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CM Punk masterfully working retirement

Just one fan's opinion of how Phil Brooks is also The Best in the World at staying on wrestling fan's minds...without stepping anywhere near a wrestling ring.

For a guy who told us that "when I'm done, I'm done", Phil Brooks sure knows how to keep his stage name on people's tongues.

Before even getting into the timeline of CM Punk news since his last WWE appearance at Royal Rumble in January, let me get the basics of my opinion out there.  And this is just one fan's opinion, I don't have any sources and this isn't based on rumors.  What follows is personal speculation based on reported events.

I do not believe that Punk's exit from televised pro wrestling was a "work", at least not in the sense that it's been planned to lead to a grand, scripted return to WWE at a pre-determined time.  If he comes back, it will be woven into the narrative, as everything having to do with the boys and girls in the back that the public becomes aware of is in the 21st century.

I also do not believe, though, that his walking out was a spur of the moment decision.  Or that all Brooks wants now is to be left alone.  There are two ways to lessen or end the speculation and conjecture that has been the bread and butter of wrestling "news" since January 29, 2014.

  1. Address the matter in any way. There are many reason, some of them legal, why we haven't gotten a shoot interview from Punk about the reasons for his departure and his current plans.  But something as simple as a tweet thanking fans and requesting privacy would provide some closure and diminish the rumors.  The lack of any real news fuels conjecture, and keeps the conversation going.  Think Chris Jericho's many departures from WWE.  Wrestling fans are always going to try and guess the surprises their favorite pastime has in store, like a Y2J return.  In being somewhat transparent about his plans though, Jericho removes the obsessive quality with which we've pursued any hint as to when we'll next see Punk.
  2. Disappear.  Is it fair to say that a celebrity should have to hole up in a bunker to get some peace?  No.  Public scrutiny is an understood cost of fame, though.  Without any definitive answers, there is always going to be an air of mystery surrounding Punk's exit.  But there's still some truth to the old "out of sight, out of mind" adage - perhaps especially in today's "what have you done for me in the last 140 characters?" social media culture.  If the man really wanted us to stop talking about him, he would stop giving us things to talk about.  When Stone Cold Steve Austin went home, he went home - he didn't appear on a talk show about his favorite hobby.

A person doesn't set out to be a celebrity, and especially one that gets famous performing in front of live audiences, without some desire to be the focus of attention.  And the people that succeed, especially in the world of big-time pro wrestling, possess skills and learn ways to keep the spotlight on them.  A large part of the job of being a pro wrestler is getting and keeping the fans talking about you.

And CM Punk is very good at being a pro wrestler.

You can pull your hoodie up, but are you really trying to stay out of the public eye when you sit next to Dana White cageside at a UFC pay-per-view (PPV) event?  An event that just happened to be a week away from Raw being held in the city with which you are so proudly synonymous.

A week after said Raw, word comes out that you'll be making your first public appearance since you left WWE, on your buddy Chris Hardwick's show about one of your favorite TV programs, The Walking Dead.  While on Talking Dead on Sunday, March 16th, you offer nothing but ironic winks to your professional situation while every time you're introduced, we're directed to the Twitter account which still bears your wrestling character's name.

Throw in another front row center appearance at a sporting event, and then during WrestleMania week, the biggest time of the year for WWE and pro wrestling, suddenly your girlfriend is talking to fans at airports about your engagement?  And dangerously wearing the rock you gave her during a match on Raw?  This just days after she semi-jokingly chastised fans for intruding into her personal life on Twitter?

Regardless of their marital status, I truly hope that Punk and AJ Lee are happy.  I know nothing of them, and I'm not here to speculate on the validity of their romance or judge their decisions.  I find it suspicious, however, that two people who have never talked publicly about their relationship are suddenly very publicly acknowledging it.  And since the two people in question are pro wrestlers who are savvy enough to have risen to the top of their profession, I can't help but notice that their acknowledgement comes at a time when it's beneficial to elevate yourself in the pro wrestling conversation.

It's a very "reality era" ploy, but it adds a level of intrigue to everything the Divas champion does in and out of the ring and is another thing that keeps her profile higher than every other female on the roster.

WWE is absolutely complicit in all of this, because they hope that maintaining the buzz will benefit their business now and in the future.  The company could also come out and say "he's gone, we're moving on".  But by never mentioning him outside of Vince McMahon telling investors that he's on sabbatical, they're perpetuating the myth.  There hasn't been a "will he ever come back?" mystery like this one since Bret Hart mended fences with the company and its Chairman.

None of us know if CM Punk will ever return to WWE.  But, as is his right, he continues to pursue activities in the public arena.  His ability to do that, and to profit from doing that, is aided by having a rabid fan base tracking his every move.  And whether you call him Phil Brooks or CM Punk, he is clearly smart enough to understand that and cultivate that following.

He's not The Best in the World for nothing.

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