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By Mike Johnson on 2023-11-25 23:04:00

As the entire wrestling world saw, former WWE, Ring of Honor and AEW Champion CM Punk officially returned to WWE tonight at the 2023 Survivor Series in Punk's hometown of Chicago, IL. was told tonight after the show by WWE sources that the deal between the two sides is believed to be “several years in length” and that the company and Punk had their first communications over the last week.  

We are told that once the ice was broken, the deal came together rather quickly and is being seen by the WWE side as a "new beginning.”  Based on what was inferred to PWInsider, the two sides actually came to terms officially at some point today.

We are also told there was thought put into holding Punk’s return until the Royal Rumble in Florida this January, but the feeling, based on those we've spoken with, is that the longer they waited to unveil Punk, the more likely word would spread within WWE about the plans, leading to a far more likely chance of those plans leaking.  

Instead, WWE rushed Punk's return in a scenario where he could drive the 20 minutes or so from his Chicago home to the AllState Arena - the same venue he beat John Cena for the WWE title at the 2011 Money in the Bank and Punk's first-ever Wrestlemania appearance, where he played an old-time Chicago gangster in Cena's Wrestlemania 22 entrance - and slip in at the last second for a cameo, which blew the roof off the building.

While there was conjecture Punk would be appearing tonight obviously, we are told that nothing was officially locked in until today.  My belief is he won’t be working a full-time schedule, but no one in WWE has confirmed that to me at this point.  He will be wrestling.

Tonight's shocking appearance was Punk’s first at a WWE event dating back to January 2014, where he quit and walked out of a post-Royal Rumble Raw taping, changing the course of that year's Wrestlemania plans.   Punk was slated to wrestle Triple H, who is now head of creative for the company.  Instead, later citing an undiagnosed staph infection, injury and exhaustion on Colt Cabana's podcast, Punk left, setting the stage for WWE to finally push Daniel Bryan into a main event position, winning the WWE title instead at Wrestlemania 30.  Had Punk not left, Bryan was only set to wrestle Sheamus in an undercard bout.

Punk's journey back to WWE included that explosive podcast appearance, which led to several legal entanglements.  Hhe and Cabana were sued by Dr. Chris Amann for libel, with a trial jury ruling in favor of Punk and Cabana.  Cabana and Punk's friendship disintegrated by the time the trial took place, with Cabana later suing Punk for breach of contract and fraud, alleging that Punk failed to pay Cabana's legal fees.  Punk later counter-sued, which led to Cabana then dropping the lawsuit.  

Punk fought twice for UFC (now also owned by TKO Group under the same umbrella as WWE) before making his way to AEW, returning to pro wrestling for the first time in 2021.   He super-charged AEW's ticket, PPV and merchandise sales and by Tony Khan’s own statement at an AEW media scrum, did more than any other talent at that point to make the company money.

Punk had a series of strong in-ring performances, but claims he had Cabana fired and/or moved to Ring of Honor (which was denied publicly by AEW President Tony Khan) and the backstage stress that brought on, as well as some pretty brutal injuries and the infamous backstage fight at All Out 2022 fractured the relationship Punk had with the company.  It came to a head again backstage at All In 2023 where Punk got into it physically with Jungle Boy Jack Perry.  Days later, Khan fired Punk "with cause", leaving him on the open market and able to negotiate a WWE return.    Obviously, there were a lot more twists and turns there than I just recounted, but that's the cliffnotes version.

The Punk return places him back in WWE, but a new post-Vince McMahon company that has a locker room of young and/or rejuvenated talents, many of whom have led to the company being hotter than it has been in many years.  With his gift for gab alone, Punk should be able to generate some interesting moments, no matter what brand he is assigned to appear on.

One has to wonder where the Wrestlemania main event match that eluded Punk under the Vince McMahon regime could finally be in his reach.  Matches against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes - and even the long-held dream match with Steve Austin (who returned to wrestle Kevin Owens several years back) could all technically be in reach under a Wrestlemania banner, depending on what creative plans dictate. 

That all leads us to the elephant in the room.  Punk has long been a personality who is either loved or hated by fans and even by those backstage.  This has to be seen as his last possible run and there will be a lot of people waiting to see how he interacts and deals with others behind the scenes, waiting to leap on his every move and comment as proof that he's still a problem child or as proof that those in AEW, not Punk, were to blame for his past blow-ups there.  If Punk's WWE return remains without incident, it's a way for him and those close to him to silently point out that he, not the other side, were not responsible for the AEW issues.  If there's some sort of chaos, it'll allow everyone in AEW to fold their arms and say, "See, we told you."

My belief is that WWE wouldn't have made the move if they really believed it would throw the locker room into disarray.  My gut feeling is also that several who have knocked Punk publicly did so as a way to build to potential matches down the line, although they’ll never admit it.  We were told that as soon as Punk was fired by AEW earlier this year, the general consensus about him potentially coming in was "let's make money" with the caveat being "as long as he's not going to drive people here crazy." 

By returning to WWE, Punk finally has a chance to close the loop of his career, have a "happy ending" and put a lot of past demons from his previous WWE and AEW runs to rest.  How this all progresses remains to be seen as it all plays out, but it's probably an understatement to say no one involved thought this is where any of them would be when 2023 began this past January.  

Now, as we head into 2024, CM Punk has a final chance to take all the issues that he's carried over the last decade and exorcize them once and for all - and one last opportunity to put his money where his mouth is when he proclaims himself to be the "Best in the World."

The only thing guaranteed is there: every single thing that happens next will incite users of every social media platform to vent their spleen about how much they love or hate what is transpiring.  So, here we go.

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