The news of CM Punk’s possible return to AEW in a post-Gripebomb world has been captivating. Observers and fans have been speculating with great vehemence to the essential question that underlies his potential return: Is it a good move for AEW?
As a corporate monkey myself, that kind of questioning triggers the following response in my brain: “We need a SWOT analysis!”
For the uninitiated, a SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool used by corporations and organizations to help them identify and evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of their org and/or a specific product of theirs. It helps paint a picture of what the company or the product is good at and where its issues lie, while painting a picture of what needs to be done to ensure growth.
Strengths and Weaknesses are typically internal factors, therefore under the control of the organization, like salaries, working conditions and quality of parts used for products. Opportunities and Threats typically come from outside factors that the organization can influence, but are ultimately beyond its control, like competition, the economy and public opinion.
So in the context of this column, I approached this exercise as CM Punk being the emphasis here, not AEW. I’m also doing this as an observer of a, erm, “product’s” influence on its company without any true insight in AEW’s business that could make this a valid, put-this-on-a-powerpoint-and-send-it-to-management SWOT. We’re just having a little fun here.
So here is the SWOT analysis for CM Punk.
An undeniable talent
A compelling, electric, commanding superstar. A world-class talent. A fantastic in-ring storyteller. A legendary promo. A seasoned vet. The pure pro wrestling elements that CM Punk brings to the table are the stuff you build promotions around.
He’s a draw
CM Punk’s connection with his fanbase is special. They’re loyal, passionate and numerous. It’s one that only a handful of wrestlers are privileged to have. Plus, he’s as identifiable a name you’ll get among the quote-unquote casuals in this modern age of wrestling. Combine the two and he is a metric mover in all observable aspects. In fact, he’s responsible for most of AEW’s business records: houses, gates, PPV buys, merch… He sold out the United Center on the whisper that he was going to be there. Wherever he goes, he generates business.
Upon his return to pro wrestling, Punk seemed to have an earnest desire to do what he loves while giving something back. There have been reports about how his presence backstage was appreciated by younger wrestlers and how invested he seemed in helping them grow. In a business whose history is littered with “hit the pay window and leave” acts, grizzled vet CM Punk seemed to take his player/coach Twitter moniker to heart.
He’s a ticking time bomb
Longtime wrestling fans know that the Gripebomb and the events preceding it were not a one-time thing. Punk airing backstage grievances in the public sphere or having nuclear meltdowns isn’t anything new. It isn’t preposterous to believe that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. And when it does, everything will be back to square one with Tony Khan’s face covered in an extra thick layer of egg.
The chip on his shoulder
With his good-natured promos, his open embrace of the next generation of wrestlers and his unwavering declarations of love to the fans, it appeared that CM Punk returned to wrestling a new man. In reality, it would seem he’s still the same guy who rubs his co-workers the wrong way, clings to grudges like a security blanket, and seems to think everyone’s out to get him. Even if many (myself included) believed in this vision of a clear-minded and rejuvenated Punk hoping he had turned a leaf, his capacity to set people’s teeth on edge while his resentments cloud his judgment is still very much present.
He’s no longer a martyr
During an episode of Dynamite, CM Punk told “Hangman” Adam Page: “Those roads you traveled to get here, they were paved by me. This house that you built? It was constructed with lumber from trees that I chopped down,” suggesting that AEW wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t angrily stood up to the institutionalized booking of Vince McMahon’s WWE at the expense of his career. Now that he’s in the company that, arguably, rides the road he paved, why is he still fighting back? Who is he standing up to? The martyrdom is unnecessary in this context. In fact, the anger no longer seems righteous, but rather petty.
Be the hero
Ever since All Out, AEW has had trouble hitting the highs that carried it just a few months previous. It’s been mired in bad press and a sequence of PR nightmares. Meanwhile, WWE has been riding a wave of momentum and optimism. A returning CM Punk to the company would undoubtedly create a boom in fan interest as well as various business metrics, while quelling outside perceptions of dissent. Another milestone CM Punk could add to his series of accolades.
CM & FTR vs The Elite
If there is a single reason for CM Punk to come back to AEW, it is to run this match. It is quite likely the biggest match Tony Khan has that is 100% under his umbrella, both from creative and money-making standpoints. But perhaps most importantly, it would be a public showcase that Punk has made amends with Omega and the Jacksons, if only professionally, which is all that truly matters. Good PR for everyone, really.
Regain control of his legacy
Many believed his return to wrestling was the start of a “redemption run” of sorts, to go above his WWE erasure and head out into the sunset on his terms. It’s still not too late for that. CM Punk’s influence on wrestling looms large and a man like him absolutely wants his legacy to be good and fondly remembered, with the positives outweighing the negatives. It may be a little more stained than two years ago, but he still has the chance to do right by himself.
While injuries are a potential threat for pro wrestlers in general, CM Punk seems predisposed to getting badly hurt. During his brief AEW run, he was taken out of action for several months for two separate injuries, including one that would have kept him out of action regardless of whether the Gripebomb happened or not.
Locker room status
There are so many reports out there regarding CM Punk and his status with the AEW locker room that it’s hard to get a read on what the reality is. Some people want him back, some don’t, some are absolutely ambivalent either way. Nevertheless, the generalized account is that his return could have a potentially negative impact among some wrestlers, notably among those who have influence among the guys and gals in the back.
CM Punk coming back to AEW involves a lot of investment, and not just money: Meetings, negotiations, accommodations, assurances… a lot of time, a lot of talk, a lot of effort to make sure things go smoothly. Will it be worth it? Despite being a draw was stated as a Strength, it had been observed that metrics had started to dip before All Out 2022. Were there extenuating circumstances that could justify that descent? Possibly. We don’t have a long enough period to properly evaluate how long a trend it could have been. Or maybe the bloom has fallen off the tree and the effort and requirements needed to bring him back aren’t worth the results.
In summary, like any good SWOT analysis, the next step would be to identify areas that need improvement and opportunities that can be leveraged.To do so successfully, these require changes in order to highlight Strengths and remove Weaknesses in order to reduce the potential impact of Threats. So the question is: can these changes be done sincerely with everyone’s best interests at heart?
Only one person can answer that. I’m just a corporate monkey.