“And I turned to Hunter, and I said, ‘All due respect, I do not need to wrestle you; you need to wrestle me. I do not want to wrestle you. I seriously resent you for not putting me over three years ago when you should have. That would have been best for business, but you had to fucking come in and squash it.’”
CM Punk, November 2014
CM Punk was in a dark place when he walked out of WWE in 2014. In an explosive tell-all podcast, Punk said he was sick, hurt, and confused. He had lost his passion for wrestling, saying, “I do not love this anymore.”
Punk was also upset that his best efforts, in his mind, had not been rewarded accordingly. He was unhappy with his payoffs and was resentful about getting passed over for a spot in the main event of WWE’s biggest show of the year, WrestleMania.
When Punk shared his frustrations with Vince McMahon (who was still in charge of WWE then) and Triple H, he said Triple H told him that his match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29 in 2013 was a main event.
But Punk saw it differently.
“And I was like, ‘I’m not fucking stupid,’” said Punk. “The main event is the last match. You can push it to people who buy the PPV there’s four main events; there’s one main event. There’s always been one main event, and I deserved it. I still deserve it.”
During that conversation, McMahon reminded Punk that he would be wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania XXX, which, according to Punk, McMahon said was a main event. It was then that Punk unleashed his frustrations with Triple H. He told his would-be ‘Mania rival that he didn’t need or want to work with him. He informed Triple H that he was still resentful that Triple H beat him on pay-per-view in 2011 as Punk was quickly emerging as the company’s hottest star.
Punk then informed McMahon and Triple H that he was leaving. He said he shook their hands and left, going home for a long time.
In 2021, Punk made a much-heralded return, signing with rising promotion, All Elite Wrestling. But one year into his comeback, circumstances in his new home turned him sour. Twelve months later, in August 2023, Punk was exiled from that place after another backstage blow-up — his second in less than a year — left his boss fearing for his own life.
Now, CM Punk has finally returned to WWE, a changed man, according to his first promo inside a WWE ring in almost a decade. To many fans and insiders, this may be Punk’s last chance to change his reputation and legacy as a career malcontent. It may also be his final opportunity to attain what he most wanted: headlining WrestleMania.
To do that, self-proclaimed Changed Man Punk must work with the person he once refused to do business with, Triple H. The same Triple H that Punk once said:
“...never liked me. It’s one of those situations where you always hear those stories in the dirt sheets about ‘Hunter says this about Punk’ and all this negative stuff, but me and him in a room together? Never any good vibes. Always negative, the way he would always look sideways at me, the way he always treated me.”
Seemingly, Triple H holds all the cards in this new business relationship. But as WWE’s Chief Content Officer, the lord of its creative direction, this is Triple H’s moment to set the tone for his campaign as the man tasked with leading WWE on- and off-screen, though he falls under the employ of TKO Group Holdings, the majority owner of WWE.
For Triple H, this is an opportunity to prove that he can put business first by working with Punk, a man he allegedly looked down upon.
In 2011, Triple H, then a wrestler and executive for WWE, made disparaging remarks about Punk’s appearance (possibly in his wrestling character or maybe hiding behind it), telling WWE Magazine:
“People don’t pay just to see wrestlers, they pay to see stars, larger-than-life athletes, heroes and villains. Stuff they can’t see in their own backyard. Punk misses the boat on Kevin Nash, and I’m not saying this to side with my friend, but Punk does look like the short-order cook at Waffle House.”
Then, in 2015, Triple H shared his insight into working with Punk to Steve Austin in a podcast, detailing what was so frustrating about their relationship:
“He’s a weird cat. Like, I don’t mean that as a knock, but I mean that as a he’s hard to get to know. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t communicate well. I would hear from everybody in my role now as talent relations, and all that, I would hear (from) everybody that, ‘Oh my God, he’s livid today, he’s quitting. He’s this, he’s that.
“I’d go to him and say, ‘What’s going on?’
“And I’d get, ‘Nothing, everything’s fine.’”
By working with Punk, Triple H sends a message to former WWE talent and potential future stars that he is willing to put personal differences and views aside for the best of the product. Triple H can also prove that what he said at the post-Survivor Series press conference is true: that he, Triple H, has changed, and so has WWE. Going back into business with someone he once deemed weird demonstrates a new level of open-mindedness that maybe Triple H once lacked.
All that helps make WWE an appealing place to work, especially for anyone who questions whether they would get a fair shake from an organization they feel might have a bias against them.
For his reputation and perhaps his legacy, Triple H needs to work with CM Punk. Could he have done without the iconic Chicago superstar? Yes. But this pairing represents a challenge that can help demonstrate and expand Triple H’s personal and professional growth.
Demonstrate and expand personal and professional growth.
In that regard, CM Punk and Triple H need each other.