CM Punk is out of wrestling for the moment, but what would a final run in WWE mean for his legacy in the industry?
The rumor mill is again swirling with innuendo that a former WWE champion will be back with the company for the Survivor Series event. However, CM Punk in WWE is better for Punk than WWE. There will be a large segment of fans who agree his return is a bad idea. Although his hometown of Chicago will always have his back. Many of the most displeased fans will have been his most prominent defenders, extra critical of his rivals during that final and controversial AEW run. Likewise, folks who decried the former AEW champion as a waste of roster space on Dynamite will welcome this return with open arms.
Instead of debating the tribal nature of online fandoms, assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. CM Punk is a talented wrestler with a monumental fanbase and a rich history in WWE. His inclusion within the WWE Universe will absolutely have a noticeable impact, at the very least, when it comes to social media engagement. However, a return isn’t a necessity. WWE has more than enough talent to sell its product and solid morale backstage. Additionally, Punk has not received the kind of interest he would like when negotiating a new contract. The facts are what they are, and WWE doesn’t need CM Punk the way CM Punk needs WWE.
CM Punk Could Definitely Make an Impact
Whether or not that happens on WWE, though, is up for debate. Recently, chatter on social media has included speculation that CM Punk was fielding an offer from TNA after their recent rebranding from Impact and a couple of other big moves. He was recently backstage and has been around the promotion and some of its biggest stars and alumni over the past year. While the offer is undoubtedly real, the money presumably isn’t as good. If Punk wants a locker room he can craft in his image and a legion of unwaveringly loyal fans, he has a new home in waiting. He can lead another upstart promotion looking to scratch and claw the mantel of WWE alternative away from the AEW team that fired him. For the sake of his legacy, though, TNA doesn’t have what he needs.
Even if Punk can significantly multiply TNA’s viewership, it won’t likely be anywhere near AEW or WWE. Impact in 2023 is lucky to get within hundreds of thousands of AEW Collision or NXT, the two low-rated TV shows of their largest competitors. Punk is unlikely to make up that sort of ground, particularly with TNA being hidden away on AXS TV or behind a paywall on YouTube. While he can be the top guy and leader elsewhere, it does nothing for his image like a WWE return will do for him.
The WWE Roster is Firing on All Cylinders
His attempts to be a locker room leader are typically where Punk’s most ardent defenders find fault in his former coworkers. When it comes to WWE, the promotion is all good. They have a ton of experienced performers, and Triple H is seemingly entrenched as the head of creative. Likewise, Vince McMahon’s frenemies at Endeavour and UFC look to have deposed him after all the unity talks. The confusion and sometimes public displays of dissatisfaction have quieted down. Also, some AEW defections have made waves by coming to WWE in reverse of previous trends. By and large, Triple H and his team have control of the roster, and things are running professionally. That environment is perfect for CM Punk right now.
Suppose CM Punk and his camp are being totally honest, and the drama lies primarily at the feet of young talents who don’t respect the business and ineffective senior leadership. In that case, WWE can help him avoid both. He can avoid working with NXT stars and have access to a fully formed and experienced C-suite. If his role in the controversies surrounding his AEW tenure is being downplayed, WWE can fix that, too. He isn’t the biggest star on the WWE roster and will be treated as such. While that could be a bad thing, having a few years of solid matches without any drama will go a long way to clearing his name of the nastiness that engulfed AEW during his tenure. It is a win for Punk to be within the WWE system, regardless of what happened.
CM Punk in WWE is Better for His Ratings
AEW last beat a televised WWE episode in the ratings a while ago. When CM Punk first arrived, there was a lot of buzz, but it faded. The premise for his return was simple: he could help Dynamite compete with Raw and Smackdown. That only panned out if you started cutting the overall numbers down. It was, though, AEW’s best shot at closing the gap and made sense at the time. By the end of his run, Collision, the house Tony Khan built for Punk specifically, wasn’t really a contender in the ratings war. Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics breaks it down in a definitive way. Across the board, WWE is on the rise, and AEW ratings aren’t. That their ratings are already pulling ahead means that no change is strictly necessary for WWE. For CM Punk, looking to secure his legacy, he will have a much better time finding and making new fans in WWE than he had even in AEW.
Of course, there are shows that rate significantly better than wrestling. In that area, he has also been striking out. CM Punk was on the Starz wrestling show “Heels” for a time. That show was just recently canceled. Since leaving AEW, Punk has yet to have much of a profile to justify his immediate inclusion in WWE. A talented former champion is always a good idea to pick up for the right price. Right now, that is all CM Punk is, whereas WWE is a final shot at replacing the band note the ballad of CM Punk has currently ended on.
CM Punk in WWE is Better for Punk and His Legacy
Crafting a legacy is vital for a talented performer like CM Punk. When you have a career as a midcard worker, you can treat every night for what it is: an opportunity to entertain millions of fans of the craft like us fans who can’t do it ourselves. When you are somebody who has excelled, like CM Punk, just being part of the industry isn’t enough. Somebody like Punk wants to be remembered by the fans as one of the greatest. No blemishes or asterisks will suffice when he leaves his boots in the ring.
There are defenders of Punk’s, but the growing consensus is that he broke the locker room in AEW. When it needed a leader, he tried to step up, and it ended up hurting his career and killing AEW’s mainstream appeal, even with great wrestling matches. Returning to WWE means more fans watching him each week, more dream matches, and a paycheck he won’t otherwise get. Perhaps most importantly, it gives Punk a structure to share his knowledge like he wants without needing to be “the leader” backstage. It will provide him with a few years of protected time and drama-free wrestling to change the narrative and secure his place as one of the greats. A Punk return is just neat for WWE and longtime fans. It may very well be a necessity for Punk.