By Adam S. Levy - Radar Staff Writer
After his epic promo went viral and set Twitter abuzz, WWE champion CM Punk emerged as pro wrestling’s biggest star last summer; what you might not have known is that the Chicago-made grappler was nearly handed his walking papers -- twice -- but saved by a faithful behind-the-scenes backer: Tommy Dreamer.
“He had little-to-no chance of ever making it in the WWE -- he wasn't their type of guy,” Dreamer, who moonlit between the ring and the WWE front office during his decade-long tenure with the company, told RadarOnline.com exclusively about Punk, whose 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame is a far cry from the bodybuilding look synonymous with wrestling heroes like Triple H, John Cena and, in his heyday, Hulk Hogan.
“I saved his job two times when he was about to be let go -- I was saying, ‘Ya gotta keep this kid, ya gotta keep this kid,’” said Dreamer, who credited Punk for his fortitude in overcoming obstacles to become a worldwide phenomenon.
We caught up with Tommy as he prepares to get in the ring at WrestleReunion, a gala convention celebrating its third year in Los Angeles at The Westin Hotel, featuring autographs, photos-ops and three live shows.
Dreamer’s gig with WWE began following the closure of ECW, the Philadelphia-based wrestling promotion that exploded in the 90s as a counter culture phenomenon with its influential cacophony of bloodshed, rock music and reality.
Dreamer, the face of ECW nicknamed “The Innovator of Violence,” opened up to us exclusively about a number of topics, including fans and the strangest requests they’ve ever made, as well as WWE owner Vince McMahon’s storied work ethic.
Dreamer said he’s greatly looking forward to WrestleReunion as a chance to meet up with both his peers and fans.
"I love these things to see guys that I grew up watching, some I never met, some I used to work with and of course, the fans. It's usually two to three days of a great time if you're a wrestling fan. I love these things."
The tough man with the pompadour said that while most fans nowadays are mellow-mannered and polite, things weren’t so tame during his earlier years in the city of Brotherly Love.
“Back in the ECW Arena, they would take their tickets and wipe my blood on their ticket as I came back from the ring ... and then ask me to sign it for them later!” he said, noting it wasn’t uncommon for fans to hand him anything from a dozen eggs and switchblades to use in his battles.
As for autographs?
“I have signed my fair share of boobs -- usually men's!” he said, laughing, adding he was once actually asked to sign a newborn baby. “And I refused! I draw the line at signing human beings!”
We also pried Tommy for details about working alongside one McMahon, the tireless magnate who revolutionized his business with cable TV, Pay-Per-View and marketing prowess on par with Disney.
“I’ve said this before -- besides my own father, Vince McMahon has been the most influential man in my life,” he said, noting from a certain age and on, he had narrow-focused his spotlight for a career in the industry synonymous with the Connecticut billionaire.
“A lot of people want to knock him -- you can’t knock his success, he will outwork anybody,” Tommy said. “I have been there and worked side-by-side with him, the same amount of hours. When I’m done and ready to go home and go to bed, he’s headed to the gym — I think he has coffee in his veins!”
You can see Tommy and many other top stars, including Mike Tyson, Maryse and Mick Foley at WrestleReunion, which is slated for January 27, 28 & 29 at The Westin Hotel at LAX. For $25 a day, you can get you into the convention and a ticket to that day’s live show.
“Besides autographs, besides the actual matches they’re putting together that’ll have that nostalgia, you’re definitely gonna get some bang for you buck,” Tommy said.