Monday 3 March 2014

CM Punk: The Return?

CM Punk hasn’t been seen on WWE television since he was eliminated from the Royal Rumble on January 26. The next day he told WWE bosses he was unhappy at work and went home, failing to appear on that evening’s RAW. The departure has not been acknowledged by WWE. In fact the promotion’s taken steps to remove him further, editing him out of Randy Orton’s entrance video (he was previously shown springboarding into an RKO) and the show opening montage.

With tonight's RAW being held in Punk's hometown of Chicago talk has inevitably turned to a return. While I don't think it's impossible I do think that it's unlikely Punk will appear on tonight's programme.

There's no complex reasoning for this. It simply comes down to the reasons it's believed Punk walked out to begin with. He was exhausted, unenthused and in need of a lengthy break. Five weeks may have been enough time for his body to heal up to the point where Punk can get through to either WrestleMania next month or his contract expiration in July (although the latter seems unlikely) but he can't have had all the rest and relaxation he clearly wants and needs.

I can't imagine Punk's views on the business have changed in a month and a half either. The man had been treading water since last summer before he left. He'd seen himself slip down the card from being the longest reigning WWE champion in a quarter of a century to facing impressive but decidedly upper mid-card names like Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and The Shield, and likely finding himself opposite the ring from Kane at Elimination Chamber. He was still a valuable asset to WWE but he was experiencing a down period that he may have misconstrued as something more.

There were rumours that Punk had been pencilled in as the WrestleMania opponent of Triple H before he walked. Perhaps the prospect of losing to 'The Game' again didn't appeal. Or perhaps it's more simply a case that Punk was irked when he realised he wouldn't be going on last at 'The Granddaddy of Them All', said to be his last remaining goal in the company. He’d said before he left that he was tired of the cycle of part-timers being called into service for WrestleMania, leaving regulars on the sidelines when they deserved more. That indicates that the denial of the main event slot may have gotten to him.

If he does return he'll probably be talking
As unlikely as it is a return isn't something that can be completely ruled out. If we take the going on last thing as true WWE has something with which they could tempt Punk back. It would be in their best interests: they'd have one of their few remaining big name regulars to help prop up the 'Mania card and encourage people to purchase it (either as a pay-per-view or as part of the WWE Network). It would also allow them to work out a better way of writing one of the more prominent and important figures of recent times out of storylines, either at WrestleMania, the following evening's RAW, or some time before his contract expires. They could use that to as a chance to enhance the status of and get heat on someone fresh. Bray Wyatt or Dean Ambrose for example.

If Punk does return there are a few things WWE could do with him at WrestleMania. The first is have him resume his dispute with 'The Big Red Machine'. This is a stretch though. I can't imagine the Punk ego settling for a low card tussle with Kane at 'Mania. The Triple H match is a possibility, but that was on the table when he left so probably isn't a winning offer either. A combination of the two, Punk teaming with Daniel Bryan against Kane and 'The Cerebral Assassin', is feasible but also pretty farfetched.

It's the main event Punk wants and the main event where he'd be of most benefit. Adding Punk to the Batista and Orton clash would allow 'The Animal' to play the full on bad guy everyone seems to want him to be and save the match from playing to boos, calls for Daniel Bryan and irreverent chants for the likes of JBL and Michael Cole. That’s not the sort of atmosphere WWE wants for its biggest pay-per-view main event of 2014. It would also get Punk on side for his contract negotiations. He needs time off but I think he'd agree to stick around if granted extended time off and a light schedule upon his return. 2011 showed us that Punk is willing to stick with WWE if they grant him concessions.

Having Punk fail to capture the title might help with the negotiation process. Going on last at WrestleMania might be his sole remaining goal now, but I think once he’d been through the process Punk would want to repeat it and win the match. That’s something WWE could hold off as a precaution, in case it can be used to tempt Punk back for WrestleMania 31 or a later instalment.

Punk's involvement in the match would also present some interesting possibilities for Extreme Rules. I think Daniel Bryan's going to be involved in the title match on that show whatever happens, because it's coming from his home state. If Punk were to win that would set up a satisfying title match between the two former ROH stalwarts. It may have been seen before in WWE, both on PPV and TV, but it’s not been done for a while and never since his popularity boomed or in front of a crowd that would definitely favour Bryan. It would be an interesting sight to see. What’s more it would help to break the monotony of recent headline matches.

Another option would be to have Batista win and go on to defend the gold against Bryan at extreme Rules. That match would also have an electric atmosphere and would allow Bryan a nice Career Moment™ defeating someone utterly reviled by the majority of fans.

That situation would leave Punk free to tangle with Randy Orton or Triple H, especially if he was cost the ‘Mania main event due to interference from a scheming ‘King of Kings’. Neither match is that interesting or original, but we’ve not seen either for a while and with a gimmick attached and some effort going into the writing either opponent could be made to work. For the sake of completion I’ll also mention that if Punk were to face H3 at Extreme Rules (which would be my preferred of the two scenarios) Orton would be left free to be entered into the main event with Batista and Bryan, giving us the other current option for the WrestleMania main event.

As much as I'd gone off him in the second half of 2013 I'd enjoy a Punk return now. His recent absence has helped to make him seem interesting again, and if he were to return he’d be doing so to be involved in a major match as opposed to treading water. It would signify that WWE are actually listening to what their fans want and that they’re willing to admit (albeit indirectly) that the Batista experiment hasn’t worked out as planned.
But, as I say, I’m not expecting to see him. So get ready for a night of boos.

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