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MGP: For CM Punk, it’s all about finding his voice in WWE

The Monday Gorilla Position got one of its Christmas gifts early with Punk’s ‘spicy’ SmackDown promo. Now it’s breaking down what worked and what didn’t from that, and thinking about how Punk & WWE move forward from it.

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY FOR CM PUNK FANS

Author’s Note: This will not always be a CM Punk column. The man just happens to be the headliner for the third week in a row. For obvious reasons.

It was just last week on the Monday Gorilla Position that I asked Wrestling Santa (which I imagine is Mick Foley hanging out in his best Kris Kringle garb) to bring us the real CM Punk for Christmas. For reasons I laid out in that previous column, his first promo back in WWE was a bit of a let down.

What we heard Friday night on SmackDown? Now that was more along the lines of what we were expecting. That was much closer to the CM Punk who’s earned the undying admiration of pro wrestling fans over the last three decades.

The term he used was ‘spicy’, and he definitely delivered on that. Taking a few shots at two of the men he helped bring up to the main roster back in 2012. Going as far to mention the Tribal Chief and even acknowledging all of Roman Reigns’ success. Seth Rollins on the other hand, Punk didn’t even bother to mention by name.

The self-proclaimed Best in the World referred to the World Heavyweight Champion as ‘that one guy’ and the ‘bad apple in the bunch’ that has refused to welcome him back with open arms.

From the moment that Punk’s music hit at Survivor Series, Rollins has not shied away from expressing his displeasure that his former mentor and rival was back in WWE. He’s called him a hypocrite and a bum, and told the SI Media Podcast that many of his issues with the man behind the persona are deeply personal.

“He said some really bad things about me. Talked down about me for years and the company for years. And I’m talking some really bad stuff, called me like a bootlicker and crap like that. And like, you don’t know me. You don’t know what I stand for. I’m a loyal person. And I just felt pretty insulted by a lot of the way he treated me, treated the place that I worked for, treated friends that I worked with.”

To his credit, Rollins also gave Punk his due. Admitting that Punk went out of his way to help him early on his career.

For those who aren’t aware, CM Punk played a major role in Rollins’ WWE debut. Or at least that’s what he told Colt Cabana on the Art of Wrestling podcast years ago. Back in 2012, Punk was the babyface WWE Champion but the company was about to turn him heel and they wanted to build a stable around him. An idea that Punk was on board with, just not the company’s choices for who would be involved.

WWE Creative apparently wanted Big Show and Daniel Bryan — now both working in AEW under their legal names of Paul Wight and Bryan Danielson — to be his cronies. Punk’s idea was to bring up some younger talent from FCW and among his suggestions were Rollins and Dean Ambrose, now known as Jon Moxley in AEW.

Eventually the company decided on Rollins, Ambrose and this good-looking kid by the name of Roman Leakee. Many of you now acknowledge him as your Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns.

The Shield was born and the rest is history.

Rollins told SI that at first, Punk seemed like he was all about giving back to the business and building the next generation of stars, but after a while turned selfish. Claiming that what he really wanted was to take from the industry.

Friday night on SmackDown, Punk said he doesn’t put much stock into anything that Rollins has to say, because he’s not even ‘“The Man” of his own household.

Punk’s second promo was still pretty mild compared to what we heard in AEW the past couple of years, but you have to remember that he’s now dealing with some restrictions.

WWE is a PG program that maybe borders on PG-13 at times. He’s not going to be able to go as far as, maybe, he’d like to and that’s ok. PG Punk doesn’t mean his exchanges with future rivals won’t be as brilliant as his quips with MJF were in AEW, they’ll just be different.

Joe Pesci is one of the greatest actors of all time. The Academy Award winner has a Hall of Fame resume of film titles that includes Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull, and My Cousin Vinny. The Lethal Weapon franchise is a personal favorite.

What do all of these films have in common and what does Joe Pesci have to do with CM Punk? Allow me to explain.

Not only is Joe Pesci a highly distinguished actor, but he’s also a record holder. No one has said more F-bombs on camera, that didn’t hit the cutting room floor, than Joe Pesci. Across all of his films combined, Pesci has uttered everyone’s favorite four letter F-word a remarkable 272 times.

One movie were he never said it, was the 1990 megahit Home Alone. If ever there was a movie that Joe Pesci should have had free reign to let a few f—-s fly, it’s Home Alone. You’re telling me a grown man who just got the top of his head blasted with a blow torch or his gold teeth knocked out with a paint can, isn’t going to uncontrollably scream f—- about 900 times?

Of course he would and Joe Pesci knew it. But Home Alone is a family friendly Christmas classic. He wasn’t allowed to swear. Knowing he needed to figure something out, Pesci invented his own language. A series of grumbles, stutters, and mutters to compensate for the lack of swearing that was allowed on set.

This is essentially what Punk needs to do now that he’s back with a WWE microphone in his hand. He needs to find his WWE voice and make the promos hit just as hard, despite not being able to always say what he wants to say.

Saturday’s segment with Shawn Michaels at NXT Deadline was just two of the sport’s all time greats just having a really fun time. A nice stop on Punk’s welcome back tour that I’m sure many of the fans and Superstars backstage appreciated.

WWE

Really the only misfire from the week, was Punk’s lone AEW reference.

While addressing the potential of working with fellow fan favorite Kevin Owens, Punk said they may be too similar to one another.

“I don’t know who would feel comfortable working with someone who just punches people in the face backstage. It’s 2023, you can’t be doing stuff like that. It’s insane.”

Punk chuckled at the tongue-in-cheek reference to his reported backstage altercations at All Out 2022 and earlier this year at All In when he was still employed with All Elite Wrestling, but the largely harmless dig into his past seemed to fly right over the heads of the Providence, Rhode Island crowd.

This is not a knock at AEW, it’s just a fact. There is a very large chunk of the casual WWE fanbase that simply has no idea what’s going on with the company’s biggest competitor. They don’t watch AEW. Let alone pay attention to any backstage drama.

I remember sitting in the crowd at WWE Fastlane this year and practically no one in the section around me knew who Jade Cargill was when she was shown arriving at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Not a single clue. It was eye opening.

It might be best to save the AEW references for the more educated wrestling crowds, or just leave them by wayside all together.

Regardless, the weekend overall was a huge step in the right direction for the new and improved CM Punk. He teased a few major feuds. He put over a number of new main event stars like Jey Uso and L.A. Knight as well as future stars like Cora Jade. And he finally gave his mission statement.

CM Punk is back in WWE to main event WrestleMania

This is exactly what needed to be said. We all know why Phil Brooks re-signed with WWE. What I wanted to hear and what the WWE Universe needed to hear was why CM Punk, speaking strictly kayfabe here, came back to the company he walked out on 10 years ago.

The wrestling bug is a very real thing, and after Punk rediscovered his passion for the business in AEW, coming back ‘home’ to WWE to finally scratch that WrestleMania itch is an extremely simple and powerful motive for him.

That goal of closing the show sets the table for a star-studded finish to next month’s Royal Rumble. Cody Rhodes, dead set on finishing the story he couldn’t in Los Angeles, has already declared for over the top rope challenge in Tampa. And if Friday’s exchange between Punk and the American Nightmare is any indication of future events, then Punk will soon do the same.

It’s unclear if Punk will wrestle between now and then. And while some fans may grow restless waiting to see him lace up his boots, if it turns out he does not, there is something deeply poetic about his first match back in WWE coming almost exactly 10 years to the day of his last.

On January 26, 2014 Punk was eliminated from the Royal Rumble match by Corporate Kane. Dragged over the top rope after the former Big Red Machine had already been eliminated himself. An angle done to set up Punk’s match with Triple H at WrestleMania XXX. A match as we all know, never happened.

A decade later, Punk appears destined to battle Seth Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship. Which I suspect will be his justification for signing Adam Pearce’s exclusive contract offer tonight on Raw. Punk’s not going to be able to resist the temptation of being the fly in Rollins’ appointment week in and week out.

Cody Rhodes, meantime, is all but assured his rematch with Roman Reigns next year.

WWE has two bonafide WrestleMania main events on it’s hands. And they may not be the only ones once the build up to the Showcase of the Immortals reaches it’s peak. Especially if Rhea Ripley has a date with Becky Lynch as many have speculated.

Let’s just say, for now, the plan is the obvious. What path will WWE choose to get each No. 1 Contender their opportunity? Does Cody become only the second man in WWE history to go back-to-back at the Rumble, or does Punk finally punch the golden ticket that has long evaded him during his illustrious career?

It’s fascinating. It’s exciting. I for one cannot wait to feel the electricity inside of Tropicana Field if/when CM Punk and Cody Rhodes are standing toe-to-toe, as the last two men standing, with a trip to Philadelphia on the line.

Dear Wrestling Santa, I have new wish to add to the list.

You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and stay tuned for more in depth interviews with WWE and AEW talent here on Cageside Seats.

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