CM Punk did it. He made it to the Octagon. He was then promptly dismissed by 24 year old Mickey Gall. Without an intricate knowledge of MMA, it’s hard to say if this was just a bump in the road for the 37 year old UFC rookie or if it was confirmation that Punk was and always has been in over his head. In his post match interview with Joe Rogan, Punk spouted a series of uncharacteristically optimistic cliches, “You go big or you go home.” “Life’s about falling down and getting back up.” “Believe in yourself.” “The true failure in life is not trying at all.”
Rogan praised Punk’s effort and commitment to his training, but what now? Punk promises to continue on with his new career. The truth of the matter is though, a second fight is an even greater risk for the straight edge superstar. One fight, regardless of the outcome, is a noble effort. If he fights again and loses just as bad, his stock plummets to near, career-ending lows. He’s no longer WWE superstar turned UFC fighter or the cult of personality celebrity. He’d be a nearly 40 year old man who was good at fake fighting a little while ago and really awful at real fighting recently.
Punk will do what he wants. However, that won’t stop wrestling fans from asking themselves: What if CM Punk comes back to pro wrestling? That brings us to this week’s What If…
UFC would have no use for Punk if he falls to 0-2 or 0-3. They couldn’t use him as a commentator or a brand ambassador. Those roles in MMA and other sports are typically reserved for legends. Punk could turn one of his other hobbies into a career or he could just retire (Punk is notoriously smart and frugal with his earnings). When asked about a return to wrestling, Punk very fairly and honestly said, never say never. So if he decided to return, where would he fit?
Ring of Honor
CM Punk built his career in Ring of Honor through a series of matches with Samoa Joe and the Summer of Punk storyline. Punk’s respect for the business and championing of young talent is well documented, so Ring of Honor would be a great fit for him. Punk could work on air as a personality, in the ring as a competitor and/or behind the scenes. ROH only tapes shows on Fridays and Saturdays in or around major cities, making travel easy and leaving plenty of time for other endeavors Monday through Thursdays.
Punk could be the lone wolf outlaw that does occasional matches. He’d also be excellent as a manager or stable leader. His recent MMA training has put him in amazing shape so realistically, he could even challenge for the Ring of Honor World Title if he wanted to. If there was an itch to scratch, Punk could do it in Ring of Honor with much success and a minimum amount of red tape. Ring of Honor would gain a new notoriety, their locker room would benefit from his leadership and Punk would have any opportunity he wanted. Which brings to mind an important connection that Ring of Honor has…
New Japan Pro Wrestling
In an interview with ESPN last week, Punk talked about how early in his career Japan was his dream territory, even more so than WWE. If Punk went to Ring of Honor, there might not be enough seats in the arenas to meet the demand from fans to see him. New Japan doesn’t have that problem. Their annual Wrestle Kingdom show takes place in the 25,000+ seat Tokyo Dome.
NJPW and ROH’s partnership would be the best of both worlds for the Best in the World. He’d get to fight in Japan in front of thousands of people and he could take on any number of international talents from Japan or Ring of Honor. AJ Styles’ career resurgence and Kenny Omega’s recent tear, show that New Japan is very open to using (and pushing) American talent on their shows.
A month or two of touring Japan is far more enticing than touring the US for someone who doesn’t need to wrestle anymore. It’d fulfill a dream and be a great final adventure in a storied wrestling career. Of course, there is another major option for Punk and as unlikely as it’d be, it would be the ultimate storybook ending…
“Look in my eyes, what do you see?” Unadvertised or hyped for months, the next time those words blare through a WWE arena, you’ll hear a roar louder than almost any in the history of sports entertainment. After failing to capitalize on his popularity and ability, Punk abruptly said goodbye to WWE in 2014. During the first couple of weeks and months of his absence, fans continued to guess when CM Punk would resurface. But as time rolled on, it became clear that Punk was gone.
The next chapter begins with: unfortunately, ironically or subsequently. But after Punk’s departure, the WWE began a transformation into a company that would have been perfect for him. The network launched and NXT changed the game. Names like Bryan, Rollins and Ambrose became main eventers. People like Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn made big names for themselves. Unlikely signees such as Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Nakamura joined the fold. Punk missed it all. But it’s not too late.
Punk still has a powerful friend at WWE who could facilitate an unlikely reconciliation: Paul Heyman. Punk could come back to WWE and make both parties a ton of money with a run of who’s who dream matches (promoted by Heyman himself..swoon). Imagine a year or two of Punk working semi-full time against Styles, Joe, Nakamura, Finn, Cena and maybe even some yet to be signed guys like Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr or inevitably Adam Cole.
As our new WWE Champion has just proven, age doesn’t matter in wrestling. Just talent and passion. Despite what Punk has said in the past, I believe he’s got both in spades.
Why it won’t happen…
Because it seems in impossible.
Why it will happen…
Because it has to.