When you’re not using those celebrity connections, who inks you at home?
Robin King is the one who did my chest, and it’s gorgeous. I’m in love with that tattoo. She works out of Metamorph in Chicago. I have to mention Mike Baalke, who has done probably 85 percent of my work. He works out of Tattoo Factory in Chicago. I’ve been going to him for years and years.
What is it about tattoos that you are so drawn to? And what are some of the ones that have great meaning to you?
They all have a lot of meaning to me. The reason that I like tattoos is that I’m a very heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy. I can cover my body in my beliefs and the things that I love. Tattoos are very subjective. I know there are a lot of people who look at me and think, Your tattoos are stupid, you have a tattoo of a slice of pizza. Well, guess what? I’m from Chicago and I love Chicago pizza. So I got a tattoo of it. It’s sad to me that they don’t have any tattoos because they can’t possibly love something as much as I love pizza. Or my little sister’s jersey number, which I have behind my left ear. These are all things I love. These aren’t things that I’m going to grow out of or grow tired of. So, yeah, you’re damn right I ink them on my body and I want them to be with me for the rest of my life. I love that idea. There’s something romantic about that.
While being a straight edge punk is the most prominent way that you stand out from your fellow WWE Superstars, another thing that people might not know is that you are a huge comic fan. Most people don’t expect a pro wrestler to be a comic book nerd.
I get that all of the time. The funny thing about that is that comic books and wrestling are two of the original arts that America has given to the world—the other being jazz. Those are the three things we can lay claim to, while everything else is just bastardized from other cultures. Once again, I feel sorry for people who want to make fun of me for reading comic books because they’re the ones missing out. They don’t get to experience these awesome stories and characters that I’ve been reading about, and I’ve just been a fan of them for my entire life.
Has your love of comics found its way into any of your ink?
I guess you can count my Cobra tattoo as a comic tattoo. That’s me; I’m a bad guy. If G.I. Joe was a reality, and there was a Cobra and a G.I. Joe, I can honestly say I would be on the dark side, for sure. I’m trying to remember if I have any other comic book tattoos.
One of the most noticeable things about you in the ring is your love for your hometown, Chicago. You have the stars from the flag on your tights and boots. Were you motivated to do that to stand out, or is it just a reflection of your true self?
I was born in Chicago and it’s a huge part of who I am. I have such a love for the city that it made sense to me to rep that. Ironically enough, it’s the one tattoo I don’t have yet. I can’t really think of exactly what I want to represent my love of Chicago. Do I get the Chicago flag? I’m not really sure. That’s one that is always on the back burner; it’s always on my mind. I do have the pizza. But I do need to have the El in there or something else.
You seem to be cognizant of wrestling history. For example, after Macho Man Randy Savage’s death, you wore tights designed like his and performed his elbow drop. Why is the past so important to you?
Like they say, if you don’t remember the past you’re doomed to repeat it. Not that repeating pro wrestling’s past would be such a horrible thing; there were certain aspects that were a lot cooler back then. When I was a kid, Macho Man was the shit. When he passed away I just felt the need to do something. So I had some classic WrestleMania III Macho Man tights made and I wore them, thinking that maybe someone who didn’t know who he is would hear people talking about him and check him out. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Macho Man. He is cooler than anyone around today, myself included.
What’s it like to wrestle alongside or against the same guys you idolized as a kid?
I wrestled independently for a very long time and wrestled guys like Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, and Ricky Steamboat, so that stuff blows my mind. I met Mick Foley in 2003 and he said, “I think you’re awesome and you need to be in WWE.” Mick’s been waving the CM Punk flag for damn near a decade. Having these old-school guys have my back, having Dusty and Terry Funk telling me that I’m the man after wrestling in front of 500 people in Philadelphia—to me that’s bigger and better than any paycheck I’ll ever get. That’s validation from people who are as close to being my heroes as you can get.
Do you think people understand how many years of effort it took to finally reach the main stage?
When I came to WWE I was already world traveled, I had all these tools, and I knew how to wrestle all these different styles. That made me know how to deal with all the pitfalls and land mines I have to navigate in WWE. I think that’s something a lot of guys today are lacking.
It seems like wrestling has always struggled to gain respect from the general public. What are your thoughts on that?
We’ve always had that stigma. There are always people who are going to harp on, “Oh, it’s fake!” I dare anybody who has the balls to say that to my face to step into my shoes for one day and do what I do.
Do you think that those opinions will ever change? Or do you think that the lack of respect is something that will always be there?
I’m sure golf can be viewed the same way. Is golf a sport? I’m not going to criticize these people because I’m kind of in their shoes. I have people telling me wrestling’s not a sport all the time. They can’t tell me that it’s not, and I can’t tell them that it is. It’s a stalemate. To me it’s like religion. The people who believe in God can’t be convinced otherwise, and for the atheists there is no explanation to get them to believe. I love pro wrestling. I’m a fan of it and I’m going to champion its history until the day I die. I just wish there were more people who honestly respected it as much as I do.