By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 3, 2006

WWE is rolling into town Monday night fully loaded with a nationally televised Raw and star power galore. The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum, will feature performers from both the Raw and ECW brands.

Among the many stars on the show is an ECW grappler who, while not yet exactly a household name, is one of the most promising performers on the entire WWE roster.

Twenty-eight-year-old CM Punk is one of the newest shooting stars on the wrestling horizon, although he’s made quite a splash working for independent promotions over the past several years.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Punk took a riskier route to the mat business, getting his feet wet in a backyard wrestling federation in the mid-’90s before being trained in a more conventional manner.

“I wanted to be a wrestler ever since I was very, very small. It was all I ever wanted to do,” says Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks. “My dad was an electrician, so I guess I was supposed to go to trade school and do that, but I never wanted to. I thought it made a lot more sense to try to something I loved, or at least give it a shot. I didn’t know how to do it, so me and my friends would jump around in the back yard after pay-per-views and beat each other up.”

Punk eventually found mainstream success in the Ring of Honor promotion where he became one of that company’s most respected and accomplished performers.

C.M. Punk

C.M. Punk

Punk spent less than a year in the developmental Ohio Valley Wrestling territory , where he won the OVW heavyweight title, the OVW TV title and a share of the OVW tag-team title. He made his ECW debut in June and hasn’t looked back.

Punk, signed to a WWE contract in 2005, says it was a major step toward achieving a lifelong goal.

“Getting signed was just a process. I think the dream-come-true part happened at Survivor Series, hopefully again Sunday and eventually at Wrestlemania. That’s what I’m here for … to get those moments.”

Punk showed he belonged by making an immediate impact in ECW and earning the support of some of the toughest, most demanding fans in wrestling.

“That’s what a lot of the ECW originals say. I’ve been accepted at the old ECW Arena, the Hammerstein Ballroom and now Philadelphia seems to like me. From Tazz to Paul Heyman to Rob Van Dam, Sabu and Tommy Dreamer, they all say I’m the only guy they’ve seen so far who would actually fit like a glove in the old ECW.”

Punk realized when he signed with WWE that he was finishing up one chapter only to begin another. “It was bittersweet, but I knew that I had to move on. That was totally my choice. I had done everything that I could possibly do there (Ring of Honor), and I needed more challenges. I like to be challenged on a daily basis. I wanted to see if I could make it here in WWE. I got in the best shape I possibly could, and I got a bunch of bookings for extra work in dark matches. I just tried to give them no excuse why they shouldn’t hire me.”

Straight shooter

There’s a lot to like about Punk. He’s a straight shooter inside and outside the ring who espouses clean living and what he calls a “straight-edge” lifestyle. He’s gritty and unorthodox yet grounded and disciplined, and is a strong advocate of being drug and alcohol free.

“I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I don’t do anything that would interfere with me trying to be a better athlete and a better wrestler. I can have fun without drinking and that kind of stuff.”

There’s a reason, though, behind Punk’s chosen lifestyle.

“Growing up, my dad had a little problem with the alcohol,” says the Chicago native. “He wasn’t the typical alcoholic – he didn’t beat me, he wasn’t abusive to my mother. It was just something I saw. Even my mom would constantly have to have a glass of wine before bed. They both smoked like chimneys.”

Punk says he knew there was better life ahead. He just had to want it badly enough.

“I grew up poor. I didn’t have a lot of money. I never got a car. I had hand-me-down clothes. Christmas always pretty much (stunk). But I saw the amount of money they would spend on cases of Old Style and cigarettes. As a kid, I remember wanting Megatron for Christmas and they’d tell me they couldn’t afford it, yet I watched them smoke four packs of Marlboro a day. It didn’t make any sense to me.”

Meaningful ink

An integral part of Punk’s gimmick is that of the numerous tattoos that adorn his body. They’re more than just ink to the wrestling daredevil.

His knuckles, when placed together, spell out “Drug Free.” The words “Straight Edge” are spelled out on his stomach.

“I’ve got a couple tattoos that mean a lot to me. A lot of the tattoos have more than one meaning.”

His left arm is made up almost entirely of good-luck charms, yet he maintains he doesn’t believe in luck. A banner that wraps around his left forearm reads “Luck is for losers.” There’s a clover, a horseshoe around his elbow, a rabbit’s foot.

“I believe that while certain things are the right place and the right time, luck has nothing to do with any of my success,” he says. “I wasn’t lucky to be in Survivor Series. I was picked because of my hard work. How hard I work determines how well I do. You only get out of it what you put into it.”

Punk also sports a broken-heart tattoo on his left biceps that he got after he fractured his skull in 2002. Punk, who was told by doctors not to wrestle or do anything strenuous for an entire year, got back in the ring two months later.

“The broken heart represents that I was sad and upset that I couldn’t wrestle even though it was just two months.”

Probably the most important tattoo, says Punk, is one of a Dalmatian named Callie that he had since he was 5 years old. The dog died nearly six years ago, and Punk took an ink pad and a print of her paw to his tattoo artist.

“I’ve got a little banner on my left forearm that turns into a little doggy bone. It’s got her actual paw print.”

No overnight sensation

Just who is the character CM Punk? The wrestler describes himself in third person.

“C.M. Punk at the moment is all about competition. He wants to fight, and he wants to fight everybody. If it’s a wrestling match, that’s cool, but if you want to go at it and fight me in an Extreme Elimination Chamber, he’s all about that. He just wants to see who’s the best. In a very non-cocky, egotistical way, he believes he’s the best. It’s all about setting goals.”

Punk has been romantically linked in the past to Shannon Spruill (formerly Daffney in WCW) and Tracy Brookshaw (TNA’s Traci Brooks), and presently dates WWE diva Maria (Maria Kanellis).

He says his current relationship is going well. “She’s great. We met down here at OVW. It’s kind of funny. We’re both from Chicago and we met in Kentucky.”

“I knew from the moment I met him that he was something special,” Maria said in an interview earlier this year. “He has a passion for the business and I’m excited for him.”

Punk, who had his first match on Oct. 25, 1997, makes it clear that he’s no overnight sensation. A series of matches with current TNA sensation Samoa Joe rank among the greatest in the history of the mat-based ROH.

“I’m very proud of my matches with Joe. I also had a great series of matches with a real young, good kid named Jimmy Rave. Those were all just story-driven matches. I think that in a place like Ring of Honor where everybody’s all about the athleticism and like their wrestling straightforward, I gave them soap-opera stuff and they ate it up. I don’t even think they realized it.

“I’m very proud of my last match in OVW with Chet The Jet. I had some great matches in OVW with Brett Albright. I’ve been wrestling a lot longer than I think a lot of guys realize. I wrestled Colt Cabana almost every weekend for two years straight. I’m proud of all those matches. I’ve also had a lot of good matches on the European and overseas tours I’ve been on.”

But Punk, who puts his unbeaten streak on the line in tonight’s Extreme Elimination Chamber Match at ECW’s December To Dismember pay-per-view at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Ga., continues to set his sights forward while relying on his positive attitude and blue-collar work ethic.

“To me, it’s not even about the past, although I’m very proud of that stuff. To me, it’s about trying to top all those now, and maybe having a series of matches in WWE that I’m proud of. I was hoping Survivor Series would be a watershed moment for my career. Nothing would be better than to be able to say I had two of those moments in one week.”

Ticket prices for Monday night’s show at the North Charleston Coliseum, are $41, $31, $26 and $21 (plus applicable fees). Tickets are available at the Coliseum box office, all Ticketmaster outlets (including select Publix grocery stores), online at or charge at 554-6060.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air ECW’s December to Dismember pay-per-view at 8 p.m. tonight. Cover charge is $7.

– Pro wrestling icon Roddy Piper has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was scheduled to begin undergoing treatment immediately.

Piper recently was pulled from WWE’s European tour and sent home after experiencing back discomfort. Doctors later found a cancerous tumor on a disc in his spine. Piper will be undergoing radiation therapy in the coming weeks to control the malignant cells that are causing the cancer.

“It seems like I have been fighting someone, something, someplace, in some manner, my whole life. But this fight is one I am gonna win,” Piper, 52, wrote on his Web site.

Piper, who has been wrestling since he was a teenager and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, is married with four children.

Lymphoma accounts for about five percent of all cases of cancer in the United States.

Ric Flair’s brutal beatdown last week on Raw spells bad news for his legion of fans who looked forward to his local appearance Monday night.

Flair won’t be at the Coliseum for this week’s Raw (“That’s sort of like Christmas without Santa Claus in my book,” laments local Flair fan Jack Hunter), but faces a bigger battle – the settlement portion of a nasty divorce case – beginning at 9 o’clock Tuesday morning in a Charlotte courtroom.

The proceedings could last as long as two weeks – a week in front of a judge followed by another week in front of a jury of 12.

– WWE diva Candice Michelle, who suffered a nose injury as a result of a kick from Victoria at Raw Monday night, underwent surgery to repair a deviated septum.

– Batista and John Cena will meet King Booker and Dave Finlay in the main event of WWE’s Armageddon pay-per-view Dec. 17 in Richmond, Va.

The current plan is for The Undertaker to put his undefeated Wrestlemania streak on the line against Batista at next years’ event.