It’s tough to tell if CM Punk was a sinner among saints or an angel surrounded by devils during his time in AEW. Regardless, he wasn’t a good fit for the promotion, and those differences ultimately led to company president Tony Khan firing CM Punk.
Punk’s dismissal was bad enough. But Khan’s parting words, televised to the world, left a stain on Punk’s image and career that has people rightfully questioning his legacy in pro wrestling, saying it’s ruined.
However, in an industry that’s seen its unfortunate share of sex pests, racists, murderers, wife beaters, drunk drivers, and more, it’s hard to look at CM Punk and his actions that led to his termination as the worst thing a wrestler has ever done in this business. That’s not to excuse his alleged behavior or to say that the reports linked to his name ahead of his release weren’t a bad look because they were.
But perhaps another way to look at Punk’s legacy is to call it what it is: complicated.
When CM Punk walked out on WWE and aired his grievances with the company to the world in 2014, he became a wrestling folk hero. Before that, he had captured the imagination of fans with his worked-shoot promo in 2011 known as “The Pipebomb,” an epic monologue that spoke to the perceived issues that fans and performers had with wrestling’s biggest promotion. Upon leaving WWE, Punk’s name became a rallying cry for a disenfranchised fan base, whose love for the opinionated superstar grew beyond measure during his nearly eight-year sabbatical.
But when Punk stood up for himself in AEW, verbally and physically, he was crucified by some in the media and met with mixed reactions in almost every city he appeared in. And while it’s fair to question Punk’s response to situations, it’s also fair to examine the problems he may have encountered in AEW. According to Punk in an interview with ESPN, his workplace concerns went unaddressed by Tony Khan and lawyers long before his first blow-ups in 2022, leaving Punk with what he felt was no other choice than to take matters into his own hands.
Somehow, the same rebellious spirit that was celebrated when he stood up to WWE is now demonized for how he allegedly acted in AEW. If anything, at least Punk is consistent. And so, part of his legacy will include invariant defiance, right or wrong.
The other part of Punk’s legacy will depend on who’s speaking on it.
Zelina Vega recently spoke to Newsday and was complimentary of the former WWE and AEW Champion, saying:
“[Punk]’s always been a fantastic person. There’s layers to people. And when people are just so hung up on the outer layers of what a person can be, you get stuck there. And if you want to stay there, that’s great. But when you get to know the core of a person, that’s where I like to hang out. To me, Punk’s been nothing but great.”
Vega, though, didn’t have to work with Punk like his former boss Tony Khan did. Though Khan thanked him for his contributions and stressed how Punk played a vital role for AEW, he also labeled Punk as someone who endangered staff and left Khan fearing for his life. While such language could be part of a potential legal strategy, it paints the Chicago native as a menace.
And it leaves Punk with this odd reputation as a magnificent performer and outspoken malcontent who ate muffins and beat up his coworkers yet made time to help young talent like Powerhouse Hobbs, leading him through an emotional match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
A sinner and a saint, a tyrant and a teacher, maybe Punk is all of the above, and that’s how he’ll be remembered. One thing’s for sure: at least CM Punk wasn’t boring.