On a recent episode of "Shooting Blanks Wrestling Report" with Wrestling Inc. President Raj Giri on the Conversation with the Big Guy Ryback podcast, Ryback gave his thoughts on the possibility of CM Punk returning to professional wrestling. This comes after news broke that CM Punk had apparently asked for an "astronomical" amount of money to come into All Elite Wrestling.
"He has a large fanbase. He did have a large fanbase," Ryback said. "Things didn't go ideal for him, and that's life, but I think, and I said it, too - there's still money in CM Punk in pro wrestling. Particularly, I think, as a heel at first. I truly think that's the best way to have him come back and get heat.
"Rather than have him come back and be that big babyface. That's a little harder sell, in my opinion. At least right away. Even though, I think that people will accept him."
As a fan of professional wrestling, you may know that contracts are a murky subject in the business. A lot has been made about the "independent contractor" status that performers work under, especially when it comes to WWE. Ryback went at it from another angle, ignoring the performer's designation.
Instead, he focused on how an incentive based contract could have been the key to signing CM Punk.
"I'm curious, and I actually said this to WWE," Ryback said. "I believe in contracts in wrestling, and I actually pitched this, I remember, to Jane Geddes when my first contract, when I was red hot and I said- Cause I wanted a certain level of money and they always try to get you for as low as they can. I go, 'let's make it incentive based, based off my performance.' You know, like in the NFL, they put things like, 'if you rush for this amount of yards, you get bonuses essentially.
"I'm always fascinated that wrestling, and again, it's entertainment. Scripted. But I still believe there's a way to do it, where you have a more incentive based contract. Where if you are bringing in numbers, you get paid adequately for it because you're making the company more money. I think with someone like Punk and the level of money he was making at WWE at the time, and that he probably has an even greater number in his head. To them, a lot of time has passed now and mentally going through that with the fighting. They don't- Who knows truly what the interest level is?"
As AEW got closer and closer to a reality, they were set to be the alternative to WWE and make things better for all those who love wrestling. These themes and ideals were all on display in a big way during Punk's "Pipe bomb" speech. It seemed CM Punk would have been an absolutely perfect piece of the puzzle for AEW, but for one reason or another, it was not to be.
"I think Cody, too, what he was saying, is how hungry is Punk," said Ryback. "As far as, he's achieved a lot in pro wrestling. Pretty much anything that you would want to do. I don't know with his age, and he's not old by any means, but what's his mindset? I think, to me, that's the most important thing. I think the mindset part is important. Are you coming in there and do you want to be a part of change?
"Do you want to be a part of making wrestling better for everybody? And I think that's the mindset you need to have to go to AEW. To a degree, with what they're doing. Everything with Punk and people talk about his pipe bomb promo - that was all for him. Speaking up about things, it was very for Punk, and get as much money - and I get it and I understand it. That's pro wrestling. Right now, with AEW and everything they're doing, I think it's about change for pro wrestling and I would love it.
"I think Punk going there would be absolutely fantastic for them to get a name like him to go over there."
Back in the WCW days, there would have been a Brink's truck backed up to CM Punk's door to get him to sign. That was largely how things were done back then. They had the money to spend, so exorbitant amounts were thrown around to lock down talent. It's become clear that Tony Khan won't be repeating those same mistakes.
However, an incentive based contract could have made up the difference when trying to sign someone like CM Punk.
"Again, it's going to come down to, if the money's out of line, and I don't know what he's asking for," noted Ryback. "But if they're thinking more along the lines of a million dollars a year and he's thinking four or five. They're drastically apart on that. So that's where I was getting at, where you come up with an incentive based deal that if he comes in there and kicks ass and the interest level's really high. Well, have some bonuses in place and both sides win, cause they're making the money then. They're not losing anything. It's not like, 'here's five million, we're going to WCW this.' Also, too, a lot of people are driven and I know, for me, I'm very money driven.
"You tell anybody, if you do this, you're going to get an extra million dollars, that's a great way to get work out of people. I've always thought that with wrestling. I think there needs to be bonuses included in the contracts."
Professional wrestling is constantly evolving. Streaming services like WWE Network, Impact+, IWTV, and more have changed up the pay structure from the top of the business to the bottom. Bonuses in contracts would be a consistent motivator and it would allow guys lower on the card to potentially make more money.
"You tell a guy," Ryback continued on. "If you make us over a million dollars in shirts this year, we're going to kick in another ten percent bonus. Well, guess what? That guy's probably going to promote the f--k out of his shirts on social media. The company's going to make more money, regardless. I really think there's something to that in the contracts. It doesn't have to be difficult."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Conversation with the Big Guy Ryback with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.