“Doesn’t matter how good you try to be. Doesn’t matter how you try to be. Somehow, Someway, you’ll ALWAYS be the asshole in someone’s story. Don’t waste mental equity on what you can’t understand. Control what you can control. Live the best life you can live.”Unknown
In a few short hours CM Punk is making his AEW return after almost 9 months, however this return is certainly more divisive than his return the first time around. When CM Punk returned to professional wrestling in August 2021 after a 7-year absence I wrote a piece, the general consensus was the majority of fans were fully behind CM Punk. Fans had chanted his name for years in arenas for all 7-years that he was gone especially in his hometown of Chicago. In the majority of fans eyes, Punk was forced out of the industry as his passion was destroyed by the “evil empire” WWE. So, there is no surprise when AEW casted itself as the alternative to WWE, that fans began hoping their voice of the voiceless would be the face of the new promotion.
It took time, but eventually Punk would give the fans what they wanted when he returned to once again drop pipebombs. The fans in his hometown welcomed their prodigal son home to the wrestling ring and were fully on board with everything he had to say. It wasn’t just the fans in Chicago that were fully on board with his return, as his return resulted in PWT site crashing due to the demand of his AEW debut shirt. I remember ordering that shirt and being part of that historic return. WR’s Clark Taylor was actually there in his hometown to watch his fellow Chicagoan make his return and he told me it was more electric than it even appeared on TV. Everywhere Punk appeared he received a hero’s welcome as audiences everywhere were just happy to have him back in wrestling.
CM Punk’s Honeymoon Period Over:
However, that honeymoon period would only last about a year before it took a completely toxic turn that no one saw coming. It all stemmed from a seemingly innocent enough promo with Hangman Page, where Hangman Page allegedly went off script.
This kept escalating between Punk and Hangman and eventually Hangman’s friends, the Elite (Young Bucks and Kenny Omega). This would finally lead to the infamous Brawl Out press conference and the actual alleged backstage brawl with Punk, Ace Steel and the Elite. When this all went down, I wrote a piece on the whole situation, after the incident took place.
It put a complete black eye on the company in many fans’ eyes with a huge amount of that heat on CM Punk. There were numerous reports on what allegedly happened backstage which I will not get into here as none of it has been confirmed. Suspensions were given out, championships stripped from the parties allegedly involved and an internal investigation launched. Punk was also injured and would be away from the ring anyway no matter what the outcome of the investigation determined.
Rumors began to swirl that the locker room of AEW was either firmly opposed to CM Punk or at best divided into two camps either Team Punk or Team Elite. The fans were divided as well on who was truly at fault and for really the first time in his career Punk was either a face or heel depending on whether a fan thought he was at fault for Brawl Out.
There was talk of AEW washing their hands of the situation and were allegedly looking into buying Punk out of his contract. At the time, I gave my opinion on the alleged rumors of a buyout, my feeling at that time was that I was in favor of the buyout especially if all the parties involved could not find a way to turn the real-life issues into an angle so they could make money off it and the locker room was so allegedly anti-Punk it made sense to do the buyout.
Where We Are At Today With CM Punk:
Make no mistake about it, no one’s hands are truly clean in this situation but being able to turn this real-life situation into an angle could create compelling TV as they blur the lines and turn the drama into profits. The one thing that I said at that time and still holds true today is can all the parties involved put their egos aside and turn this into a angle by working together and as of this writing I’m still not convinced that the Elite and Punk can do business together.
Me and fellow Wrestling Republic Podcaster Clark Taylor, have discussed and debated this situation for months now both on and off air. Clark has been insisting since day one that Punk would return to AEW. I truly didn’t see it happening at first, but maintained as long as he is under a AEW contract there remains a chance. Once it became apparent that the buyout didn’t appear to be happening, my thought has been that the chances of a Punk return kept increasing. Then when talk of Collision happening and the first show being rumored to be taking place in once again his hometown of Chicago, it couldn’t be more obvious that Punk will be returning on that show.
However, once it was officially confirmed that Punk was returning, the reaction from the AEW fans was certainly not the reaction that the Elite received upon their return. Chicago had animosity towards the Elite because it is expected that they would side with Punk in this situation. However, elsewhere the Elite was bathed in cheers from the faithful. However, when Punk was confirmed, he was returning for Collision it received a mix reaction and when he appeared on this week’s Dynamite in a promo package:
How Do I Think This Will Or Should Go:
CM Punk is going to 100% get the hero’s return greeting from his hometown faithful, I have no doubts they will blow the roof off for him. However, outside of Chicago is the million-dollar question that only time will tell, but based on the limited information that we have witnessed with crowd reactions to Punk’s returning to AEW has generated it brings two things to mind for me.
Punk ironically could become AEW’s John Cena in that a portion of the crowd loves him and the other half hates him. It is ironic considering Cena was one of Punk’s career defining antagonists during his career. Punk is no longer a guaranteed instant pop wherever he goes, and he has now become polarizing both on and off screen in many people’s eyes.
This is one of the images that stays burned into my memory as John Cena the company’s top babyface went into hostile territory of the ECW faithful and the crowd literally threw his shirt back to him instead of accepting it. This happened in AEW before too as “babyface” Cody Rhodes threw his trademark weight belt into the crowd and they threw it back:
The reason I bring these two incidents up is because it is a reminder that just because a company wants to portray you as a babyface it does not mean the audience will go along with the script. Considering the way, they are portraying Punk in this return it appears that they want him to once again to appear to be the returning hero again. The match up setup for his return has him on the babyface side and interestingly it could be telling that everyone in this match is Punk’s real-life friends (FTR & Samoa Joe) and the other two men in this match have never worked with Punk before in AEW as they came in while he was gone. We still have no idea what the relations are with people such as Jericho or the Elite, who allegedly have had heat with Punk.
So, outside of Chicago how the response will be for Punk in my opinion can very much be a polarizing mixed response of cheers and boos. This is certainly not a death nail in regard to his chances on being able to help AEW. AEW and Punk both need to be prepared that the reaction may not be as welcoming outside of Chicago.
In my opinion, you can either wait by tasting out the crowd responses before making any changes to their plans for him if they are really intending to keep him a face or they could get ahead of it and take a page out of an old HOFamer’s playbook. Who’s playbook you may be asking…well none other than the man that Punk and FTR both love:
That’s right, Bret “Hitman” Hart, but not just any year out of his playbook, you’d have to use his 1997 playbook. Bret along with the members of his stable, The Hart Foundation did something truly unique that has never really been duplicated. In 1997, Bret Hart was a heel in the U.S., but everywhere outside the country he was a beloved babyface especially his home country of Canada.
CM Punk can absolutely replicate what Bret did in 1997, by maintaining his cult like status of a beloved hero of Chicago and a heel everywhere else. Punk could literally cut a pipebomb either in his debut or his very next week on the second week of Collision saying that only the fans of Chicago deserve my love as they are the real fans, not like you people in this “INSERT TOWN NAME” you aren’t real fans. Along with FTR they could be compelling group that will embrace the polarizing reaction of the crowds as those closer their hometowns will cheer them but everywhere else, they will get mixed reactions.
This can certainly help Punk as arguably his best work of his career was when he was a heel, and it will give a look and feel that AEW isn’t trying to essentially pretend like nothing happened and that Punk is still universally beloved by the fans. Even if Punk and the Elite never work together, at least this will give Punk a fresh start in his return and not just a repeat of his first run with the company.
I don’t know Phil Brooks, but there is no question no matter how difficult he may or may not be to deal with backstage, he knows how to make money in this business. I have no idea if this run with AEW will fare any better than his first run, but as a wrestling fan, I’m going to be on for the ride no matter what. This could be a car crash or a career resurrection, but no matter what it should be compelling TV and in the words of Eric Bischoff “controversy creates cash”. Whether Punk is able to replicate or exceed his former success will be just as interesting as what he does on camera.