During the week when he normally would be undergoing final training, CM Punk spent his days in a Chicago courtroom as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Christopher Amann, who works for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), over comments Punk made on the Art of Wrestling podcast in November 2014.
On Tuesday afternoon, after six days of testimony, jurors found Punk, real name Phil Brooks, and codefendant Colt Cabana, real name Scott Colton — who hosted the podcast — as not liable for any damages.
Attorneys for Amann had asked for $3,989,000 in damages, calculated as $1 for every person who they claimed had listened to the podcast.
The case stemmed from Punk complaining of negligent medical treatment by WWE doctors, in particular related to a lump on his butt, on the podcast. During the podcast, he claimed the lump was diagnosed as MRSA staph by a doctor, but testimony in the case indicated that it was a physician’s assistant, Patrick Duffy, who removed the lump on Feb. 13, 2014, and he never diagnosed the lump as staph, let alone MRSA staph. The lump was never diagnosed, as Duffy said he would normally have cultured the lump but Punk refused to have it done, citing the lack of medical insurance.
Punk claimed in his testimony that he believed it was staph and didn’t know the difference between staph and MRSA staph.
Then-girlfriend and current wife April Mendez — wrestling name A.J. Lee — noticed the very small lump at first when the two started dating in August 2013. She testified that over the next several months it grew and changed coloring, and was described by some as the size of an egg or a golf ball.
The WWE medical staff had claimed that there was no lump, or if there was one, they were never aware of it. There were text messages from the period showing that Punk had messaged his wife complaining about the treatment by Amann in talking about the lump. After the podcast aired, the WWE sent out photos from the 2014 Royal Rumble in January, where Punk claimed it was near the waistband of his trunks, pointing out no visible lump.
Punk claimed that the lump was on his butt and not near the waistband of his trunks, and had four witnesses: Colton, his wife, his massage therapist, and Duffy.
While WWE itself was not involved in the case, WWE personnel backed up Amann in the trial. Punk had claimed all along that WWE was funding the case, trying to bleed him dry financially after an acrimonious split in January 2014. WWE never confirmed that they were funding the case, but never denied it when asked.
The case did not go well for WWE because testimony indicated that Amann had given Punk antibiotics on occasions that he never logged in his medical records. Worse, in the 2014 Royal Rumble, Amann, who was at ringside, told people backstage that he believed Punk suffered a concussion early in the match after Punk took a clothesline from Kofi Kingston and complained to him.
Backstage officials ordered a change in the script of the match and wanted Punk eliminated, but he refused to allow himself to be eliminated until he was originally scheduled, some 39 minutes later. However, after being eliminated by Kane — the wrestler Glenn Jacobs, who is currently favored to win election as the Mayor of Knox County in Tennessee — Punk was choke-slammed through a table by Kane and had his head thrown into the ring steps.
While those were planned and somewhat routine pro wrestling maneuvers, it was hard to figure a company as concussion-aware as WWE is would have allowed that to happen to someone they had reason to believe was just concussed.
Punk and his wife broke down in tears Tuesday when the verdict was read.
Cabana, who has been friends with Punk since both started in wrestling in the ‘90s, was sued based on the idea it was his podcast that the statements were made on and the plaintiff attorneys claimed he would have known Punk’s statements to be false. Amann was only mentioned twice on the podcast.
Arguments for Amann’s suffering emotional distress saw him testify about negative catcalls at wrestling matches and negative tweets he received after the show aired. It was a unique approach to try and argue a case based on negative tweets to a public figure, since Amann has done storylines for WWE, that such would lead to liability in a court case.
Punk (0-1) faces Mike Jackson (0-1) on Saturday’s UFC 225 pay-per-view show from the United Center in Chicago, where Punk grew up and is a local hero.