A date to many that may mean nothing.
A date to you that may mean something.
But it’s a date to me & the rest of Chicago that means…everything,
My name is Frank Mustari. Better known as Frank The Clown in professional wrestling circles. For years, I was that annoying rainbow wig that you’d see plastered ringside at countless WWE shows. Currently, I am a manager/wrestler (for lack of a better term) on the independent wrestling scene. People do not like me. However, I am not speaking to you today as Frank The Clown the character, I am speaking to you today as Frank Mustari, the 30-year-old wrestling fan who was born and raised in beautiful Chicago, IL.
And this is my story about July 17th, 2011. The night that wrestling & my life changed forever.
Wrestling, at its very core, is storytelling. It’s a live action art form. Good vs evil. Some stories are certainly better than others, but every once in a while, the universe aligns itself perfectly to tell a story that will live on far beyond its years. Perhaps the greatest instance of this was in the summer of 2011.
The first half of 2011 in pro wrestling was actually quite eventful. We witnessed a 40-man Royal Rumble, some shocking returns, and an untimely retirement. Unbeknownst to us, the fans, another historic story was brewing behind the scenes.
On June 20th, 2011, shockwaves were sent throughout the wrestling world when one of its biggest stars made it public that his contract with WWE was expiring on July 17th. Remember that little thing I said about the universe aligning perfectly? July 17, 2011 just so happened to be the Money in The Bank pay-per-view emanating from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL, the hometown of…CM Punk.
I’m not here to give you a history lesson but it’s important to get the full scope of the story arc as it leads to the match. I’d be remiss not to mention that this story was only built on camera for the better part of four weeks. In that time, Punk went from one of the guys…to THE guy. A metamorphosis that does not happen often.
On June 27th, 2011, Punk dropped the infamous pipebomb in Las Vegas, which I am proud to admit that I can legitimately recite word for word. It was a promo unlike those we have seen before, where a man pulled back the curtain, broke the proverbial fourth wall and aired out real-life grievances on air for the world to listen. It was captivating. This catapulted Punk to superstardom not only in the wrestling world, but even into the mainstream, something that professional wrestling still struggles to do to this day.
On July 10th, six days before the PPV, ironically in John Cena’s hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, Punk and Cena had their final faceoff. An underrated episode of RAW, Punk opened the show after a one week “hiatus” where he continued to acknowledge the impending expiration of his contract and that he would be leaving the company with Vince McMahon’s prized possession, the WWE Championship. In order to prevent such a tragedy from happening to him, Vince added the stipulation that if John Cena loses in Chicago, he would be fired thus raising the stakes even more.
Thus, the stage had been set.
July 17th, 2011.
Money in the Bank at The Allstate Arena.
The WWE Champion, the face of the company, the franchise player, John Cena, would be defending his championship against a punk rock kid from Chicago, the Second City Savior, and the man who represented the people, our people…CM Punk.
July 17th was a roller coaster of emotions for 20-year-old Frank. For many years, I would generally wait until the day of the show to purchase my tickets. Many times, premium seats would be released as production finalizes and I would be there to scoop them up sometimes mere minutes before showtime. Call me Kenny Rogers, because I am most certainly a gambler, but this gamble did not always pay off as I hoped. There were many instances where I’d wind up in the nosebleeds far, far away from where I wanted to be. I made the 20-minute trek from my northwest suburban Chicago home to the Allstate Arena box office early in the afternoon to set up shop and begin my ticket hunt, knowing it’d be an uphill battle as the buzz for this event was at a fever pitch. The show was rapidly approaching a sellout, the resale market was scarce, and little ole me showed up empty-handed hoping for the best.
To put this in perspective, Punk has been my hero for my entire adolescent/adult life, dating back to the early 2000’s before he broke into the WWE. Through Punk, I discovered the straight edge lifestyle which I still live by to this day. I discovered Punk at a formulative stage of my life thus he was one of my biggest influences to shape me into the individual I am today, and I am proud of it.
On the contrary, John Cena was my 1B to Punk’s 1A. I was not ashamed to be a Cena fan at a time where it was sometimes shameful to be one. This match had happened a few times before where there was minimal fanfare, but to have what were my two favorite wrestlers, engaged in the story of the year, in my backyard of Chicago was my true dream match scenario.
The stakes were not only high later that night in the arena, but they were at an all-time high in the dingy, stuffy Allstate Arena box office. Time ticked by as I checked over and over again if any floor seats had been released. I had befriended the box office attendants to increase my slim chances. I was dead set on having a premium seat as I was spoiled at the time and couldn’t imagine myself sitting elsewhere. 3 PM comes and goes. 4 PM comes and goes. 5 PM comes and go and still…no tickets. I see familiar face after familiar face passing by excitedly, picking up their tickets and heading inside the venue with no worry in the world. Meanwhile, neurotic Frank is biting off his last fingernail.
We are about an hour out from showtime, and still no ticket. Now I’m being posed with the harsh reality that I may not even be getting into this show period, let alone a floor seat. As the clock ticks, a ticket scalper sent from the ticket heavens above approaches me and two of my friends and offers us a set of three front row seats that he had left over. We immediately purchase the seats, I quickly applied XXX in red face paint on my face, propped on my wig and sprinted in the building. As spoiled as this sounds (I was a child), these were not my “ideal” front row seats as they were stationed in the corner of the floor and in the middle of the row, but regardless, beggars can’t be choosers.
Section 1, Row 1, Seat 7.
The Allstate Arena is known for its acoustics & its raucous crowd, so the atmosphere is always electric, but this night was…different. It felt special when you walked in. You could feel the palatable energy flowing through the building. This wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill “B” level WWE pay per view, this was going to be a spectacle unlike anything we had seen before.
Chants of “CM PUNK” rained down through the building even before the PPV went on the air. Opposing chants of “LET’S GO CENA” “CENA SUCKS” echoed, but this wasn’t your typical 50/50 split, this was most overwhelming anti-Cena crowd that I have ever been a part of.
The show began and right away, the tone was set for the night as Daniel Bryan surprisingly won the MITB ladder match to open the show. This entire show is awesome. I do think most forget about that as we tend to romanticize the main event, but we witnessed two awesome MITB ladder matches, an incredible World Heavyweight Championship match between Randy Orton & Christian, along with some other bangers that kept the crowd on the edge of its seat throughout the night. That still didn’t stop Chicago from still chanting for Punk at every opportunity they could. We couldn’t control our excitement, and quite frankly, we couldn’t control our anxiety.
What was going to happen? Is this Punk’s swan song? Are we going to see an uneventful main event with John Cena AA’ing Punk for a three count and we go home disappointed but yet not surprised? Far too often, we hold the answers to the questions we have about wrestling storylines, but on this night, not one person in that crowd had any idea what was about to happen.
It was time.
The undercard had passed, and it was time for the main event. An incredible video package rolls, recapping the story leading up to this. In my extremely biased opinion, it still holds up as one of the best video packages of all time. The crowd was waiting to explode.
As a production dork, I loved that the video package ends, and there’s a good ten-second pause where the crowd begins some of the loudest CM Punk chants that have ever existed. At our peak of chanting, the guitar riff for “This Fire Burns” hits and the Allstate Arena goes banana.
It’s rare to hear a unison “YEAH!” that is so loud that it blares over the music, but in this case, it absolutely drowned out Killswitch Engage for a split second. It was equivalent of 15,000 proverbial pipebombs.
Slowly, OUR guy emerges from behind the curtain. Sporting a brand-new t-shirt, that I previously secured earlier in the night that would wind up being exclusive to that show with the date and “Chicago” written on the back. The mass-produced version did not include that, thus making it one of the rarer WWE shirts in the past 20 years.
Punk strolls out as braggadocios as ever with a smirk on his face and he enters his domain. From my perch in the front row, I am seen clapping my hands together so hard that my hands probably matched the redness of my face paint.
In this moment, I was overcome with emotion. This was the culmination of Punk’s life’s work…all in front of family, friends, and 15,000 of the most rabid & passionate hometown supporters you can find. The magnitude of this moment was indescribable.
For me, this was the culmination of my wrestling fandom, as my hero, is approaching the ring in this high-intensity situation, in our backyard, to face another hero of mine in a match that would change the course of pro wrestling forever. I wish I could bottle up the way I felt in that moment and mass produce it because it was pure, unadulterated joy. Tears rolled down my face as I knew how much this moment probably meant to him, and I felt how much it meant to me.
It was in that precise moment that I told myself I wanted to make others feel the way that I felt right then & there. Everything about that entrance was real. It was raw hometown emotion where everyone in that building believed in something, or in this case, someone. In our world nowadays, it’s hard to find two people believing in one thing together, let alone an entire city.
Punk made his stroll to the ring and the crowd somehow managed to get louder as he walked up the steps, climbed the turnbuckle and let out an explicit battle cry. He proceeded to sit down in the middle of the ring as per usual, and let the chants pour in from every direction. I have never to this day, heard a wrestling crowd as loud as that one in that very moment.
Eventually, his music cuts which is the crowd’s cue to be even louder than before and in one of my favorite moments, Punk suddenly jumps up from sitting, to a huge pop that makes me smile every single time. Now we awaited his adversary…John Cena.
I love John Cena. I had never booed John Cena before this night.
On July 17th, 2011, I booed the fuck out of John Cena.
It obviously had nothing to do with Cena as a performer, you could have put Michael Jordan across the ring from Punk in Chicago that night & even he might have been booed. You could have put 50 puppies in the ring opposite of Punk, and we would have heard a “PUPPIES SUCK” chant. It was Punk or bust for us. Cena was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cena was all business as the chorus of boos serenaded him. Big Match John had the body language and the mannerisms to back up that this was going to be a FIGHT.
The bell rang, the match begins. The match itself had more twists and turns than a roller coaster at Great America. Both men took us for a ride, and we were fully invested. They were puppet masters toying with our emotions for what felt like hours. What probably made the match even better is that most of us deep down assumed Cena was going to win, which in turn, made every near fall that much better, and there were some incredible ones.
Punk used the hometown crowd to his advantage by egging on the “YOU CAN’T WRESTLE” chants directed at Cena. He slapped hands with friends and family in the front row and clearly fed off the passion from the crowd, elevating his intensity and game to another level.
For 33 minutes, the two men exchanged blow after blow, shot after shot, and left it all in the ring. There was not one singular moment that the crowd wasn’t hanging on every move throughout this masterclass.
And then it happened.
As John Cena had Punk locked in his STF, for what seemed like the finish, Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis walk down the ramp and signal for the bell to end the match. Cena sees this, slides out of the squared circle and cleans Johnny Ace’s clock with a forearm before declaring to Mr. McMahon that “the best man wins this fight.”
Upon reentering the ring, Cena is met by Punk who lifts him for another GTS and connects! Pinfall…
CM Punk Is the WWE Champion.
The crowd is going bonkers. Pure euphoria & elation. Grown men were hugging and jumping up and down. Strangers were embracing each other. Children were screaming in horror.
I legitimately jumped so high and lost complete control of my limbs that I actually knocked the padding off the barricade in front of me thus startling the poor security guard.
I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. The importance of it didn’t set in right away, but everyone knew they just witnessed something special that we would never ever forget. Chicago is a proud city, and we were so damn proud of our guy.
When pro wrestling is good, its fucking great. I’m unsure if there was anything that could have been done to make this even better than it was. I was actually relieved it was over so I could attempt to recover physically and emotionally. I vividly remember telling those around me that I felt like I had wrestled a near 40-minute match when it was all said and done.
The night wasn’t over yet though as just as we thought we had a moment to recover and celebrate, out comes Alberto Del Rio to be a party pooper, but he was quickly dismissed by a swift kick to the head.
Remember that line earlier about the universe aligning again? And the story about my ticket and how it came to be? And that part of me was disappointed by the location of my seat because I’m a spoiled prick?
Would you believe me if I told you that following the kick, that time stood still as Punk & Vince locked eyes? Would you believe me if I told you that Punk proceeds to exit the ring and makes a beeline straight towards Sec 1 Row 1 Seat 7? Well, that fucking happened.
Punk proceeds to climb and sit on the barricade and blow the most infamous kiss in wrestling history while a 20-year-old Frank The Clown is feet away forever enshrined in one of the most iconic wrestling photos of all time. (That’s the main image we used for this column. Here’s a video clip too.)
Everything happened so fast that I didn’t even time to react or comprehend what just happened. Punk disappeared into the crowd and my brain just told me to run after him, so after he leaves the camera shot, I disappear right behind him. I followed the mob of bodies to the staircase to head towards the concourse as Punk escaped through his hometown crowd with the most prestigious championship in all of wrestling in tow and headed off into the lovely Chicago night.
Vince stood on the ring steps right in front of me as he watched in sheer horror at what was unfolding. The show went off the air once Punk left and the psychopathic crowd turned their attention towards the Chairman. A chant broke out of “SCREW YOU VINCE!”
Vince slowly descended down the steps and was staring straight into my soul. I was suddenly engaged in an intense stare down with the most powerful man in wrestling and despite that, I continued to scream “SCREW YOU VINCE” as loud as my malnourished body would allow me to at that particular point in time. I would love to see that footage because it was ten seconds that truly felt like an eternity. My heart was beating out of my chest.
After Vince stepped away and made his way up the ramp and back through the curtain, the show was finally over. My red face paint was bleeding down my cheeks looking reminiscent of spaghetti sauce. My shirt and tie were untucked, my wig was disheveled, but I felt more alive than I had ever felt in my life up until that point.
Looking back on that night, it almost makes me sad in a way. Sad because I don’t think anything can top that night for me personally. It was the perfect storm of circumstances that only happens once in a lifetime.
I have gone back and relived that match over and over again. It’s one of the few wrestling matches that my girlfriend will actually put her phone down and re-watch with me. It’s the first match I show to non-wrestling fans when I try to explain to them what makes wrestling so special. It’s perfect.
As I type this on July 17th, 2021 at 3:53 AM Chicago time, I am preparing for a moment of my own tonight. Exactly 10 years to the day that I realized I wanted to be in the business of making people feel alive, I am involved in the main event of a wrestling show named Warrior Wrestling in, you guessed it, Chicago, IL, in front of my family and friends. I will be honoring that match and that night with special gear that will be a direct nod to Punk. I’ve always felt this strange connection to Punk, where our lives have run parallel in so many weird ways. We have the same birthday for fuck’s sake.
If all that is not full circle, then I don’t know what is.
A lot can happen in ten years and the impact from that match is still felt today. Pro wrestling took a turn towards a more grounded “reality” era because of that story. The Summer of Punk went into full swing and wound up becoming one of the most successful runs in wrestling history. That match set the bar for the next decade. It was story telling at its finest and what creative should strive to try and recreate by any means necessary.
Monday Night RAW will take place inside the Allstate Arena on August 2nd. I can guarantee there will be CM Punk chants throughout the night, but not because we are bored, but because Chicago remembers that fateful night and Chicago will continue to honor that night and the man who helped change the course of pro wrestling. And on a much smaller scale, the night and the man who changed the course of a young Frank The Clown’s life forever.
Happy July 17th, y’all.