“And I cried because I knew I was leaving a place that I love, and it was a home, and I knew where I was going, wasn’t going to be easy for a guy like me. Because I’m one of you. So I look at it like this: August 13th, 2005, I left professional wrestling.”
That’s what Punk said upon his first appearance in AEW in August of 2021. So what changed?
Did WWE change? Not really. It’s probably a nicer place to work with Vince McMahon sidelined (for now) and Triple H running things. But the way it views wrestling hasn’t really changed. The matches are all basically the same. There’s still a search for big, empty moments and spectacle that makes it seem important (and every so often, it actually is). It’s still sports entertainment, not wrestling. That works for a lot of people, and that’s totally cool, but it doesn’t work for those Punk always said he represented.
How did CM Punk wind up back at WWE?
Did CM Punk change? Change enough to come back to WWE? No, not really either. Because he was never what he said he was. The whole facade of speaking truth to power or giving voice to the voiceless or standing for something higher within wrestling was a cover, a brilliantly executed cover to be sure, to mask the egomaniacal, petty person Punk has always been. The signs were always there. Anyone that proudly straight-edge generally has the biggest flashing “asshole” light going off above their heads.
Punk’s return to WWE puts his whole career in a different perspective, at least to those who truly loved him. Or it should, though it might not, given that Punk has been such a brilliant performer he may have them brainwashed forever. The standing up for the little guy act holds little water when one returns to a place that he said destroyed him merely to settle scores with old bosses and deposit some large checks. There’s nothing wrong with getting the last large checks one can in such a limited window in a hard industry, of course. Punk told everyone he was something more than that, though. Built a cult on it, in fact.
The man who says wrestlers should have a union rejoins WWE, which has crushed union efforts before. Mr. Trans Rights will quite possibly perform on one of the shows in Saudi Arabia, or at least be part of the company that does. How did he used to feel about that again?
Punk’s only concern has always been Punk. The “crusade” he waged against WWE when he was there now looks to be the whining it always was. As his new boss said long ago, “It’s never enough change for you unless you’re on top.”
He was given a 400+ day reign as champ. He complained about ice cream sandwiches. He was given the chance to write his own ending in AEW. He blew it up over supposed internet rumors. If you want to believe that his second stint in AEW was actually always a plan to get himself fired so he could stick it to the company by going back to WWE, it’s a bit 4-D chess but we won’t stop you.
Maybe Punk has more in his mind than just large bags of filthy lucre to end his career. Maybe he really does want to destroy AEW. Maybe he will, though it’s a longshot. He’ll really stick it to Tony Khan that way. Except Khan will still be the son of a billionaire running both the Jaguars and Fulham. So he’ll probably be fine.
No, he’ll hurt the fans who have crawled behind him for 20 years or more now, lapping everything up. The ones he said he always spoke for, the ones he said he fought for in his first go around with WWE, the ones he said he was returning for in AEW. He’ll chuck them all under a bus because he felt slighted about an internet rumor and that AEW didn’t let him physically attack his bosses, twice, without consequences.
Punk’s “truth” has always been proving he’s right, no matter what’s in the way. And his version of “being right” is whatever and all that he wants, nothing less. He’ll go back on everything he stood for, or told everyone he did, simply to prove Khan and AEW wrong. He’ll take WWE’s money and all the ways the company violates what he said he was as a person and wrestler just to prove that company is run better than the other guys. He’ll do it all to prove a completely unnecessary meltdown at a wrestling press conference was the correct thing to do, as he sees it.
He doesn’t care about “wrestling.” He doesn’t care about his fans. He cares about proving CM Punk right.
Tell me when I’m telling lies.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social