Is CM Punk playing the WWE? Everything is rainbows and sunshine in the WWE following CM Punk’s not-so-surprising return at Survivor Series. Wrestling's perennial Prodigal Son returned, and the WWE handled things with true skill, even earning accolades from Eric Bischoff, one of the most outspoken CM Punk critics, with the possible exception of Kevin Nash.
As many fans and industry observers have pointed out, the WWE has checked off every box regarding Punk’s return. For example, his initial debut was kept brief to maximize impact. The WWE saved his first promo for RAW, which gave fans more reasons to tune in. From there, the WWE had him appear on all three brands before he decided which one to sign with.
The WWE has also planted the seeds for several potential storylines, including a feud with Seth Rollins, a future program with Roman Reigns, and a friendly (at least so far) competition with Cody Rhodes at the Royal Rumble to see who gets to fulfill their respective dreams (in Punk’s case, main eventing WrestleMania and in Cody’s, to get his rematch against Roman Reigns).
The WWE’s skill in utilizing Punk’s return has already paid off. Punk’s presence has boosted ratings and social media activity like YouTube views. His merchandise continues to move in big numbers. Punk’s presence has also made notable increases in ticket sales for the shows he’s been announced on. Rumor has it that Punk may even have renewed interest from Warner Brothers Discovery in pursuing the rights to RAW. Although that story has been fiercely debated, it’s another reminder that CM Punk is currently the hottest star in wrestling.
So far, Punk has benefited from his return. The financial details of his deal remain unknown, including how long he’s been signed to the WWE. It’s difficult to imagine Punk returning for a modest payday, and whatever he’s getting paid, his merchandise sales should supplement his current pay quite nicely.
There are also the intangibles, like Punk returning to the limelight, receiving near-universal love from the WWE Universe, and showing he’s still one of wrestling’s top stars. All of that could change with one Punk meltdown, but thus far, Punk is doing well.
There are other potential benefits for Punk. Rumor has it that Punk is looking ahead to his future and may be interested in replacing Shawn Michaels in running NXT. As WrestleLamia discussed in our article about this, there are no reports that Punk is scheming to take Michaels’ job.
While things couldn’t look any better, wrestling fans are aware of the elephant in the room—CM Punk’s past problems in AEW and his 2014 exit from the WWE. As Triple H once remarked about Punk, “he’s a strange cat.” The question for many is whether this cat can be tamed. The conventional wisdom states that the WWE has protected itself with a contract that makes it easy for the company to ditch Punk should he have any meltdowns.
However, WrestleLamia believes there’s a bigger problem that isn’t being discussed and one that could seriously affect the WWE’s backstage morale and even the company’s financials. What if CM Punk is playing the WWE by making himself so influential backstage with wrestlers and also influential with the WWE’s business partners that the company will find itself struggling to keep him in check?
WrestleLamia isn’t accusing Punk of devising some diabolical plot to destroy the WWE from within, achieving the revenge he’s longed for since leaving the company in 2014. Nonetheless, Punk is savvy to the workings of the wrestling business and he may be creating an insurance policy for himself in the event things don’t go quite his way or others (whether they be wrestlers or executives) try to sabotage his return.
However, what if Punk is ensuring he has a backup plan? Here are some ways Punk can build an added layer of protection.
The Punk Charm Offensive: Right now, it seems like everyone loves CM Punk in the WWE (with the storyline exception of Seth Rollins). Punk has maintained his best behavior, renewing old friendships and patching over troubled relationships. Shawn Michaels was said to be one of Punk’s biggest supporters upon his return, a move that shocked some. Likewise, Triple H and Punk have made amends despite Punk’s criticism of “The Game” following his 2014 departure.
Guiding the New Generation: Punk has made sure to ingratiate himself to the Superstars on NXT. Punk recently appeared backstage at the WWE Performance Center, offering advice, including critiques of wrestlers' matches. Like many veterans, Punk is likely a wrestler who younger talent grew up watching and in some cases, inspired them to become wrestlers. This includes younger stars on the main roster, too.
A recent report suggests Punk is also looking to learn about NXT's production process:
Big Business for the WWE: “The Second City Saint” can potentially boost the WWE’s business further, especially as it heads into WrestleMania. While some critics questioned whether the WWE needed to take the risks inherent with Punk and bring him back when the company is doing so well, it’s paid off big time. However, what if Punk’s popularity reaches the next level and he enters the top three?
Big Business for the WWE’s RAW Rights Partner: Another element to consider is Punk’s effect on the rights to RAW. While there are differing opinions on how much Punk influences RAW’s value regarding TV rights, it’s a question worth analyzing. Let’s say that the WWE’s new deal is partially based on Punk’s return to the WWE. Hw will the WWE’s rights partner feel if Punk leaves the WWE? It’s safe to say that no one is indispensable in the WWE. However, a rights partner might not be happy if something happened to Punk.
Each factor could contribute to Punk’s power in the WWE, creating problems for the WWE if it decides to drop him. Again, no one is indispensable, but a Punk dismissal could have big consequences. Morale could drop as wrestlers who are friends and/or look up to Punk are angry at the WWE. Likewise, how much would business drop if Punk suddenly left the WWE? Finally, how would the WWE’s rights partner feel if Punk left and ratings dropped?
These factors could lead to the WWE giving Punk more leeway than they would with other wrestlers. Although the WWE is unlikely to show the same lack of discipline that AEW did with Punk, these factors could make the WWE act out of character.
The worst-case scenario would be Punk setting himself up as a golden goose in the WWE, not because he wants to protect himself but because he wants to stick it to the WWE. That’s probably not the case, but if Punk is the kind of man who doesn’t forgive and forget, the WWE could have some problems ahead.
Do you think the WWE is setting itself up for trouble with Punk? Do you think there’s any chance Punk is playing the WWE?