While some may have hard feelings for CM Punk for leaving them high and dry as wrestling fans, I can't begrudge a man for following his heart. Most were upset, not because they felt betrayed, but because they loved watching him perform. As more and more months passed, the saltiness only increased, thanks to Punk's decision to seemingly denigrate the wrestling fans that helped make his name relevant. Personally, I was in one TNA locker room with him, and it was during his basketball shorts days. At the time, I saw nothing in him that stood out. It was a naive observation on my part, because once he found his groove in WWE, not only was he good, he was great.
When at his zenith, Punk was arguably the most interesting and compelling character in the entire company (and country). His ringwork was consistently strong, even when he was banged up, and despite his diva tendencies, he was money as a professional wrestler. Whatever the reasons for his growing discontent, he felt he had to leave the promotion and seek out happiness outside the industry.
This piece isn't about Punk making a mistake or wishing him ill-will, nor did I write it to scold him for leaving the form of entertainment at which he excelled.
This article is simply a discussion of how CM Punk could have fit in with the current WWE (and NXT) roster, and the feuds and potential programs we've missed out on as a result of his decision. The list could be long, but I'm going to limit it to five, for the sake of your day and also so you can speculate on your own Punk v. Current WWE Superstar match. It's more a, "Damn, I wish we could have seen that," than anything else, and it seems timely with his UFC debut just over 24 hours away.
CM PUNK V. ROMAN REIGNS
Nothing could have ended up making more money for Punk than this pairing, for reasons I'm sure are already bouncing around inside your heads. The program with John Cena and what it represented was somewhat unprecedented in WWE, and the build to Money in the Bank 2011 is as hot as we've seen the promotion in many years. So, take the success of that idea and paste Reigns over Cena, using the same logic of a made guy against an underdog tired of waiting in line while less talented people got the big push.
Because Roman's spot in the company was so utterly transparent - with Vince McMahon as the villain in that version of the story - imagine what Punk could have done on the microphone with the facts. And, as Reigns has improved as a worker and continued to fight an uphill battle as a babyface, the matches themselves could be bonafide main events basically anywhere in the world. Even without Paul Heyman, where the feud could involve both the advocate and the CEO of the company (and think about those prospects for a second), it's the angle Punk was born to play, with the perfect foil.
CM PUNK V. DANIEL BRYAN
These two worked each other many times, but Punk was indisposed, focused on other things, by the time DB hit his apex. That's what I'm suggesting. Daniel Bryan of the YES Movement, before the concussions took their toll. There was a sweet spot where those two could have made ultimate symphonic music together. Punk, who believes he's the greatest wrestler alive, basically a tatted up, straight edged Bret Hart gimmick (may be a reach, but go with it), taking on the people's choice. Here, Punk could play the jealous superstar, the one whose halo was removed and handed to another of his contemporaries.
Punk and Bryan walked in similar circles prior to WWE, and both worked extremely hard to get to the precipice of what's deemed to be the summit of the pro wresting landscape. Thinking back on the success of the Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn program, which relied on an undercurrent of reality crafted into a false rivalry, there's always interest when the lines of fact and fiction are crossed. Plus, Punk is believable as the embodiment of envy. In the ring? Well, that's obvious.
CM PUNK V. AJ STYLES
The Best in the World vs. The Phenomenal One. I'm really not sure there's any need to add anything else, but I'm a writer, alas here we go. The matches would be absolutely tremendous, and both could then head to the back and trade various balms for back problems, provided Jackie Chiles was told in advance. Styles has shown more on the stick since joining WWE than most anyone could have expected, and as a result, he could hold his own in the ring with Punk.
The feud could be done in many different ways, but maybe the most intriguing would be two conceited, uber-talented wrestlers battling for bragging rights. Either could play the babyface, and, conversely, both could play the heel. Regardless of alignment, these are two guys who never hooked up at a time when each could claim to be on top of his game. The post-NJPW, fully matured AJ Styles, and the CM Punk who held the WWE Championship for 434 days, never stepped into the ring at the same time. That does make me sigh, even though "never" is only true until it's not.
CM PUNK V. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Punk fancies himself a tough guy, a fact proven out by his (I believe) ill-fated attempt at an MMA career, but a story-driven strong style match would fit 2016 CM Punk like a glove. Shinsuke IS a tough guy, a fact proven out by the beating he both took and dished out in Japan. Nakamura and Punk would be a good, intense mixture of styles, and though in a perfect world, I'd like to see him with Tanahashi or Okada, Shinsuke is right there with them. Past the work would be two fantastic entrances, featuring Cult of Personality and Nakamura's outstanding theme. It would feel big long before the bell rang.
Here, Punk would carry the promo in the states, and Shinsuke would be Shinsuke. It would be the kind of match the Chicagoan would salivate to do, and the performance would be top notch. It would benefit from the right story, or the right reason for these two to tangle, but there are ways to get there. In fact, the way Nakamura vs. Zayn was built could be a good skeleton for what the Punk program could be. It wouldn't have to be anything deeper than two prideful veterans who want to win a landmark wrestling match.
CM PUNK V. SETH ROLLINS
Come on, folks. And this would be white pants Seth Rollins, the most dominant character in pro wrestling history. I'm talking about the limited edition, alternate attire Seth action figure that comes with a special Super Saiyan Unbeatabilty potion. This would be the most "WWEitized" of these five matches, where I could see an elaborate storyline and a much more dramatic build. Punk did run into The Shield, but he never looked into the eyes of The Man. And that sucks.
Seth's mic work has improved to a huge degree, and working with someone like Punk would only have exacerbated that growth. Here, we could have MAYBE even involved Stephanie, Triple H, AJ Lee, and Paul Heyman, dependent upon the time the angle occurred. All of this is fantasy, but you can't tell me you wouldn't hand over a few knots to watch this one.
I said five, but I have to get to six, because there's a grand champion of missed opportunities that needs to be discussed.
CM PUNK V. MOJO RAWLEY
Some things don't require exposition, and just as with the Styles match, Punk vs. Rawley is one of those iconic, once in a lifetime moments we'll likely never get, and that reality actually makes me weep tears of sadness. We're never going to get this clash of the titans, and it's such a freaking shame. Why we remain wrestling fans in the wake of the knowledge that these two won't ever hook it up is painful...
Breaking it down, Punk would talk and Mojo would stay hype, Punk would tell a story in the ring and Mojo would stay hype, and Punk would weave a deep wrestling tapestry from entrance to exit...
And Mojo Rawley would stay hype.
There are many good choices, and I'd love to see yours in the comment section. I hope CM Punk is enjoying his life. I just wish we could have seen him for a few more years in a WWE ring, ticking off a few of the dream boxes in the process. But, he'll be back, because we all have to experience the irony of Punk returning for a big payday to main event WrestleMania. In that moment, he becomes what he despised most when he was a full-timer on the roster. THAT will be epic, amazingly hypocritical, and Texas oil money rich. Just having some fun, even though that's going to happen.
Best of luck to him tomorrow.
Oh yeah, one more I have to mention... CM Punk vs. Kevin Owens. And now I'm officially verklempt.
Talk among yourselves. I'll give you a topic. The Russian Revolution was neither Russian, nor a revolution.