Following up on his surprise return to WWE at Survivor Series, CM Punk’s first promo on Raw in almost ten years was anxiously awaited by pretty much everyone on all sides of the wrestling business. After it arrived to close out the show last night (Nov. 27), reaction was mixed.
Was Punk phoning it in? Were his remarks — especially the first half of his speech about having changed and being home — insincere, or impossible to buy given everything that’s gone on since 2014?
It seems to me that was likely the point.
As the Best Raw reviewer in the World pointed out, Punk sounded more like himself in the second half of his promo from Nashville. That was where he set up the potential conflicts pro wrestling requires, ones with any member of the roster who feels threatened by his presence. His remarks fit in nicely with the latest rumor making the rounds (via outlets Triple H & team may or may not have just fed reports designed to keep Punk’s latest comeback a secret) about WWE talent who want assurances from management after Punk’s return to the company.
Punk’s working to convince us that those wrestlers are insecure, and rightly so since they’re not as good “in this ring, on this microphone, even at commentary” as he is. But what if they’re right about the man Seth Rollins called a hypocrite earlier on Raw?
That would be a hell of a story. It’s also one that, if not defuses, at least uses the criticism that Punk’s selling out by returning to the company he’s railed against for much of the past decade. There are seeds for this interpretation in the first half of his monologue too, when he indirectly refers to Paul Heyman (the wise man) telling him he’d need to leave WWE to get everything he needs out of “this place”.
Now, admittedly, a lot of this read comes from a personal desire to see Punk play the kayfabe villain again. The guy who took out a childhood of pain on Raven, who held Ring of Honor hostage during the summer of ‘05, who led the Straight Edge Society and made Aalyah Mysterio cry (while her brother Dominik — ever heard of him? — looked on), who poured Paul Bearer’s “ashes” out onto Undertaker.
That’s my favorite version of CM Punk.
It’s tough because he’s so charismatic even as a heel. And ever since the Pipe Bomb, the Voiceless do want to cheer their Voice. He plays the hero or fan favorite rogue very well... but not quite as well as he plays the big bad.
Plus, I’ll always believe that after giving crowds a chance to cheer him following his return from retirement and his returns from injury, his AEW run was headed toward a turn that would let him do just that.
So I could just be seeing what I want to see here. If the WrestleMania feud is Rollins, Seth could easily turn too. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve booed him for standing up for WWE. They could also do shades of gray for both, since there’s ample storytelling ground to justify either man using dishonorable means to prove their point.
Rollins was just a heel last year, though. And it’s been a long-time since we’ve seen Punk lean into playing one on a wrestling show.
So to steal a line from another favorite, give me what I want Triple H. Let the perceived clunkiness of Punk’s homecoming promo be the start of a run that sees Punk booed for only doing what’s “Best for Business”.
Give us heel CM Punk.