What started back at the beginning of 2014 has finally come to an end. CM Punk famously ghosted on the WWE twice and now has his second UFC bout this weekend. But the real story of Punk’s relationship with the WWE doesn’t stem from 2014 departure, it’s from 2011’s.
Punk’s story doesn’t really begin until 2011. He started as a red hot talent poached from Ring of Honor then sat in developmental for awhile as an unused wrestler. For months the WWE, who had chosen Punk based on his indie abilities, tried to make him look and feel like their beefy, larger wrestlers the company was used to. Eventually Punk would be called up and continue to find little to no traction within the company, however fans would take a shine to him. With blaring punk music, plenty of tattoos, and a bit of a chip on his shoulder Punk was a perfect for a company always looking for the next best thing. Punk could be the sniveling weasel running away with a belt or the anti-hero doing what is right by any means necessary. But Punk had one major obstacle, John Cena.
Nowadays Cena is the veteran who has earned his time off, his giant paychecks, and respect. Nearly ten years ago however Cena wasn’t seen as the hard worker, he was seen as the company’s chosen one. A wrestler that no one wanted and who couldn’t lose even if the story demanded so. Then comes in Punk. Punk was everything Cena wasn’t. Crowds loved him, he had independent credibility, and he’d say what fans were thinking. Even when Punk would win championships it never seemed like enough, the WWE always found a way to put Cena in the spotlight.
Then came Money in the Bank. Punk was champion, Money in the Bank was in July, and Punk revealed that, in real life, his contract with the WWE would expire. Every normal wrestling instinct said Punk would lose his belt to Cena. Punk was cutting scathing promos, teasing the company and creating wonderful storylines that inspired the fans to become heavily invested. And then, Punk won. It was bedlam. Suddenly the WWE was pretending the championship was still with the company, Punk was touting the belt around town, and everything was in flux.
WWE couldn’t maintain of course. The story, Punk’s absence with the belt, and their desire to have everything in their maximum control meant the story went to shit. Everything they could have done with Punk was tossed out the window for the here and now. It wasn’t about what Punk’s potential, it was about WWE’s bottom line. And that’s why Punk doesn’t work for the WWE today. It’s why he left in 2014. It’s why he won his lawsuit, why his UFC career doesn’t matter because he’s doing what he wants. It’s why the WWE still feels like a hollow, albeit flashy, version of wrestling.