CM Punk lost his latest attempt at becoming a UFC star Saturday night, dropping his fight to relative unknown Mike Jackson in a decisive and humbling fashion. The result was, for all intents and purposes, the end of his MMA career and questions about what the future holds for the once-captivating personality.
It also begs the question, after years away from the squared circle and countless attempts to distance himself from the industry that made him a star and opened up opportunities in other fields he would not have had without it, should WWE fans even want a CM Punk comeback at this point?
Becoming THAT Guy
Forget the fact that Punk had his ass handed to him in two straight UFC fights. Forget the fact that one of those losses came to a guy in Jackson that UFC president Dana White immediately admonished in a post-fight press conference and openly admitted he was unimpressed by.
The No. 1 reason fans should not be all that eager for a CM Punk comeback is the moment he signs on the dotted line and steps through the curtain the first time, he immediately becomes the old, part-time guy he rallied against nearly a decade ago when The Rock returned for his feud with John Cena.
In the wake of his January 27 walkout in 2014, WWE set out to create fresh stars to carry the promotion.
The Shield, frequent opposition of Punk late in his run, disbanded and led to Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose becoming cornerstones of the company. Each won the WWE Championship and became undisputed stars.
NXT became essential to the company as Triple H and Co. created stars and accumulated talent from all over the world in an attempt to bring the best in-ring product imaginable to fans. Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa all signed deals to bring their talents to WWE and introduce the fan base to different styles from around the globe.
They followed in Punk's footsteps, working in armories for hot dogs and handshakes before building their stars and making the jump when the opportunity presented itself. It is their time to shine, their chance to build their legacies in the most recognizable company in the industry.
If Punk were to return to WWE, he would not only prove himself a hypocrite after years spent burying the company, he would also steal the spotlight from those stars and become everything he despised about the part-time stars who stunted his growth.
Were Punk to return, he would earn the frustration and anger of the men who once saw him as a hero, a role model and an inspiration for change in the industry.
Worse yet, he would earn the vitriol of fans who respected him because he was outspoken about the injustice in the company and its value of old, established competitors over younger, future stars.
He would become that guy and instantly hurt his legacy as a representative of the disenfranchised fans.
The stench of hypocrisy would follow him, and no amount of excitement surrounding the initial return or oppressive push by the marketing team would make up for the once-unbreakable bond between Punk and his faithful fans being shattered.
Wear and Tear
Beginning in 2012, the effect of Punk's grueling schedule and intense in-ring battles had begun taking a toll on him.
In the midst of his historic WWE Championship run, he was momentarily forced to the sidelines with a knee injury that derailed his rivalry with Ryback. He walked with a noticeable limp and appeared to be in more pain than normal. He was smaller, and every bump looked like it took an immense toll on his body.
After his classic against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, he was so physically beaten up that he disappeared from television for a few months to rest up and heal. When he returned, matches against The Shield and Brock Lesnar only added to the wear and tear.
Throw in four years of MMA training and two fights that saw him dominated and dismantled by his opponent and you have a 39-year-old with a body that may not physically be able to withstand the pounding it takes inside the squared circle on a nightly, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
As a part-time star, he would have less pressure to perform consistently, resting his body in between high-profile bouts. Factor in ring rust and what one would assume is a loss of passion for the sport at this point and it stands to reason that Punk would not be the same performer he was before.
Punk, above all else, was beloved for fans because he could deliver when called upon. He could elevate the overall quality of any show based on his performance level alone. If that is not the guy that walks back into the company, he does not carry the same value.
Especially in the more physical WWE of today.
Should Fans Want Him Back?
CM Punk's impact on professional wrestling from 2006 through his departure in 2014 is undeniable. By voicing his frustration, built over years of poor booking and professional disappointment, he became somewhat of a spokesman for the fans that had long been disenfranchised by McMahon's company and its creative decisions.
He represented the frustrated and spoke for those fans who had no other input on the product.
He vowed to make the company better and realized in 2011 that he could not do that from his sofa at home.
When things did not go his way and he did not get the WrestleMania main event he thought he deserved, he took his ball and went away. In the process, though not intentionally, he abandoned those same fans he claimed to be the voice of.
In the wake of his departure, he shunned the idea of returning to wrestling, as recently as a June 6 interview with noted MMA journalist Ariel Helwani.
The more he stayed away, the more fans had the opportunity to think about Punk's promise to make things better and how "making things better' usually equated to a push to the top of the card for himself. And when that did not pan out as he expected, he left.
Were his contributions to the sport plentiful? Absolutely.
Was he a hero and icon to millions, this writer included? Damn right. His Straight Edge lifestyle and support of the punk rock culture meant more to some than anything he did in the ring.
Was he the Best in the World from 2011 through the summer of 2013? You bet.
At some point, though, one has to ask themselves if the shock and awe of a Punk return are worth the inevitable disappointment of another departure. Or if more anti-wrestling comments from a guy whose opportunities away from the sport are directly linked to the exposure his career in WWE gave him are something fans want to hear.
Are the momentary spurts of joy for one more Punk match worth the miserable malcontent he almost inevitably will become when his position on the card does not reflect his own opinions of himself?
Should fans want Punk back? No.
All of the incredible matches and unforgettable moments are a thing of the past. The CM Punk who was passionate about wrestling and whose love of it fueled some of the most heartfelt promos in WWE history does not exist anymore.
He does not like wrestling, and as he mentioned at a press conference for UFC (h/t PWStream), he can barely watch it.
Wrestling fans deserve better than that. The men and women who bust their asses on continents across the globe deserve better than that. And CM Punk, for the sake of his legacy and the preservation of the work he put in during his time as an in-ring competitor, deserves better than that.