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By Kendall Jenkins on 2021-04-30 20:55:00

Before we even start this article, we should acknowledge that this is the most discussed topic in all of professional wrestling. The question "when is CM Punk coming back" is asked every day on social media and makes for good content for any pro wrestling website. It's been asked well over a thousand times, and the answer is always the same. Nobody knows for sure, and he might never come back at all. Even with those disclaimers, though, it's beginning to feel like Phil "CM Punk" Brooks is closer to a wrestling comeback than at any point in the past. 

There was a time when a comeback seemed impossible. By his own admission, Punk was burned out with the whole industry when he quit WWE in 2014. By his own account, he'd been made to continue working while dealing with a serious infection, treated badly by creative, and generally tired of the schedule. He'd later go on to say that he'd fallen out of love with the profession. Leaving wrestling behind, he tried to transition into the world of shoot fighting with UFC. A few years and two fights later, it was obvious that the move to mixed martial arts wasn't going to work for him. Punk was brave and persistent, but he wasn't good enough to compete in the cage at the highest level. 

Ever since then, there's been speculation about a return to wrestling. That speculation intensified a few years ago when he accepted a job on the short-lived "WWE Backstage" show on Fox Sports. Fans initially assumed that the move meant Punk was back on good terms with WWE - a company he'd burned all his bridges with by making repeated negative statements about them. From his point of view, the company had terminated his contract on his wedding day and deserved everything they got from him. In reality, those damaged bridges hadn't been mended. Punk had been hired by Fox, not WWE. There were even a few reports that WWE owner Vince McMahon was unhappy with Punk's presence on the show and requested that his appearances be limited. In any event, the show was cancelled after a short run due to poor viewing figures. 

The biggest thing that’s changed between Punk’s 2014 departure and now is that there are more players in town when it comes to pro wrestling. All Elite Wrestling has sprung up since then and now has prime time network television and high-profile stars, as well as creative freedom for its performers. Chris Jericho has enjoyed a sparkling twilight to his career after moving there. Jon Moxley, the former Dean Ambrose, looks like a man reborn. Impact Wrestling is finally on level footing with its finances and television deal after a few rough years, and Major League Wrestling is expanding into new television territories. New Japan Wrestling would love to bring Punk in on either a short or long-term deal, and they have the money to do it. Punk can come back to wrestling without coming back to WWE. In fact, his return might make a bigger impact (pun not intended) elsewhere. 

After years of flatly stating he wouldn’t be interested in returning to the ring, Punk appears to have changed his mind in the past few months. NJPW’s new heavyweight champion Will Ospreay recently challenged him to a match, and Punk admitted that the prospect interested him. He said that the prospect of something new interests him far more than wrestling the same people he did during his last run. Tellingly, he called WWE’s television “awful” a few sentences later. The idea of him coming back to Vince McMahon’s company seems as remote as ever, but it’s beginning to sound more and more like he’s open to working elsewhere if the money is right. 

If he wanted to work regularly in America, AEW is the only logical place for him to go. They have the cash in hand to pay him what he wants and the exposure required to give him the audience he deserves. It would, however, be a gamble. That might behove AEW - a company that models its biggest annual pay-per-view around a casino theme. They even released an casino game for mobile phones recently. Bringing in Punk for big money, though, might represent a bigger risk than anything you'd face at featured casino sister sites. However, the incentive for AEW owner Tony Khan would be the same. Punk can be unpredictable. He'd almost certainly guarantee a large ratings increase initially, and he could be used in 'dream' matches against some of the company's biggest stars, with Kenny Omega being an especially interesting prospect. You know full well when you bet on online slots that you're more likely to lose than win. The reason you bet is that if you do win, the rewards are likely to be enormous. Punk could be the biggest jackpot win in wrestling, but he's never more than one bad interview or one backstage complaint away from a disaster. 

Ultimately, most things in wrestling come down to money. Even before his positive comments about Will Ospreay, Punk had suggested that he'd be open to offers from anywhere so long as the money was right. He knows his value, and he won't settle for less. As interesting as it would be to see him appear in Impact or MLW, it's likely that neither company has the means to bring him in. Even NJPW might be put off by the idea of a long-term contract, although they'd surely pay a premium for one to three matches. If Punk wants to come back full time, AEW might be the only viable option. Given some of the things he's said about the company in the past, it might not be the easiest deal to do, but time and cash heal all wounds. We still don't know if CM Punk is going to come back to professional wrestling, but we think we're at a crucial moment in terms of finding out if it's ever going to happen. Between Will Ospreay and AEW's money and continuing development, if Punk doesn't come back within the next twelve months, he's probably never going to come back at all.

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