This is a guest post by Josh Katzker. Josh writes about sports and wrestling for KeepTheNoiseDown.net and talks about the same things on The Brothers of Destruction Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AmplifiedtoRock.
During the question and answer session of today’s WWE 4th Quarter Earnings Report conference call, Vince McMahon was asked about the status of CM Punk. In response, McMahon said, “He is taking a sabbatical. Let’s just put it that way.”
With investors concerned about the absence of one of WWE’s top performers, his answer was political and ambiguous. It was also perfect.
To everyone outside of the company, the CM Punk situation is a mystery.
Neither Punk nor WWE had made any statement about the performer’s status with the company outside of an official denial by WWE on Monday that he had been released. As such, it was expected that there would be some sort of inquiry during the call as to what his current status was.
McMahon clearly found himself in a tough situation. If Punk is, in fact, gone from the company without any plans to return, he had to find a way to spin the loss of his second biggest star. If Punk’s absence is part of some elaborate creative angle, McMahon didn’t want to give it away. And, of course, if the situation is entirely up in the air, with Punk’s imminent return or permanent exit still to be determined, McMahon would want to be careful with how he described it, lest he accidentally concede any leverage he may have.
All that being said, I think McMahon’s use of the word “sabbatical” to describe CM Punk’s absence from the WWE was the best way to sum up a situation that is apparently, as of now, unresolved. He gave nothing away and didn’t lie. As a business move, I don’t think he could have handled the question any better.
Now, of course, a lot can be read into his tone of voice when he gave his answer (I thought he sounded frustrated and almost annoyed), but that would only be more speculation. That being said, here are my thoughts.
I simply cannot buy into the idea that CM Punk’s absence and apparent deletion from current WWE television programming is a storyline. Punk was in a similar situation in 2011 and I find it very difficult to believe that the company would go to that well again not three years later. CM Punk’s authenticity has played an enormous role in making him the star he has become, and that authenticity would take a huge hit if he was a willing participant in such a similar angle so soon after the first one. I also find it difficult to believe that WWE’s creative team is capable of the sort of complex, intricate and multi-faceted storytelling that would be required to work not only the majority of WWE’s audience, but the thousands of writers, internet smart marks and dirt sheets. I’m not saying it’s impossible. WWE has shown its ability to keep a secret before, with Chris Jericho’s 2013 Royal Rumble appearance being a shining example. It just seems highly improbable here.
As of right now, I believe CM Punk is gone from the company with no plans to return at any point in the near future. I don’t think, however, that this necessarily implies he will stay away. It is very possible that Punk could return to WWE television and creative during the build up to WrestleMania, but if this happens (and it is a very big if), it means that something or someone managed to change his mind. Perhaps a month or two away will be all he needs to clear his mind. Perhaps Vince McMahon will work his famous Jedi mind tricks to lure Punk back. Perhaps he just misses being on the road with his girlfriend. Whatever the case may be, I believe Punk’s current status is in his own hands, and not some group of writers’. Vince McMahon said nothing today to change my mind.