Like most fans tuning in to Raw to hear what CM Punk had to say, I was looking forward to his explanation of why he chose to return to WWE after an acrimonious split from the company almost a decade ago. And because I love a certain level of heelish digs in my wrestling promos, I was hoping for a few zingers leveled at the organization that cut ties with Punk.
Initially, I understood his decision to return to WWE as sensible, though it didn’t evoke the same warm feelings as his comeback elsewhere did in 2021. That, and the lack of elite one-liners from the master wordsmith toward his former employer, left me slightly disappointed, though his closing shot as Raw went to black made me grin.
While he spoke for several minutes, it only took two words from the Second City Saint to pique my curiosity for what may be in store.
In reality, that simple phrase speaks to the scrutiny Punk’s WWE return has drawn, with fans and pundits labeling him a hypocrite while expressing their concerns about his ability to keep from going off the rails as he did in a previous setting. Ultimately, only time will tell if Punk is a different man.
However, for a character on a television show, those words, “I’ve changed,” sound like what someone with a checkered past would say when they haven’t. It’s what I’d expect from someone labeled a hypocrite and a malcontent who talks down to his coworkers (immature as they may allegedly be) while trying to curry favor with a general audience.
After saying he changed, Punk talked about being taught to speak from the heart and how it isn’t wrong because it’s the truth. Without question, Punk is never shy about speaking his mind. How much truth there is in his words may be debatable, but it’s his truth, and that kind of personal honesty can sometimes be dubious.
And that’s what makes Punk’s WWE character fascinating. Sure, he can play it straight and be a model of good behavior. He can do what others believe is necessary to rehabilitate what they see as a tarnished image, allowing him to leave wrestling on a high note when that day comes.
Or, Punk can lean into public perceptions of himself and become the most loudmouth, insincere pot-stirrer on television. He could make himself an on-screen menace to his colleagues, making him a character that fans love to hate yet keep tuning in to see. It’s a gimmick that might have served him better elsewhere, where he and others could have prospered, but it wasn’t to be.
However, where there’s a Phil, there’s a way, so fans can rest assured that Cash Maverick Punk and WWE will work to make such a gimmick fit within their universe if that’s the creative direction all parties choose to take.