Nearly five years ago to the day, Phillip Brooks and Scott Colton, better known to pro wrestling fans as CM Punk and Colt Cabana, were victorious in a trial against WWE’s Dr. Chris Amann. The two were being sued for millions over Punk’s controversial Art Of Wrestling podcast appearance where he spoke candidly about his time at WWE and perceived medical malpractice at the hands of Amann. Ultimately, a jury of their peers decided in the two wrestlers’ favor but their relationship was severed over financial and personal issues that arose before and during the trial.
On today’s Haus of Wrestling episode, available on Premier Streaming Network and all podcast platforms, I reconnected with Ross Berman, who covered the trial in person with me. With Punk returning to the AEW fold following his heated comments about the trial at the AEW All Out media scrum, we decided to look back on our experience covering it, and what we took away.
At the time, I was the Executive Editor for WrestleZone and was working closely with Berman, who was writing for the site. I got a call from Frank The Clown after the first day of the trial, letting me know it was going on and that I needed to be there in person to cover it.
“I did not know that part,” Berman laughed.
I had no idea what I was doing at the time, I had never covered a trial, nor had I ever really spent any time in a courtroom. I woke up early, which sucked, grabbed my laptop, and took off for the Cook County Courthouse downtown. Once I got through security, and was waiting outside the actual courtroom, I was asked by the bailiff who I was and what I was doing there.
I told him I was a journalist and was there to cover the trial, which elicited a bigger response than I expected. I was quickly whisked to meet the judge, who was unaware that the press was going to be present, so ground rules had to be laid down. I wasn’t allowed to use my phone, laptop, or any other electronics to cover the case. So, I was left to cover it with just pen and paper, writing for hours at a time, which also sucked.
Punk and Cabana both seemed happy to see me there, probably because they wanted the case to get attention. Despite my past issues with Cabana, he was very gracious with me throughout, and the same goes for Punk, who has LARGELY always been cool to me. By the end of the first day, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to run WrestleZone and be in a courtroom with no electronics for days on end. Enter Berman, the son of lawyers, who was more than ready to chug coffee and take notes on the pro wrestling trial of the century.
“That was also right as the 2018 Best of Super Juniors tournament was ending,” Berman noted. “So, I would literally finish up doing coverage for Super Juniors, put on my suit, and head down to the courthouse.
The gist of Punk’s complaint from the podcast that Amann took issue with was in regard to a staph infection The Second City Saint was dealing with towards the end of his WWE run. He alleged that Amann was prescribing him Z-packs for the issue, but it wasn’t getting any better.
“He was worried about it getting serious,” Berman recalled. “I mean, hell, to kind of tie it into the recent Dark Side of The Ring premiere that just happened last week, Punk has cited what happened to Chris Candido as one of the reasons he was so scared of the staph infection. He vented his frustrations with WWE about the medical staff on that infamous Art Of Wrestling podcast that came out.”
Punk was sued for his comments, and Cabana was sued for providing the platform for Punk to make his comments. As part of the discovery phase leading into the trial, Punk and Cabana’s teams were allowed access to internal WWE communications in order to find proof so they could mount a defense.
“The thing that will always stand out from that trial was when they had to show off the WWE medical notes that they were taking, or in the case of the evidence in this particular case, not taking in the case of CM Punk,” Berman laughed. “They kept bringing up his medical records, there’s nothing on them. They’re just blank sheets of paper, and it’s got the diagram of the person’s body, so you can draw arrows to where stuff needs help, or whatever. It’s all blank. It was just an entirely blank sheet of paper.”
In total, the trial lasted five, grueling days. Considering the people involved, much like the sport of pro wrestling, the courtroom became a bit of a circus from time to time. Something both Berman and I noted the judge did not seem thrilled by.
“I remember the props because there’s all this evidence that is involved in the trial and, at one point, they produced CM Punk trunks, and they produced CM Punk shorts,” Berman said. “The whole point of the shorts was there were two sets of shorts. One of them was the trunks that Punk wore during the Rumble to kind of show that these would not be able to compress and make it appear like there’s a staph infection, they wanted to show that they were just normal trunks.
“But then there was another pair, and it was specifically because Colt Cabana was talking about how Punk had shown him the staph infection, and shown him the lump that was on his back, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, he was just wearing shorts.’ And then Punk’s lawyer pulls out a pair of camo shorts, and was like, ‘Were these the shorts Punk was wearing at the time that you were having this conversation?’ They’ve got all this stuff under the desks. They really are just like pulling this stuff out like magicians half the time.”
During Punk’s now-heated AEW All Out media scrum, he noted that there were financial issues between him and Cabana, and that seems to be at the root of the issue between them. At the time, there were rumors around the Chicagoland area that Punk and Cabana had a falling out before the trial, and it was somewhat noticeable in the room, as they both sat at separate tables and had different attornies. Occasionally they would exchange words as the trial progressed but those moments were infrequent.
In the end, the two were able to work together and avoid paying millions to the WWE physician. In my opinion, Amann’s lawyers asked for way too big of a settlement and put off the jury, who already appeared sympathetic towards Punk and Cabana.
“To be fair, even by that point, Amann’s case had been hollowed out by the fact that, hell, I think it was the day you were there,” Berman interjected. “They had Amann on the stand, and were like, ‘Hey, how did this affect your career?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, it didn’t.’ I want to say that was the first or second day of testimony, and so the jury is already coming in there realizing that Amann maybe didn’t have the damage to his personal rep or to his professional reputation that maybe the case had stated.
“Then you add the dollar figure on to that, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t sit here and be like, ‘Oh, no. Amann definitely didn’t have a case yada yada yada.’ But it did feel like the central tenant of their case got kind of knocked out pretty early.”
Following the verdict being read, Punk’s wife, April Mendez, walked over to Cabana and gave him a hug. The former ROH tag team did not exchange words but did take several selfies with jury members before taking the time to speak with me for videos reacting to their win.
Of course, the hatchet was never buried between Punk and Cabana following the case, and it doesn’t appear the two men are on good terms at the moment. The issue between them looks to be at the root of the fallout between Punk and The Elite, and was exacerbated with Hangman Page alluded to it in an AEW: Dynamite promo leading into All In.
Punk and The Elite, and Colt Cabana, do not appear to have settled their differences, and it will be interesting to see how their backstage dynamic plays out from here. The entities will have space as Punk is featured on Saturdays, and The Elite on Wednesdays, but there are residual situations like that of Ace Steel, who is a friend of Punk’s and had his back in the infamous backstage brawl.
As we reported, Steel was expected to work backstage at Collision, alongside Punk, but a decision was made two weeks ago that he will continue to work remotely. It was described to us that Steel’s presence would make some talent uncomfortable, and the change in plans created a legal situation that delayed the announcement of Punk’s return. With moves still being made to accommodate the comfort of others, it’s possible we see more behind-the-scenes changes in the coming weeks and months.
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You can listen to Berman and I’s full trial retrospective on today’s Haus of Wrestling episode. Available on Premier Streaming Network and the Haus of Wrestling podcast feed. It can also be found courtesy of the embedded audio player below.