“I’m back. I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make money” - CM Punk
That’s the golden line that stood out like a sore thumb in Punk’s return promo following his shocking appearance at Survivor Series. The former WWE Champion’s promo was surprising due to the lack of controversy in it. There were no shots at AEW. It was essentially a love fest about finally returning “home” after ten years.
However, there’s a part of CM Punk’s promo where his words feel disingenuous. Triple H is right, people can change in ten years. However, CM Punk has notably gone out of his way to take potshots at WWE. His most quotable was his official wrestling return in AEW, “August 13, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20, 2021, I’m back”.
Punk never addressed his past negative remarks towards the company. Nor did he explain why he had such a change of heart. It’s understandable why he didn’t want to mention AEW in his promo. But his words felt hollow because they contradicted nearly everything he said in the past ten years. That final line in his promo teases a heel turn for the former WWE Champion, but it would be a mistake if WWE opted to never turn him heel.
CM Punk Is A Polarizing Figure
This statement has been used for John Cena and Roman Reigns. The difference is, that fans were rejecting both men as main event stars. Plus, there’s nothing particularly controversial that either man has done outside of the ring. Sure, you can pick apart some of the rumors about the backstage behavior of Cena or Reigns, but no one’s perfect, so it’s not surprising that they aren’t either.
But CM Punk is the true definition of a polarizing figure. For the most part, Reigns and John Cena have stayed true to their characters. CM Punk’s AEW run showcased an ugly truth many didn’t want to see. There have always been rumors about the former AEW star being difficult to work with behind the scenes since his early days in ROH.
But the All Out 2021 media scrum was when we saw some of the truth to those rumors. Punk went out of his way to trash Colt Cabana, The Young Bucks, and Hangman Page right in front of his boss. We’ll never know just how deep the backstage issues between Punk and the Executive Presidents extend, but that was a prime example of just how ugly of a person CM Punk can be.
To clarify, I don’t know CM Punk personally, so I’m not making assumptions that this is who he is 24/7. I’m only judging his actions based on the moments in AEW where he didn’t come across as a good guy. None of us are perfect, but Punk’s AEW stint did do some damage to his value in the eyes of most fans.
John Cena exemplified what a true babyface was inside and outside of the ring. So did Roman Reigns, to a certain extent. Even going back to the days of Hulk Hogan, there was a reason he dominated the industry for such a long period.
The Polarizing Aspects Of CM Punk Should Be Apart of His Character
Tweeners always existed in wrestling. The most notable is Stone Cold Steve Austin. Though he fights for the side of good, some of his actions are quite questionable. To be honest, we haven’t had a strong anti-hero character since Stone Cold. That’s why CM Punk would be perfect for the role.
Everyone wants him to turn heel. And CM Punk would be a FANTASTIC heel. The complexity of his character is more intriguing as an anti-hero. Not in the way that Stone Cold Steve Austin was. But in a way CM Punk’s polarizing past justifies the way he is today. CM Punk can still fight for the team of good but is a man who doesn’t play well with others. This goes back to the comments he’s made about not enjoying the sports entertainment aspects of the company.
Seth Rollins is a strong example of this. His gimmick is drenched in sports entertainment goodness. He’s a shell of the former Tyler Black who made a name for himself on the indies. The character dynamics and stories are more interesting when CM Punk doesn’t have a side. We’ve seen him be a heel and a babyface, but he’s never been an outright anti-hero for a long period.
There’s no doubt that CM Punk will be booed by a certain section of fans. However, there are plenty of more fans who don’t care about the AEW drama and want to simply cheer for this guy. Instead of feeding into one territory, playing up the polarizing aspect of his character could be beneficial to the long-term success of CM Punk. This doesn’t mean that he needs to drop pipe bomb promos every week. That would get stale and tiresome quickly.
But acknowledging the imperfections of the former WWE Champion can create unlimited storytelling possibilities that could rival The Bloodline saga. Punk has the acting and wrestling chops to pull it off and WWE’s creative has the talent to make his return to the company truly special.