With everything on the line – and at his promotion’s biggest event ever – CM Punk took some mighty swings in a LOT of the wrong directions
Well, we never got another Summer of Punk, but we certainly got a Fall, huh?
In what has now become the CM Punk trilogy, wrestling’s most persecuted vigilante has talked himself out of another huge opportunity. He had backstage issues in TNA years ago, a terrible departure from WWE, and now… the mess that was AEW All In.
At the biggest show of all time, the same guy dropped the ball. Again.
And this time? It wasn’t Tony Khan.
But the third chapter of this saga is perhaps the saddest of all. When Punk burst back on the scene after years of self-imposed exile, it was like a re-birth. Not just for him, but for all the people who love and support the man.
It was also a great move for All Elite Wrestling… at the time. It made perfect sense to top off this promising collection of talent with a megastar who promised he was there to do business this time. Fans openly wept the night this many returned, and all of us storytellers in the media couldn’t wait to write the final chapter.
Just like in ‘Return of Jedi’, Punk was supposed to return, wearing all black, like a new-and-improved Luke Skywalker, ready to go to battle with the evil empire that had forsaken him.
People took notice, and it reflected in the ratings. The numbers were there for this thing to work. The stage was set, and it was time now to see if Punk could really be the guy that he professed to be: The Best in the World.
The Summer of Punk, Part III was already being talked about as a great reboot for both the character and the company. He arrived in August 2021, but it was a year later that was blueprinted for his true rise to the top. With the hope being that once he completed the story, it would be the next step in the company’s evolution – with him as their standard bearer.
What followed next was a collective crapping of the bed that has now mercifully ended, almost exactly two years later. While many people – including Khan – can be faulted for how they handled the entire circus, you can at least credit the AEW owner for facing the music in his fired star’s hometown. He owned… which is more than Punk himself was willing to do.
Instead, he spent two years raising hell and being the most spoiled star in sports entertainment. Coddled by Khan, he could have finally been what he should have always been. He could give his fans what they always wanted: CM Punk at full speed, with no creative roadblocks in the way.
It was the fattest pitch anyone could ever lob in your direction. And he whiffed based on his inability to be a part of the team. He let his glory outweigh the greater good. And he didn’t just let AEW down. He let the fans down. While 80,000 people were waiting on him, chanting his name? He couldn’t be bothered with them. He needed to handle his agenda first.
That is his eternal failure. His misconceptions make him malignant. And a terrible teammate.
The Fall of CM Punk: How Pro Wrestling’s Biggest Prima Donna Struck Out
From his personal perspective, he’s more important than them, his fellow wrestlers, or even the biggest show ever. It was not the time, and certainly not the place. But that didn’t matter. He was going to get his way. One way or the other.
And that’s a very serious character flaw for a grown man to have – particularly when we hear him complain constantly about how some of his coworkers are “kids” who are “disrespectful.” He merely looks like the pot, calling out the kettle.
In so many ways, Punk has become like the Barry Bonds of professional wrestling. He’s one of the greatest of all time, but there is an asterisk behind his name and his numbers. The former Pirates and Giants Slugger is often named by his peers as perhaps the greatest hitter of all time and is often named when anyone makes a ‘greatest ever’ list. He dominated so many aspects of the game.
But what he will be remembered for the most is his terrible attitude and the fact that he was a blatant steroid user. And when people questioned him on it, he didn’t even have the manhood to step up to the plate and admit his mistakes. His ego was far too massive for that.
On top of that, he was known to have cold-hearted feuds with teammates, his manager, and damn near everyone in the media. He was rude and vile to people, in a way that almost seemed to humor him. Why? Because he was a star… and he could.
It’s why the media has chosen not to put him in the Hall of Fame, even though he’s been eligible for enshrinement for years now. Not just for steroid use, but for being spoiled and selfish. The combination of it all has forced others not to honor him, despite his brilliance. Not that he’s not worthy, but that he’s chosen to not be worthy.
And Fall wasn’t a very good season for Barry, either. He never won a World Series.
Basically, the man the man spent over 20 years being a jackass, and then wonders why no one really liked him or is concerned about his legendary legacy. He’s bitter about it, too, often lashing out or whining about how he’s been treated. Sound familiar?
That’s almost the same case with CM Punk.
No one, not a single critic, can deny his incredible talent. His appeal is enormous, and he branches across lines and demographics that many pro wrestlers can’t even come close to touching.
His career, however, has been marred by the fact that his attitude and ego have gotten in the way of his excellence. And he works in a business where you have to work well with others. (Because after all? it’s all a ‘work’, right?)
That’s where Phil Brooks, The Man, is at fault. CM Punk the character is brilliant. He’s an enigma. He’s fun at times, he’s fun at times, and he can kick some serious ass as a performer. And he did it against a lot of long odds because he isn’t your typical ‘cookie cutter’ image of a pro wrestler.
But the man who portrays him has shown that he is lacking in character, and faulting in his in his actions.
There’s no doubt that Phil Brooks is a talented guy. He’s smart, he’s engaging, and he’ll likely be successful at everything that he does outside of wrestling for the rest of his life. But at this point, he has become more of a risk than a return on an investment. His in-ring shoot sessions and backstage blowups have gotten too boorish to deal with, and they seem to always be playing on a continuous loop.
That’s why a large population of the wrestling community wouldn’t mind now if CM Punk’s career just merely Goes To Sleep.
Ryan Boman is the author of the 2023 book, Pop Music & Peanut Butter: A Collection of Essays about Embracing Life with Laughter & Love, and has covered pro sports and wrestling for 30 years. Follow him on social media @RyanKBoman