When the WWE began its 21st anniversary celebration in January with the WrestleMania 31 pay-per-view, it was billed as a show of the greatest wrestling ever, the culmination of three decades of hard work and sacrifice.
But, at times, it felt like the show was missing something special.
After months of anticipation, WrestleMania came and went without much fanfare, even as the biggest show in sports history was celebrated in front of an unprecedented 1.3 million people.
The event, which drew over 1.5 million fans, was a celebration of the sport’s history and its future.
But it was missing a crucial piece of its legacy: the legacy of its former champion, CM Punk.
Punk, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in March, had to be flown to Orlando for surgery and then had to miss WrestleMania.
He missed WrestleMania because of a virus.
At WrestleMania 29, after he suffered a concussion, he tweeted out his condition.
“This is what cancer looks like.
You know it’s gonna be bad, but the reality is it’s just like I’m in the middle of a fucking fight.
I’m going to have to come back from this.”
Punk said that he had been battling cancer for more than three years.
“It’s hard, man,” he said.
“I’ve been battling for three years, and it’s been the hardest fight of my life.
It’s just been one of the hardest fights of my career.
I’ve been fighting for a year and a half, and now I’m finally going to get to a place where I’m gonna be able to talk about what I went through to get there.”
Punk was in Orlando at the time of the Wrestlemania 31 pay per view, but he didn’t have the money to pay for his trip.
So, in late February, he made a surprise visit to the hospital and, despite his physical condition, was treated well.
Punk has been fighting cancer since 2010, but never had to come close to the scale of his cancer battle.
He was also in a wheelchair for much of the time.
But the most painful part was his lack of recognition.
He didn’t get a chance to show off his athleticism during his appearance on the WrestleManicures 31 card.
He only got to showcase his charisma and charisma.
It was a major moment in his career.
It made him the underdog, the star of the show, and the face of the wrestling industry.
But for fans who weren’t in attendance, there was a palpable sense that Punk was still fighting, just not on a stage like that.
“When he went to the WWE, he had to go through all the stress and all the emotions of being the new kid on the block and just kind of being able to just sit back and relax,” said one fan who attended the WrestleFest in Orlando.
“He was going through so much.”
In the end, WWE chose not to make Punk a part of the pay-Per-View.
But he did get to experience the atmosphere and culture of the event for the first time, as the night was delayed to allow fans to get the WWE’s new merchandise.
Punk also got to show what he could do in the ring, which he did in a big way.
When he won the WWE Championship in July 2015, he broke his ankle and had to leave the ring during the Royal Rumble.
“The crowd went nuts.
I think it was the most incredible crowd I’ve ever been in,” he told PEOPLE.
“They were chanting my name, and they were so, so passionate.
They were screaming, ‘Hey, hey, hey!
But Punk’s main highlight in Orlando was when he took the microphone for his WrestleMania 30 match with CM Punk, which was the last time he wrestled on the main card.
“We got to have the best match of our lives,” he wrote in a post-match message.
“In a show like WrestleMania, it’s not a matter of how you perform, it is about how you put your body on the line.”
Punk didn’t make it to the ring in Orlando, but fans in attendance got to see him wrestle and hear his speech.
“There were no backstage passes, no VIP passes,” said Dave Meltzer, the WWE President of Talent Relations.
“But you know, you get the most emotional reaction from the fans when they see you on the floor.
They get the biggest sense of satisfaction when they can see you.
They just see a man who’s a champion.
You’re going to see something in that.
And the fans know that.”
Punk took home the WWE Title for the fourth time.
And, even though he was the biggest star on the card, the show never got to the level of what it should have.
WWE was trying to get its audience back on track after the WrestleM