CM Punk returned to action at tonight’s WWE Payback with a huge victory over Chris Jericho, and if the match taught us anything, it’s that it’s going to be awfully difficult for Punk to be anything but a babyface going forward.
In not-so-surprising fashion, Punk’s hometown crowd in Chicago was behind him in every imaginable way. The same guy who was getting booed out of the building for desecrating Paul Bearer’s urn just a few short months ago received the reaction of a beloved hero tonight.
Even with one of the most over babyfaces in the WWE as his opponent, you would have sworn that tonight’s match between Punk and Y2J was a battle of two top babyfaces.
You know, perhaps that’s exactly what it was.
Although there wasn’t the major double turn (Punk turning face and Jericho turning heel) that many fans were buzzing about leading up to the PPV, Payback certainly seemed to be the first step toward cementing Punk as a babyface once again.
Punk may not have gone full-blown babyface tonight during his match against Jericho, but the simple fact that he consistently received the reaction of a majorly over babyface despite being paired with an uber-heel like Paul Heyman speaks volumes about where his character might be headed.
In fact, it looks like Heyman will be the catalyst that ultimately solidifies Punk as a good guy.
You have to assume that Heyman didn’t take too kindly to Punk acting somewhat like a face and trying to please the fans—with his style of wrestling, his Chicago Blackhawks tights, yelling out that the Blackhawks would win in seven, etc.—because Heyman doesn’t do anything to gain the approval of the fans.
You also have to assume that Punk didn’t take too kindly to Heyman putting him in that match without, as far as we know, so much as a phone call to see if Punk even wanted to have it.
In other words, there is a huge factor coming into play in the relationship between Heyman and Punk: friction.
Since Heyman returned to manage Punk last year, the two have gotten along awfully well. Despite being two guys with two massive egos, there’s been little to no conflict between them.
But that appears to be changing.
Judging by Heyman’s actions during Punk’s absence and the reactions that Punk received from the crowd tonight (albeit in his hometown), it’s clear that Heyman is one of the WWE’s top heels while Punk is one of its most loved stars.
As anyone can tell you, those two ingredients just don’t mix, especially when Heyman is involved.
Remember, Heyman is the same man who once turned on that “other” Paul Heyman guy, Brock Lesnar. He did that way back at Survivor Series 2002 when he cost Lesnar the WWE Championship even though he was managing Lesnar at the time.
We might very well see a repeat of that in 2013, when Heyman turns on Punk to set up a major rivalry between the two. After all, there are plenty of directions the WWE can go with this feud if that’s what it decides to do.
We can’t forget that Heyman still has two other clients right now. He’s paired with the part-timer Lesnar, and he recently introduced Curtis Axel as the latest “Paul Heyman guy.”
Turning Punk face is such a logical scenario that could lead to so many different scenarios playing out in the near future, including a rivalry between Punk and Axel or a dream feud/rivalry pitting Punk against Lesnar in a feud of Paul Heyman guys.
Whatever the specifics may be, one thing is very apparent: Punk is probably turning face, and a feud with Heyman awaits him.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!