CM Punk is back and the wrestling world can not stop talking about it since his return to AEW Rampage at the United Center. Many thought it would never be possible after Punk repeatedly dismissed the idea of ever returning to professional wrestling. When CM Punk joined WWE Backstage in 2019, he was on a deal with Fox to kind of analyze WWE programming in a way they do with the NFL post game shows. Everybody thought, including me, that this was going to be a catalyst to get Punk back in a WWE ring. Obviously, it wasn’t since he is now in AEW and scheduled to face Darby Allin at All Out.
I said a few weeks ago in another column where I thought the additions of CM Punk and Bryan Danielson would put AEW ratings wise. I was called a Punk hater, a WWE mark, a shill, among others. I decided to address my issues with CM Punk and then get to what he has provided AEW thus far.
Let me start off by saying, from 2009-2014, you would’ve had to look long and hard to find a bigger CM Punk mark than me. I followed him in ROH and even when he first debuted in WWE in 2006, but it was his heel turn and feud with Jeff Hardy in 2009 that really turned me to the Straight Edge Superstar. CM Punk was a lot like me once I started actually paying attention. He didn’t do drugs; he didn’t drink alcohol. He was the epitome of Straight Edge. I related to him as I didn’t do any of those things either and that is what you need in wrestling; Superstars an audience can relate to. CM Punk’s cashing in of his Money in the Bank briefcase on Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules 2009 and subsequent heel turn really catapulted him to the next level. I have always thought CM Punk was better as a heel. CM Punk’s career really took off, in my opinion, with his pipe bomb promo in 2011.
The promo he cut that night was what turned CM Punk from just a really great superstar to a Megastar. The Summer of Punk led to him beating John Cena not once but twice for the WWE Championship even though he still lost it to Alberto Del Rio at Summerslam 2011. His run was cut short by an unnecessary loss to Triple H at Night of Champions, but he regained momentum by defeating Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series 2011 and holding the title for 434 days. CM Punk had his ups and downs, but for the most part, he won just about everything there was to win in WWE until his departure in 2014. So why the sudden change in my feelings toward The Voice of the Voiceless?
It really boils down to the night after the Royal Rumble in 2014. CM Punk was scheduled to appear on Monday Night Raw to begin the build to what would be presumably a match at Wrestlemania 30 against Triple H. That match never happened because CM Punk walked out on the company. He took his ball and went home. It was at that exact moment in time that I was no longer a CM Punk mark. It was not because he left WWE. I firmly believe that if you are not happy, you should go and do something else. It is the way he left WWE that made me lose all respect for Phil Brooks the man. I know some will say “well what about Steve Austin walking out in 2002?” I felt the same way then, but at least Austin was man enough to come back and mend fences and even to this day he says he regrets that decision. CM Punk does not regret that decision. If you want to leave that’s fine. However, I believe that if you are under contract then you should honor that contract.
Look at Jon Moxley in 2019. He told WWE brass four months ahead of time that he was not re-signing once his deal was up. Moxley was unhappy and deservedly so. His creative wasn’t that good around this time. Even though Moxley knew he was leaving and knew that WWE would likely not have him win as much on the way out, he still stayed. Punk finished out his contract and then he joined AEW after having one last run with The Shield. It is how you’re supposed to honor your contract. Yes, WWE can fire you at any time so why honor your contract? Well If I stayed away from a job because an employer might fire me at some point, I’d be unemployed for a long time.
CM Punk had roughly six months left on his contract at the time he walked out in 2014. WWE gets a lot of flack for “firing” CM Punk on his wedding day, not even mentioning the fact that he walked out months earlier and breached his contract. I know CM Punk was hurt. I paid attention to the entire trial with WWE doctor Chris Amann. WWE should have handled that better, but let’s be honest here. CM Punk did not walk out because he was hurt. He said during his Rampage promo that he couldn’t heal mentally and physically in the same place he got sick in the first place. He worked the Royal Rumble. I’m not doubting he was hurt. I’m not even doubting WWE messed up in treating it. CM Punk did not show up the next night on Raw to ask Vince for time off and then quit when Vince said no. CM Punk showed up the next night on Raw to tell Vince he was going home because he was unhappy with his creative direction in WWE. He brought up the health issues in the Colt Cabana podcast and the lawsuit to try and add some justification to him leaving but he left because he was unhappy with creative. His health just added a convenient scapegoat. It worked out in the end because Punk leaving opened the door for Daniel Bryan to have his moment at Wrestlemania 30. CM Punk went on Colt Cabana’s podcast later that year to voice his frustrations. Punk buried Roman Reigns, The Miz, R-Truth, Ryback among others and continued to play himself as the victim and people rallied behind him. It’s easy to blame WWE for everything.
Punk complained that he wasn’t featured as much as he should have been. He was a solid #2 draw during his run, but he was never going to draw better than John Cena. Over the Limit 2012, which had CM Punk and Daniel Bryan on the undercard, was headlined by John Cena and Johnny Ace in the main event and drew 160,000 buys. To put it in perspective, AEW has never drawn more than 135,000 buys and every pay-per-view they’ve put on was better than that Over the Limit show. CM Punk wanted to main event Wrestlemania and maybe he should have. I would’ve had CM Punk main event Wrestlemania 28 as WWE Champion IF The Rock wasn’t on the card. You don’t put CM Punk in a match over The Rock versus John Cena. I would’ve had CM Punk main event Wrestlemania 29 with The Undertaker, except The Rock and John Cena were squaring off for the WWE Title. Punk always complained about part timers coming in and yet, they wouldn’t be needed if somebody other than John Cena was able to sell a pay-per-view. His issues with The Rock and John Cena were the genesis of his pipe bomb promo in the first place.
CM Punk diehard loyalists will say he was a top draw, but anybody who actually paid attention will say otherwise. He was a pretty good draw from Money in the Bank 2011 until shortly after Wrestlemania 2012. After that, the luster wore off significantly which is why he probably turned heel at Raw 1000 (July 2012). I have never doubted CM Punk’s in-ring ability. I’ll put him in the top 10 of the greatest all-around performers of all time in WWE. That doesn’t change the fact he was never a top draw. If he was, he would’ve main evented more during his title reign instead of John Cena. CM Punk has spent the better part of 7 years away and then he showed up at Starrcast in 2019 and talked about moving on. He wasn’t bitter anymore and people can watch what they want to watch. It gave me hope that Punk was finally done with his grudge against WWE. Then he showed up at AEW Rampage on August 20 and within the first 30 seconds of his debut promo, took his first shot at WWE. Then he took another shot in his Dynamite debut promo. Do I understand that he had to leave? Yes, I do. The way he left and the way he’s tried to justify why he left are what made me no longer a mark for CM Punk. You think CM Punk would’ve still walked out the next night on Raw if Vince had told him: “Okay pal, at Wrestlemania, you’re in the last match in a triple threat with Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan and you’re gonna win the WWE Title.” If your answer is “Yes,” then you probably need to step back and re-evaluate some things because you might be too delusional at this stage to even go back to being an impartial observer.
Let me be clear. The wrestling business is better with a talent like CM Punk in it. He does bring interest. Is he enough to bring back lapsed fans? I doubt it. Unless you watched WWE from 2006-2014, you probably are not familiar from a lapsed fan point of view. I’m not saying that CM Punk returning after 7 years is not going to increase interest in the AEW product, but CM Punk alone is not going to get them closer to Raw or Smackdown. He is not that kind of draw no matter how much people think he is. Bray Wyatt and Bryan Danielson joining AEW will not bring them closer to Raw or Smackdown either. People need to realize that just having good talent is not going to compete with WWE. TNA found that out the hard way.
TNA had about as stacked of a roster as you could have from 2005-2012. I would even say their roster was probably more stacked than WWE at the time. They were on a primetime television network that rivaled the USA Network in Spike TV, they had Kurt Angle, Sting, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Beer Money, Hulk Hogan, Jeff Hardy, Ric Flair, Booker T, Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Matt Hardy, Christian Cage, Scott Steiner, Bully Ray. They had basically an all-star roster and signed anybody with name value that they could. They were never serious competition because they did not know how to best utilize a majority of that talent and by 2013, they were a shell of their former selves. AEW has the advantage of being started by a Billionaire family with a son (Tony Khan) who genuinely loves wrestling. The Carters saw TNA as a business venture that they allowed Dixie to operate until it no longer became worth it. However, AEW needs to do a better job of utilizing these big talents they’re bringing in. CM Punk came in with a lot of fanfare, but so far his appearances have been lackluster.
CM Punk shows up on Rampage and, like I mentioned in my earlier column, gave AEW a momentary bump. Then he shows up on Dynamite and bumps them to 1.17 million viewers? That’s a good number don’t get me wrong but Rampage, a 1-hour show on Friday Night at 10:00, scored 1.16 million viewers. I saw dozens of people online predicting 1.3, 1.4, some even 1.5 million viewers. Granted, Punk is probably responsible for the 1.17 million, but is that the game changer everybody expected? Sure, he sold out the United Center in his hometown, but AEW dropped the ball debuting him on Rampage. Rampage got 420,000 extra viewers from their debut episode. Imagine that 420,000 on Dynamite next week. It would’ve put AEW up to about 1.4 million viewers and then we are talking game changer but they had to add intrigue to a Rampage show that already exceeded expectations on its debut episode. CM Punk did not have the highest drawing quarter-hour on Dynamite as well. Could the shine already be coming off? Who knows?
This week’s Dynamite, Rampage and All Out (all in Chicago) will tell a better story. If Dynamite stays the same or below last week’s numbers and All Out doesn’t eclipse 200,000 buys, then I think it’s safe to say CM Punk isn’t the game-changing draw everybody thought he would be. I was a huge CM Punk fan, but I never thought he was a draw at the level of The Rock or John Cena. Anybody who thought he was is sadly mistaken.
CM Punk is definitely bringing more interest to AEW, but this “I’m just happy to be here” CM Punk is going to grow old rather quickly. If he doesn’t say something else in his promos besides taking shots at WWE and pandering to the crowd, more and more people are going to not watch his segments. CM Punk needs to turn up the heat after his feud with Darby Allin or whatever drawing power he might have had will quickly fade away.
Am I still a fan of his work? Of course. I always will be. A fan of Phil Brooks the man, I am not. He quits at everything. He didn’t like creative in WWE so he quit. He lost his only two UFC fights so he quit that as well. What happens in AEW the first time he’s faced with a creative decision he doesn’t like? Will Tony Khan stand firm or will he back down because it’s CM Punk? I don’t look forward to CM Punk interviews in five years where he talks about what went wrong in AEW. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but based on his history, I may be right.
Thanks for reading. I’m very active on Twitter @GiftedMoney talking about wrestling among other things, so feel free to message me on there with any thoughts or comments.