Never say never in the pro wrestling business.
When CM Punk was fired from All Elite Wrestling after a backstage brawl with Jack Perry at Wembley Stadium just three months ago, speculation started almost immediately about the potential for a WWE return. Those discussions are almost a natural part of the conversation any time a star hits the free agent market with two national companies in the industry again, but there was very little substance to it.The only indication that there might be a chance that the real-life Phil Brooks would even be on speaking terms with WWE was that he showed up backstage at Raw in Chicago earlier this year, reportedly to mend some fences, including brief conversations with The Miz, who he lashed out at on social media a few years ago, and Triple H before he was asked to leave because management didn’t want any accusations of contract tampering. That visit took place when Punk was still on the sidelines while healing from triceps surgery for an injury that he suffered in a match with Jon Moxley last year before the infamous All Out press conference and backstage fight with The Young Bucks.
As I wrote at the time, CM Punk is a masterful politician and his visit to the WWE event before he was brought back to AEW was undoubtedly to let Tony Khan know that he had options in the industry. Furthermore, I wrote that despite the criticism, lengthy lawsuits, and the riff between the two sides, CM Punk returning to the company was still a possibility. If Warrior, Sable, and others made a comeback, it was in the cards for Phil Brooks. One of the reasons that Vince McMahon is the king of sports entertainment, and the WWE was a part of a $21.9 billion merger recently, is that business was always the top priority. Vince McMahon doesn’t need someone to send him a Christmas card to work with them, if they can make him money he will do business with anyone.
So, CM Punk’s return to WWE was surprising, but not shocking.
In truth, I put no stock into the rumors of a possible return to the company in Chicago, simply because it was mentioned for almost a decade in some form or fashion when the organization ran an event in his hometown. Specifically, I didn’t think that WWE would want to risk the hassle of someone with well-documented problems in both organization and just had another physical altercation a few months ago. Still, I’m not exactly sure why the corporation re-signed the 44-year-old grappler since they already have record profits, but there are a few different possible reasons.
While this might not have been the main reason, this is definitely a way that the WWE can show its dominance over All Elite Wrestling. They signed Cody Rhodes and made him the top baby face in the company. They will take CM Punk, who they fired and went to court with several years ago, and promote him to a much bigger spot than anything he did in Tony Khan’s company. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely hope that All Elite finds continued success because the industry needs options, but as the story of the organization unfolds, it becomes obvious that AEW is a secondary company.
The bigger point is that the wrestling world will be talking about WWE going into next year, and that will certainly help when they look for a new TV deal for Raw at the end of 2024. Some have cited Roman Reigns’ lack of appearances or some suggestion that his title reign might become stale, but adding CM Punk into the mix, assuming he can stay healthy, will add a new dynamic to WWE programming.
In some ways, bringing Punk back into the promotion utilizes the years of strife between the two sides since there’s a level of mystic about what would happen if the real-life Phil Brooks was back inside a WWE ring or what he might say with a live microphone. Granted, everyone involved in the original dispute had almost ten years to let the animosity settle and there’s a lot of water under the bridge after a decade, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if Punk eventually has another dispute with management. At the cringe worthy post-show press conference, which was about as entertaining as watching a marathon of Ryback matches, amateur reporters fumbled their way through questions. Triple H noted that nobody is the same as they were ten years ago and seemed to indicate that the company and Punk were on good terms. While I’d generally agree with Triple H that people evolve over time and growth as a person can provide a lot of insight, I’m not sure that applies to Phil Brooks. He was away from pro wrestling for seven years and it took less than a year for him to have problems with AEW management the same way he had disagreements with WWE management. I doubt Brooks had some personal revelation about trying not to be a smug jerk in the past three months, but as always, drawing money is the most important factor in business. That being said, at this point, Brooks doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as he had in the past, particularly because with the record-setting profits the company already has for its stock price CM Punk needs WWE more than WWE needs Punk. That’s not to say that he doesn’t bring value or star power to the table, but rather to point out that the company’s success doesn’t hinge on if Punk is on their shows, and in a similar fashion, if Punk still wanted to make a hefty payday from sports entertainment, he could work a match for New Japan at the Tokyo Dome. Perhaps, that balance will actually allow the two sides to work together better than they had before since there’s less pressure for everyone involved when it’d be just as easy to leave the company or terminate the contract.
According to The Wrestling Obsever’s Dave Meltzer, Brooks signed a multi-year deal, which makes sense to maximize the return on the investment of TV time and promotional dollars, but at the same time, a major factor will be if he can avoid injury. I think it’s fair to say that you have to take the vast majority of what Meltzer says with a grain of salt, but he claimed that Vince McMahon wasn’t involved in the decision to re-sign Punk. I think it’s very doubtful that Vince didn’t have some level of discussion about it, but given the corporate structure of TKO, who knows how much power Vince retains now? Meltzer added that the deal to bring Punk back took place within the past week or so, which is definitely believable since it was kept quiet, outside of the usual rumors when the WWE held a show in Chicago.
With as polarizing and as controversy as CM Punk is, opinions are definitely going to vary on him. The Seth Rollins rant that was posted on social media was a work, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Punk has a match with Rollings for the heavyweight championship at next year’s Wrestlemania. As I said, Punk is a jerk, but he’s a talented jerk with a dedicated fan base. If talent can make money working with him then that’s exactly what they’re going to do for the company. Again, you don’t have to send someone a Christmas card, the entire point of the wrestling business is to make as much money as possible, and if CM Punk is an asset to that effort then it makes sense for him to work there. At the same time, the fact that Phil Brooks is willing to re-sign with a company that he supposedly despised for the right price says a lot about his claims of being a martyr for the industry. Everybody has a price, Phil Brooks did. Speaking of which, as much as he criticized the WWE for taking the Saudi money, don’t be too surprised if you see CM Punk make his debut in Saudi Arabia when the government offers him the right amount of cash. That’s not necessarily a knock because as mentioned, the wrestling business is about making the most money possible, and the industry isn’t exactly know for its ethics and moral standards anyway.
Taking into account his level of star power and the circumstances of his return, CM Punk is going to have to be used in a high profile spot, he’s simply not a mid-card guy at this point in his career. He made himself enough of a controversial figure that he either has to be booked in a featured spot or stay home. Since he decided he didn’t want to stay on the couch, as I said before, I’d guess that he works a feud with Rollins to lead to a Wrestlemania match. That way Cody can still chase the title to try to finally beat Roman for the championship. Some might wonder why management brought Punk back at Survivor Series instead of The Royal Rumble since that’s the official kickoff of WM season. I’d say that it was easier to bring him back in Chicago because the office knew that he would get the massive hometown reaction. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the WWE audience responses to him, particularly when he appears on a regular basis.
The bottom line is, if the WWE machine can promote CM Punk and he can draw money, and more specifically add a boost when they negotiate the new TV contracts then it makes sense for him to re-sign with the company. Since both sides would be fine without the deal, if something goes off the rails, everyone can step away with minimal damage to any name value. Aside from the draw of possible TV ratings and PPV tickets sold, this opens the door for new CM Punk merchandise so there are several revenue streams associated with this return. Of course, CM Punk will be thrilled to be back in the company right now because all of the spotlight will be on him, but we’ve seen this story before, will Punk still be on good terms with the company next year? Still, at least for now, it’s very intriguing to see CM Punk back in the WWE and it’s quite remarkable that they were able to keep it a surprise for the pay-per-view.
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Until next week
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