McGuire’s Mondays: CM Punk is back in WWE 


By Colin McGuire, Staffer

What a moment.

If you’re reading this, you know by now that CM Punk returned to WWE at the tail end of Saturday night’s Survivor Series. WWE even threw up the bottom corner copyright signage to signify the end of the event before all this went down. It wasn’t much. Someone hit play on “Cult Of Personality.” Punk slowly walked through the entrance way. There was no microphone, no talking, no mission statement. The crowd went … some kind of word that’s not invented yet but is what you get when you add crazy + nuts + wild + bananas + insane.

What a moment.

It’s easy to be cynical about this. Punk’s departure from AEW was tumultuous – and even that is being kind. In the time the guy spent away from WWE, he not only badmouthed the company, but he was even sued by one of its doctors. He was very loud about how the place ostensibly ruined his mental health, took potshots at all the Main Players whenever he was given a chance to do so (and in the event no one gave him the chance, he wasn’t shy about doing it on social media) and was so disenfranchised with all of it that he tried his hand at MMA, which didn’t work out great.

But then Saturday happened. Countless reports from countless websites insisted he wasn’t going to appear on the show. The purported reasoning behind announcing Randy Orton as the final member of the babyface War Games team was to try and quell any CM Punk clamoring that was expected from a Chicago crowd. It simply wasn’t meant to be – at least not now. Not a few months after being fired from AEW. Not this easily, not this quickly, not this way. Bridges had to be rebuilt. Seth Rollins needed to calm down. Maybe it would happen someday, but not Saturday.

Turned out, that line of thinking was wrong. In response was that simple observation: What a moment. There already has been and there will continue to be a lot written about Punk’s return to WWE, but one thing you can’t deny is that it showcased precisely why us pro wrestling fans are fans of pro wrestling. We hear it all the time, but there really is nothing like it.

Think about any other sports-based medium. Aaron Rodgers might shock the world and miraculously suit up for the New York Jets this season after messing up his achilles earlier this year, but it’s not like that return would be secret. It’s not like the Jets would trot out Tim Boyle to warm up with the starters and appear to begin the game while Rodgers sits quietly in the locker room – only to have the lights go out 10 minutes before kickoff and the hall of fame quarterback to appear in the tunnel, geared up, ready to save his team. Nothing beats pro wrestling, yes, but it’s even harder to think of something that beats pro wrestling surprises.

That’s why Saturday night was fun. It’s not about one company winning and another losing. It’s not even about one owner messing up while the other guy in charge seemingly makes all the right moves. If you’re bogged down in that while thinking about the last five minutes of this year’s Survivor Series, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

This is entertainment. This is fun. Hold Punk’s feet to the fire about all he said regarding the company if you want to. But that’s sort of silly, too. Think of all the wild, nonsensical things that have ever been said into a pro wrestling microphone. Think of all the lies, the misdirections, the insults, the vitriol – Punk isn’t the first or last person to throw a company under the bus (and with authority). If you think he’s a hypocrite, let me introduce you to a few dozen wrestlers from the mid-90s who migrated to this thing called WCW.

That said, what sticks out to me the most in the wake of Saturday night is Punk’s chances. Let’s recap: He walked away from WWE. He said he wasn’t coming back and he didn’t come back. For a long time. For a really long time. Then, thanks to an upstart AEW, Punk started flirting with the wrestling world until Tony Khan ultimately convinced Punk to work for him. After an unforgettable night on an episode of Rampage at the United Center in Chicago, Punk was involved in some are they/aren’t they real verbal exchanges. The realness of some of those moments with some of the AEW wrestlers was dismissed by and large because those are the waters Punk has navigated for his entire career. Did AEW employees really not like him? We didn’t know and it didn’t matter. This was par for CM Punk’s course.

Flash forward, then, to All Out, which turned into Brawl Out. Punk unloaded on the company right as he was set to miss some time due to an injury. Parts of the wrestling world were divided because the love for both Punk and The Elite is unconditional for so many fans. Still, Punk came back, helped launch a Saturday night show and seemed like he was heading in the direction of good graces again. But then Jack Perry mouthed off, Punk got mad, went after Perry, Khan “feared for his life,” which … let’s just ignore that for now … and before you knew it, Khan fired the guy right before a big Chicago show. Some people said “I told you so.” Some people defended Punk to the death.

Why rehash all this now? Because this has to be it. Naturally, we’ve all said that in the context of pro wrestling multiple times about multiple things, but if this doesn’t feel like one last shot to go out under ideal circumstances, I don’t know what does. After seeing Saturday night’s return – and the reception it garnered – all I can think of is that you can’t ask for a better beginning to the last time you try to get it right. Punk’s relationship with pro wrestling and the people in it has been almost entirely defined by acrimony. If this ends poorly with WWE, he can surely find some place to return somewhere, but it won’t be what the United Center was and it won’t be what Saturday night was.

Then again, Punk’s appeal is precisely what I just outlined. He’s as successful as he is in this business because he is as real as he is in this business (or, well, at least he’s portrayed as being as real as he is in this business). A year and a half ago at a press conference, I watched that guy cry profusely at the happiness he felt that Khan bought Ring Of Honor because, he argued, it would preserve his legacy and keep his early match catalogue away from WWE (and oh, the irony in that now). The guy isn’t unhinged, but he also doesn’t mind wearing exactly how he feels on his sleeve. There’s a deep connection people feel because of that. It’s why he’s been given so many chances to succeed at the highest possible levels.

Still, that also means that when Paul Levesque said this gem at the post show press conference – “If you’re still the same guy you were ten years ago, you messed up. Everybody grows.” – it’s hard not to wonder about the centuries-old debate regarding people changing. While it may be truly possible for some, in the end, for most of us, blurring the edges never changes the fabric of who we are. Can CM Punk not mess up enough to ensure that this run with WWE ends in storybook fashion? I root for that. Not because I’m a lifelong CM Punk fan and/or apologist, but because pro wrestling is simply more interesting with him in and around it. He’s been through hell and back – and he’s also put people through hell and more – so after all the nonsense and all the struggle, why not root for a happy ending?

As for AEW, I’m not so sure any of this matters all that much. WWE has been on fire anyway. Sure, the Punk signing will help, but AEW has its own issues to deal with – TV ratings and live gates seem to be near the top of that list – rather than worry about who’s showing up on the other channel. If anything, it does give me pause to think about how three Big Deal people couldn’t manage to make it work in that company. Cody left due to the mysterious “personal issue,” while Jade Cargill – whose progress Hunter used as a conduit to funnily throw some shade at AEW Saturday night – left AEW the minute she could. Punk, as we all know, was fired. But you have to think that at least Cody and Punk had the best intentions when they first got involved with Khan’s company. The former helped find it while the latter broke his no-wrestling memorandum for those three letters. They presumably wanted things to work. But things didn’t work. And that might deserve further examination one day.

But that day is not this day. Instead, this day is one that is still enjoying the glow of a very fun return on a very big show for a very big pro wrestling company. Secrets are hard to keep in today’s wrestling world and WWE nailed almost everything it could about Punk’s return. How much will it matter in the long-term, only time can tell. For now, there’s only one real thing to say.

My God. What a moment.


Readers Comments (2)

  1. Is Punk a hypocrite for going back to WWE after everything he has said about them? I would say that depends on how true Jon Moxley’s comment about Punk running out of money is…

  2. McGuire, who had negative things to say about Punk when he was in AEW, now suddenly is on the PUnk bandwagon.

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