It appears that the self proclaimed “Best in the World”, WWE Superstar CM Punk, has walked out of his WWE contract. Has CM Punk, one of the most popular WWE Superstars actually quit the business? While there is no full story at the moment, here is what we know so far...
In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani, Punk confirmed that his WWE contract was set to expire in July and that “everything is up in the air” concerning his re-signing. On January 24th at Wizard World Portland, CM Punk commented on his career and the current state of the WWE. During the panel, a quiet and serious Punk complimented both Daniel Bryan and Batista, though admitted that he thought this Wrestlemania was to be his moment. He also spoke about how the WWE was failing to book storylines far enough ahead, and that weekly changes from the writing team were hurting the organization. Perhaps most revealing, Punk commented on the state of his body. Having wrestled since his teens, the 35 year old stated that “a break is the only thing that's going to make me feel better.”
On January 28th, CM Punk did not appear as scheduled for WWE's Smackdown taping. On the morning of January 29th, TMZ reported that Punk was leaving the company over a dispute in his booking for Wrestlemania 30. The going rumor had been that Punk was to face Triple H at the event in a match that would certainly not be the main event. This report also went on to indicate that Punk was not pleased with Batista's positioning as the winner of the Royal Rumble and implicit Wrestlemania headliner, a slot Punk believed should have been his. Later reports amended this, claiming his problems with booking to be more general and that Punk was suffering from many nagging injuries.
Heayhitters like Prowrestling.net, Wrestlezone.com, and Alvarez and Meltzer's 4fwonline.com have all pointed to a meeting between Punk and Vince McMahon during or before the January 27th edition of RAW, in which Punk allegedly told management that he was “going home.” Later reports added that this dispute may have been more directed towards Triple H, and that Mr. McMahon is still interested in Punk's return. Radio personality Casey Kulas claims that he overheard this conversation and that it involved a dispute over concussion testing, though many sources have disputed that particular story. Some speculation has also claimed that a January 27th tweet of “Thanks for all the support. Keep being you guys, it's pretty cool.” was an acknowledgment of things to come. Since then, CM Punk has been pulled from advertising for future WWE events and his WWE released biographical documentary has been taken off of Netflix.
So, what does this mean for the future of the WWE and CM Punk? When looking at this situation, one must acknowledge two basic possibilities. The first, that CM Punk had a legitimate issue with the WWE, one that could not be settled, and has walked out on his contract. The other, that this is just another part of professional wrestling's blurring of fiction and reality. For the moment let's assume the former to be true.
CM Punk has a well documented (even by the WWE itself) history of disagreeing with the booking/storytelling of the biggest wrestling company in the world, and it looks like that has continued. Punk's now immortal “Pipe Bomb” promo was an exploitation of the real feelings of the audience and perhaps Punk himself. That year's Wrestlemania was an absolute disaster where Punk, then the biggest heel in the company, was relegated to a hastily thrown together grudge match. The promo itself was a result of the WWE acknowledging Punk as the phenomenon he is, allowing the Straight Edge Superstar to take a little more creative control. His enusing title run made him into a future Hall of Famer and a far more prominent public figure. Punk, when given a degree of control, invigorated the company.
What if, this time the WWE ignored Punk and, knowing his own value, he was able to walk away? CM Punk knows quite well that if he wanted a month, a year or even longer off (and then a return), he would remain a valuable commodity to the WWE. Does the WWE need Punk? No, but they are far better off having him. Both CM Punk and the WWE would certainly acknowledge this. It's really the only place he can truly excel. Considering that Punk has openly mocked TNA (not to mention that company's well-documented current struggles), it's doubtful he would head there. If anything, he would probably do a few independent dates with his friends before returning to the only stage that could really hold him.
In this matter, it is also important to remember Punk's long reign as champion. Regardless of his apparent frustrations, Punk is trusted and respected by some very powerful players in the WWE. Punk's career only ends when he wants it to and if he decides to come back, he most certainly will.
But what if this isn't the case? What if Punk's departure is just another work? We live in an interesting age for professional wrestling. There is a misconception amongst many fans that the WWE is not as savvy as they actually are. They see the internet as a bevy of unfiltered information and a portal to all the dirt that they want to know. This isn't quite the situation. As the WWE Network will soon prove, the WWE is very much in line with the times.
During the rise of the internet, the wrestling industry seemed to fear the technology's looming capacity to smash through kayfabe and create an environment where nothing was secret. Over the last few years, it has become apparent that the internet and social media have not only allowed the WWE to perpetuate its storylines over varied media, but to create a sub-level to them as well. The WWE not only has influence over what you know is fake, but also over what is presented as real. Whether it be a quick comment on Twitter, a radio interview that is posted on Youtube or the newest episode of Total Divas, a superstar can plant the seeds of doubt to the entire world in the blink of a eye.
CM Punk already dabbled in this in 2011, apparently leaving the WWE with their title. Now, in all honesty, most fans knew that Punk would be back in this situation (though there was some doubt before he beat John Cena) but the company still didn't acknowledge his re-signing until he returned with fancy new music to confront the interim champ. They even made a best selling documentary to capitalize on the success of this particular angle.
Here we are, almost 3 years later, and Punk has apparently bailed again. This is a move that fits his apparent real life M.O., and also his character's, a benefit of the theory that staying close to your personality on air can help you endlessly. Yes, this is extreme compared to the last time, but there was this one time some jobber choked out an announcer, got “fired” and then showed up in the main event of Summerslam 2 months later. He even took a bunch of indie dates that summer. Not that he's important now or anything.
In short, it wouldn't be the first time they've gone out of the way to create a seemingly real departure that resulted in a surprise return. This one is also quite suspicious because of its timing and the apparent fall out. Obviously, Wrestlemania 30 is right around the corner. As a I mentioned before, the recent rumors had pointed to a CM Punk/Triple H grudge match. While Punk has been a storyline adversary of “The Authority,” he was certainly not their most prominent victim. That distinction goes to 2010's jobber and 2014's hottest wrestler Daniel Bryan. Now with the negative reaction to Batista's win at the Royal Rumble (something early reports pointed to as one of Punk's grievances) and the departure of Punk, Bryan is rumored to fill that spot. Weird that Bryan might now be facing the man who is apparently screwing him over on televison AND in “real” life, right? That seems almost too perfect.
Additionally, in June WWE's Payback event returns to Rosemont, IL, where CM Punk won his first WWE title and where last year, Punk returned from his post-Wrestlemania hiatus. Did I mention that Rosemont is minutes outside of Punk's hometown of Chicago? That might be important, too.
Now that I think about it, there is probably a third option. Let's say that CM Punk did have real gripes and really did want the time away. Isn't it just as likely that he worked out something to the mutual benefit of the organization and himself? The level at which Punk performs would behoove both parties to come to an agreement, just for economics' sake. While it's all but certain that the WWE would not be pleased with the absence of one of their biggest draws, is it not an opportunity to create the chaos that profesisonal wrestling thrives on? It will likely be only a few weeks before we know the real truth. Professional wrestling is an art filled with big personalities both in and out of the ring and things like this (in all possible realities) are bound to happen. Isn't that why we watch?
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