“Nothing is forgotten or forgiven when it’s your last time around”

  • Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town 

“We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings”

  • Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen

It’s a return to wrestling like no other… Again? 

The wrestling world has seen its share of comebacks, but I’d stand to wager that after the fallout of “Brawl Out” few of us expected to see CM Punk in an AEW ring again. And even fewer, I’d imagine, would have expected such a similar setup, at least on its face. An announcement of an event at the United Center of which CM Punk’s name is all too conspicuously absent from. AEW wrestlers slipping “best in the world” references into their promos, hell even the presence of a Pepsi machine in a backstage vignette is cause for speculation. That same “will he? Or won’t he?” magic is in the air, though admittedly, there’s a lot less suspense in the air this time around (turns out even lightning can lose its luster on that second strike).

Then again the circumstances surrounding CM Punk’s next return are hardly a matter of natural circumstances. After All Out, Phil Brooks held a Mindy’s Bakery muffin like the skull of Yorick and turned a post-PPV press conference into an airing of grievances so toxic that AEW would never be the same. It’s hard to imagine a chain of circumstances more tragic in the classic sense of the word than the man who was supposed to take this company to “the next level” firing shots into the very heart and soul of AEW The Elite. On some level, though, could it have gone any other way?

The wrestling media class (and worse, their sycophants) were quick to throw CM Punk under the bus, and boy, you could tell they loved doing it. Naturally, these same folks have fallen over themselves to throw water on, or draw suspicion to a potential CM Punk re-debut. I’m not here to defend CM Punk or his actions (immature and irresponsible), but I think it’s important to examine why a guy who is one of the last legitimate needle movers left in wrestling is so ripe for Wrestling Twitter disdain, yet alone a figure provocative enough to get people to fall over themselves to do just about anything to discredit CM Punk and dampen the potential excitement for his return.

As a character, CM Punk was always at his best when he pursued the truth, the authentic, the real. Think about The Pipebomb itself, in essence, speaking truth to power. It was a shoot interview with Colt Cabana and its subsequent fallout that dominated much of his life in the public sphere during his time away from wrestling. Punk itself (as a genre, subculture, whatever) being on some level about authenticity, even. Even the weird Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michael proxy war stuff that many have tried to cast CM Punk/FTR and The Elite to their respective sides is, in essence, a debate about how realistic people want their wrestling. Do you want a bunch of pretty boy knee slappers, or the excellence of execution? I love The Elite, but I can’t deny that there isn’t a sense of ironic detachment hanging over a lot of their work that I don’t exactly jive with.

As a fan, I couldn’t care less if CM Punk gets along with people backstage and I don’t really care if he’s the kind of guy who would gel with folks at one of my dinner parties. I look at the WWE, awash with Saudi money and still with Vince McMahon as “executive chairman” or whatever title they came up with, and the actions of one CM Punk seem like the smallest of potatoes by comparison. For many fans, though, any drama is too much drama. It’s been said that “a black cloud” follows CM Punk wherever he goes. In many ways, black cloud is the truth spoken, implied, explicated, and unwritten rules unfollowed. Phil Brooks has never surrounded himself with the sort of entertainment industry glad-handers that gradually smooth out your rough edges and coach you on playing nice. 

Punk has taken to posting photos of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen on his Instagram. Unlike Jon Osterman, we may never know what miracle inspired Phil Brooks to return to wrestling this time. I will say, though, the fact that CM Punk has been willing to mend fences and make concessions leads me to believe that the man not only has something he feels he can contribute to AEW, he may feel that he only has a certain amount of time to make those contributions (I still think the injuries have done more to dampen this CM Punk run than anything else).  

The idea that causing a little – okay, a lot of backstage drama should be enough for Tony Khan not to bring back one of the most iconic performers of the last 30 years is not only ludicrous, but it also says an awful lot about the folks suggesting it.

Wrestling itself is made possible by layers of artifice and conceit. It’s a simulacrum of sorts. I guess it makes sense that a lot of wrestling fans just can’t handle the truth. 

One thing is certain though: on June 17, AEW Collision will air live from the United Center, and the wrestling world will be watching. 

Shit is about to get real. 

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