CM Punk has that maniacal glint in his eye. He's gotten really good at the maniacal glint thing lately. He's taunting the beloved masked luchadore Rey Mysterio, Jr. at the Staples Center in Los Angeles during the taping of the Friday March 19th installment of "WWE Smackdown." The week before, Punk ruined an in-ring celebration for Mysterio's daughter Aaliyah's ninth birthday. In case we missed all the high drama, the WWE showed a tightly edited clip of Punk wrecking the festivities on the high def big screen over the ring entrance.
But Punk's taunts aren't the usual kind of pro wrestling bluster bordering on histrionics. He's not yelling, "I'll assassinate the bum." No, punk sounds more like someone playing a cult leader in a David Lynch movie. With his Manson-like full beard, he looks the part too. "I could save you if you could just accept me as your savior," Punk says, urging Mysterio to join his little wrestling cult called the Straight Edge Society. Currently, this society only consists of two members: the thuggish wrestler Luke Gallows and Sirena, a plant from the audience that Punk converted during a previous episode of this macho soap opera. The line between pro wrestling and tent house revivals has always been a thin one, but Punk's disciples still perform the task of the traditional bad guy wrestler's entourage by interfering with matches when the ref's back is turned.
"Straight edge means I'm better than you," Punk continues, "but there's hope for you. If you just join my Straight Edge Society you could somehow live up to this super hero myth these people have built up for you."
"Usted es un monstruo," Mysterio says in Spanish after telling Punk that he's not human in English.
The four decks packed with fans at the Staples Center start chanting "You Suck! You Suck!" Their ire at Punk is more intense than usual for pro wrestling's current wink and a nod "sports entertainment" era. They really hate him and Punk has transformed this one-ring circus into psychodrama.
"If I'm not getting people mad enough to jump over the rail, then I'm not doing my job," Punk says during a recent phone interview. "When I first started out in indie wrestling, I used to get in fist fights with the crowd. This happened a lot. Of course this is uncool now. There's plenty of security to deal with this and I just let them handle it. But I'm going out there to push every single button. If I get people throwing trash at me, that's okay."
"My job is to piss people off," he adds.
But the foundation of Punk's new cult-leader persona isn't something just dreamed up by the WWE's writing staff. Punk comes by his anti-drug/anti-booze straight edge beliefs honestly. He has the words "straight edge" tattooed across his stomach and enters the ring with large Xs drawn across his hand wraps with a sharpie. The Xs scrawled on the back of the hands, used by bouncers to identify underage club goers, have been the symbol of the straight-edge punk movement since Minor Threat was tearing up the D.C. hardcore scene in the early 1980s.
"(Straight edge) is the only way I know how to be," Punk says. "I was born this way."
"To me, there are lots of people out there who do drugs and are stupid."
But using his own earnest ideology as a way to make wrestling fans mad enough to leap over the guard rail never gives Punk a moment of pause. "Anything I can do to get the message of straight edge out there is positive," he explains. "Anyone with half a brain can go online and read what straight edge actually is."
Any potential inner conflicts aside, Punk's current feud with Mysterio will be settled during a no-hold-barred street fight match in Glendale, Ariz. this Sunday at WrestleMania, the WWE's annual big blowout that Punk describes as the "Super Bowl" or "World Cup" of pro wrestling. "Everyone gets new gear, just like the prom," he jokes.
Although Punk has performed at previous WrestleManias, those matches were "Money in the Bank" ladder matches that involved several wrestlers being in the ring at the same time kind of like an old-school battle royal. This Sunday will be the first time that Punk works a singles match during his sport's grandest showcase. However, Punk feels that fans and experts alike may be overlooking this bout.
"I think they're really sleeping on me and my match with Rey Mysterio," Punk says, brimming with bravado. "Nobody's talking about this match right now but they will be."
I’m going to WrestleMania in Phoenix this weekend plus I’ve joined the 21st Century. Follow my learned observations and wise-assed remarks about the hype and buildup to Vince McMahon’s annual cavalcade of body slams on my newly launched Twitter feed at twitter.com/bob_calhoun
When he's not being hit by steel chairs or fighting Sasquatches, Bob Calhoun is a San Francisco author and journalist. His bestselling punk-wrestling memoir, "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling," is available through Amazon.com in hard copy and for the Kindle.