Originally published at ESPN feature covers the behind-the-scenes of CM Punk's return
The regular cost for 15,000 ice cream bars from Pretty Cool Ice Cream in Chicago is $84,000.
ESPN’s Marc Raimondi has put out the definitive behind-the-scenes story on the lead-up and execution of CM Punk’s first appearance with AEW.
The piece uncovers many interesting tidbits, including Punk’s long road to re-opening the door to professional wrestling and going through a major lawsuit and conversations with WWE.
Tony Khan spoke to ESPN and noted his first meeting with Punk was the day after Christmas in December 2018, just days before the announcement of AEW would be revealed at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve on Being the Elite.
That meeting was a clear sign that Punk was not ready to return to wrestling and that AEW would move forward without the sought-after white whale of professional wrestling, who had walked away from WWE in January 2014.
Instead of returning to pro wrestling, Punk took a left turn and signed with the UFC in late 2014. It would be nearly two years before he would have his first pro fight at UFC 203 against Mickey Gall where the former wrestler was stopped in the opening round of the contest. He would have a follow-up fight at UFC 225 in June 2018 at The United Center, where he lost by decision to Mike Jackson in a fight that was later changed to a no-contest due to a drug test failure by Jackson for marijuana.
It was a tumultuous period for Punk who was in court for his trial during the week of the fight after being sued for defamation by Chris Amann for comments made by Punk in November 2014 on the Art of Wrestling podcast with Colt Cabana. Punk and Cabana prevailed in court, although the financial fallout resulted in the two filing suits against one another that were eventually settled.
Punk explained to ESPN that a return to wrestling could not have occurred while that suit was ongoing, which ended up lasting 3 ½ years.
Raimondi uncovered that the first glimmer of a return goes back to early 2019 when Punk first contacted Pretty Cool Ice Cream with the daunting question of whether the shop could produce 15,000 ice cream bars. It wasn’t indicative of any concrete plan but rather Punk described it as “getting his ducks in a row” and knew the ice cream bars would be a component attached to any return.
By the summer of 2019, it appeared AEW and Punk were on opposite sides with Punk conveying that he was not showing up and seemed annoyed at the constant use of his name in media interviews by those within the company.
Punk would flirt with his former profession by participating at the Starrcast convention in August 2019 for a sit-down interview with reporter Mike Johnson and then joining the panel at WWE Backstage where he was working for Fox Sports, not WWE, but getting as close to the sun as one could imagine.
Punk confirmed in the ESPN feature that contact was made by intermediaries with WWE about a potential return but Punk summarized the end result:
I remember one of the first things I ever said to them was, ‘Above all, don’t play games. And they played games. Some things never change. … When you enter a conversation with people you have a past with and you know who they are, how seriously can you take it? I know exactly who they are and they just continue to prove it. I’m trying to be as diplomatic as I possibly can.
Punk removed himself from the USADA testing pool in December 2020, effectively putting his MMA career to bed at the age of 42 while still contributing as a commentator for the CFFC organization.
The article noted that talks between Punk and Khan resumed in June 2020 and then picked up in early 2021. There was minimal pressure between the two sides as Khan had no desire to bring Punk to the company when fans were unable to attend.
The promotion for “The First Dance” moved forward after the idea of running The United Center was proposed by Punk and Khan sold it as “the worst kept secret” in professional wrestling with fans knowing he would appear but maintaining that percentage of doubt until he walked out.
Those within the circle included Ryan Barkan at Pro Wrestling Tees, who was alerted two weeks prior that a new shirt design was needed. Dave Stenken, co-host of the PWT Cast, was tasked with the shirt design that is now on pace to sell over 100,000 and shattering previous records by the shirt company.
In an amazing note, Punk didn’t actually sign his AEW deal until 30 minutes before the start of Rampage in Chicago.
The ice cream bars were a major hit and yes, Pretty Cool Ice Cream owner Dana Cree Sells did provide the returning star a hometown discount on the 15,000 bars.
The full feature by ESPN’s Marc Raimondi can be read here.