WWE fans across the world have eagerly anticipated CM Punk's return from sabbatical since the week following WrestleMania XXIX, and "The Second City Saint" delivered as he defeated Chris Jericho in grand fashion on Sunday night at Payback.
With the pay-per-view taking place in Punk's hometown of Chicago, the reaction toward him was predictably favorable. Punk was victorious in his first match since losing to Undertaker at WrestleMania, as he outlasted his longtime rival and once again staked claim to the title of best in the world.
After his 434-day reign with the WWE Championship ended at Royal Rumble, Punk lost a rematch to The Rock at Elimination Chamber. He attempted to get back into the title hunt, but he ultimately shifted his focus to The Phenom as he felt as though it was the one thing comparable to competing for the WWE Championship.
Punk fell short when it came to ending The Deadman's streak and disappeared for a couple months. Mentions of his name on WWE programming were few and far between until Jericho hosted a episode of The Highlight Reel with Paul Heyman as his guest.
Heyman was eager to talk about Brock Lesnar's win over Triple H at Extreme Rules as well as his new client Curtis Axel, but Y2J's focus was solely on Punk. Jericho called himself the best in the world at what he does, which set Heyman off and prompted him to accept Jericho's Payback challenge.
Jericho and Heyman signed the contract the following week on Raw to make the match official. Punk wasn't present, so there was some concern among WWE fans about him appearing at Payback, but he came through and put on a show for his hometown fans.
The big question moving forward relates to who Punk will feud with. Another match against Jericho is possible, but they already faced each other at WrestleMania XXVIII and Extreme Rules last year, so it's likely that fans want to see something different, regardless of the fact that Punk and Jericho have great in-ring chemistry.
A feud against Cena is always a crowd pleaser, however, they have faced each other intermittently over the past couple years. If the creative team wants to go in a fresh direction, maybe a feud with other Heyman clients such as Lesnar or even Axel is possible since Heyman's stable has ballooned, thanks to the addition of Axel.
No matter what the writers decide upon, though, Punk's presence is a great thing for the WWE. The product was actually quite entertaining in his absence as Ryback rose to prominence as a top heel, The Shield continued its run of dominance and Daniel Bryan reached a different level of greatness, but Punk is one of the best in the ring and on the mic, so adding him to the mix is always positive.
With SummerSlam coming up in two months, this is an important time for the WWE, as it generally builds up some very big storylines. Punk will almost certainly be part of one of those angles, so it was nice to see him return on a triumphant note.
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