CM Punk on How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Hurt – and Healed – Wrestlers’ Bodies

AEW star tells TheWrap the wrestling business can no longer “treat us like cattle”

CM Punk

CM Punk is 2-0 in All Elite Wrestling, and going for his third win Friday when he squares off against Daniel Garcia on “AEW: Rampage.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Because to this reporter, it’s still kind of insane that CM Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, is back in professional wrestling. So you can imagine the semi out-of-body experience it is to interview the legendary sports-entertainment figure, who so publicly swore off the business — and for the most part, the media — all those years ago.

Speaking of out-of-body, first things first: How does it feel to be in your body right now, Phil? Crossing 40 and attempting a mixed-martial arts career rarely *helps* the already crazy wear-and-tear on a wrestler’s body. But it’s also been a minute since he ran ropes and took flat-back bump after flat-back bump.

“Oh, I feel like trash, I’ll be honest. I’m 42 years old and I haven’t taken bumps in seven-plus years. I think there’s something to building up a callus, to something you do on a regular basis becoming easier because you do it on a regular basis,” Brooks, who guest-starred as Ricky Rabies on Starz’s wrestling drama series “Heels,” told TheWrap. “I think a lot of wrestlers are feeling this right now. The pandemic, when it shut everything down and it essentially killed house-show business — they’re not on the road, they’re not taking bumps Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday — I think everybody kind of felt this awfulness of ‘Oh man, I’m wrestling less-frequently than I used to,’ (but) it feels worse somehow.”

It also feels better somehow this way, Brooks said.

“It’s the miles,” he continued. “The perception that wrestling is fake shields people of the reality that– it’s the bumps, yeah, but it’s the travel, it’s between the shows, it’s driving five hours.”

Brooks inadvertently stumbled upon perhaps the one silver lining to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a lack of house (read: non-televised road shows) crippled the wrestling business, it un-crippled some of its veteran in-ring workers.

“It’s 100% better” now, he said of the business. “I don’t gotta drive into a town and try to check into a hotel at 4:30 in the morning and find out there’s a clown convention in town and all the hotels are booked up.”

The “appealing schedule” is “one of the reasons” he’s back now, Brooks told TheWrap. “The pandemic and the reset kind of made it to where the wrestlers have that better schedule and they have more say over– this is easier and this is the way it should be,” Punk said. “You can’t treat us like cattle, and that’s definitely an appeal.”

Punk hasn’t quite slow-played his return, but AEW is using him sparingly — which is to say, wisely. Thus far he has faced — and defeated — up-and-comer Darby Allin and Powerhouse Hobbs. And on Friday’s “Rampage,” Daniel Garcia is gonna get it.

We asked Brooks, who is certainly is a position to call his own shots creatively right now, when we can start thinking about CM Punk vs. Bryan Danielson, or CM Punk vs. AEW Champion Kenny Omega.

Slow down, us. You don’t start a big comeback “pitching Game 1 of the World Series,” as he put it.

“I’m an artist painting my picture. Let me paint my picture,” Brooks said. “What I’m doing is very calculated, it’s very thought out.”

We believe you, Phil — we’re just collectively worried about the length of your stay. We just got CM Punk back, no one is ready to say goodbye — at least, not without those modern-day dream matches.

Pretty much the only thing Brooks wouldn’t talk about is the length of his deal, or his future plans. (“I don’t want to answer that because it might spoil something for somebody, plus it’s nobody’s business.”)

“I’m here to stay. Trust me, in 10 years, people will be talking about what we have with AEW. It’s such a just hang out, wait and see, and have fun and enjoy the ride kind of thing,” Brooks told us. “Everything is fluid: dates, contracts — literally everything. This has been the best working experience I’ve ever had in the wrestling business, and if there is an issue on either end, everybody just talks. There’s no drama, it’s fantastic.”

Now that you’re back, Punk, it is all a little more fantastic.

Check back tomorrow for more from our conversation with Brooks, and catch CM Punk vs. Daniel Garcia Friday at 10 p.m. on TNT’s “AEW: Rampage.”