Here’s a little Narcissistic Penguin Fun Fact about yours truly. I’m not an Attitude Era kid. I was born in 1991, and was the appropriate age to get wrapped up in all the trashy grungy 90’s wrestling bonanza like most kids in my generation. My friends might’ve liked it, but they never took the time to show me, and my mom (who at one point thought the power rangers were too violent) certainly wasn’t going to get me into it.
No, my love of pro wrestling didn’t start until I was already well into my late-teens, ironically during one of the WWE’s worst periods. My friends would have parties for pay per views, and typically I wouldn’t go, making a point that I “didn’t watch that fake stuff.” Well, eventually I got suckered into going, but only with the understanding that I would relentlessly mock it the whole time. Which… of course… is how I got hooked.
So it wasn’t the Rock asking if you could still smell (bless him, making sure you don’t have COVID), it wasn’t Stone Cold saying “what?,” (poor bloke is hard of hearing), and it certainly wasn’t Cena, making direct eye contact with me through the camera, insisting I can’t see him (your shirt is neon green, Johnathan). The gimmick that got me into pro wrestling was this dirty, unwashed, tattooed straight-edge kid from Chicago (hey, it’s me!).
And now, the rumor is that Punk, who single-handled forced me to become such a diehard fan of a fake sport that I have a favorite match in every known promotion to man (gotta love Rock n Roll vs. Midnight back in Mid-South in ’80), is returning to pro wrestling, debuting with the upstart alternative to the WWE, All Elite Wrestling.
Here’s how I think AEW should book the second city saint.
How AEW Should Book CM Punk
First thing’s first, CM Punk has no business whatsoever debuting anywhere in the world but Chicago, Illinois. I don’t need to share the iconic crowd reaction from his match against John Cena at Money in the Bank, 2011, or any of the other times where WWE came to the second city, it known, CM Punk owns pro wrestling in Chicago.
Not since Bret Hart was a face in Canada and a heel in the states has a wrestler staked such an absurd homefield advantage in a predetermined sport. And it just so happens, AEW has not one, not two, but three different shows, IN Chicago, in a matter of weeks. AEW has Dynamite on September first, Rampage on September third, and then arguably their biggest show of the year, ALL OUT, on September fifth.
What bigger way to sell a pay per view than the long-awaited return of CM Punk? He could appear at the end of Dynamite, making ALL OUT tickets literally impossible to buy, providing a monster spike in pay per view buys, or, reasonably, he could show up on the show itself. The “will he/won’t he” of CM Punk is a saga that, obviously, still has a ton of juice seven years after he walked out of WWE.
To the point where AEW is kinda screwed if these rumors are exactly that. There has been so much smoke about Punk signing, even if ALL OUT is AEW’s best show yet, if Punk doesn’t make an appearance, you get the feeling that fans will be disappointed. This whole article is being written with the the belief that the beloved adage of “never say never” has finally paid off.
In any event, if Punk is back, it would be a horrendously wasted opportunity to bring him back anywhere but Chicago. And that’ll be fun. The pop when Cult of Personality hits will be heard from outer space, and more hilariously, Stamford, Connecticut. But that’s the easy part. All CM Punk has to do is walk on stage and the crowd will roar.
What comes next is the hard part, because believe it or not, a CM Punk comeback is challenging.
The (Pipe) Time Bomb
As I stated above, I am a massive CM Punk mark. He’s my favorite wrestler of all time, and I am currently contemplating spending $800 to go to All Out JUST IN CASE. But here’s the thing… it’s not like CM Punk was getting the Road Warrior pop from the WWE Universe before he quit. And it’s not like his worst post-Lesnar at SummerSlam was all that great. Obviously, there’s an argument to be made that he was miserable, and wasn’t putting his best foot forward, and I’d completely understand that.
What I’m saying is that a big part of why a Punk comeback is desired as much as it is relates to his absence. We’ve been playing with the idea of a CM Punk comeback for almost a decade, and the combination of nostalgia and “absence making the heart grow fonder” has elevated Punk’s place in pro wrestling history, arguably more than the pipe bomb did.
So while a Punk return will blow the roof off the place… what happens next?
Because every time he comes out after that, the bloom comes off the rose a little. If you have Punk come out and wrestle against Angelico or Jungle Boy on free TV, then isn’t he just another one of the guys? You might think I’m being silly, but AEW has already done this. They look the unlikely career revivals of Sting and Christian Cage, turned them into massive moments… and then didn’t really do anything with them.
Sting is just Darby Allin’s manager, and Christian is part of Jurassic Express? I understand that both men are older, have physical limitations, and aren’t as big of draws as CM Punk. I also understand that if AEW had put the world championship on either guy, the ever-lingering WCW comparisons would’ve reared their ugly heads. But after rewatching Sting’s debut a half-dozen times, I kinda lose interest during his segments now.
When Punk comes back, he has to have a great storyline put in place. And as someone well-versed in what worked best for him on the indies, in Ring of Honor, in TNA, and then in WWE, I think I have a pretty good idea for one.
As absolutely groundbreaking as martyr Pipe Bomb Punk was… people forget he was supposed to be a heel. Vincent Kennedy McMahon did not book CM Punk leaving WWE with the championship as a good guy storyline until it was already too late. He was supposed to be a bad guy, robbing the WWE of their most prized possession. The crowd just got so hot, they had to change it on the fly.
With that in mind, Punk’s best work was as a heel during the Summer of Punk, as a heel with the Straight Edge Society, leading up to Money in the Bank, and then post-Raw 100, leading into the Undertaker match. CM Punk, not unlike many wrestlers before him, is at his best as a heel.
So how do you toe that line? How do you toe the line between “Punk is here, and he’s a major draw” and “he’s a heel, and we’re not watering him down?” Well, it’s pretty easy. You just book Punk as a hypocrite.
You book him as everything he hated. Go back to that infamous Art of Wrestling podcast with Colt “are they friends again” Cabana, and make Punk everything he buried. He’s a nostalgia act that comes in, is part-time, and takes the spotlight away from younger wrestlers.
Introduce him early on at ALL OUT. Let him cut a cute “I’m back!” babyface promo, and then let the show continue on. Let everyone think that was his debut, and that we’re moving on with the show. Then, after the main event, where I’m assuming Hangman Adam Page finally upsets Kenny Omega for the AEW World Championship… have Punk attack Page.
The Alcoholic vs. The Straight Edge Savior
Have CM Punk completely ruin a moment that has been years in the making. Hopefully, they’ll be conflicted. We’ve watched Hangman overcome so much adversity, fighting back after being the “young boy” of the Elite, falling short time and time again in the big moments, finally discovering his self-confidence and self-worth, scratching and clawing to the top, and exercising his demons… only for Chicago’s prodigal son to return, and knock him down at his highest point.
This does three things. Firstly, it keeps Hangman fresh. This long-term storytelling has been excellent, but the problem with finishing a long-term angle like this is that it’s easy for Hangman to slowly deflate and lose all momentum after the fact. Secondly, it’s an undeniable heel move from Punk. If he came out and just imitated what Jon Moxley did, there’s some grey area. Ruining the promotion’s biggest babyfaces big moment is enough get some boos out of the crowd, even if there are mixed-in cheers.
Finally, it puts Punk on a path. By attacking the world champion, it guarantees that eventually, CM Punk will face Hangman Page for the AEW Championship. But I stress that word, eventually. Because Punk says he won’t wrestle on free TV. He’s an attraction now. Tony Khan paid him big money to draw fans in. He only wants the big matches.
What AEW does so much differently than WWE is have a very relaxed pay per view schedule. Sure, some Dynamite episodes have special names, but they air at the same time, for the same duration, on the same channels. Punk will debut in early September, and he’ll appear on Dynamite, but he couldn’t wrestle his first match until Full Gear, sometime in November. That gives him two months to really establish himself in the promotion.
And that’s where Punk is fascinating. Because he’s been known as this brainwashing cult leader in his pro wrestling career. As Hangman and Omega prepare for their big rematch, he could get in the heads of their factions. He has existing relationships with Doc Gallows and Colt Cabana. Punk could live in the peripheral of the Hangman/Elite feud. As both factions crumble (and they should, after the Omega/Hangman feud, nobody loves a faction that limps on after the expiration date *cough the inner circle cough*), Punk could come out and call AEW his playground.
A Link to the Past
And that’s when Cody Rhodes’ music hits. Because as we’ve established, Punk is at his best bucking against the system, and nobody personifies AEW’s front office quite like Cody. The promo battles between these two would be fantastic, as Punk is, in many ways, responsible for the wave of indy wrestling that created AEW, and Cody, like Punk, quit WWE, but managed to succeed in his next venture.
I’d mark out if AJ Lee made her AEW debut during this to combat a returning Brandi Rhodes, I’m just saying.
Eventually, Punk beats Cody, and then he’s on to Hangman, likely at Revolution, where he becomes World Champion. He’ll hold onto that title, battling the likes of Jungle Boy, Christian Cage, Brian Cage, Bryan Danielson, and maybe even a redeemed Kenny Omega before eventually dropping the title to… Darby Allin.
Look, outside of Extreme Warfare Revenge, I’ve never booked a promotion. This sounds good to me, but could be absolutely terrible to everyone else out there. My biggest fear is that after all this waiting, Punk’s big comeback is a dud. That gifted with a Hogan-to-WCW type signing, they blow it and he becomes just another guy.
But I’m just a mark with too much time on his hands. Let me know what you think down below. How funny would it be if I wrote all this and then he didn’t even sign with AEW?