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C.M. Punk returned to WWE at the end of Survivor Series last Saturday night in Chicago. Punk’s return overshadowed Randy Orton’s return to in-ring action in the main event. It was a moment that many thought would never happen again, but as Vince McMahon told fans, “Anything is possible in the WWE Universe.”
Bret Hart came back to WWE after the events of Montreal and suffering a stroke to wrestle in WWE. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash came back after the curtain call. There are countless other examples of wrestlers coming back to WWE when it seemed impossible that it would ever happen.
Punk had an acrimonious departure from WWE, to say the least, and didn’t have the nicest things to say about WWE or some of his former friends in the company in the interim. Triple H addressed these issues during the media scrum after Survivor Series, noting that people change and grow over the course of ten years, which is a good starting point.
WWE is a different company from the one Punk departed from, so in many ways this is a clean slate for Punk to return to.. It is no longer under Vince McMahon’s leadership or influence.
Triple H is now in charge of creative and the structure in place behind the scenes is likely to be one that is optimal for someone with Punk’s personality. Not only has WWE changed over the course of the last 10 years, but Triple H noted that he’s changed, so there’s a different dynamic between him and Punk as well.
Punk said and did all the right things Monday backstage at Raw, according to Wade Keller’s reporting. He was said to have acted like he was humbled before going on TV with the “I’m home” promo.
Can the same person that said “I will still walk up and down this hallway and say ‘If you have a f—ing problem with me, take it up with me. Let’s f—ing go” at the All Out 2022 post-show media scrum stay drama-free in WWE?
Punk showed when he came back to AEW last summer that he still hasn’t changed how he handles conflict behind the scenes in wrestling. He was even given basically his very own show in Collision to keep him away from the EVPs, wrestlers, and behind the scenes staff that he had conflict with to try avoid issues.
Punk was not in the wrong for being angry about the actions of the AEW EVPs (The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega) and “Hangman” Page in front of the camera and behind the scenes, but his actions at the All Out 2022 press conference should have gotten him fired. He tore down the company he said he was trying to build right in front of Tony Khan and undermined him as the leader of the company.
It was simply never going to work for Punk in AEW given his combative personality combined with his issues with management and talent behind the scenes. He was unable to rise above the immaturity of his younger colleagues and handle things professionally and set a good example like a veteran should.
Tony Khan acted more like a fan than an authority figure around Punk, as he was reported to have chanted Punk’s name at the Gorilla position when Punk made his return at Collision. WWE’s backstage environment is much different from AEW and should give Punk his best chance to succeed going forward.
When Punk returned to AEW and wrestled regularly on Collision, he got into a verbal altercation behind the scenes with Jack Perry over Perry wanting to use real glass in an angle that was set to be shot backstage. Perry used real glass in his match on the pre-show at All In in August and said to the camera, “It’s real glass, cry me a river” to the camera, which was a shot at Punk.
This led to a confrontation between the two behind the scenes and eventually Punk had a confrontation with AEW CEO Tony Khan that went so poorly that Khan said he feared for his life and the safety of his backstage staff.
Punk’s character works best when it’s anti-establishment, but with WWE being more fan-friendly in terms of how wrestlers are pushed, it’s going to be interesting to see how Punk fits into WWE heading into 2024.
WWE showed a peak at their hand when it comes to their plans with Punk and potentially playing off his controversial reputation by having Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins react strongly to his arrival off camera at Survivor Series, which went viral on social media after Survivor Series went off-air.
His “glad-to-be here” promo Monday combined with how he acted behind the scenes showed that Punk has the ability in the short-term to play ball in the current WWE environment.
Punk might play nice for a while, but he’s never been the type to let things go when it comes to conflict. He’s like the character Larry David plays in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in that way, but closer to the personality of Michael Douglas’s lead character, William Foster, in “Falling Down” in terms of how he handles those issues.
My main concern with Punk’s ability to last in WWE is what happens the next time he has a conflict with a talent behind the scenes or perceives something that is said or done as a slight? Can he handle it differently than the drama in AEW with The Elite, Jack Perry, and Tony Khan?
Punk’s actions in AEW weren’t the actions of someone that had experienced a great deal of personal growth in recent years. Triple H talked after Survivor Series at the media scrum about how he believed people and places change and grow over the course of time , but is there any sign that that’s the case with Punk?
There was nothing to indicate he learned anything in terms of conflict resolution or de-escalation when he returned from his suspension from his actions at the All Out press conference in 2022 given how things went down behind the scenes at All In in August with Jack Perry and Tony Khan.
There is no doubt that Punk is a star and has gotten numerous chances that most wrestlers wouldn’t get because of that. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see Punk having a long successful run with WWE followed by a graceful exit.
I’m skeptical that Punk learned anything from his actions in AEW and hopefully part of his deal with WWE involves him working behind the scenes on anger management and his conflict-resolution skills.
WWE has all the mechanisms in place behind the scenes in place for Punk to succeed, but will Punk be able to help himself the next time a conflict arises and he feels slighted or disrespected? WWE is the best place for Punk to succeed. There’s no denying that given the new ownership and leadership regime behind the scenes.
There’s likely to be a honeymoon period between Punk and WWE, but that will wear off eventually. If Punk doesn’t show he’s changed, it’s likely that his time in major league pro wrestling is over.
Contact Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @SR_Torch.
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