2021 Moment of the Year: CM Punk returns to wrestling

It was the worst kept secret in wrestling, yet there was still the question: “Did CM Punk really sign with AEW?” It had been seven years after all. Seven years since one of the most popular wrestlers last graced a wrestling ring. Seven years of fans chanting his name, even during inappropriate times. Seven years of yearning to hear that familiar theme song.

There were obvious hints such as Punk posting things related to Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance documentary on his Instastory. Then, AEW booked an event at the United Center in Chicago. They called it “The First Dance”, an obvious nod to the aforementioned The Last Dance. It also just so happened to be AEW’s second-ever episode of its new hour-long show, Rampage.  

CM Punk’s First Dance in AEW

It was one of the most buzzed-about events in pro wrestling in a very long time. It was almost palpable, as much as it could be in an internet community. For me personally, it was an overwhelming feeling of *cue Dr. Frankenfurter* antici…pation. I was like a kid waiting for August 20. The fans chanted “CM Punk” so loudly and then came the words we’d all been waiting for.

“Look into my eyes, what do you see?” When the moment finally arrived, it was pure joy. After 2766 days, Chicago’s favorite son came home to pro wrestling. The chants of his name were so loud that they drowned out the music. Punk fought back tears.

For nearly five minutes, we all experienced the moment together whether in the arena or sitting in our living rooms. It’s rare to experience something collectively and that makes it even more special. Even if you didn’t cry, we could all relate to the fan shown on the screen with tears streaming down his face and holding his hands towards Punk. He embodied what so many of us who have been fans of Punk felt.

We had a very quick 90 seconds to catch our breath before we got to hear from the man himself. Punk didn’t plan what he was going to say to the AEW faithful. But, he told us he heard the chants for seven years. “I heard you.” He never mentioned WWE by name, but he got a few things out of the way. Most importantly was the explanation of why he left. Punk was never “going to get healthy… staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”

Punk cleverly unzipped his hoodie to show off his new “I Was There” shirt; the shirt that sold out immediately as fans wrapped around the inside of the United Center. A similar shirt (minus the phrase on the back) was so popular that every white ringer tee in the country was purchased by AEW to meet demand.

The “Second City Saint” declared on “August 13, 2005, I left professional wrestling. On August 20, 2021, ‘I’m back’.” (another nod to Jordan) Punk wants to be back with all the young talent that he wished had been there a decade before.

He declared himself “back on pay-per-view” to face one of AEW’s four pillars, Darby Allin. One of the most important things that Punk did on his first night back was to put over Britt Baker (which he has continued to do since). The AEW Women’s World Champion was the first AEW talent he spoke of and he put her on the same tier as the other pillars.

Seven years of waiting culminated in 18 minutes of the fans taking Punk’s return in and him relishing the love from his fans. It is by far the biggest and best moment of 2021.

I’ve said it before, sometimes pro wrestling is magic. May this dance keep going for (at least) seven more years.