Last November’s WWE Survivor Series 2023 event went off the air in spectacular fashion with the surprise return of CM Punk to the company. Roughly 8 or 9 minutes prior to Punk’s return, Randy Orton also made his long-awaited return to WWE after being sidelined for 18 months with a major back injury; it was a double whammy of huge moments for fans watching the show.
WWE’s strategy for booking these major returns was to announce Randy’s return one week ahead of time as an official participant in the War Games match. His announced return was something of a somekscreen to cover up Punk’s surprise return, especially given the way it all played out during the show itself when Randy was missing for most of the WarGames match and didn’t show up until the final part of the fight. Punk was no longer front of mind at that point, which made it even more of a “Holy shit!” moment when Cult of Personality began to play in the arena.
During an interview this week on WWE’s The Bump, Randy discussed his return at Survivor Series and suggested that a less mature version of himself would have blown a gasket over his big return being spoiled by WWE one week in advance:
“For a month prior, there [were] all these rumors online that I was coming back. But there [were] also rumors online that CM Punk was coming back. Instead of it being a surprise that it was me instead of Punk, they let everyone know the week prior Randy Orton’s gonna be the one joining Cody’s team at War Games. It kinda let the wind out of my sails a little bit because I’ve been gone for a year and a half, there’s all this anticipation, people have been expecting me to return for the past 6 months because I’ve been out so long.
I can tell that I’ve matured a lot because a part of me wanted to be irate. Right? Like, this was taken from me, this reaction from the crowd that I’ve been looking forward to for 18 months. But after all was said and done, I came out got a great reaction, Punk came out got a great reaction. And I realized after the fact that nobody stepped on anyone’s toes. It was really just a really fun night for the fans. They got Randy Orton back and they were very happy about that. They weren’t even thinking about Punk. And here comes Punk...everybody was excited to see us both.”
I’d say WWE handled Orton and Punk’s returns as well as possible at Survivor Series, and Orton is spot on in his assessment that it was just a really fun night for the fans. It’s also an example of why WWE has a lot more good will with its fans under its new regime than it did when Vince McMahon was still in charge of creative.