CM Punk returned to AEW in June, but he’s already gone from the promotion after getting involved in yet another completely avoidable backstage fight. As it currently stands, Punk’s unceremonious exit from AEW has ruined his legacy in pro wrestling.
Punk is most well known for his infamous pipe bomb promo on Raw in June 2011, which propelled him to a main event level spot in WWE from that point until he walked out of the promotion in January 2014. If he never returned to pro wrestling again, Punk would go down in history as a trailblazer who broke the mold for what a WWE main event star looks like and opened doors for others to succeed at that level. That he flipped off WWE in 2014 after they allegedly treated him like shit and he walked off into the sunset was, in some ways, a fitting end to his story, because he’s always been about doing things his way and not following the pack.
Punk did return to pro wrestling seven years later with AEW. In most of his interviews since then, he expressed a desire to help the younger generation of wrestlers, the same way several key veterans like Harley Race, Terry Funk, Eddie Guerrero, and Tracey Smothers helped him when he was on his way up in the business.
I don’t doubt that this was Punk’s goal in AEW, and it’s an admirable one. However, Punk is very much a believer in old school wrestling, and it seems like he couldn’t handle it when there was some push-back from other wrestlers in the locker room who preferred to do things their own way. His infamous media tirade at All Out 2022 also revealed that he struggles to deal with the way information spreads in the current wrestling media landscape.
This is where Punk’s maturity issues came to the forefront. Rather than accept that it’s okay that his way is not for everybody, or trying to find a more effective way to combat reports and rumors that he believed were inaccurate or did not paint him in a favorable light, Punk lashed out verbally and then physically. I don’t know if fighting other wrestlers in the back is some accepted way of doing things in Punk’s old school pro wrestling mindset, but there’s no place for it in today’s business.
Instead of CM learning to make an adjustment after last year’s backstage fight with The Elite, he seemed more brazen than ever in asserting AEW Collision as his show. From my perspective, it seems that Punk correctly felt like he was practically untouchable in Tony Khan’s eyes, and so he took advantage of that. The guy in charge was willing to give Punk anything he wanted to keep him happy. Punk was a made man in AEW; he finally had a top spot in a big wrestling promotion that was ready to meet all of his creative wishes.
With that in mind, it’s kind of mind-boggling that Punk found a way to blow it all, perhaps losing millions of dollars in the process. All Punk had to do was not get into another backstage fight, but he couldn’t do it. It’s really easy to not fight people in the workplace when they piss you off, even if they are in the wrong. But Punk just couldn’t do it.
When Tony Khan says he felt like his life was in danger as a result of the backstage incident between Punk and Jack Perry at All In, it creates an image of Punk as an unhinged maniac or bully who lacks professionalism and likes to solve problems with violence. This is now Punk’s legacy in pro wrestling, whether it’s fair or not.
This image of Punk as a toxic malcontent will also help some folks retroactively give WWE more of a pass for the way they treated him during his run there, because it’s easier now to just assume that Punk can’t be happy no matter the circumstances. I don’t think WWE deserves a pass in the slightest and fully believe that Punk was in the right back then, but Punk’s current problems in AEW will undoubtedly hurt his legacy in that regard too.
If WWE decides they have no interest in bringing back CM Punk, this could be it for him in pro wrestling on the big stage. If that’s how this plays out, with both AEW and WWE rejecting him, he may not have a chance to undo the damage that his AEW run has done to his legacy in pro wrestling. Even if Tony Khan is willing to bring Punk back at some point down the line, he’s close to being 45 years old right now, so time is not on his side.
If I wrote out a list of my favorite pro wrestlers of all-time, CM Punk would very likely land in the top five. I think he’s one of the best to ever do it on the mic, and his ring work is always captivating and delivers the goods. I hope he will be able to write a happier ending to his pro wrestling career. It’s a damn shame what happened with him in the AEW locker room, but he ultimately needs to point the finger at himself and realize that he needs to make some critical adjustments in order to fit into a pro wrestling locker room today.
The problem is that he may never have a chance to do that unless he is willing to work on a smaller stage like Impact Wrestling, because his final blow up in AEW has ruined his image and legacy in pro wrestling.