While nothing is 100% sure in the world of pro wrestling, all credible indicators point to the fact CM Punk will debut for All Elite Wrestling (AEW) at their ‘The First Dance’ edition of Rampage on Friday (20th August).
The Bulls-referencing event will emanate from the United Center in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, part of four consecutive AEW events slated for the city. AEW Champion Kenny Omega, Maxwell Jacob Friedman and Darby Allin have all dropped hints that the former WWE superstar’s debut is imminent, while Punk himself used the phrase “All Elite” during an MMA commentary gig last week.
Even with WWE’s huge SummerSlam spectacular on the horizon, the wrestling world cannot stop talking about CM Punk returning to wrestling after a seven-year absence. This is not the first time the ‘Second City Saint’ has stood at the forefront of the wrestling zeitgeist. In 2011, CM Punk would drop the ‘Pipe Bomb’, and nothing would ever be the same again.
CM Punk had announced that his contract was due to expire the night after Money In The Bank 2011, where he was due to wrestle John Cena for the WWE Championship. Blurring the lines between storyline and reality, the future UFC fighter’s deal was legitimately expiring. Talent contracts had never been addressed on-screen in this way, with grapplers usually being quietly written out of storylines upon expiry. From the outset, this was a series of unprecedented events.
A few weeks before the pay-per-view, John Cena clashed with R-Truth in a Tables Match. On the verge of victory, Cena was attacked by CM Punk. Clad in a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt rather than an item of his own merchandise, this was the first visual clue that something unusual was afoot. Having blasted Cena through a table, the former Nexus leader demanded a microphone. Walking slowly up the ramp while his rival laid prone in the ring, Punk stopped at the top of the entranceway and sat cross-legged on the stage. Lifting the microphone to his lips, what he said next would change everything.
Over the course of seven minutes of fiery invective, CM Punk would break almost every established rule of pro wrestling promos. He accused John Cena of “kissing Vince McMahon’s ass”, mentioned Hulk Hogan, who had left for rival organisation TNA, and called The Rock by his real name while saying the movie star “makes me sick”. Nobody was safe, and the crowd fell silent as Punk burned down the established order of how WWE television is supposed to work.
Brock Lesnar’s contentious real-life departure from the company was referenced, as was Punk’s distaste for fans who approach him in airports at 5:00am for autographs. ‘The Voice Of The Voiceless’ had never been louder, as he threatened to walk out with the WWE Championship. “Maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe I’ll go back to Ring Of Honor. Hey Colt Cabana! How you doing?” For any fans on the fence over whether what they were seeing was part of the show, Punk referencing two rival organisations and a wrestler not contracted to WWE surely went a long way in legitimising the speech.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the diatribe came when CM Punk turned his attention to WWE owner Vince McMahon and his family. “I like to think that maybe this company will be better when Vince McMahon’s dead, but the fact is it’s going to get taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law.” This vicious broadside at Vince, Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H drew gasps from the crowd, and Punk attempted to follow it up with “a personal story” about the WWE Chairman before his microphone was cut-off. This abrupt and unusual ending to the segment increased the feeling that Punk had gone off-script.
Mainstream media attention and feverish fan debate followed, as the whole sporting world tried to work out what was real about CM Punk’s extraordinary ‘Pipe Bomb’ promo. The momentum continued into Money In The Bank, where Punk kept his promise and defeated Cena in an instant classic, before hopping over the barricade into the crowd and blowing McMahon a kiss while cradling the prestigious WWE Championship belt. For the first time ever, the reigning WWE Champion left the company with the title in tow.
During the following weeks, Punk was pictured at independent wrestling shows and comic book conventions with the belt, which he also put in his fridge for a viral social media image. WWE crowned a new champion in his absence, but as John Cena raised the newly-minted strap, Cult Of Personality by Living Colour hit the speakers, and the true WWE Champion returned. CM Punk had signed a new contract, and the ‘Summer Of Punk’ began.
Wrestling stands on the cusp of another ‘Summer Of Punk’. After spending the intervening years making horror movies, writing comic books and trying (and failing) in UFC, CM Punk is ready to return to the ring. He rejoins a wrestling world that he helped shape. The influence of the ‘Pipe Bomb’ is still felt to this day.
One thing is for sure, the next time CM Punk stands (or sits) in front of a packed house with a microphone, whatever he says will be worth listening to.