They always come back. At least most times. That’s the common saying whenever a wrestler leaves WWE, and so far it has been an undefeated saying. Over the course of its long and winding history, WWE has seen several wrestlers willingly leave due to booking, health, or because WWE themselves decided a split was best for business. As was the case with one Phil Brooks AKA CM Punk with his unceremonious exit from the company in 2014. Last night felt different than any other previous return though, as Punk has built a spectacular reputation for being hard to work with, and a bit of a problem backstage. Even with that reputation, WWE sees money and opportunity perhaps more than any other sports and entertainment company. The WWE put the entire wrestling industry on notice at Survivor Series. Business first. Then. Now. Forever.
By all accounts, CM Punk’s return to WWE was an unlikely one. Punk made it very clear that he was not happy with the way a lot of things went down during his initial departure from WWE. During an appearance on his then-friend Colt Cabana’s podcast, Punk let it rip on everything from his medical issues to booking, and how another wrestler had injured him during a feud. He also alleged neglect by the WWE medical team which led to a lawsuit from WWE doctor Chris Ahmann, and the eventual dissolution of his friendship with Cabana. Punk took a long hiatus away from the business before making a return to rival wrestling promotion AEW. His run with AEW seemed doomed from the start though, as injuries and backstage drama would once again rear its ugly head.
Although Punk seemed to pour gasoline and light the metaphorical bridge back to WWE on fire on his way out, execs within WWE held strong to their favorite saying — never say never. Initially, it started with WWE slyly mentioning Punk’s name on TV, featuring his matches in their playlists, and eventually thinly veiled references to his promos and sayings during broadcasts. After Punk was fired from AEW, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would, at least at some point, find his way back to WWE. No one could’ve ever guessed that it would be this soon. Even with WWE holding one of their big four PPVs in his hometown of Chicago, it felt like the time simply wasn’t right for Punk to make a return. Little did we know, WWE was in the prime position to bring him back home.
Wrestling as a whole is in a boom period right now. Impact and New Japan Pro Wrestling are beginning to attract new and wider audiences thanks to more exposure from their stars. AEW is coming off its best-produced wrestling month ever and is in the middle of reviving the Ring Of Honor brand. WWE though, as always, is standing leaps and bounds ahead of their competition, and on a night they could’ve gone light, they pulled the trigger on bringing back two of the biggest stars in the entire industry, not just within WWE.
That’s a pretty massive flex and one that only WWE could pull off. At a time when its roster is as loaded as it has ever been, they still won’t hesitate to add to it ESPECIALLY during the build to Wrestlemania. The only question that remains now, is who’s first in line for Punk.