Take a breath.
Soak it in.
It’s real. It’s very much real.
CM Punk is back. CM Punk is All Elite.
There were endless fantasy bookings on how AEW should present this moment. Should they just go ahead and announce it beforehand? Should he attack someone in the closing moments of the show? Should they do some sort of swerve with MJF? Well, I think it’s not a controversial statement to say that what AEW did on “The First Dance” was tantamount to perfection. It was Chicago. It was seven years in the making. After watching it, there was never any other way to go.
Paul Heyman gave an interview in 2014 that I could never really get out of my head. He was asked why the fans were finding it so hard to let CM Punk go. Why the chants, why the constant hope of a return? And to Heyman’s credit, instead of dismissing the fans and their actions – he hit on exactly why. “It’s a very difficult break-up when an audience loses its ability to thrust its adulation upon their hero…So when he abruptly disappears and the audience doesn’t have the ability to say goodbye or shower him with their affection, then it causes…the audience to miss him even more vociferously, because they never had the closure of letting him know how much they appreciate his hard work.” (DigitalSpy)
That always felt so true to me. Obviously, you had your fans who used the “CM PUNK” chants just to show their disappointment to the WWE product. I know a lot of people would roll their eyes, and I’m guilty of it too. But “The First Dance” reminded me that showing disappointment to the WWE way of doing things and wanting to have a BETTER way is central to the CM Punk ethos. Punk made it crystal (Pepsi!) clear that he did not consider his time in WWE to be professional wrestling. He had left the thing he loved long before his 2014 walkout. For us, this was seven years in the making. For Punk? It was 16 years. And oh boy, did it show.
I cried last night. I have no shame in saying that. Anyone making fun of the fan they showed crying, well they live a sad life. Too many fans watch wrestling with the sole purpose to shit on it. Trust me, the product can be bad. WWE Raw, for example, is a dreadful three hours to get through. But I watch it, and when good things happen, I’m happy about that. I want my wrestling to be good. I want to be happy. Last night my wrestling was good.
Last night I was happy.
I was literally shaking once he came out. I did not realize just how much this meant to me. Wrestling is the thing in my life that I love the most. And when wrestling was at one of its worst points in 2011, CM Punk took the industry and jolted it back to life with his Pipebomb promo. He showed the fans that there might just be another way of doing things – not just the “sports entertainment” way. Punk versus Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 is one of my all-time favourite matches and moments. Sadly what happens after is…disappointing. There are some fun gems in the next three years of Punk’s career. But he was done. Punk left in 2014 with no sendoff. He was gone. Closure was not an option.
On Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast in late 2014, CM Punk went into great detail explaining his frustration and why he left the WWE. He was sick, mentally and physically, and the company was driving him into the ground. I know how this all is coming off by the way, but I love WWE. That is why I want it to be better. CM Punk loves wrestling and wants it to be better. That’s why he stayed in 2011. But, by 2014, he was all tapped out. He had nothing left – so he left.
AEW was built on the idea of talents like CM Punk having the creative freedom to be professional wrestlers and love what they do. Cody Rhodes said it on Dynamite in 2019, “AEW is Ellis Island for professional wrestlers.” AEW is not perfect. But AEW has constantly proven that they are willing to just…give the people what they want. You think that’d be simple and easy. But as a twenty-year fan of this lovely business, it is not. Last night, we got what we wanted.
I am all over the place. This is not a traditional article. But it shouldn’t be. CM Punk made grown men cry last night, and I’m so happy I was one of them. The look on his face when he heard just how LOUD and sustained the cheers were? Man, he was on the verge of tears. Then comes what truly is my favourite moment in wrestling history. CM Punk hugs a few fans at one side of the ramp. It’s great. SO great. Then he looks at the opposite side. He gestures towards them. Then, CM Punk leaps into the welcoming arms of the crowd. A full-on crowd dive. I lost it then. There was no doubt about it. CM Punk has always loved professional wrestling and the fans. And the fans always loved him back. So we have our closure. Now it is time to dance.
Paul Heyman said that the audience lost its ability to thrust its adulation upon their hero. I am tearing up typing this, but folks…that ability is back. It’s back because CM Punk is back. CM Punk is back. CM Punk…….is home.