Absence only makes the heart grow fonder, except in pro wrestling, where many fans are often all too happy to move on to the biggest, hottest thing going.
By now, a ton has already been made of CM Punk's time away from WWE. Is it a work? Is it real? What's gonna happen in July when his contract expires?
If this really is all a work, the company has done a great job of letting the whole scene play out. Rather than rush things, as it did back in 2011 during the Summer of Punk, WWE is making this feel like a major thing.
Meanwhile, Punk is going around to Chicago Blackhawks games like he couldn't care less about being away from wrestling, thus feeding into the idea that he has no plans of returning to WWE anytime soon.
Rather than making any vehement argument one way or the other, let's try and take a more objective look at the three most likely scenarios over the next year in which Punk returns.
Punk returned last year in Chicago. The site of his greatest WWE triumph is Chicago. He's from Chicago. Returning at Payback makes sense from that end of things.
The pop he'd receive from the Allstate Arena crowd would be massive, thus lending a certain importance to the moment that it might not receive elsewhere. The only problem is that Payback is so soon that fitting Punk into a meaningful program may be hard to do.
Bleacher Report's Justin LaBar seemed to brush aside any chance of his return on June 1:
Look at the main event picture at the moment.
The Shield is busy with Evolution. Daniel Bryan probably has two more pay-per-view matches with Kane left. John Cena and Bray Wyatt are off doing their own thing, and really, neither seems a good fit with Punk in his first feud back.
Maybe he could battle new Paul Heyman guy Cesaro, but again, that would feel a bit anticlimactic, given how much fans have anticipated Punk returning.
A Punk-Cesaro feud would be great, just not now. Brock Lesnar would also be a fun foil for Punk, but he doesn't figure into the Payback PPV yet. A Payback return would reek of bringing Punk back just to bring him back and nothing more.
If Punk's going to return in 2014, surely it's at SummerSlam. Survivor Series doesn't have the feel of a major show anymore, so SummerSlam would be the only PPV left befitting a surprise return of a major star.
The good thing is that most of the main event programs should be wrapping up on the show. Punk could come from out of the crowd or from backstage after a major match and immediately insert himself into a main event feud, much as The Undertaker did back at SummerSlam 2009.
In a perfect world, CM Punk becomes "Corporate Punk" and fights whomever The Authority just finished up with, whether it's Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan or another big star.
That would both present something fresh and manage to maintain whatever heat Punk will have upon his return.
Royal Rumble 2015
Quite frankly, fantasy booking this far ahead is almost impossible. So much can happen between now and next January.
Who could've foreseen Bryan's meteoric rise over the last few months?
Looking at the broader picture, the template for Punk's return would be John Cena shocking everyone at the 2008 Royal Rumble.
Some would argue that keeping CM Punk out for months on end would kill whatever heat he has left. While the Punk chants have largely died out, that's mostly because everybody can see the futility of cheering for a wrestler who's not on the show anymore.
Make no mistake about it; the second Punk does return, it will be huge.
People cared about The Rock coming back despite the fact that he was gone for years. The same went for Brock Lesnar.
Look at the pops guys like Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair and Bret Hart have gotten, and they were retired.
Back to 2008.
Cena had been out since October '07 before he came back out of the blue at the Rumble. Nobody expected him to recover in such a short amount of time, so he was only an afterthought headed into the show.
Yet that didn't stop the roof from getting blown off Madison Square Garden when he was announced as the 30th entrant. Cena's return is one of the most memorable Rumble moments of the last decade.
Just because CM Punk is out of the company doesn't mean that fans have suddenly stopped caring about him.
But if Punk is really going to spend a year out of the company, then he needs to make his return monumental.
Being a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and then going on to win the match would fit that criteria.
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