In what would have been the perfect setting if CM Punk was still in the WWE fold, the road to WrestleMania hits Chicago in just 18 days time when Monday Night Raw is taped live from The Windy City. Now, Punk's hometown fans could throw a major spanner into WWE's hype machine by turning on the promotion for any perceived mistreatment of their local star that led to his abrupt departure from the company.
Moreover, unlike the recent case when disgruntled Daniel Bryan smarks hijacked the closing moments of the 2014 Royal Rumble match, it will be extremely hard for WWE to turn that reaction into their favour by masterfully weaving into it their ongoing storylines.
So WWE management has a problem, one which they recognise, as Dave Meltzer reported in this week's subscriber only Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
"After a week where the C.M. Punk news started dying down, people both in and out of the company are now looking at the 3/3 Raw, since it’s from Chicago.
Either Punk will be back on that show and they’ll get an incredible reaction for it, or there is a lot of concern how that show will play out. My gut says that if Hulk Hogan and Undertaker are brought to that show (both are scheduled to be brought back to TV at the 2/24 Raw in Green Bay), as they should be, plus Brock Lesnar, that while the Punk chants will probably be there, having Hogan there may serve as a counter. If Hogan was around too long, it would be one thing, but on week two and in Chicago, where he was a star dating back to around 1981, they aren’t going to "turn" on him.
There was less concern this past week because while there were Punk chants at several house shows, they didn’t pick up strongly nor last long. The feeling is that with nothing significant on that front happening with a Los Angeles television crowd, that it’s a pretty much done situation with the possible exception of Chicago."
Although it's true that the Chicago fans are unlikely to turn on segments involving legends like Hogan and Undertaker or the beloved Bryan, the same can't be said for WWE's current top two babyfaces John Cena and Batista, which may lead to the unwanted scene of them being booed out of the building just a month before they headline WrestleMania XXX.
Obviously the possibility can never be completely ruled out that this is an elaborate work or that CM Punk will cave in and come back to work at the very last minute after receiving some concessions from Vince McMahon, but all the latest signs point against it. The subtle onscreen knocks and more brazen ones off camera poking fun at Punk's character and popularity, along with editing him off all advertisements and video packages, is evidence that WWE don't expect him back soon and are still peeved about it.
There also isn't a groundswell of support for Punk within the company, as even those who sympathise with him over reneged promises and never getting management's full support due to having the wrong look, think it was a BS move to walk out with no notice and feel he should have been happier being WWE's genuine number two star for much of the past 30 months.
Meanwhile, Punk is behaving in a manner that suggests that even if McMahon called he wouldn't pick the phone up. Wanting some peace and quiet at long last, he's gone into hibernation and is ignoring all contact with his former colleagues barring possibly his very closest friends.
If WWE are hoping the Punk headache goes away, then the MMA media can't get enough of Phil Brooks likely because the rumours of him fighting are more exciting than anything going on in the sport at the moment thanks to Georges St. Pierre's leave of absence and Anderson Silva being out for the foreseeable future with a broken leg. The latest example of this saw MMAJunkie.com interviewing Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian, World Series Of Fighting Executive Vice President Ali Abdel-Aziz, Brian Stann and veteran cut man Jacob "Stitch" Duran amongst others about Punk's prospects in the MMA game like it was a given he would one day soon step foot in the cage. Keep dreaming guys...