More than seven years after he seemingly walked away from pro wrestling for good, CM Punk finally returned to the ring with his debut in AEW on Friday night. Best known for his run in WWE, which included a lengthy reign as the WWE Champion, Punk controversially departed the organization in 2014. As his exit was not on good terms, the popular wrestler vowed at the time to “never ever” go back to pro wrestling.
Prior to Friday night’s airing of AEW Rampage on TNT, there were rumors of Punk making his return to the ring on the show. Both sides had teased the possibility in the weeks leading up to the date, though no official announcement had been made by Punk or AEW. Even so, especially with the show airing live from Punk’s hometown of Chicago, the fans in attendance were expecting him to appear. They got their wish at the very start of Rampage with Punk’s entrance opening the show. The footage has since been uploaded to YouTube by AEW where it’s drawn millions of views.
As can be seen in the footage, the reception Punk received from the fans upon his arrival is absolutely insane. For someone who hasn’t stepped foot in a wrestling ring since he parted ways with WWE in 2014, the wrestler is clearly just as popular as ever. Even before he steps out, it seems every fan in the building is chanting his name as loudly as they can. When Punk’s familiar entrance theme “Cult of Personality” started blaring on the loudspeakers, the crowd erupted in a way reminiscent of something like BeatleMania.
It takes Punk several minutes just to get to the ring, as the wrestler soaks in the adulation from the fans every step of the way. When he gets the mic, Punk cuts a promo indirectly criticizing WWE, noting that he “left professional wrestling” when he left Ring of Honor — the promotion he performed in prior to his WWE signing. With his debut in AEW, Punk now says he’s “back” in pro wrestling, obviously insinuating that the “sports entertainment” offered by WWE is not what he considers to be actual pro wrestling.
Prior to Punk’s WWE exit, he had been growing frustrated with the company for various reasons. In a podcast interview on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling soon after, Punk suggested his health problems were the biggest issue, suggesting WWE never allowed him to have the proper time to heal his injuries. He also says he was released by WWE on his wedding day, a move he saw as a deliberate attempt to get back at him for wanting to take some time away from wrestling.
During his sabbatical, Punk tried his hand at UFC, though he didn’t find much success in the sport. Even so, he has been praised for stepping into the octagon and giving it a shot even with the odds stacked against him. He has also been working as an actor, which includes roles in horror movies like Jakob’s Wife and The Girl on the Third Floor. These days, he can be seen playing a pro wrestler on the Starz series Heels.
Punk’s deal with AEW is said to be as a full-time wrestler, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of the wrestler in the company moving forward. As Punk explained in his return promo, he’s also looking forward to working with new talent he’s never had the chance to tangle with before, starting with Darby Allin. The two will fight on the pay-per-view show AEW All Out on Sept. 5. The footage of Punk’s return to wrestling comes to us from All Elite Wrestling on YouTube.