While CM Punk is lighting the wrestling world on fire following his debut in AEW, he did have to pass on a WWE return in order to make it happen.
During an interview with ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, Punk revealed that while there were discussions between himself and his former employer, things never came to fruition due to WWE “playing games.”
“I remember one of the first things I ever said to them was, ‘Above all, don’t play games.’ And they played games,” said Punk. “Some things never change. … When you enter a conversation with people you have a past with and you know who they are, how seriously can you take it? I know exactly who they are and they just continue to prove it. I’m trying to be as diplomatic as I possibly can.”
Punk made his long-awaited AEW debut on the company’s new Friday night show Rampage on August 20. He is scheduled to face Darby Allin on AEW’s All Out PPV on Sunday night. It’ll be his first match since WWE’s Royal Rumble back in 2014.
It was shortly thereafter that Punk walked away from the WWE — and professional wrestling altogether — until his recent return.
Prior to signing a contract with AEW, Punk-to-WWE rumors had run rampant since he was signed on to be an on-air personality for FOX 1’s WWE Backstage. Although he was a FOX employee — not a WWE one — the connection led to many believing a return to the WWE would come sooner rather than later.
As Punk notes, that reunion never occurred. WWE had reached out to him about a return through intermediaries, but discussions never really “got off the ground.”
Furthermore, Punk implies during the interview that the WWE offered him more money for his return. But while he wants to be well-compensated, it’s not the reason why he returned.
“What I mean is, it’s not all about the money for me,” Punk said. “Because if it was, I would have probably been the main event of WrestleMania this past year. Or I would have been at the Royal Rumble. Everybody is different. Every situation is different. There’s some people that don’t like me, so all they’re going to hear is ‘Oh, he’s just doing it for the money.’ And I could give a s—-.”
All things considered, Punk likely made the right move. In AEW, he will be featured in the marquee match at “All Out” in his hometown of Chicago. Considering his mega star status, AEW has done a fantastic job of debuting Punk.
It’s no secret that AEW’s numbers skyrocketed in Punk’s debut on Rampage and during his ensuing appearance on Dynamite for the first time. The second episode of Rampage drew 1.129 million viewers and 692,00 viewers in the 18-49 demographic. The 692,00 viewers were the second-highest the young company has drawn since its inception, with only the debut episode of Dynamite drawing higher numbers.
Punk’s first appearance on Dynamite drew 1.172 million viewers and 620,000 viewers in the 18-49 demographic — the second-highest in the show’s history.
That’s not even mentioning Punk shattered the record for the highest-selling design at Pro Wrestling Tee, featuring the shirt he wore upon his AEW debut.
While the WWE is a different landscape compared to Punk’s last appearance seven years ago, his decision to sign with AEW presents multiple opportunities for him to wrestle against new superstars.
And as negative as it may sound, the WWE likely wouldn’t have capitalized on the magnitude of Punk’s return in the long run. He likely would have been lost in the shuffle — as so many of WWE’s top stars suffer through these days due to wishy-washy booking.”
You also can’t ignore the rough background history of both parties. Punk and the WWE were caught up in lawsuits in recent years since his departure and he did walk out on the company.
After years of waiting, wrestling fans can finally see Punk in the squared circle again with a new company and fresh opponents.
“The proof is in the pudding. Does it matter why I’m doing it? Do you really care? If you don’t like me, don’t watch,” Punk says. “It’s a perfect storm. It’s a lot of everything. It’s the money, it’s the freedom. It’s the creative, and it’s the possibility of working with young, talented people that excite me.”