1999 to be exact.
The West St. Paul Armory in West St. Paul, Minnesota was a great building for independent wrestling action. It had that â<80><9c>It Factorâ<80> with the old school gymnasium look. The fans made that structure to life once a month as their favorites from St. Paul Championship Wrestling engaged in battle.
Names like Adam Pearce (current NWA champ) and â<80><9c>Kamikazeâ<80> Ken Anderson (now Kennedy) were plying their trade before fame hit. ROH fave and current WWE developmental wrestler Colt Cabana walked out to the strains of his entrance music, Barry Manilowâ<80><99>s â<80><9c>Copacabana.â<80>
You read that right. Lolaâ<80>¦showgirlâ<80>¦Ricoâ<80>¦diamond.
Oh, there were more talented individuals. It was at the Armory that I caught my first glimpse of another wrestler. A talented and charismatic grappler who had a unique look and style. And that Pepsi tattooâ<80>¦what was up with that?
CM Punk, current WWE World heavyweight champion, was an immediate sensation when he debuted in West St. Paul. He was part of the Chicago faction that raised the talent level in Minnesota wrestling to a new level, all due respect to the natives of the state. Punk looked a lot like he does now. His style was about the same. His name was the same.
The only thing that has changed is that he has gotten that much better, more popular, and more successful.
This Sunday, Punk will co-main event the Great American Bash. Quite a climb for a guy who wowed them in ROH, yet struggled to find his place in TNA. His rise in WWE was not without detractors and pitfalls. Yet, he did it, first by becoming the ECW champion. Today, he reigns as their World heavyweight champion, wearing a version of the â<80><9c>Big Gold Beltâ<80> that so many other legends wrapped around their waists.
And he did it without the WWE powers-that-be changing him. He didnâ<80><99>t get a new name. He didnâ<80><99>t become a plumber or baseball player or clown. Chris Harris got a new name. Monte Brown debuted with a new moniker. But CM Punk was a rarity of rarities. He became a superstar with his gimmick intact.
His fan following is not surprising to me. Like the building he used to wrestle in, he had and still has that all-important â<80><9c>It Factor.â<80> No, thatâ<80><99>s not revisionist history by a guy saying, â<80><9c>I knew him when.â<80> He stood out above the crowd. He may not have wrestled in many main events for SPCW, but he would more often than not steal the show.
Fans love the guy because heâ<80><99>s like them. Heâ<80><99>s not a muscle-bound freak. He does not try to be something heâ<80><99>s not. Heâ<80><99>s the guy down the street. The cool, tough friend youâ<80><99>d like to have. Todayâ<80><99>s wrestling touts Supermen. Punk is Clark Kent. What you see is what you get.
Maybe heâ<80><99>ll prevail against Batista this Sunday and walk out the champ. But even if he doesnâ<80><99>t, he will still be a part of a small pantheon of pro wrestlers who scratched and clawed their way to the top.
I donâ<80><99>t remember CM Punkâ<80><99>s entrance music at the Armory. Maybe it was, â<80><9c>My Wayâ<80> by Sinatra. Beats â<80><9c>Copacabana.â<80> Sorry, Colt, but itâ<80><99>s the truth.