McGuire’s Mondays: Is CM Punk just another guy?

By Colin McGuire, Staffer (@McGMondays)

For my money, the best wrestling show on American television these days is AEW’s Collision. It feels different. Actually, all told, it feels like what a lot of us thought AEW would be – and, to be fair, probably once was when Dynamite first debuted and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t yet mess up the world’s plans for a few years. It’s wrestling-heavy with stars that we knew were on the AEW roster, but never quite saw as much as we thought we might. There’s a darkness to it, too. On the week of Dynamite’s 200th episode, it’s easy to remember how that palate of bright colors initially brought Dynamite into our living rooms. Collision, meanwhile, leans on black, red, and yellow – a brooding aesthetic that illustrates a marked contrast between the shows.

Collision came with fanfare when it debuted because, among other things, it was set to be the de facto CM Punk show. In the worst kept wrestling secret of 2023, Punk made his return to AEW on the first Collision episode after being injured/suspended/pissed off for a good, long while. AEW, for all its positives and negatives, will forever go down as The Company That Got CM Punk To Return, and for that, I’d argue, Tony Khan and his company will always deserve a lot of credit. His initial comeback on Rampage proved that assessment to be accurate, too, as Punk soaked in endless cheers while some fans in that Chicago crowd cried on that night. The most anticipated return to pro wrestling in ages did something nothing ever does: It lived up to the hype.

And yet, as I was watching Punk’s promo from this past weekend’s Collision, I couldn’t help but have one prevailing thought circle through my mind – and it’s a prevailing thought that I’m fairly certain zero people will agree with, and I shall be burned at the Pro Wrestling Internet stake. That thought?

CM Punk is just another guy now, isn’t he?

That’s to say nothing of Saturday’s promo alongside Tony Schiavone and that’s to say nothing of his current program with Ricky Starks. Both were/are good. Pretty good, actually. Maybe even great at times. It’s also to say nothing of Punk’s star power, which will forever be as bright as most any other in pro wrestling for as long as he decides to stay in pro wrestling. I concede all of those arguments. I’m not saying Punk’s a bum and I’m not saying Punk’s irrelevant. I’m just saying …

He’s just another guy now, isn’t he?

For the longest time, the aura of CM Punk came alongside the novelty of his absence. We want what we can’t have and what we couldn’t have was CM Punk in a wrestling ring. Each year that passed without him in one, the notion of him ever coming back felt like it carried more weight. Plus, let’s not forget: You only miss the good times when you miss something. Punk’s history as a wrestler got to the point where it was, in a lot of fans’ eyes, flawless. The guy never did anything wrong. He was the only one with the balls to stand up to WWE. He stood for everything that was supposed to be right in pro wrestling. He never had a bad match. The list goes on.

But then he came back. And he wrestled. A lot. (Or at least a lot more than some of us thought he would). He also opened up about his love for the pro wrestling business. He caught the bug again and he wasn’t quiet about that. He helped give a boost to some younger guys in the ring. He made towns for TV on Wednesdays. He bled. He was world champion. He – and this is going to feel like it’s decades ago, but it was only really about a year or so – chased MJF out of a ring when MJF was badmouthing AEW and Tony Khan on TV. Punk was being positioned as the guy to stick up for the company while MJF was the one being an obnoxious, ungrateful prick who loved to publicly flirt with the idea of leaving AEW. In that story, Punk was the savior.

All that was well and good – and, to be fair, it was working – until Punk got hurt, lit a five-alarm fire of words that burned AEW to the ground at a press conference after a pay-per-view, reportedly found himself in a scuffle with some of AEW’s most beloved people, and was almost instantaneously labeled as a problem child by a strong section of onlookers. Suddenly, Punk was the bad guy, but in real life. Love or hate the Young Bucks, Adam Page and Kenny Omega, there’s no denying that their fan base is wildly loyal and viciously committed to making sure nobody does their boys wrong. Punk didn’t become the ultimate heel to all of AEW’s fans, but he certainly didn’t take any steps toward establishing himself as someone for whom everyone wanted to root.

So, now what? Well, he’s just a guy. He’s a guy who took a loss from someone who cheated to get it. He’s added his name to the long list of people who carry around an unrecognized world title and some spray paint. He’s an older fella who’s taking a loss every now and then to ensure fans that he’s willing to be a team player, because … “Look, I just lost to Ricky Starks! I told you I’m not all that bad!” He’s Chris Jericho with more tattoos, punk rock friends, and without any ties to January 6.

I listened to him speak on Saturday and yeah, he had his requisite amount of winks and nods to certain fans. Sure, he delivered his message with believability. Yeah, the crowd responded (I guess) in notable ways. Spray painting the “E” out of “AEW” was probably designed to get a rise out of those of us who still want someone to spill the tea on whatever happened after last year’s All Out. He vaguely teased heading toward being a heel with his straight edge talk. It was paint by numbers – or, in truth, it was what you’d expect from a CM Punk appearance and/or promo these days. There was nothing wrong with it, and I won’t even say it didn’t move people.

What I will say, though, is that he came off like just another guy. And, in fact, in my eyes, he has come off like just another guy each time he’s appeared on Collision since the show debuted. It’s so odd to me that Collision has become AEW’s Great Alternative To AEW, and that crusade was supposed to be led by Punk, but in the meantime, Punk lost his glow and the show has somehow, on its own, actually become AEW’s Great Alternative To AEW. It’s definitely not Rampage (a good thing). And it’s really not Dynamite, either (probably a good thing). It’s carved out an identity, but it’s done so without having to heavily lean on CM Punk as its star.

That, to me, is the most blunt reason why CM Punk is just a guy now – his segments don’t rank as the No. 1 thing I want to see on Collision from week to week. Just consider Saturday’s episode. The Adam Cole/MJF saga is probably the most over thing in AEW right now, so the main event garnered more interest than seeing Punk ramble about in the ring. Slander whatever the Bullet Club is these days all you want, but the Gunns and Juice Robinson have become must-see for me. It’s good to see Andrade El Idolo back and engaged and we all know how well he’s historically worked with Buddy Matthews. These are all other elements of Collision that had my eye more than Punk’s unveiling of a belt he never lost. If I think harder, there may be more.

The thing is, I’m not even saying any of this has to be a bad thing. CM Punk can be a valuable part of a greater good, even if that means his name isn’t lit up in the brightest lights. The problem? Can CM Punk accept that he can be a valuable part of a greater good, even if that means his name isn’t lit up in the brightest lights? That’s where I worry. I can’t say I’m a fan of whatever the “Real World Championship” is supposed to be; in my eyes, I thought the story would be as simple as Punk saying he never lost the title and turning heel while MJF morphs into whatever type of babyface he can be, and we run those two back in opposite babyface/heel roles somewhere down the line. The spray paint is tired and renaming a world title has never moved the needle for me in any walk of wrestling life. Those things in mind, Punk just felt like another guy posturing about nothing on Saturday.

Did that stain the show, though? Not for me. And I gather he’s not staining the show for many other viewers, either (as long as they aren’t diehard pro-Elite fans, of course). But that’s the most surprising thing about the whole ordeal to me. Pro wrestling wades in love and hate; not apathy. Not only is Punk straddling the gray area between those two powerful emotions, but he’s also making someone like me not quite care about anything he does in doing so. Being a heel seems like it’d be a grand slam in AEW after all that was said in the last year by people both inside and outside the company. Being a babyface can also work because for as many people who decried his actions, there’s forever going to be a sect of diehard CM Punk fans that will defend him to the death. What he’s doing now, though, as he tries to pull from both worlds in subtle ways?


It’s an easy-enough fix – if, in fact, there are decision-makers in AEW who think it’s something that needs fixed. Punk knows how to heat things up and there are many ways his story can become infinitely more interesting as time unfolds. But as we sit here today, on July 31, 2023? Punk is just not doing much for me. He’s trying to avenge a loss to a wrestler who cooled off significantly over the last year while parading around a title that isn’t even officially recognized in the AEW canon. Can you imagine the zingers that would be lobbed around those ring ropes if we just had MJF and Punk trade verbal bars about the world title each week? It’d be instant gold. Not that Ricky Starks isn’t deserving of the shine he’s getting from feuding with Punk, but neither Punk or Starks is making me care about what they’re doing. Starks is better as a heel, so that’s a positive, but Punk lingers in a space that’s not particularly intriguing – at least for this viewer.

“The truth doesn’t care if you’re nice,” Punk said in the middle of that ring on Saturday. “It’s about being right or wrong.”

Indeed. And right now, Punk is spending more time on the wrong side of being the star he once was. Perhaps he, like his friend truth, should start to care less about being nice. Because maybe only then can he get back to being more than just another guy.


Readers Comments (2)

  1. “He’s Chris Jericho with more tattoos, punk rock friends, and without any ties to January 6.”

    The January 6th line made me laugh out low.

  2. You could make this argument about any wrestler, especially the bloated AEW roster.
    Who ever thought Bryan Danielson would wrestle again? Or Sayara? Their appearances should be special, not matter of fact.
    Kenny Omega is a blue chipper who should be protected and promoted.
    Ibushi, Suzuki, legends a simple video package would do wonders for.
    The difference between AEW and WWE is that in AEW, it looks like all the acts are in it for themselves. Many of the acts are similar. There’s no creative head to say focus on this, or we already have two devil worshippers.
    House of Black should be the scariest people in the building, booked like the Undertaker, but thete’s no cohesive plan that the bookers, wrestlers and commentators seem to be on the same page with.
    Mox bleeds every match like Abdulah the Butcher. Now his bleeding is meaningless.
    I love great wrestlers on a wrestling show, but Hogan, Roman Reigns, etc. were protected, so that when they do lace up the boots, it’s an event, and all the cogs in the showbiz machine, from announcers to adverts, treat it as such.
    AEW is all just guys and gals because the show treats them all as guys and gals. It needs creative direction.

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