Does Professional Wrestling Still Need CM Punk?

All eyes are on All Out tonight and CM Punk's Starrcast III panel (live coverage here).

Since Punk made the announcement, plenty of fans and pundits have speculated about what this might mean for his future in the business. Is he just doing this as a way to get out and see the fans? Could AEW entice Mr. Pipe Bomb Promo to return full time? Does CM Punk even WANT to wrestle anymore, or is he more focused on and passionate about the broadcasting side of the biz?


Even AEW Executive VP Cody Rhodes has been fielding questions about what Punk's future holds.

But this event, and Punk's possible return, also a chance for us fans to check ourselves.

Many of us are (or at least were) CM Punk fans because of what he meant to professional wrestling in the late-aughts and early-2010's. During a wrestling period bereft of other unique, technically-focused, attitude-driven stars, Punk shined bright. He seemed like the exact kind of guy that PG-era suits would hate – tattooed, opinionated, deeply-principled, incredibly gifted, and organically-grown. And while it took a few years for Punk's WWE career to get off the canvas, his everyman persona parlayed him into multiple feuds that spotlighted him as "one of us." He was just a fan. And it couldn't be a coincidence Punk wore that Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt the night he cut his infamous Pipe Bomb promo? could it?


While Punk would later claim the Austin shirt was mere happenstance, the promos that followed were not. Main event outings against John Cena, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and (yes) The Rock followed. A record-breaking 434-day WWE Championship run proved Vince McMahon thought highly of the straight-edge savior.
And so the night after 2014's Royal Rumble, when Punk walked away from Pro Wrestling for good*, the CM Punk fans among us were crushed.

*Yes, Punk made one pro wrestling appearance earlier in 2019. No, it doesn't count.

I've gone back and forth about Punk leaving like he did and whether or not it was justified. Here's what I'll say over five years later – it really doesn't matter anymore. The WWE machine kept moving, fans kept watching, wrestlers kept wrestling, and Punk got the break (and relief) that had eluded him for many, many years. Everything is A-OK? mostly.

But the difference between now and then is that now, in 2019, the Professional Wrestling industry has an entirely different outlook.

Perhaps we should also thank CM Punk for this. The night after he left, Daniel Bryan's "Yes! movement" took off in full. So even though fans lost a guy who felt like theirs, he was quickly replaced on the roster by WWE's ultimate underdog – a story that culminated in one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time, and helped cement Bryan's status as a WWE main-eventer.


Also in 2014, the WWE Network launched. While that by itself isn't interesting (and might also be partially to blame for Punk's walk-out), along with the launch of the network came a bigger spotlight on WWE's developmental brand, NXT, starting with NXT ArRIVAL. This critically-praised event aired in February 2014 and showcased a less sports-entertainment-y version of WWE to a much wider audience.

And since 2014 we've seen Ring of Honor gain steam, NJPW slowly move into the United States market, NWA hire Billy Corban and make meaningful moves, Lucha Underground come (and go?), and – most importantly – All Elite Wrestling rise. That final culminating event (which, really, will culminate with the launch of AEW weekly TV on October 2nd) is perhaps the most telling reason that fans needn't worry about Punk's "will he/won't he?" on returning to professional wrestling.

Here's the truth: CM Punk represented a certain class of mid-2000's professional wrestlers who made their names on the then mostly-unknown indie circuit and carried that cred into bigger promotions (at the time WWE and TNA). That elite group (including Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and others) now mostly work for WWE – but also, that group is quickly being replaced by a group of 2010's athletic dynamos who followed that blueprint to a tee, while also understanding the key to standing out now is never selling out. So they've all opted to stay on the independent circuit (slash return to it after brief WWE runs), and eventually sign with AEW.


Punk paved the path, and others have since followed. Or, said differently: Punk told the next generation "it's ok to color outside the lines," and the wrestling business followed.

But it also stands to reason, then, that CM Punk doesn't belong in a place like AEW – a hitherto unproven entity with only a few (albeit hugely) successful events under its belt. He belongs alongside his 2000's stablemates on RAW or SmackDown, finally cashing in on his legendary status with some substantial part-time paydays. Does Punk's passion for the business even exists much beyond that? AEW is a young hungry group ready for war, while Punk is enjoying his Chicago Summer.

And while there are definitely some dream matchups to be had, CM Punk once stood out because his in-ring style AND authentic persona were both so unique. Almost every personality aspect has since been co-opted by indie wrestler #315, so what does Punk gain by going in to and showing these young guns how it was "back in his day?" They already know. They took it from him.

Besides, Punk has plenty outside the world of Professional wrestling. Say what you will about his two lackluster UFC fights, at least he went out and did the damn thing. But he's also written a few comics, done commentary for Cage Fury Fighting Championships, and recently made his acting debut in the new horror film The Girl on the Third Floor (with critics calling Punk "energetic and charismatic" and saying he "nails it.").


Most of all, by being so worried about CM Punk returning for one more match, we've lost sight of the fact that he's (finally!) returned for one more wrestling-related appearance – a sort of victory lap for his contributions to the biz. As fans of both the sport and CM Punk himself, maybe we should appreciate how special that truly is.