Never say Never!Charles Dickens
These three little words have been said over and over again in the wrestling business because there are no truer words that can ever be said. I never thought when I wrote about CM Punk’s return to the wrestling business for AEW, that a little more than two years later I would be talking about CM Punk possibly returning home to WWE after being fired by AEW.
The Meteoric Rise & Fall Of CM Punk’s AEW Run:
CM Punk’s return to wrestling did not go how anyone expected and I don’t think anyone expected the complete crash and burn of the relationship between CM Punk and Tony Khan in just two short years. We got some amazing moments like Punk’s return and of course his phenomenal feud with MJF, but those moments would be overshadowed by a dark cloud.
How do you go from appearing to be best friends sharing a laugh to a completely toxic relationship in just one year’s time? The media scrum after AEW All Out 2022 was without a doubt the wildest real-life disaster that I have ever witnessed in the world of professional wrestling. I wrote at the time it was an embarrassment for AEW and Tony Khan and CM Punk appeared to be out of control. After this disaster, Punk was stripped of the AEW World Title and was down with an injury. Rumors began to swirl that Tony Khan was considering firing or possibly considering a buyout of CM Punk’s contract.
None of these things ended up happening, however, this past June the wrestling world was going to be graced by CM Punk’s presence in AEW once again. I wrote at the time this could either be something really special or a car crash. Even as I wrote that, I was trying to be optimistic, as a wrestling fan I wanted this return to work but had privately told fellow Wrestling Republic members I thought this wasn’t going to work for long considering as far as we knew that Punk and the Elite never made peace over the issues that caused the infamous press conference meltdown almost 9 months earlier.
When Tony Khan brought CM Punk into the company, he had to know that the man was a lightning rod of controversy. When you bring CM Punk into the company you have to be aware that you are going to get both good and bad with him. He had a hell of a run in WWE, but we all know that the relationship between the two ended on an incredibly sour note. The fact his relationship and run with WWE lasted more than four times as long than his AEW run is unbelievable. Roman Reigns’ WWE Universal Championship reign has lasted longer than Punk’s AEW run.
I have often said when asked if I’m a CM Punk fan, that yes, I love the CM Punk character, but I am honestly unsure if I’d be a fan of Phil Brooks if I met him. Phil Brooks is not the easiest guy to get along with as people have said over the years. Even though I don’t know him personally, I do think he came into AEW for the right reasons besides just a big payday. I think Punk came back because he truly did miss the business and he saw AEW had a strong financial backing and presence that he wouldn’t be wasting his time in returning to a minor league promotion. I think he wanted to give back to the young talent in this business and the most obvious is that he probably viewed this as a FU to WWE. Revenge is a hell of a motivator and what better way than going to your biggest competitor.
I think if the rumors and stories are true that there were those in AEW that really never wanted Punk there in the first place. There was a lot of instigations both on and off screen in AEW based on what has been reported or rumored that there is no shock that this was destined to fail.
He supposedly tried to meet with the Elite to make peace, but the meeting was canceled by the Elite allegedly if the rumors are true. Punk realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t wanted by the Elite and those that fall into their camp, which makes it incredibly difficult to help an organization full of young talent that refuse to listen to guidance from someone that has been on top of this business unlike the majority of the AEW locker room.
I think Punk wanted to give advice to the young talent, but it seems that the talent didn’t want his help. When you are mad at someone for advising you against using real glass in your match for your own safety, you need to look in a mirror and realize that you are the one wrong, but instead you take a dig at the guy on live PPV on AEW’s biggest show ever.
Egos and maturity and fights for power behind the scenes ultimately led to the end of this run that had so much potential. Make no mistake, Phil Brooks is responsible for his own actions, but in my opinion the instigators and lack of true leadership is what ultimately helped cause this almost self-destruction of a run.
Is A WWE Return For CM Punk Even Possible?
Anything is possible in the world of professional wrestling as far as returns go, as long as you aren’t 6 feet under there is always a chance. At the end of the day, it is a business, and the purpose of any business is to make money. Say whatever you want about CM Punk’s AEW run, but at the end of the day he sold a ton of merchandise and brought more eyeballs to the AEW product than any other free agent signing.
I know the constant argument is that Punk has such bad blood with Vince McMahon and Triple H and possibly many members of the WWE locker room. All of these things are true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that doing business together is completely off the table.
CM Punk bad mouthed the company and these people and was involved in a lawsuit with WWE’s doctor, so have a lot of others and WWE still brought them back. Goldberg buried the company for years; Ultimate Warrior bad mouthed and sued multiple times; Hulk Hogan jumped to WCW and testified at a steroid trial; and Bret Hart bad mouthed the company and punched Vince in the face. Guess what? They were all eventually welcomed back with open arms. You know why? Because all the parties involved allowed time to heal the wounds and saw an opportunity to make a lot of money together.
Say whatever you want about Vince McMahon, the man can put personal issues aside with a performer if the good outweighs the bad. Shawn Michaels certainly gave Vince a lot of headaches back in the day but for Vince, Shawn’s positives outweighed his negatives. Every talent that WWE or any other company signs and puts on their show is an investment. They are like stocks, and they want them all to pay off. Some stocks are riskier than others, so as an investor you have to weigh whether or not the risk is worth the reward, because if that riskier stock pays off it can be huge.
In a lot of weighs, CM Punk maybe the riskiest stock on the market. Triple H has been in the business a long time and learned the business side from Vince McMahon and has been able to mend the fences with Bruno Sammartino, Ultimate Warrior and Goldberg all men that had issues with the company for years.
It was reported CM Punk popped up backstage when WWE was in Chicago prior to his AEW return in June, allegedly he wanted to talk to Triple H possibly to mend fences as he reportedly did with the Miz that same day. CM Punk is not an idiot and knows he doesn’t have to like someone to make money with them.
Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, Edge and Matt Hardy are all individuals that had legitimate heat with one another for a variety of reasons, but they all put that aside in WWE because at the end of the day they knew they could make a lot of money together using that real life heat. AEW and the Elite’s biggest loss was not being able to take that real life issues with Punk and find a way to make money with it.
Corporately I do believe Vince McMahon, Triple H and Nick Khan would all be open to a CM Punk return if they are getting a motivated and humbled CM Punk that is willing to put their past issues aside and make some money together. Keep in mind the future owners of WWE, Endeavor, also have history with CM Punk during his short UFC stint. He was literally signed by the UFC just because of his name value and not because of his fighting ability, which is something that they never do. They saw the value in the CM Punk brand and still include him in video games despite him losing both of his fights in the UFC.
Another thing to keep in mind that WWE is in the process of negotiating new TV contracts for their programming and signing a major name like CM Punk even for a potential limited capacity is definitely something that can help in those negotiations as he is a well-known name. Fox is certainly familiar with him as he was under contract with them for WWE Backstage and were rumored to be annoyed AEW signed him, and WWE didn’t. So, signing CM Punk could certainly help WWE with a TV deal as well. This is the first TV deal of the Endeavor era, so WWE management will definitely want to make the new owners happy with a great TV deal.
As far as the locker room is concerned, there will be talent that will refuse to work with him because of issues either they personally have with him or perhaps friends of theirs in the industry have with him or even just based on his reputation. However, I think there are a lot of smart talent in that locker room that know that working a program with Punk could be a huge payday for them and could help elevate them in both the office’s eyes and the fans eyes especially the young talent that grew up watching Punk before they got into the business. Punk may even be the reason that they got into the business in the first place.
Short term assuming there is no non-compete is to maybe just do the one last WrestleMania run in ring type contract that is only for a few months and includes a separate legend’s deal for longer so WWE can do all the merchandise stuff, HOF induction, occasional appearances and documentaries etc. This could be a trial run before you consider an Edge type contract with him. A full-time return is likely not something either side would want due to their past issues and burn out from both sides.
Long term what I am proposing is that WWE sign CM Punk to a unique type of contract, instead of the standard three-year deal that could end badly for all parties involved, I’m suggesting something like a 6-month contract with six 6-month options that must be mutually agreed upon prior to the option being exercised. This contract can be something similar to what Edge had where he’d come in for a short program and then get time off. This can help prevent both parties from getting sick of each other. Young talent getting the rub from working a program with Punk could be huge for them and Punk working major programs with the top talent of today could be a financial benefit to all involved. Making Punk a special attraction like a Brock Lesnar or Goldberg or Edge, is the smart option here for everyone involved.
I know what you may be thinking what will make this run end any differently than his AEW run? Well WWE has one gigantic thing that AEW never had and that simply is the CM Punk whisperer himself:
Paul Heyman, who has been an on and off-screen mentor to Punk for years. Paul pushed for CM Punk to be a part of the WWE re-launch of ECW and has been an advocate for Punk both on and off screen. Over the years Heyman has built a presumably great working relationship with Vince McMahon and Triple H, so Heyman could be that perfect middleman that can be the go between the all the parties. It wouldn’t shock me if things aren’t already being discussed with Paul Heyman from either side or both. Punk has likely remained quite since the firing either for legal reasons or he is waiting to unload a pipe bomb in a WWE ring in my opinion.
If I’m WWE I’m assigning Paul Heyman as his handler, this will ensure that this run even if it is only for one last mania run is as smooth as possible for all parties involved.
For those that say WWE doesn’t want one last Punk run, keep in mind that this is the 40th WrestleMania coming up, in one of WWE’s hottest markets, Philadelphia, a city that was arguably their second home outside of New York City during their territory days and lastly this will be the first WrestleMania under the ownership of Endeavor. So, if you don’t think they won’t go all out including bringing in the hottest free agent and a certified legend in the company’s history, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Why would Punk be interested in a WWE return? Other than financials which would be huge for him, I don’t think he wants his career to end on such a horrible note like a fight over glass backstage. His AEW run was certainly not what he wanted when he agreed to come back to wrestling two years ago. Just like his return in AEW could have been motivated by revenge against WWE, this WWE return can easily be motivated by revenge against AEW, Tony Khan and the Elite. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, I don’t like you, but I hate them more at the moment.
At the end of the day, like him or not, CM Punk defied the odds and made it in a business that he wasn’t supposed to because he didn’t conform or fit any expectations on what a wrestler was supposed to be. CM Punk carved out a legacy in this business and whether people want to admit it or not he is a legend that gave this business everything that he had. So, in my opinion is he deserves to go out on better terms than the nonsense that went down in AEW.
How I Would Book CM Punk’s WWE Return:
NOTE: Because we don’t know the status of whether Punk’s AEW termination for cause includes any non-compete language in it, this will be presented two different ways for his return both with a standard 90-day non-compete and with no non-compete language at all.
Has A Standard 90-Day Non-Compete:
Tony Khan announced CM Punk’s firing on September 3rd, so if that is the official day of his release than that would mean his non-compete wouldn’t expire until December 3rd if he has a 90-day non-compete. So, that would mean the ideal location for his return at WWE Survivor Series in his hometown, Chicago, is not a possible return location…well actually I think I know a way around this problem.
A non-compete means you can’t work for a competitor; it doesn’t mean you can’t go there as a fan. There is no difference between CM Punk going to a WWE show as a fan sitting at ringside than fellow Chicagoan, my Throwback Thursday and Sold Separately podcasting partner, WR’s own, Clark Taylor, sitting at ringside at AEW All Out. Granted unlike Clark helping Darby Allin during his match, I think you are in a more dangerous legal territory if fan CM Punk helps a wrestler up during a match.
I don’t know if it would be violating any non-compete if WWE comps him tickets since I’m not a lawyer (I only play one on the WR Daily Podcast), since they would be coming from the competitor. However, that doesn’t close the door, CM Punk is without question Mr. Chicago, he probably has a ton of connections with the Allstate Arena and people in Chicago in general and could easily get ringside tickets without them coming from WWE.
Another avenue is CM Punk is on Starz’s show, Heels, he could easily use that Hollywood connection to have his ringside ticket be promotion for the show and if they are a sponsor, WWE may even be able to refer to him as former WWE Champion and Heels star, CM Punk is here tonight. As a fan, WWE could easily show him on camera even if they aren’t allowed to actually mention him by name. You just let the fans do what they do best and mark out for him and create a social media buzz that he is WWE bound for a return once his non-compete is over.
All the dirt sheets will speculate if he is already sign, whether he violated his non-compete and if Tony Khan will sue. The truth is Tony Khan would have to prove that he is signed and being paid by WWE before the non-compete expired, but if he is just at the show as a fan and WWE hasn’t signed him or paid him, I don’t see Tony Khan winning.
Now that I have CM Punk in the arena, how I would play it out, this next part I believe you can get away with because I don’t see how this any different than Luchasaurus hissing at Clark at AEW All Out. I would have CM Punk at ringside with perhaps a hoodie and baseball cap on and the first match of the night is Roman Reigns defending the WWE Universal Undisputed Championship perhaps against Jimmy Uso for example. During the match, Paul Heyman does a complete double take like he has seen a ghost and says, “what the fuck are you doing here?”, have the camera catch Paul’s reaction including Paul dropping the F bomb but don’t show who Paul is talking to. Cut to a different angle and have Michael Cole apologize for Paul’s language and say something life clearly a member of the WWE Universe clearly rattled the wise man. Corey than goes that isn’t just any member Michael. Michael says, it sounds like this hot crowd here tonight are thinking the same thing that you are thinking Corey, at this point the crowd is chanting CM Punk.
At no point do you show CM Punk on camera or say that it is CM Punk. Maybe even let the camera catch security and Triple H at ringside talking to this “member” of the WWE universe, but we cannot see who it is watching from home. It needs to be Triple H and not Adam Pearce, because he is a storyline authority. For this to truly real special it needs to look and feel like this is a shoot. By not showing or naming CM Punk and having Triple H confront him it makes it feel like it is unscripted and not a part of the show. This needs to blur the lines so it doesn’t feel like a part of some storyline, as long as he is not shown on camera or called out by name, I think you can get away with it. Maybe even toss him out for creating a disturbance. Fans will whip out their phones and post that footage on social media. The fans will do WWE’s job for them, and I don’t believe this violates any non-compete.
Again, I am not a lawyer, but I think as a fan they can get away with it especially if you don’t show him or call him out by name. This will create its own buzz amongst the fans as cell phone videos will be all over social media and if I’m WWE I’d have the videos pulled from YouTube, so it gives the appearance that this is real, and WWE doesn’t want you to see it. Nothing helps make something must see like someone telling you can’t see it.
Perfect examples are the Star Wars Holiday Special and the 1994 Fantastic Four movie, they have cult like status in that fan base. The Star Wars Holiday Special only aired one time on CBS in between a New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but George Lucas hated it and demanded it never be shown again. The 1994 Fantastic Four movie was rumored to only be made so a studio could keep the film rights and was never intended to be released, but they didn’t tell anyone making the movie that. Both of these projects are pretty much sold as bootleg copies at every comic convention all over the world.
If WWE plays this right, they can make this feel taboo which will create a further buzz. Maybe even Punk tweets something like “new owners…same assholes running it”. Just something simple like that to create a buzz.
You can really do the one I suggested above with the non-compete, but you wouldn’t have to worry about crossing any lines like you could have Michael Cole it appears Phil Brooks or as fans know him, former WWE Champion, CM Punk is creating a disturbance at ringside. Corey says something like “he doesn’t even work here anymore.” You have him get kicked out at Survivor Series.
The next night on Raw, during a match with low tier guys, CM Punk pulls a Scott Hall returning to WCW on Nitro moment. He enters the ring interrupting the match and cuts the iconic, “you know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here.” However, I would add one more twist to this line, CM Punk has a bag with him. So, Punk says, “You damn well who I am, you know exactly what is in this bag, I’m the real World’s Champion, but you don’t know why I’m here.”
Punk is a student of the business and loves to pay homage to legends of the past. As we detailed on last night’s WR Daily Podcast – Throwback Thursday, in August 1991, while he was still the NWA World Champion, he made his WWF debut with the infamous Big Gold belt. In Flair’s case, WCW utilized the NWA World Championship as their world title and WCW fired Flair, but the NWA required all their champions put down a $25K security deposit and they failed to refund Flair the money so legally he was free to take the belt to WWF until they gave him his money back.
In CM Punk’s case, there is no way they can actually show the belt or even say it is the AEW World Championship because it is trademarked, and WWE and Punk would be massively sued. However, there is no trademark that can prevent CM Punk from calling himself a real world champion and implying that the belt is in the bag.
When I revealed this idea during a recording for Take It To The Table, Clark thought he knew where I was going with this as he said you are going to make him Alundra Blayze this aren’t you? I laughed and said oh no there is an even better option here. Obviously, WWF was on the other end of the Alundra Blayze incident when they fired her while their reigning Women’s Champion and didn’t even bother asking for the belt back, and she ends up signing with WCW and throwing the WWF Women’s title belt in the trash.
One of the biggest mistakes that Tony Khan made was after Brawl Out is that he stripped Punk of the AEW World title but when he returned to AEW, he allowed Punk to pull out the world title and claiming to be the real champion. The mistake was that no one knew how long Punk would last in AEW after everything that went down so the smart play was to have had Punk vs MJF to determine the undisputed AEW World Champion as the main event of the first AEW Collision. That way if Punk only lasted one night at least you paid this off and resolved it.
I get the argument well he wasn’t the real AEW World Champion because Tony stripped him of the title, however, Tony opened up a pandora’s box here by not only allowing Punk to call himself the real world champion, but also allowing him to defend the title. It was deemed unofficial however, they created a graphic for it, promoted the All In match as a “real” world championship match. The performance that Punk and Samoa Joe put on in front of 80K fans showed heart and passion and they treated it like a world title bout and so did the fans. There is no difference between the world title MJF and CM Punk as it is commonly pointed out no one actually wins these titles it is all pre-determined.
The point is by allowing Punk to create this “dispute” in the lineage of the AEW World title without a unification match the dispute cannot be resolved in AEW. What is Tony going to do strip Punk again of a title that he said isn’t officially recognized?
Any way back to the ring, Triple H comes down with security and no music to play off this isn’t a storyline.
Punk says on the mic, oh look here comes the dufus son-in-law again to throw me out.
Triple H trying to maintain his professionalism, says I told you last night you’re not welcome here.
Punk: I was never welcomed here that’s why I left here almost a decade ago.
HHH: I told you then and still holds true, you only care about yourself Punk, so I’m going to ask you nicely one more time take that bag of yours and whatever worthless trinket you have in there and get out of here.
Punk: You know I hate the corporate version of you…oh who am I kidding I hate all versions of you. You know I don’t even want to be here but…
HHH: If you don’t want to be here, then leave and go back to…oh that’s right you aren’t welcomed there either. You made it a hostile work environment, and everyone felt unsafe, isn’t that, right?
Punk smirks: Yeah, I’ll give you that one, but before you cut me off, I was going to say as much as I hate you and the old man, I hate them more and I have a proposition for you…
HHH: Punk I’m retired I’m not going to fight you…
Punk: Are you insane? I didn’t want a match with you ten years ago and that was before you almost kicked the bucket before the old man. That old man will outlive both of us. Anyway, I want to put what is in this bag up against Roman Reigns WWE Undisputed Universal Championship.
HHH: I’ll think about it, but for now you need to get out of here.
Punk: Maybe you aren’t such a dufus
Punk is escorted out by security, and he blows the infamous kiss to Triple H like he did to Vince at MITB.
Roman has said he would be willing to work with Punk and considering Punk saying his job was to make Roman long strong when he left the company. I can’t imagine Roman doesn’t want to get some stiff shots in on Punk. Roman is significantly better than when Punk left ten years ago. Punk may have even been signaling as he left AEW All In after his match that he wanted to wrestle Roman as he exited in a similar fashion as Roman with the title over his shoulder and one finger pointed up.
Smackdown opens up with the Tribal Chief asking the wise man what is that all about from Raw. Paul is stuttering that he has no idea. Roman is said this is the second time one of your former clients have come for me Paul and you know I don’t condone betrayal. Paul pleads with Roman that he is not in contact with Punk.
Roman says I believe you wise man, but you are going to tell your former client I’ll take his offer to defeat another world champion. Tell him he won’t have to make me look strong I’ll destroy him, and he’ll wish I put him through a windshield.
Leading up to it, it can be verbal duels between Punk and Heyman/Roman. Punk can do what he does best and play mind games throwing seeds of doubt into Roman’s head on the loyalty of Solo and Heyman. Heyman can beg Punk to back out and that he genuinely cares about his safety against the tribal chief.
I would book this match to take place at the Royal Rumble. This would be fitting that Punk’s first WWE match is ten years later at the same event that his last match took place Roman has to defeat Punk because you cannot have Roman lose the title before WM 40 to Cody Rhodes. This needs to be a hard hitting back and forth match that gives the appearance that Punk may actually be able to pull this off.
By Roman winning this match in a weird way he is merging the AEW World title with the WWE Championship and there is nothing that Tony Khan can really do about it as long as they never show the title or reference as the AEW World title. Implied yes but AEW opened up this scenario, creating a dispute and illegitimacy to their own world title that MJF holds in some fan’s eyes. It is a much more devastating move for Punk to do this and it is a total FU that Punk and WWE would be open to pulling off. Punk agreeing to do the job for Roman is a humbling move to test how Punk will handle it and to willingly lose to a locker room leader like Roman it will send a message to the locker room.
Road To WrestleMania 40:
Who to put Punk against at WrestleMania is tricky because I think his return hinges on him getting the one thing that he always wanted and never got that being a WrestleMania main event. So that will require him to face a major name, but a lot of them are either believed to be booked like Roman and Cody and others aren’t exactly super interested in working with him.
Kevin Owens name has been floated but considering his own issues he had with Punk in ROH and his close ties to the Young Bucks, he is probably not eager to work with him and if he does, he really wouldn’t want to do the job for him.
Seth Rollins has also publicly buried Punk and called him a cancer. He certainly wouldn’t want to do the job and drop his world title to Punk. Seth didn’t seem like he was super thrilled about doing the job for former AEW EVP, Cody Rhodes and to the best of my knowledge he had no heat with him prior, but he does appear to have issues with Phil Brooks.
So, the only options are either a younger talent that doesn’t have a toxic view of CM Punk, but it has to be a big enough name that would warrant a main event match. Punk may not be interested in taking two straight PPV loses if this is his one and only run. A younger talent like a Finn Balor could certainly use the rub and doesn’t seem to have a problem jobbing based on his win-loss record.
However, there are two names from Punk’s past that I think he’d be willing to work with and possibly even lose to and would be marquee match ups that would warrant a main event spot of Night 1.
John Cena – One Last Time
There is a certain irony that Punk dropped his pipebomb in a feud with Cena. These men went to war with one another and there is no question that Cena is Punk’s greatest WWE rival and Punk is one of Cena’s greatest rivals outside of probably Edge. Cena is someone that Punk may be okay with losing to and Cena may be okay losing to him. If it is both men’s last matches, I think they would be okay with this being the match.
Stone Cold Steve Austin – Dream Match
There is no doubt in my mind that if WWE only was willing to gamble on bringing in Punk for one more match and there is only one match, they could offer him that he’d accept it is Austin. We have all seen the photo of a teenage Punk taking a picture with Stone Cold. Punk has openly said that Austin is the dream match for him. They even teased it as part of promotion for a video game many years ago now. Austin has said he actually likes CM Punk and since Austin has comeback for one more match already the door is now open for this dream match to finally happen.
Austin has history in Philadelphia as he main evented WrestleMania 15 with the Rock and it will be the 25th anniversary of that match in 2024. Punk has significant history here as well even living there for a short time during his ROH days running the school.
So, if there is any other place outside of Chicago that would be like a second home for him it would be Philly. A South Philly Street Fight between Punk and Austin could be absolutely amazing. Punk is one of those talents that could certainly work around Austin’s limits and bump all over for him and would love doing it.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of fantasy booking. I tried to create something compelling and realistic as well. It had to feel real and plausible that this could actually happen. Punk can obviously work with and pick up wins or even put younger talent over on his way to Mania if he wants to.
For a young talent to be in a match or program with Punk it instantly boosts their stock and Punk will make them look good. Punk knows how to make talent and they will be elevated for being in the ring with him.
Punk’s legacy deserves to be remembered for the good and not ridiculous nonsense, but the ball is in Punk’s court to help make that happen now. I for one cannot wait to see what Punk does next and hope that his last moments in wrestling weren’t how his AEW run ended. Hopefully one last WWE run can end his career on a high note no matter whether it’s a short Mania run or possibly longer.
Ten years have been long enough it is time to return to WWE and end your career on the biggest stage.