This has been wrestling Ahab’s quest for seven years now. He is the white whale, if the white whale had Living Colour playing wherever he went. Which probably would have made him way easier to find, and been a much easier book to read. But I prattle on, and we’re not here to talk about Moby Dick or the hours we all wasted just so we could truthfully claim we read it. No, it’s time for CM Punk rumors!
Ever since WWE released Punk over seven years ago, whispers of a return have populated the dark spaces and back alleys of wrestling fandom. You hear this every year or so, that he’s supposedly in talks with someone, even though Punk himself couldn’t be more adamant that he’d left the business behind. They’re always far more out of hope than expectation, but they’re always there.
But today, Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com, perhaps the most plugged-in guy in the business, started shaking the wrestling world down to its studs when he broke a story on Punk’s ongoing talks with AEW. Sapp was at pains to point out nothing has been signed, no date confirmed, or anything like it. Just that “serious” talks had taken place, and that some higher-ups in WWE believe Punk could be headed to their competition.
Even just whispers about actual talks are something like breaking new ground, as Punk has never shied to hide how much he’s done with wrestling. It’s been well known that both WWE and AEW and everyone else under the sun would call, but that Punk would never answer.
Whatever hidden rebel leader you think of, that’s what Punk means to wrestling fans. He’s the name they cry when things in WWE don’t go to their liking, he’s the one who they are sure will come in to save the business. That’s what happens when you’re one of the best talkers in the game, as well as one of the best in-ring workers, and carry yourself with a fan’s attitude. Punk always talked and wrestled as if he were just some guy who somehow got inside the ropes and was going to live out his dream the way he wanted before security realized what was going on. That’s why he’s still one of the most popular names in wrestling, despite not being wrestling in seven years.
If — and it’s a blimp-sized “if” — Punk were to come back and come back on AEW, it would be hard to see it as anything other than a seismic shift in wrestling. While the added eyeballs would certainly push Dynamite into Monday Night Raw numbers ratings-wise, perhaps the bigger factor would be the statement it makes on where wrestlers go when they just want to have storylines and matches they think are cool. WWE will always be able to throw the most money at wrestlers, and there’s nothing wrong with taking that cash in a business that can be cruel, in which careers can end instantly with one bad spot.
But for those who have either made their money or don’t care about it as much, Punk ending up in the rebel company will be the biggest sign about where they need to be. Not that Jon Moxley or Chris Jericho or Miro or a few others jumping to the new company were non-events. But this would be something else entirely.
WWE’s creative has been in the toilet for a while, as we talked about yesterday. SmackDown is miles better, but is still basically Roman Reigns-centric. If you’re not involved in that, you’re still on the perimeter for the most part. AEW, at least for the men, has a few different avenues open to regular TV time and exposure, and has a new show on Fridays premiering in a month. And just about everyone gets a chance in AEW.
It’s also allowed its biggest stars to do what they want, in a good way. Moxley got to go back to his indie, rugged, downright dangerous/unhinged persona. Kenny Omega and The Bucks got to flower out the asshole nature of The Elite on these shores instead of Japan. Chris Jericho is... well, Chris Jericho. And they’ve gotten to feud with rotating opponents and various types of matches, instead of running the same match with one opponent for weeks in a row. The creative possibilities are just so much more varied and spring-loaded than in WWE.
There are still so many ways for it to not happen, and this is the main one:
While Punk lived out his dream, ever since it has always felt like wrestling needed him more than he needed it. And while both AEW and WWE would offer him a two-flat full of cash tomorrow to get him back, the idea of there being a number that would coax Punk back into the ring goes against everything that made him so loved in the first place.
Still, the thought of the opening chords to “Cult of Personality” blaring out at All Out, the crowd turning into some sort of collective, raucous sludge, with Twitter exploding have been too much of a siren song for wrestling as a whole to ever completely dismiss. If Punk’s return were to happen, and he went to AEW, well then, WWE might even take notice and admit it has to change things.
But that could never happen. Could it?