There’s a rumor that’s popped up every so often since January of 2014, and I think it’s time we stamped it out. You guys’ll wanna sit down for this: CM Punk isn’t coming back to wrestling.
He isn’t coming back to WWE, he’s not joining AEW, he’s not starting his own promotion. CM Punk is done with wrestling.
The news that he’ll take part in the third Starrcast wrestling podcast event the weekend of AEW’s All Out started the latest round of speculating. Then came Punk’s interview with ESPN this past week, in which he confirmed that he has been in contact with AEW and that the company made him an offer via text message.
It’s long been a trope of pro wrestling — on the air and off — that nobody really stays “retired.” Hell, take the current WWE roster. You can count on all of their fingers the number of times Ric Flair has hung up his boots.
CM Punk has been the exception to a number of rules. He’s also the exception to this one.
How can I be so sure? Let’s dig back into the past and bring ourselves to the present. Buckle in, because we’re going to trace our way back to our inevitable conclusion.
Punk Walks Out Of WWE
CM Punk’s exit from WWE in 2014 is pretty well-documented.
He bared the whole story to Colt Cabana (we’ll come back to him) on Cabana’s The Art of Wrestling podcast in November of 2014.
The long and short of it is that WWE burned him out. Punk had been frustrated for months before he walked out the night after Royal Rumble 2014.
WWE, from Punk’s point of view, had jerked him around. They pulled a movie deal without telling him, they booked him to lose to part-timers, and they held him out of the WrestleMania main event picture.
Throw in a concussion suffered in the 2014 Rumble match itself as the proverbial last straw, and Punk was done. He walked out, breached his contract, reached his settlement, and washed his hands of Vince McMahon’s aimless strongman carnival.
All the elements of why he isn’t coming back are swirling around those past few paragraphs. But let’s pluck them out and put them back together.
Why Punk Won’t Return To WWE
Punk holds grudges.
How do we know that? Let’s ask one Colt Cabana.
As part of his appearance on The Art of Wrestling, Punk went into detail about being misdiagnosed by one of WWE’s ring doctors for a staph infection.
That doctor filed a defamation lawsuit. Punk and Cabana were on the same page. They seemed to have an agreement on paying the legal fees, but at some point that all fell apart. And in the interim, Punk took Cabana’s visit with some of the boys at a WWE Monday Night Raw event personally.
Long story short, Punk and Cabana don’t talk anymore. Whether it was because of the legal issues or because Cabana cavorted with WWE, Punk cut his ties.
Speaking of Punk, WWE, and grudges, WWE famously delivered Punk’s severance agreement on Punk’s wedding day. Now, for a guy who holds grudges and takes slights very personally, does anybody really think — for any amount of money — that Punk would come back to WWE after that?
But WWE isn’t the only game in town anymore. Punk could go ply his trade for another company. How about AEW?
Yeah. How about AEW?
Why Punk Won’t Work For AEW
Wrestling fans are like conspiracy theorists. If they see dots, they want to connect them. Never mind that the dots are on different pages of the coloring book, they’re dots, aren’t they?
So here’s a couple of dots. Tell me what you make of them. Chicago, CM Punk, wrestling event. Your average wrestling fan sees that and thinks “CM Punk lives in Chicago, there’s a big wrestling event in Chicago, and CM Punk will appear at the big wrestling event in Chicago.”
In the immediate aftermath of Punk’s departure from WWE, any time WWE did Raw or SmackDown Live in the Second City, the rumors ran rampant. “This is where Punk’s going to return! It was all a work!”
Guess what? He never returned, and it was never a work.
Nor is he going to return with AEW just because All Out is in Chicago. Again, the dots are all in place, but the connection simply isn’t there.
Starrcast is in Chicago. All Out is in Chicago. CM Punk will be at Starrcast. Therefore, he must be going to All Out, right?
CM Punk has worked in the big leagues. And AEW, young though it may be, is the big leagues. But WWE is, and has always been, at the top of the mountain. Even when WCW was the premier product in the industry, wrestlers still looked at WWE as the real place to be. Punk predicated his entire career on getting to the top of WWE, and he didn’t make it.
The top of WWE is the main event of WrestleMania. And the default number two company having their second pay-per-view in his hometown won’t cut it for a guy as driven as Punk.
Hell, All Out could be held in his living room, and he wouldn’t wrestle there.
Maybe I’m wrong.
It’s entirely possible that Punk will take part in All Out. After all, I went to great lengths to say that he holds grudges. What better way to stick it to WWE than to show up to work for their competition?
But at the end of the day, Punk doesn’t need AEW. And, if we’re being honest, AEW doesn’t need him. They’d love to have him, sure, but they don’t need him.
And in his own words from this transcript (courtesy of Cageside Seats) from The Art of Wrestling:
And then I said, ‘Look, Vince, I told you that if I couldn’t be all that I could be … you should fire me.
Top of the heap or nothing. WWE isn’t in the cards. AEW isn’t in the cards.
CM Punk is not coming back. Let the man be.
All images courtesy of WWE