By all accounts on this suddenly breaking story, CM Punk has left the company that he energized in the Summer of 2011 with his famous pipe bomb promo. Like the man whose shirt he wore while breaking the fourth wall, he's taken his ball and gone home...perhaps to once again say, "Hi Colt Cabana".
As we wait for what will inevitably be more news, rumor and speculation, I thought I'd do my best to take a rational look at a story to which I will admit up front I am having a very emotional reaction.
On the one hand:
1) Time for a break.
While I was not in the camp of smarks who have been turning on The Best of the World of late (I was also not among those loathed his last face run and feud with Chris Jericho), it's hard to ignore the fact that we haven't been getting Punk's 'A' game lately.
In 2013, through SummerSlam, we were treated to at least three phenomenal matches from the Punkster (Cena on Raw, Taker at 'Mania and Brock at SummerSlam). And if we got those matches and preceding builds every few months, I could live with a less than 100% match or promo every other Monday night.
But it's been several months since we've gotten a "wow" match or moment from Punk. And as it became clear that there wasn't anything on the horizon for him that he considered to be at the level of WrestleMania main event against John Cena or that could even top working with legendary bad asses like Undertaker and Lesnar, we probably weren't getting another one any time soon.
So rather than to have a damaged body and spirit go through the motions for a paycheck, Chicago's favorite son vacates an increasingly crowded scene. Provided he didn't completely burn a bridge (more on that later), this could be an opportunity for Punk to decide what he has left to give pro wrestling and...
2) WWE may be forced into taking a logical next step for their hottest act.
Even more than a title shot, what pro graps storytelling 101 says should happen for Daniel Bryan is a chance to best the head of the entity keeping him down. If this was ten or fifteen years ago, that would have been Vince McMahon. Today, it's Triple H.
Punk was the latest guy shoehorned into the place in The Authority storyline that should have belonged to Bryan. With him gone from the scene (and based on how the re-scripted Monday night show featured The Beard stepping to The Game during its opening segment), it seems creative will put DB back where he belongs. Provided Hunter does the right thing and puts over Bryan in New Orleans, Bryan will finally be booked the way we in the internet wrestling community (IWC) have always seen him.
And that will hopefully open the door to more casual fans seeing him the same way, turning him into more of a draw at the same time that he's established as a threat worthy of chasing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
3) Sending a message.
The main thing that we'll probably get rumor and innuendo about in the coming days is "why"? Why now? What was the straw that broke the camel's back?
I have absolutely no idea. But I also can't be the only one who connects the dots on situation between a guy who has always wanted to main event WrestleMania and voiced displeasure with the company's fixation on using guys from the past for that slot even when they're part-timers - and a certain movie actor/failed MMA fighter getting the Rumble win and 'Mania title shot he never got.
Would Punk's walk out cause Vince, Trips and Steph to stop backing up the truck to the door of every retired muscle-head to ever lace up a pair of boots? Probably not.
But his exit combined with the reception their pre-ordained WrestleMania 30 main event has been getting from fans just might.
On the other hand:
1) A contract's a contract.
I'm old-fashioned like that, I guess. I don't like it when pro athletes hold out for a better deal when under an existing contract. I don't like when actors walk off a set because of disagreements with directors. And I didn't like it when Steve Austin left Raw in 2002 rather than do the job for Brock Lesnar.
A lot of times, I agree with all of the guy (or gal) who leaves reasons. Darrelle Revis probably has deserved more money for being one of the best corners in football. Chevy Chase may have averted a homicide charge when he left Dan Harmon's Community. And Stone Cold wasn't wrong that having him lose to Lesnar made no kind of sense.
CM Punk saying he's too beaten up and burned out to do anything less than be in the main event isn't wrong either.
But you signed the contract, and took the money. Stick around and find something that you can live with doing for the money you'll be paid.
2) Who's gonna replace him?
Not so much from a creative standpoint, but from a marketing one. Punk may not have crossed over into Vince's beloved "mainstream" like The Rock, but he is a very famous and much beloved celebrity in several fandoms that intersect with or exist just below that level.
And the audiences he crossed over to - MMA, gaming, comics, music - are made up of extremely passionate fans, in demographics that WWE covets, who have money to spend.
So while they can plug Daniel Bryan into his role in the narrative and slot on the card, there's no one who's going to step into his seat on The Talking Dead couch, or into a Twitter beef with Chris Brown, or who can work WizardWorld Chicago in the afternoon and drop the puck at The United Center that night.
Moving into the WWE Network launch, he had to have been a key piece of their plans to get those constituencies excited about laying out $9.99 per month for the service. He will also be greatly missed as a talking head, breaking down not only his own matches and angles, but providing interesting and entertaining commentary on historical ones.
He's not Liam Neeson, but he did have a particular set of skills (and contacts) that no other current WWE headliner possesses.
3) A bridge too far?
We've seen Bruno Sammartino, Ultimate Warrior and Jake Roberts return to the WWE fold in the last couple of years. I truly believe that there is no bridge to the McMahon empire that can not be repaired with money.
But those reconciliations followed many years of estrangement and bad blood. In a perfect world, CM Punk would have worked to the end of his contract, taken some time off and come back on a Legends deal to work occasional programs while doing all of the things that I discussed in the point above.
And he probably will be back in some capacity, some day. But the way this seems to have gone down makes me believe that it will be later rather than sooner, and as a fan of Punk and WWE, that bums me out.
Which doesn't even get in to the kinds of things that I can really catastrophize in my head...they won't punish AJ, will they? IAre all hopes of a non-Lesnar role for Paul Heyman gone for now? How will Kofi get from town to town without the bus?!?!
Final Analysis (for now): I'm 40% excited, 60% pissed/afraid and 100% bummed out.
Where are your hearts and minds on a Punk-less WWE, Cagesiders?