk claimed he was "never ever" returning to wrestling.
Punk opened up on his final days with the company in an Art of Wrestling interview with his friend Colt Cabana in November 2014. During the interview, he claimed he was suspended two months for his walkout and that nobody contacted him when his suspension ended. He also claimed he reached out to the company in regards to unpaid royalties, but was given the runaround until he was given his termination papers on his wedding day. Punk sued the company for royalties, but eventually settled. Full terms were not disclosed, but he did give the company permission to sell his remaining merchandise.
In the same interview, he claimed his health as the main reason for his leaving the company, revealing he had been working with a potentially fatal staph infection, broken ribs, injured knees, and multiple concussions. Punk claimed he had been rushed back due to pressure by WWE. About a week later, McMahon responded to the interview, apologizing for the manner of his termination. Punk responded to that interview a week later claiming McMahon's apology was insincere and a publicity stunt. The comments from the two interviews led to another lawsuit between Punk and the company; more specifically WWE physician Chris Amaan. The suit as of this writing is still in litigation. Punk and Cabana allegedly had a falling out earlier this year after Cabana appeared at a RAW event.
In December 2014, Punk announced he had signed a multi-fight deal with UFC. When asked about when he would debut, UFC President Dana White said he could debut in about six months. Punk, who has no formal amateur wrestling experience, trains out of Roufusport MMA Academy in Milwaukee. In June 2015, he moved to Milwaukee to be closer to the gym, while maintaining his home in Chicago.
In September 2016, nearly two years after signing with UFC, Punk made his Octagon debut at UFC 203 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, ironically the very building WWE was in that night when Punk walked out on the company. Punk was quickly defeated by Mickey Gall, being submitted via rear naked choke in just over two minutes.
Brooks has also taken up writing in recent years. He penned the introduction for Avengers vs. X-Men in 2012, the foreword for Natalie Slater's cookbook, Bake and Destroy: Good Foods for Bad Vegans in 2013, and this year co-wrote Thor Annual #1 and "The Most Cursed" for Strange Sports Stories #3 by Vertigo Comics. He will also co-pen Marvel's upcoming Drax series based on the Guardians of the Galaxy character.
Brooks, an avid fan of the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks, is married to April Mendez, who wrestled in WWE for five years as AJ Lee. The couple married in June 2014.