Hell froze over Saturday, November 25, 2023 around 11 pm.
It happened at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois. At the close of WWE’s annual “Survivor Series” Pay Per View, the babyface team of Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins were all celebrating after their victory in WarGames, a brutal two-ring steel cage match designed by Cody’s father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
The copyright notice ran on Peacock’s feed, and most folks like myself got ready to see if we could catch some highlights from college football.
And then this happened. And the Chicago area crowd lost their minds.
At the time of this writing, that YouTube clip has over five and a half million views. Search “CM Punk” on YouTube and you’re bound to find thousands of clips analyzing and speculating about what this man’s return to WWE after a nine-year absence could hold for the future of a company so hot they’re practically ablaze.
The Second City Saint is back in WWE. The most controversial professional wrestler to ever declare himself the Best in the World is back in the biggest promotion in the world for one more run, and everyone said it would never happen.
Hell is apparently a mighty cold place these days.
Understanding the significance of this requires a trip in the Wayback Machine to 2006, when Punk debuted in WWE for the ECW brand, an organization with a largely forgotten and now defunct Tuesday night show for WWE. Punk, a veteran of the independent wrestling world, won ECW’s world title before going to the WWE main roster’s shows—Raw and Smackdown.
On the main roster, Punk thrived, becoming one of a select few to get runs as WWE, World, Intercontinental and Tag Team champions. His longest reign as World Champion was even dubbed the “Summer of Punk” by WWE. He was beloved, a consistent merchandise mover, and seemingly destined for the promotion’s hall of fame.
Then Punk left in 2014 after the Royal Rumble pay per view. He was fired on his wedding day. And Punk was not happy about any of this.
He chose to air his grievances with his former employer on his friend Colt Cabana’s podcast, “The Art of Wrestling.” In a very contentious episode, Punk tore into every facet of what vexed him about the WWE from the talent to the backstage staff. One person he especially took issue with was WWE staff doctor Chris Amann, who Punk claimed treated a staph infection with so many prescriptions of the antibiotic called the “Z-Pack” they allegedly caused Punk to shit himself on live TV.
Dr. Amann and the WWE were not thrilled with this turn of events. WWE bankrolled a defamation suit Amann brought against Punk and Cabana. The two friends beat the defamation claim, but it destroyed their relationship. Punk and Cabana would end up on opposite sides of a courtroom over Cabana’s alleged unwillingness to pay his share of the legal fees.
And Punk was essentially done with wrestling. He would go to the UFC and try his hand at mixed martial arts. He left the UFC with a 0-2 record and seemed to be ready to fade into anonymity.
Then Tony Khan, a billionaire’s son, started a rival promotion called All Elite Wrestling and offered Punk an insane amount of money to come work for him.
Punk said yes, and his debut on AEW’s Friday show called “Rampage” still holds the record for the best rating that show’s ever done.
He came into AEW with the intention of doing record business with the promotion and taking this new company to heights they’d never seen.
Unfortunately for Punk, this new promotion was run by what wrestlers would call a “money mark” who wanted to be friends with the wrestlers he employed so much he made four of them Executive Vice Presidents of the company. And the EVPs were not fans of Punk or what Punk wanted to do for AEW.
The EVPs and their friends started leaking to dirt sheets—wrestling’s biggest rumor mills—that Punk was difficult to deal with backstage, he was a “cancer” in the locker room, and more. Punk didn’t really care about the gossip until someone put in the sheets that he used his influence to get Colt Cabana taken off AEW TV.
All that drama and bullshit came to a head in September of 2022 at the press scrum following AEW’s “All Out” Pay Per View. In his time at the microphone, an injured and very irate CM Punk told reporters he was “tired, hurt, and working with children…who couldn’t manage a fucking Target.”
Punk’s bosses, specifically EVPs Matt and Nick Jackson, EVP Kenny Omega, and chief legal officer Megha Parekh attempted to discuss these comments with Punk in his locker room after the scrum. What ensued was a fight so bad at least a dozen people were suspended in what’s been dubbed the “Brawl Out.” Punk was among the suspended, as were Omega and the Jackson brothers.
Punk would return from suspension and injury in June of this year when AEW debuted a new Saturday TV show called Collision that was created so Punk and his friends could be on a separate show and never cross paths with Omega and the Jacksons. Calling himself “the real world champion” since he never lost the AEW title prior to his suspension, Punk seemed to be a man on his absolute last nerve. He would try to mend fences with Kenny, Matt and Nick, but the EVPs told Punk through their lawyers a sit down would only take place between the four if Punk could go six months without an incident.
Punk made it two months. At AEW’S “All In: Wembley” show in August, a young wrestler named “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry would mouth off to Punk backstage before the straightedge wrestler went on to wrestle in the opening match. The two got into a fight that would see AEW owner and President Tony Khan fire Punk with cause less than a week later. According to Khan, the backstage brawl had him “fearing for [his] life.”
It wasn’t long after that older, wiser folks in the business started mentioning how WWE’s November PPV, Survivor Series, was right near Punk’s hometown of Chicago.
And how it would be a hell of a slap in the face to AEW and a huge win for WWE if someone made a phone call and offered Punk a boatload of money to come to the Rosemont Horizon and just make an appearance.
This was shot down quickly by the neckbeards who write the dirt sheets. He’ll never come back, they said. He’s burned all his bridges, they said. Hell, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s head of creative, hated Punk with a passion when Punk refused to work with him back in 2014 and left WWE.
I guess, dear readers, nine years, multiple millions of dollars and the potential to make tens of millions more can heal even the deepest of wounds.
— Triple H (@TripleH) November 26, 2023
Only time will tell what the man who calls himself the Chicago Made Punk will do on what is arguably his last run in the business.
One thing’s for sure. He will be working with grown, professional men who are more interested in making money than participating in grab-ass locker room drama.
And that’s why WWE’S brass looks like the smartest guys in the business while Tony Khan looks like an idiot manchild playing with his collection of pro wrestlers he treats as action figures.
I’ll close with this. Punk’s last run with AEW proves why he’s one of the top draws in the business, if not arguably the best to ever get in a ring.
He debuted in the premier episodes of two shows, one created for him specifically, and set record ratings for both. He led AEW to the company’s first million dollar gate. He won the AEW world title twice and was never beaten for it, dropping the belt only once due to injury.
Punk never shied away from telling his bosses he thought they were idiots. When they confronted him about it, Punk beat the shit out of three of them with a torn triceps and only apologized when it was clear management would pay him even more money.
He then conducted himself like a locker room leader for two months while the children he called co-workers continued to spread lies about him to anyone who listened. After a younger guy who went by “Jungle Boy” mouthed off to him, he beat the shit out of that guy, told his boss to go fuck himself one last time during the company’s biggest show of the year, got fired for it and walked right into the biggest, hottest promotion in the world, ready to make more headlines and more money than he ever has.
Not too shabby for a middle-aged Chicago guy if you ask me.
We’ll see you next week, everyone!