For the third episode of her Oral Sessions podcast, Renee Paquette got her old WWE Backstage co-host CM Punk on stream for a chat.
It’s an enjoyable hour with the always amiable Canadian and the often curmudgeonly Chicagoan. You can listen to it in full wherever you get your pods (such as Spotify and Apple). There’s also a clip of the show Renee uploaded to her YouTube session that’s embedded above that’s edited slightly differently than the audio version - plus you can watch them crack each other up.
A few bits stood out to me as wrestling blog material. For one thing, Paquette asks Punk to compare his two bosses, UFC President Dana White and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. That leads into talk of whether pro wrestling locker rooms will ever unionize:
“I think there’s levels to it, and obviously you can draw the, like, they’re both right-wing - the word I’ll use is ‘weirdo’ - because obviously they vote based on what’s good for their pocketbook. If I had to really compare and contrast, I’d say Dana’s more generous. I think Dana does a lot of stuff for the fighters behind the scenes. I think there’s a lot of locker room money thrown around that people don’t know about, and he gets a lot of flak... That being said, I do also think fighters need to get paid a whole hell of a lot more [laughs]. But a lot of that time when he lashes out about when people complain about pay and unionization, like it’s because he knows, ‘hey I just gave that guy 250 grand under the table’ but can’t talk about it. But they should still pay people more and fighters need to get together and unionize anyway. Just like the wrasslers.
“[Asked what he thinks is going on with talk of wrestlers organizing, and if he thinks a wrestler’s union will happen] Nothing. No. No, and just because there’s no such thing as ‘the boys’. It’s a trope. ‘Oh, we’re on the road, and these people are our family,’ and like I said, once you’re out of the bubble, you don’t hear from anybody anymore. Those people don’t pay your bills. There’s always gonna be a handful of people that will undercut everybody else just to get ahead a little bit. There seems to be a lot of people that not only, by nature, are bootlickers - they just love the taste. You’re supposed to lick the boot, you’re not supposed to eat the entire thing.”
Asked his thoughts on WWE’s new policy about using platforms like Twitch & Cameo, Punk asks the same question a lot of fans have about why the rule doesn’t apply to Xavier Woods*. That leads to Renee & her guest swapping stories about how WWE would funnel outside requests for talent to their chosen stars (e.g. giving John Cena a cameo role on a TV show when the pitch came in for someone else).
There’s a lot of talk about his MMA career - in the cage and calling action for CFFC, movies, and his home life with wife April (fka AJ Lee) & dog Larry. Punk & Renee swap WWE commentary stories, which is largely them bitching about Vince McMahon yelling in their ears. It’s all worth a listen, but Paquette says the big question for last... what’s it gonna take to get you back in a wrestling ring.
“I think the landscape is currently much different than when I left, right? You could play the game where like, ‘Oh, if AEW was an option, would you have gone right after you left WWE?’ If you’re gonna play that game, there’s no way they would have handled it the way they handled it, with suspending me for two months and then nobody contacting me and then the next thing I know, I get release papers on my wedding day. Like that wouldn’t have happened if there was an AEW, because then they probably would have approached me and been like, ‘Hey, your suspension’s up. Ready to come back to work? Let’s work this out’ ...
“Without wanting to insult anybody on any either side of the fence, any WWE talent or any AEW talent, it would take - above all - an interesting scenario. A story that would be fun to tell. Also, just the stupidest amount of money. But they could just save themselves a whole lot of money if they just presented like a fun storyline. What that is, I don’t know. I’m a pretty picky guy, especially at this point. I think there’s more interesting people on the AEW side of things for me to wrestle, but that’s just because I’ve never wrestled them before - Young Bucks, Kenny Omega. Like, talking about your husband [Jon Moxley], I look at that and I go, ‘Well, I wrestled him already.’ So it’s just less interesting than something new. And on the WWE side of things, I don’t know that there’s anybody there currently that I haven’t wrestled that I would be interested in wrestling...”
Renee pitches the idea of working Samoa Joe again in WWE, which he admits is appealing, but goes back to the importance of story. He then chastises himself for the money demands... which is a segue to what is probably the real issue with going back, more than lack of interesting talent:
“On the WWE side of things, it’s like let’s be honest, we’ve got fucking - there’s baggage, right? There’s stuff that’s gotta be worked through. I don’t know how you get there. I really don’t.”
Probed about New Japan, Punk tells a story about how the last time he was there he was told he was too big to work junior heavyweight but too small to work heavyweight, but he believes that’s changed too. He mentions Kazuchika Okada as someone he’d like to work with, then chides himself for not knowing the scene any more.
The whole thing wraps up with Renee getting Punk to sing to Larry, which is just ridiculously cute.
Overall, in addition to being a good listen, the big impression I get - with no great insight, just as one human listening to another human - is that Punk is still very bothered by his time in WWE. He seems to have moved past where that experience soured him on wrestling in general (for which we should maybe give an assist to Paquette for getting him on Backstage). But as for a return to his old company, to echo his words, I’m not sure how that happens. Even with the stupidest amount of money.
But AEW (or New Japan) sounds like more of a real possibility than ever.
A wrestler’s union? Not so much. The bitter end of Punk’s wrestling run probably contributes to his negativity there, as well. But history says he’s right.
* All accounts I can find indicate it’s because Woods & WWE made a deal about UpUpDownDown and all related ventures well in advance of their new policy. There’s little concrete documentation on their arrangement though, which is why there’s confusion among fans and, if Punk & Paquette’s conversation is any indication, behind the scenes as well.