CM Punk looks to be on the way out of AEW at the moment, after a disastrous press conference followed by a backstage fight looks to have sealed his fate with the company. AEW are now in talks to buy out his rumoured $3 million a year deal and leave him stuck outside the wrestling business just as he had been for the previous seven years.
Before he became a big star in wrestling, way before even signing for WWE in 2006 (as part of the ECW reboot), CM Punk wrestled on the independent scene. While he made his name in Ring on Honor, before that he wrestled on local independent shows accross the country.
One notable promotion where he cut his teeth was the International Wrestling Cartel, or IWC. The promotion was formed in 2001 and had a number of future champions compete there, including Punk, Samoa Joe, Chris Hero and Rey Mysterio.
One legend who also wrestled there was WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. The former WWE Champion moved to the independent scene after being fired by WWE in 2001 due to drug issues, doing the rounds by fighting all the top young talent accross the US.
This included a young CM Punk. Eddie Guerrero vs CM Punk happened a number of times during that time, including a classic IWA Mid-South Championship match in 2002. You can watch that match below, which featured a cameo of Rey Mysterio without his mask on.
CM Punk recently spoke about one of his matches against Guerrero, before his AEW debut against Darby Allin at All Out 2021. He spoke to Jim Ross, who considered Eddie Guerrero the best of all time in the ring, and told a story about how he inspired him to work with the young talent and do his best in AEW.
“You know, I got to wrestle Eddie Guerrero quite a few times. I think so many times that a lot of people out there don’t realize it. Eddie famously got rehired. You know, when I met Eddie and got to wrestle him, he was in the midst of a very dark time in his life. So, he had the indies. I don’t think he wanted to be on the indies, you know. I’m sure he was making okay money, but he wasn’t making Eddie Guerrero money. He wasn’t making the money that he should have. And I befriended this guy. And amidst that, he cleans himself up. He gets his job back.”
“He fulfilled one of his bookings against me in Pittsburgh. The promoter’s name was Norm Connors, Pittsburgh IWC. So, I show up to the building, and I’m like, ‘I’m so happy for you, dude. You know, this is great.’ Promoter comes by and gives us times, says, ‘Oh, by the way, Eddie’s the Intercontinental champion.’ Okay. So, I’m not beating Eddie Guerrero, you know. I think I was the IWC champion at the time. Eddie says, ‘No, I can’t beat your champion. Let’s do a time limit draw.’”
“Wow, okay. So, now I’m nervous. I got to go, I think it was 30 minutes with Eddie. Can I do this? I like challenges. And I just thought that was super selfless of him. Number one, to fulfill bookings. Not a lot of guys would do that. Number two, to say I don’t got to beat you. I’m not going to be here next week, next month. You are. He’s the champion of a place, that for better or for worse, some day I would like to work at, right?”
“So, we have this match. The bell rings. The crowd stands on their feet. I’m exhausted. I’m happy its over. You know? Because the dude was a machine. And he grabs the microphone, and he says, ‘Punky, I can’t leave without knowing. I should have been able to beat you.’He said, ‘I want five more minutes, and I’m going to put the IC title on the line.’”
“This is not talked about beforehand. This is Eddie. I’m going to start crying. And I’m like, ‘Okay.’ So, we lock back up and he says, ‘Sorry, Punky. I got to hit the frog splash.’ And I’m just elated, because I’m a kid and I love pro wrestling and I love Eddie Guerrero.”
“He hits me with the frog splash, he pins me, and then he gets on the mic. And he says, ‘You’re good. Some day, you’re going to be up there (WWE) and you’re going to wrestle me for this (Intercontinental Championship) up there.’“
“That’s what I would like to do for this company (AEW). I’m not saying that I’m Eddie Guerrero to any of the kids in this locker room. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. But that spirit of wanting to fulfill dates and wanting to give back and also wanting to challenge young wrestlers with scenarios that aren’t talked about. Pull stuff out of the hat. Learn how to ad lib.“
“Man, I’ve done, I’ve literally done everything, except come back and tell the story that I want to tell my way. And along the way, if I can be Eddie Guerrero to a kid, I want to do that.“
You can listen to that portion from the interview down below.