CM Punk’s return sets up what should be a fantastic run to WrestleMania with some big match potential at the showcase event.
Although typically, Royal Rumble is the start of the biggest season in the wrestling industry, the return of CM Punk at Survivor Series feels like the unofficial start of the road to WrestleMania 40. With Punk back on Raw, discussion has already begun on what the best WrestleMania matches for CM Punk might be. Some stand out as practical, while others are possible but unlikely. Whoever ends up on the card with CM Punk will be thrust into a prominent position. Regardless of the stakes, CM Punk’s first WrestleMania match back will get marquee treatment. That isn’t to say that anyone could fill that role. Some superstars and icons make far more sense for an event like WrestleMania.
1. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins’s reaction to CM Punk’s return, both online and on television, is why he may be among the best WrestleMania matches for CM Punk. The reality of his anger is still intensely debated, although it looks increasingly like WWE is pulling the strings toward a showdown. So far, the feud has been one-sided; CM Punk hasn’t gotten directly involved with anyone yet. When that changes, it could lead to a series of matches, the last and likely best of which would culminate at WrestleMania.
Few wrestlers can confidently proclaim themselves to be the best in the world (which doesn’t usually stop them from trying) at any given point. An objective audience would agree that Seth Rollins and CM Punk are the best in the ring and outside of it. A WrestleMania match between them probably wouldn’t need the World Title either; it’s just a feud between a guy stepping on another’s turf. As reports about the future of CM Punk continue to circulate, all of them point to Punk and Rollins being locked in for Punk’s first feud, and that could quickly end up headlining Night One of WrestleMania.
2. Steve Austin
There are dream matches in wrestling. Will Osprey and Kenny Omega, FTR and the Young Bucks, RVD and Shawn Michaels, or even Brock Lesnar and Goldberg all happened, much to fans’ delight. There are dream matches in wrestling, and then there is CM Punk vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. The two most prominent anti-authority figures in the history of professional wrestling, and it isn’t even close. One of whom, Austin, revived WWE from its lowest points with iconic matches and moments.
The other, in Punk, was the face destined to destroy the place, its most significant threat from the independent scene at multiple points. These two are so anti-authority that disgruntled fans use the Austin “What” chants or the very mention of “CM Punk” to voice displeasure. Both are now legendary wrestling icons, and both are under the WWE umbrella.
Steve Austin is not getting any younger. As a result, he could easily refuse a match with Punk. However, he has wrestled recently, and Punk v Austin is among the best WrestleMania matches for CM Punk, likely the best. The in-ring work may not be the best of Punk’s career, but the dueling pop when the glass shatters or Cult of Personality play will be a WrestleMania moment that fans won’t forget. The Philadelphia crowd could be in for one of the biggest WrestleMania’s of all time, and this match would be a big part of that.
3. John Cena
John Cena’s return to WWE has been excellent, even if his win-loss record doesn’t reflect that. That Cena hasn’t been very successful could be in service of one last match at WrestleMania. A retirement match to cap off Cena’s dominance would go to a younger talent. With John Cena losing so frequently, being the underdog once again, WWE may be looking to give Cena one last chance to win against one of his greatest rivals. It would make for a fitting departure from the norm, and the right opponent would highlight his storied career before a hot crowd. Few people on the WWE roster could help them do this better than CM Punk.
It looks most likely that Punk is being inserted into active stories. He was a full-time member of the AEW roster, and I am sure WWE is hoping to use him similarly. But a Cena match would be excellent if they want to divert Punk before he gets mixed into weekly television. CM Punk would need to carry the match more than we would expect, as Cena is coming off surgery. However, CM Punk v John Cena was a phenomenal feud that improved both men. If WWE wanted to give John Cena a goodbye reminiscent of fellow 16-time champion Ric Flair, CM Punk would be a near-perfect final opponent.
4. Judgment Day
WWE’s Judgment Day is in contention for MVP of the company. They have appeared across all three brands, stepped up when Roman Reigns and the Bloodline disappeared, and have been collecting titles and main event matches like trading cards. Rhea Ripley is all but guaranteed a WrestleMania match. Damian Priest is likely going to have a WrestleMania match. If he isn’t world champion by WrestleMania weekend, then the cash-in for Senor Money in the Bank is incredibly reasonable to expect. However, the rest of Judgment Day has been just as influential and deserves to appear in more than an Andre Battle Royal. If CM Punk isn’t involved in the world title scene, he could give them the hot match that the Judgment Day underlings have earned.
CM Punk’s partners could be anyone. That could itself be a story for the road to WrestleMania 40. CM Punk says it is all love backstage, but the narrative has been remarkably different on-screen and online. CM Punk trying to find partners who trust him enough to go after a strong unit like Judgment Day could be an entertaining month of Raw episodes.
Also, a major Six-man tag featuring CM Punk would allow two stars with less direction a shot at a WrestleMania moment. Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, New Day, or LA Knight have less clear pathways to a featured match on the card. All of them have put together a solid year that would make not appearing unthinkable. One of CM Punk’s best matches at WrestleMania is a match that helps the company and utilizes his star power, and a Judgment Day feud does that and allows Punk to get a guaranteed big win on a big stage.
5. Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre has been rumored to be AEW-bound for a long time. As WWE continued introducing the idea of a frustrated Drew McIntyre into Raw the past week or so, they created an interesting story that could reflect real life. Whether or not Drew McIntyre is looking to leave, some of the most active fans online think he is. Many of those same fans think CM Punk’s signing has upset him, but this is not necessarily confirmed. Triple H can tell one of the best “meta” storylines in wrestling. I have a guy many believe is looking for greener grass face-off with a guy who crossed back over from the other side for one final shot.
Punk allegedly can’t mention AEW and, frankly, shouldn’t even if he could. Instead, have Punk talk about his perceived reality of leaving WWE and what that means. Talk about the egos and lack of professionalism. Small crowds for small pay and a general sense of being “minor.” This would allow WWE to finally do what AEW regularly does: tag their opponent’s weaknesses. Based on what many fans assume are real issues, it would also give both guys a great feud. The match itself would be good. Drew is one of the best on the roster, and Punk is CM Punk. With fans already engaging in a few top prospects for the world title scene, both men can appear on the card and get a WrestleMania moment that makes sense. It can also be used to explain Drew’s departure or contract extension, whichever he does decide to do.
Roman Reigns Not Among WrestleMania Matches for CM Punk
One of the best WrestleMania matches for CM Punk would be a world title match against Roman Reigns. However, only some dream matches can come true on the same show. Roman Reigns has been slated for a rematch with Cody Rhodes, where Rhodes goes on to finish the story. Getting a new star doesn’t mean you should toss out the old star. Cody not winning the world title this year is a waste of Cody’s contract and three years of storytelling, and it would ruin the entire Bloodline story.
Fans want to see CM Punk wrestle all the top stars but desperately want Cody to win at WrestleMania. WWE can do both here, so they should take Roman Reigns off the table. This summer, if CM Punk is the world champion, which is not out of the question, a returning Roman Reigns coming for his title could give us the exact match, with massive fan support, and won’t have wasted what is probably the best story in modern professional wrestling across all promotions. Punk running a story would confirm all of the negativity the return has been receiving, and it is an easily avoidable trap.