“Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.”
“I pride myself on being a jerk,
because I’m brutally honest all the time.”
Not since the NWO in WCW have I seen so many people wearing wrestling shirts. CM Punk made the alternative cool again after his glorious return to wrestling. Prior, the only people in my small New York town wearing AEW-related shirts were hardcore fans or people who followed their favorites from WWE, but that was also pretty uncommon, especially in podunk dirt town New York, but I certainly had no intentions of talking to those people about AEW, or wrestling in-general, as there has always been some built-in shame associated with being a wrestling fan.
Enter CM Punk.
Punk’s first AEW t-shirt crashed the Pro Wrestling Tees site on release day, going on to sell 100,000 units, leading sales for the company for all of 2021 – despite releasing in September. In fact, three of Punk’s merch items are in the top six most-sold items of the year. CM Punk made wrestling cool again. Or more succinctly, he made the thought of being a wrestling fan cool again, personally making me feel less ashamed about talking to someone in a Punk shirt like I had during the 2011 “Summer of Punk” in WWE.
Since his return, an event that many thought would never happen, Punk performed in 23 matches for All Elite Wrestling. Going face to face with some of wrestling’s top rookies, Punk faced Darby Allin, Powerhouse Hobbs, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty, and MJF, who was one of only two people who beat The Straight Edge Savior. Some people look at this string of 21 victories as Punk going into business for himself, but when you consider the facts, it tells a vastly different story.
Opinions aside, CM Punk is one of the most talented wrestlers to ever step into the ring, and to even compete against the “Best in the World” gives any rookie a considerable rub. (Considerable Rub was also my nickname in high school.) If Punk was brought back, and decided to only wrestle main eventers, like Moxley, Jericho, and Danielson, then the story would be clear that he was there for a great payday, and to put his name over.
However, Punk wrestled talent that weren’t in AEW’s main event, intending to give them the tools and exposure to get them there all on their own. These matches had an average of 14 minutes 55 seconds – showing that Punk wanted to tell stories to its natural conclusion, and not rush. Punk wanted to secure the future of wrestling – and the thing is, we already knew he wanted to do this.
CM Punk is a guy who, like him or hate him, loves professional wrestling. He famously had his passion snuffed out when he felt consistently overlooked. His passion for wrestling didn’t feel real anymore: He would even go on to say that he hasn’t been a professional wrestler since he left Ring of Honor.
“And I cried because I knew I was leaving a place that I love, and it was a home, and I knew where I was going, wasn’t going to be easy for a guy like me.
Because I’m one of you. So I look at it like this: August 13th, 2005, I left professional wrestling.”
-CM Punk, AEW Rampage: The First Dance
“Across the landscape of professional wrestling and sports entertainment, the fingerprints of people who came from Ring of Honor are all over it.” He claimed that he was devastated about leaving Ring of Honor because he had built a place where wrestling could be wrestling.
Upon his mainstream debut, Punk would compete for the WWECW brand, claiming to be an outcast, due to his straight edge lifestyle, with his only addiction being wrestling. This addiction would carry through the entirety of his career, even while he was retired.
Secretly, Punk would show up to indie promotions in masks, or portraying Kikutaro’s manager, to continue being a part of the art he feels was taken away from him, and manipulated into something he’d never wanted it to be.
When he cashed in his Money in the Bank on the top heel, Edge, we saw the start of what would be an iconic career and literal cult of personality. When he played the perfect drug-free heel to Jeff Hardy’s recurring demons, we knew we were witnessing greatness. When he made history by cutting the Sermon on the Mount mid-Rumble, we knew he deserved an everlasting career. When he made the rivalry between Phil Brooks and Paul Levesque ultra-personal, by breaking the fourth wall, we knew he was on the verge of being a living legend. When he spoke truth into wrestling mythology with his infamous Pipebomb, we could see his Hall of Fame induction down the line. We all knew he deserved to main event Wrestlemania, and anyone who claims he didn’t is either wrong or lying for those sweet internet points.
When WWE consistently refused to pull the trigger on their biggest draw since John Cena, CM Punk did what any logical person who valued their worth would do, and left. CM Punk vowed never to return to the art he was addicted to. For seven years, seven months, and three days, CM Punk achieved nearly everything he could while in WWE, but was refused the one thing he wanted, and frankly deserved; a WrestleMania main event.
For years after leaving WWE, Punk mentioned that if the price were right, he would consider a return to the ring, but mostly wrote the idea off. However, when he talked about that price, he didn’t mean just money. He would consider a return for something different, and something that would intrigue him. Something that he’d lost along the way while competing in the WWE. Punk did what he set out to do when he joined AEW, and raised the image of his opponents, proving them to be viable future main eventers, including the bonafide daredevil Darby Allin, promo king Eddie Kingston, and younger (much more handsome) version of CM Punk, the current AEW World Champion, Maxwell Jacob Friedman.
If we aren’t pushing talented new wrestlers, wrestling can’t exist in the future. Following the All Out-altercation with the Elite, CM Punk rightfully looked like he only cared about himself, ultimately ruining all of the progress he made for the burgeoning talent in a promising, credible alternative to the wrestling monopoly that is WWE. Maybe Punk looks like a guy with a massive ego, and a giant chip on his shoulder, but he told you years ago “I pride myself on being a jerk, because I’m brutally honest all the time.” CM Punk is an egotistical jerk, but that’s not breaking news. If it’s taking you this long to realize that he is an asshole, and isn’t just playing a character, then I should also tell you that wrestling is fake.
Though he is a prick, he is an extremely talented prick, who made a lot of money, and brought in incredible numbers, for a promotion that benefitted from it, but the younger talent within that promotion benefited more. Guys like Darby Allin, MJF, and longtime Punk rival Jon Moxley are effectively the most important acts AEW has right now, and it’s disingenuous to suggest that Punk had no part in getting them there.
Factually, CM Punk has all the skills to be the best wrestler to ever step into a ring, as proven by his 37 fan-voted awards across Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and NODQ, across multiple years. CM Punk was the right person, at the right time to help AEW succeed, and the careers of those he’s helped has proven what he’s wanted to do for the majority of his career: push young talent.
But, CM Punk does what CM Punk wants to do, and all the goodwill he garnered during his 364 days with AEW went down the drain when he demoralized a reporter to push his personal narrative, and knowingly bashed the entire AEW roster by calling them children at the All-Outercation™.
I love CM Punk with a very clear bias. Ever since his three-way dance with Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio at IWA Mid-South in 2002, I was hooked, and have followed his career since – firmly believing him to be one of the top three best wrestlers to ever do it.
He obviously loves wrestling, and trusts in its future, but CM Punk also wants to be the loudest voice in the room. His desire to push rookie talent is genuine, and his voice, as well as his actions, are going to speak louder than you, or any potential detractors, to prove it, regardless of the impact it has on the rookie talent he tried to push.
He was the voice of the voiceless, until the voiceless spoke for themselves and created a wrestling promotion that was everything CM Punk had dreamt of. Unfortunately for Punk, he spoke too loudly, and put himself, and possibly the rest of his career, to sleep.