Last night, the story that CM Punk decided to go home before Raw on Monday and more or less quit WWE, started circulating, first from Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez at F4WOnline.com and quickly confirmed by Jason Powell at ProWrestling.net, as well as Mike Johnson at PWInsider.com. TMZ even chimed in today with their own independently sourced report.
The consensus is that while this has been brewing for a while and WWE expected him to leave when his contract expired in 2011, it was still a shock that he decided to do this now. While it's never been a secret that he needs a break, as the topic comes up regularly in interviews, it's unclear what the straw that broke the camel's back is. One theory that's picking up steam is that he either found out how the pay-per-view bonus system is changing with the WWE Network launch or get fed up with the lack of answers.
Just thinking out loud, but I wonder if the uncertainty regarding PPV payoffs with WWE Network launching played some part in Punk going home— ProWrestling.net (@prowrestlingnet) January 29, 2014
For those saying he doesn’t care about $, everyone does to some extent. Also a respect issue. Trust me, it’s a major concern within the LR.— ProWrestling.net (@prowrestlingnet) January 29, 2014
And I said “some part.” Not speculating that pay is the only factor. Creative frustration is the obvious guess. Again, thinking out loud.— ProWrestling.net (@prowrestlingnet) January 29, 2014
Powell wasn't the only one to bring it up, as Meltzer talked about it with Alvarez on their breaking news audio update for F4WOnline subscribers, since Punk briefly talked about the uncertainty during his interview with Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com last week. It would certainly explain the timing: Normally you'd expect someone to wait until after WrestleMania to get the big payoff, but if the payoff isn't going to be so big, it may not be worth it.
This goes even more so for Punk since, as he told GQ at the time, he already had enough money to retire on when he was ready to leave in 2011 before being made an offer he couldn't refuse. Being in a better position now, he clearly made a lot more money these last few years. If he's tired or banged up and wants to go home, then finding out he doesn't have a reason to through WrestleMania could have been a breaking point.
For argument's sake, let's say that was either the reason or one of the reasons. If I'm in that locker room, I'm suddenly a lot more uneasy than I was when the scheduled talent meeting about WWE Network was cancelled. If you're at the level of, say, the Usos or Cody Rhodes, where you're on PPV fairly regularly but in the middle of the card and don't have much merchandise, those bonus checks are a huge chunk of your annual income.
TMZ, for their part, has cited a different reason, putting the blame on creative frustrations. Their report claims that the point of contention is Batista being picked to win the Royal Rumble and presumably the WrestleMania title match over him. I'm sure it's possible, as before it was clear Batista was coming back and it did seem like Punk would finally get to close WrestleMania winning the title from Orton. I don't necessarily see it being the breaking point, though, because it's not like he didn't know for weeks.
Where does this all leave WWE right now? It seems like Bryan is replacing Punk as Triple H's WrestleMania opponent, which makes sense for a number of reasons. Bryan is the one who needs finality to his feud with Triple H more. Bryan needs a big moment at WrestleMania more. Obviously this is going to get people paranoid about Triple H beating Bryan and possibly "burying" him in the process, but as out of touch as WWE has seemed this week, they wouldn't do that...would they?
Bryan's original WrestleMania opponent, Sheamus, is left in the wind. Having just returned and being in more of a thrown together match, he's not losing out on much beyond an opportunity to have a great WrestleMania match with someone with whom he has strong in-ring chemistry. Now that I think about it, given how Sheamus faltered as World Heavyweight Champion after the Bryan feud ended, this could be a bigger problem for him than it seems on the surface.
Besides WrestleMania, this mainly changes the make-up of WWE's house show tours. Punk and Bryan were the top two babyfaces on the tour that sort of used to be SmackDown, which runs smaller markets much of the time. It looks like Sheamus has been added to the advertising on that tour in Punk's place. I'd argue they could balance out the star power a little more by adding Rey Mysterio, but with Sheamus having just returned, it makes a lot of sense.
While on the house show side I could see them relying on Sheamus as the "big star" to a degree, this still moves Bryan up a spot on the depth chart. WWE will need to rely on him more, and by necessity, that could mean they're done with the weird mixed signals they've given him for months now. They can give him more of a chance without having to try to push him past John Cena, and carrying a tour as the biggest star fits that description.
What do you guys all see as being potential fallout? Are you disappointed that we won't get Punk vs. Triple H at WrestleMania? Let us know in the comments.
David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader and a contracted columnist since 2011. His article about WWE's 1984 expansion from regional powerhouse to national juggernaut is featured in the newly released issue #102 of Fighting Spirit Magazine, available worldwide online and in print in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @davidbix and check out his wrestling podcasts at LLTPod.com.