For a man who once said he can't spur change from his couch, WWE sure looks just fine without him.
CM Punk's WWE return isn't a thing, at least not in an official sense. But any sensible observer can see the WWE calendar is approaching a golden opportunity to bring the Best in the World back—Payback on June 1.
The chants for Punk have come to a grinding halt. WWE has moved on, as it did from Hulk Hogan and countless others, including a certain rattlesnake who also walked out on the company.
Daniel Bryan is carrying the torch and taking it to an unreal level for the modern era. John Cena's putting over young talent like Bray Wyatt. The Shield is The Shield. Paige is the WWE Divas champ. Cesaro is a Paul Heyman guy. Bad News Barrett is getting a push. RybAxel is entertaining. The list is much longer, but that will suffice.
Punk's an afterthought at this point.
Except in Chicago.
That town won't be fooled again like it was on Raw, although hats off to Heyman for a historic promo and smark work worthy of an immediate Hall of Fame induction.
Remember, it wasn't too long ago that Punk made another return, of the planned variety, at Payback in Chicago—last year.
That's just the thing—we still have no idea whether the entire ordeal is real or fake. It's all too easy to speculate. Conventional wisdom says he was burnt out, angry and the like, but it's just as easy to figure he was hurt and given sanctioned time off after years without a significant break and an extensive stay in the Royal Rumble.
Which brings us to the return in June. After entering that Rumble No. 1 overall, Punk was eliminated by Kane and put through a table (which very well could have been the icing on the cake in the injury department, no?). That same Kane has since morphed back into his monster self and has a title shot against Bryan at Extreme Rules.
Fast forward to Payback, where Kane may very well have another shot at Bryan in a rematch (let's not pretend there's a long list of contenders for the strap).
Static hits. Punk gets his Payback in Chicago.
Say it can't be that poetic. Rather than getting payback for losing his title shot by making Kane lose his, Punk merely attacks Kane, who is doing any number of despicable acts during Bryan's main event tilt.
That'll suffice as well, which would bring things full circle the month after—at Money in the Bank. It wasn't too long ago a certain someone with an expiring contract won the title and started one of the most dominant runs in history:
A lot has changed since then, but here we are again with a "Punk left us" angle and a contract that supposedly expires in June. It's hard to imagine a retread of the same thing—as it parallels real happenings between Punk and the company—would upset fans. A title bout between Punk and Bryan certainly wouldn't.
When will CM Punk return?
Perhaps it's wishful thinking. But the way the entire situation has been handled by both parties screams either a reunion or a work. WWE has no issues still selling Punk's merchandise and has made a point to not publicly insult him. Punk has remained quiet (but, holy crap, he favorited something on Twitter recently) and has given no indication of future plans.
Maybe it was all planned. Maybe he really is gone forever. Maybe he's going to morph into one of the part-timers who get title shots he so vehemently despises.
Who knows? But there's something to be said for the current landscape of the WWE calendar and how it coincides comfortably with potential Punk angles.
In an age in which the WWE has to flaunt any and all returns months in advance to sell tickets and get pay-per-view buys, maybe WWE has one surprise left up its sleeve, as those buys are now a thing of the past. (Thanks, WWE Network.) Perhaps it has been hinting at Punk's return all along in a more subtle manner.