The pro-wrestling world is still buzzing over the return of former WWE champion CM Punk, who debuted for AEW at the now historic Rampage from the United Center in Chicago, which was given the subtitle, “The First Dance.”
Marc Raimondi of ESPN has since released a full backstage report of how the Punk’s grand return came to be, the amount of money Punk dropped to provide fans at the United Center with free ice cream bars, and how his new AEW t-shirt was made in secret.
-The most notable item from ESPN’s report is that Punk wasn’t officially under contract with AEW until 30 before Rampage. He had arrived at the United Center and received a text from his lawyer who suggested that he sign with the promotion before appearing on television, so he did.
-Khan told the publication that his first talks with Punk happened in December of 2018, well before AEW even officially launched. It was clear that the Chicago Savior was not ready to return to wrestling just yet. This was also in the midst of his lawsuits with WWE, and eventually his friend Colt Cabana. He left WWE shortly after the 2014 Royal Rumble.
-Punk initially contacted Pretty Cool Ice Cream in 2019 to see if it were possible to produce 15,000 ice cream bars, something Punk referred to as “getting his ducks in a row,” as an ice cream bar was important to him for his return. It is noted that the original cost for 15,000 ice cream bars would be $84,000, but owner Dana Cree Sells gave him a discount. Cree and her employers carried out several bars at a time before delivering them to United Center to keep the secret going.
-Conversations between Punk and Tony Khan resumed in the summer of 2020, and picked up again in 2021. There was no plan to bring Punk back during the middle of the pandemic, especially since there was no indication of when fans could return.
-It was Punk’s idea to run the United Center, with the “First Dance” title being modeled after the popular Chicago Bulls documentary, “The Last Dance.” Khan referred to that event as the “worst kept secret in wrestling,” as AEW never officially announced Punk’s return and rode the wave of speculation and subtle hints to sell the venue out.
-A big portion of the ESPN’s article is Punk’s new shirt with Pro Wrestling Tees. Punk had alerted PWT owner Ryan Barkan about his return and that a new design was needed. The design was provided by artist Dave Stenken, which AEW immediately approved. Barhan actually had the shirts printed at a different warehouse to keep it hidden from his staff prior to delivering the first batch to his main shop. The first shirts only had the “I Was There” image printed.