With the raucous Chicago crowd chanting his name, Punk didn't make them wait long, as he came out to open the show.
The first order of business was to explain why, after seven years away from wrestling, Punk decided now was the time to return.
"There’s a hell of a lot of young talent that I wish I was surrounded by 10 years ago," Punk told the crowd. "I said, they’re there now and why aren’t you? Here I am."
The Best in the World also issued his first challenge in AEW, to Darby Allin at All Out on Sept. 5.
Punk's AEW arrival was somewhat expected due to rumors linking him to the company, but it was a massive moment for both Punk and AEW nonetheless.
Since leaving WWE in January 2014, Punk had virtually no involvement within the world of pro wrestling for more than seven years until Friday.
Instead, he was focused on mixed martial arts, as he competed in a pair of fights for UFC.
After losing to Mickey Gall by first-round submission at UFC 203 in 2016, Punk fell to Mike Jackson at UFC 225 in Chicago in June 2018.
With the 42-year-old's MMA future in doubt, the focus shifted toward whether he would potentially be interested in returning to the world of professional wrestling.
Whispers of a wrestling return began as far back as the All In event near his hometown of Chicago in 2018, which was the precursor to All Elite Wrestling.
Leading up to the event, co-promoter Cody Rhodes said he spoke "vaguely" to Punk about potentially being part of the show, according to Raj Giri of WrestlingInc.com.
Rhodes added that while fellow promoter Matt Jackson of The Young Bucks tried to negotiate with Punk, it didn't look as though he planned on appearing at All In:
"Matt actually made a full offer or full pitch for his services and I think Punk is focused on the Mixed Martial Arts element of his career. One of the reasons we didn't first come out and say, 'Here's who we want you to wrestle,' because I think we just wanted him to be a part of the event for a lot of fans, he's captured their imagination even with the amount of time he's been gone. He has a mythical presence to them. I thought it would be good for him to connect with them, but that's me, you know?
"Nobody owns Punk but Punk, so if he wants to do Mixed Martial Arts, go for it. He was always very nice to me and helpful to me in OVW. I always looked at All In with the perspective that it's about the present and future of the industry and not really about cheap pops, even though I'm sure they'll be plenty of those on the show. Matt had reached out to [Punk] and made him a real offer. I think Punk is set on not being part of it."
Punk did not appear at All In, but talks of a potential appearance at subsequent Double or Nothing or All Out events began to pick up steam after he seemingly did a run-in under a mask at MKE Wrestling in Wisconsin in April 2019:
Although the fans were never told it was Punk under the mask and it was never confirmed, it is widely assumed that it was him since he used the GTS.
Also, MKE Wrestling owner Silas Young suggested that it was Punk under the mask in a subsequent tweet:
silas young @lastrealmanROH
Here is some PUNK running in a match last night @MKE_Wrestling you never know who’s in gonna show up at our shows. Former world champions have been stopping in at the last couple shows!!! Don’t miss out on May 17 at our new home Buenavista Banquets 76&oklahoma next to AMF lanes https://t.co/rr8xVH8UJ0
Punk's first true foray back into wrestling came as an analyst rather than a performer, though, as he was announced as a contributor for WWE Backstage on FS1 in November 2019. He made periodic appearances on the show, but it ceased being a weekly show in June 2020.
With Punk showing some desire to scratch the wrestling itch and AEW emerging as an alternative to WWE, there was finally a platform for the Straight Edge Savior to make his return on a big stage outside of WWE.
Before his abrupt WWE departure in 2014, Punk was establishing himself as one of the top stars in the history of the business.
Along with his exploits in Ring of Honor and throughout the independent scene, he is a five-time world champion in WWE, one-time Intercontinental champion and two-time Money in the Bank ladder match winner.
It is unclear what Punk's appearance at Rampage means for his wrestling future, but he received a massive reaction from the fans in attendance.
Assuming Punk is now under contract with AEW, it represents a massive coup for the company since he is the biggest non-WWE star it could have possibly landed.
It remains to be seen who Punk will feud with and precisely how he will be utilized, but there is no doubt that AEW scored a major victory in its attempts to be viewed on the same level as WWE.