The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
For the past five years, every few months CM Punk's name pops up as someone or something suggests that he may one day, return to professional wrestling. Even though it has been more than half a decade since Punk originally departed WWE, he still holds a level of mystique to wrestling fans that believe one day one of the most popular wrestlers of the last 15 years would return to the industry
Last weekend, a story broke that indicated that Punk had in fact, returned to professional wrestling. He did it under a mask at an indie show in Wisconsin, doing a quick run-in and hitting a Go To Sleep on another wrestler before leaving the ring and exiting the building.
While Punk himself hasn't confirmed that this masked figure was actually himself, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that it was him, including wrestlers who were on the show claiming that it was Punk, that the masked figure was wearing the same sweatshirt Punk was photographed wearing earlier that day, and that Punk has said in the past if he were to return to pro wrestling, it would be under a mask and nobody would know it was him.
Punk doing a quick run-in at an indie show isn't really an indicator that he is coming back to WWE, or another major promotion anytime soon. Punk has been adamant in the past that he isn't interested in returning to professional wrestling and is happy pursuing his other athletic or artistic goals, whether that is practicing MMA, acting, or working on comic books. He left the WWE under horrible terms, to say the least, and while anything is possible and you never say never, it would be very surprising to see him return to WWE.
What if Punk did return though? What kind of impact would that have and how would fans react? I'm not expecting Punk to show up anytime soon, but his little appearance last weekend did get people talking again about a potential Punk return.
Fans seem to be split on Punk. Some fans really want to see him return to wrestling; he was extremely popular and arguably has only become more intriguing during his absence from the business. He's always been a super-talent, a very intelligent worker inside the ring and one of the best talkers in recent wrestling history, with a special level of charisma that made him at one time the most popular wrestler in the world.
Other fans though, find Punk to a bitter man who flamed out of WWE and has only had negative things to say about wrestling since he left. Some fans have taken delight in his very public failings in UFC, and his ugly lawsuit with WWE doctor Chris Amann that has fractured his long-time friendship with Colt Cabana. Punk hasn't gone out of his way to make himself Mr. Congeniality since leaving WWE, and although he isn't obligated to appease fans, there is no denying his attitude towards wrestling has rubbed some fans the wrong way.
Even fans disenfranchised with Punk's act would have to admit that if Punk's music were to hit on an episode of RAW, it would be an intriguing moment for wrestling. Since almost every former wrestler is still connected to the business in some way or another, there isn't really anyone else out there like CM Punk; someone who was extremely popular who just quit not just WWE, but the entire wrestling business and hasn't (officially) returned.
How big of an impact could Punk have in WWE? I'm not sure; he was a really popular wrestler in his prime and his first appearance/match back in WWE would certainly draw some buzz and pop a rating, but even when he was in his prime he was never that enormous of a draw, the way Steve Austin or The Rock were. The intrigue for his return would carry him a certain distance, but his presence on WWE programming wouldn't wave a magic wand and solve WWE's viewership decline. WWE has a ridiculous amount of money and could offer Punk an insane offer, but would his impact on WWE business be able to justify a giant contract?
That is all disregarding the elephant in the room, that WWE and Punk are still likely on terrible terms despite his five year absence. Last year it was widely believed that WWE was backing their employee, Chris Amann, in his lawsuit against Punk and Cabana, a legal battle that cost Punk an enormous amount of money and destroyed his relationship with Cabana. It's not clear if any of the issues that led to Punk's departure from WWE; problems with creative, improper medical care and poor payoffs, have been resolved within the company since he left.
Perhaps more interesting would be if Punk returned to wrestling for another promotion, particularly AEW. Punk could have a far greater impact in AEW than WWE; even if he were to return to WWE he would just be another major mainstream name alongside John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, etc. In AEW he would be a major signing, a proven draw on a major scale and a TV star with mainstream notoriety. His presence would increase the credibility of the promotion and greatly aid the company as it looks to establish itself as a true competitor to WWE.
All that being said, I don't expect to see Punk back wrestling for WWE, AEW, or any other major promotion. He appears to be very happy pursuing his different goals and I think fans need to accept that.
I think Punk's departure was so shocking because he left in the prime of his career. Wrestling fans are naturally conditioned to expect the performers to wrestle for as long as they are physically capable, and often even when they are not. Whether it was Ric Flair, Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Roddy Piper, or a million other examples, the legendary wrestlers have all worked for as long as they possibly could. Punk walked away from wrestling when he was still very capable, and that is very unusual for a star of his caliber with the opportunity to make a lot more money. Because he retired early, without any major injury, it makes his potential return more intriguing because fans believe that he can still perform at a high level.
Punk though, doesn't owe fans anything. He gave 15 years of his life to professional wrestling and risked his health countless times to entertain the fans, the fact that he can still walk relatively pain-free and still remember what he had for breakfast this morning should not be held against him. As a fan of Punk, the only thing I can wish for him is that he is happy with whatever he is doing now; if he decides that he wants to wrestle that would be awesome, but if he decides he never wants to perform again, that is okay too.
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