When CM Punk signed with FOX Sports to play a role on their short-lived studio show WWE Backstage, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not it could build a bridge for the five-time WWE World champ could return to the company he left in 2014.
That split was as acrimonious as it could be, with accusations and lawsuits completely burning the bridge between the two parties.
Still, it seems there was just enough interest in a return for there to be some preliminary talks between WWE and Punk. While still trying not to dwell too much on the past, he revealed as much in a cool new piece from ESPN’s Marc Raimondi detailing “The inside story of CM Punk’s return to wrestling” (one of my favorite parts of which continues to be that ECW’s Sign Guy Dudley Lou D’Angeli was one of the close friends brought with him to help calm his nerves about his debut on the Aug. 20 Rampage).
WWE’s “overtures”, as Raimondi calls them, never led to anything. Punk talked about why:
“I remember one of the first things I ever said to them was, ‘Above all, don’t play games.’ And they played games. Some things never change. ... When you enter a conversation with people you have a past with and you know who they are, how seriously can you take it? I know exactly who they are and they just continue to prove it. I’m trying to be as diplomatic as I possibly can.”
For his part, AEW President Tony Khan told ESPN he was never worried that Punk working on WWE Backstage meant his dream of bringing him to AEW was dead:
“I was not discouraged, actually. If he was going to go back there, he would have gone back. He didn’t. I was actually somewhat encouraged. The fact that he never went back to wrestle there made me believe this was still definitely possible. It was definitely one of my dreams and aspirations.”
The difference between the offers wasn’t money. Punk had said in interviews during his hiatus that any comeback pitch would need to come with a nice fat check (Khan says, “He was looking to be well compensated, but I would want to compensate CM Punk. That wasn’t that hard to figure out.”). But he’s spoken at length since joining All Elite about what attracted him to the company. He indicates in this article that if money was the deciding factor, he probably would have returned to WWE:
“What I mean is, it’s not all about the money for me. Because if it was, I would have probably been the main event of WrestleMania this past year. Or I would have been at the Royal Rumble. Everybody is different. Every situation is different. There’s some people that don’t like me, so all they’re going to hear is ‘Oh, he’s just doing it for the money.’ And I could give a s---.
“The proof is in the pudding. Does it matter why I’m doing it? Do you really care? If you don’t like me, don’t watch. It’s a perfect storm. It’s a lot of everything. It’s the money, it’s the freedom. It’s the creative, and it’s the possibility of working with young, talented people that excite me.”
Check out ESPN’s article for a lot more detail on some things we’ve heard bits and pieces about - like Khan’s long “courtship” of The Best in the World, and how long he’s been plotting those ice cream bars - here.