It’s a celebration day, a holiday of some kind, and a stranger hands you the biggest firework you’ve ever seen. You’re excited because you know it’s going to blow up, make a loud noise, and get the attention of everyone at the party. You hold the explosive at arm’s length, fish a lighter out of your pocket, and put fire to fuse. It sparks and sizzles, and you let it go and back away, waiting for the inevitable shockwave.
You watch in sadness and confusion as the fuse stops burning. The flame fizzles out with a tiny wisp of smoke.
When CM Punk left the world of professional wrestling, his absence created a vacuum that promoters struggled to fill. Punk wasn’t just a star. He was a legend. There was no one like Punk in any wrestling company. In the ring, he was a scrapper and a seller, a consummate performer with a devastating finishing move.
On the microphone, Punk had an almost mystical command over his audience. Acolytes in sold-out arenas hung on Punk’s every word. He was the Voice of the Voiceless. When he talked, even if he was following a script designed to push a storyline toward completion, it sounded like Punk was preaching the gospel truth.
“I’m leaving with the WWE Championship on July 17th. And hell, who knows? Maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe I’ll go back to Ring of Honor. Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doin’?”
CM Punk, WWE RAW, June 27th, 2011
Almost three years after Punk’s infamous Pipebomb promo, Punk and WWE finally parted ways. To hear Punk tell it, he was miserable, angry, and physically beaten down. He was out of the main event scene and had suffered broken ribs and a concussion. Those medical problems were glossed over by WWE physicians, who gave Punk antibiotics in hopes that he would somehow recover enough to work decently in the ring.
That didn’t happen. Punk had taken enough abuse. As a final slap, WWE fired Punk on his wedding day, June 13, 2014.
It would be seven years before Punk set foot in a professional wrestling ring again.
“If at all, through my journey, any of my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down, let me just say, let me just say I understand if you all try to understand that I was never gonna get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”
CM Punk, AEW Rampage: The First Dance, August 20, 2021
There was a time when Punk and wrestler Colt Cabana were tag team partners in the Ring of Honor (ROH) promotion. They were good friends, so much so that Punk mentioned Cabana by name during the Pipebomb spot. After he was let go by WWE, Punk went on Cabana’s podcast and publicly alleged that WWE physician Chris Amann was responsible for Punk contracting a vicious staph infection. Amann sued Punk and Cabana for defamation. Amann lost the lawsuit, but Cabana turned around and sued Punk for fraud. Cabana alleged that Punk had violated a verbal contract in which Punk had agreed to cover Cabana’s legal fees and damages. Punk counter-sued, but in 2019 both sides dropped their lawsuits. According to reports, no money changed hands.
In February 2020, Cabana signed with the new kids on the grappling block, All Elite Wrestling. Punk would join the company a year later.
“I’m back because I want to work with that young talent that had the same passion that I had stamped out. I’m back because there’s a couple of scores to settle in that locker room. I’m back for the young guys.”
CM Punk, AEW Rampage: The First Dance, August 20, 2021
In 2022, Punk was on his way to becoming the face of AEW. In a company that employed such wrestling luminaries as Jon Moxley, The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson), and Kenny Omega, Punk was the face of the Old Guard. He was the veteran that had seen more than his share of troubles. On the surface, Punk was there to spread wisdom and take titles. Like a man who stuck his dick in crazy and liked it, Punk couldn’t quit the business he loved.
Then, things got weird.
Punk accused Hangman Adam Page, who was on the most babyface run of his career, of going off-script during a promo and running him down. “I don’t hate you,” Page said during a promo on AEW’s flagship program, Dynamite. “I almost pity you. And I have no respect for you and what you’ve done since you got here.”
In turn, Punk went into business for himself during a promo, calling Page out for a rematch. Page was not scheduled to wrestle that night.
“A little bit of advice that I suggest you take,” Punk said. “The apology must be as loud and as public as the disrespect.”
Then, things got weirder.
“I’m hurt, I’m old, I’m fuckin’ tired, and I work with fuckin’ children.”
— CM Punk, All Out Media Scrum, September 4, 2022
After a successful World Heavyweight Title win over Jon Moxley at the All Out pay-per-view in September 2022, Punk gave comments to reporters at a post-event media scrum. He sat next to AEW owner Tony Khan and proceeded to hurl accusations and insults against Cabana, Khan, and others in the locker room. Punk claimed that the Young Bucks, who hold positions as executive vice presidents within AEW, were responsible for leaking rumors about him to the wrestling media. His incendiary comments led to a backstage brawl.
Rumors about the fight ran through wrestling circles like ghost stories around a campfire. The Young Bucks allegedly kicked down the door of Punk’s locker room and began swinging. Kenny Omega reportedly tried to rescue Punk’s dog, Larry, and allegedly got bitten on the arm by Punk’s trainer, Ace Steel, for his efforts. Steel’s wife, Lucy, was supposedly in the room, as was AEW Chief Legal Officer Megha Parekh.
AEW launched an investigation into the altercation. As of this writing, the results of that have not been released. In the aftermath of the fight, Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and CM Punk were suspended. If rumors are to be believed, the odds of Punk returning to AEW are slim to none.
CM Punk is not the first celebrity to have a public meltdown, but this situation represents more than that. In a remarkably short amount of time, from the media scrum to the “Brawl Out at All Out,” Punk destroyed his own credibility and lost a massive amount of goodwill from fans and co-workers alike. Punk’s camp has been quiet on the whole affair, except to throw out weird defensive comments. Allegedly, Larry the dog suffered two loose teeth during the fight which had to be removed by a veterinarian. If that’s true, then it seems like that information should have been released weeks ago.
Now, that vacuum created by Punk’s initial departure from the business has returned. Punk was the Voice of the Voiceless, the Best in the World. The wrestling world loved him. Hell, it needed CM Punk, his passion, his fire. And just as AEW lit the fuse so Punk could bring the boom, he flamed out.
Is there more to the story? Sure. There are details and nuances, facts and anecdotes that people outside the business will never know. All that outside observers have to go on is, at best, circumstantial. But, there is enough visible evidence available to support the idea that Punk is, for the foreseeable future, gone from AEW. CM Punk has become a pariah, the outsider he always claimed to be, although perhaps not in the way he had imagined.
On the November 2, 2022 episode of Dynamite, current Ring of Honor champion Chris Jericho was set to battle a mystery opponent, a former Ring of Honor champion. Punk won the ROH World Championship in 2005. While nobody expected Punk, who is still recovering from surgery, to face Jericho in the match, viewers wondered who ROH would send to the ring.
It was Punk’s old friend and current enemy, Colt Cabana. He hadn’t been on television for a year. The crowd in Baltimore gave Cabana a hero’s welcome.
On television, anyway, not a single CM Punk chant was heard.