Few names hold the weight CM Punk's does in the wrestling landscape in 2019.
Eight or so years ago, the "Summer of Punk" rocked WWE to its foundation, and to this day serves as a fascinating tale in so many different ways. It was the first organic rising of a superstar in what felt like a long time, it was a blatant tale of booking botching it and the WWE system as a whole failing that superstar on his way out the door.
Adding to the mystique of the whole situation in hindsight is the fact Punk never returned, instead tackling the world of MMA head-on while slap-fighting WWE in court. And while these things unfolded, Punk's name still echoed at shows around the world as the landscape shifted in a way many would say he predicted, if not started outright.
That tale starts in the early summer of 2011, when Punk interfered in a since-long-forgotten match (as was the standard for the product those days) and then plopped down and dropped the Pipebomb.
Many memorable moments unfolded from there. Punk ended up winning the title and "leaving." He came back with a new theme and was a main-event mainstay. Rather than headline pay-per-views throughout the summer, though, Punk wound up in a feud with Triple H and the returning Kevin Nash, of all people. The latter was having problems passing medicals, and Punk dropped the title before eventually getting it back.
Punk ended up getting the title back but had lost some momentum. Still, he went on to hold the belt for an outlandish 434 days, though he still wasn't often in the main event of pay-per-views. One notable gaffe occurred at Over the Limit in 2012, where a Punk-Daniel Bryan title match took a backseat to a match between John Laurinaitis and John Cena.
That's no joke, which is why the Pipebomb is the main point most remember from the Summer of Punk—and much of it is still ringing true today:
Some would say the Pipebomb is the last wrestling moment that mattered. It wasn't forced. It blurred the lines between real and fake and garnered WWE some real-world attention, gaining coverage from outlets that normally don't pay it any mind and getting non-typical eyeballs on the product.
Fast-forward to 2019, WWE is having talent-retention problems, notably losing a grand-slam champion and member of a historic faction, Dean Ambrose. Other talents may or may not want out, but few can argue the programs aren't stiff, oversaturated and borderline nonsensical.
Ratings are plummeting, and main events overseas are featuring two 50-plus stars who can't finish a match; despite promises of change before SmackDown moves to Fox, a new "Wild Card Rule" made the Superstar Shake-up meaningless; Shane McMahon is the top heel in the company, even getting wins over Roman Reigns.
CM Punk isn't walking back through that door now, but fans probably wouldn't mind if he popped his head in and said, "I told ya so."
Other than this element foreshadowed over the summer eight years ago, fans want to see Punk back because he's one of the best to ever do it in modern times. Punk seems to have been a turning point for many wrestling fans disenfranchised with the product for a number of years before the Pipebomb, if not brought in a ton of new fans.
Naturally, this brings up the conversation of AEW. The new startup has some gargantuan backing, and the first major exposure to the world, the Double or Nothing pay-per-view, was a resounding success topped off by the man formerly known as Ambrose, Jon Moxley.
Again, it's only natural for fans to think CM Punk might be next. The next massive event, All Out, happens to take place in Sears Centre in Chicago. Punk hasn't been shy about throwing jabs here and there about it:
Cody Rhodes himself has taken a measured approach about it, pumping up the promotion and stars within, but also remaining adamant the door is always open, according to Connor Casey of Comicbook.com:
"Last year something with All In that we noticed is that at the actual show there wasn't a single CM Punk chant. I thought, 'Great, OK. It's not that they don't like Punk, but they know that we're here and we're putting on this show.' This year I don't expect anything different. I've been very honest about that door remains opened. The fans have never given up on CM Punk and if he wanted to be part of AEW we would do everything in our power to make him part of it."
Maybe the fire still burns or gets reignited and Punk comes back. Maybe he doesn't. He's only 40 years old, which in wrestling terms isn't much (AJ Styles, for example, is 42), so internet arguments about that being a disqualifier are, well, disqualified.
Only Punk knows if he wants back in the game. The one he'd be rejoining is much different than the one he left in large part because he helped reshape the landscape. A return wouldn't even be some part-timer coming back to steal the spotlight like he so seemed to despise—part of the shift he helped create was shining a spotlight on how terrible the year-round workhorse schedule is on these athletes. There's wisdom in not overdoing it, something AEW seems to be embracing right out of the gates.
No matter what happens moving forward, Punk's a living legend and can do what he wants. Fans and promotions aren't entitled to his return after he's given so much already while paving the way.
Punk looms larger than most, if not all former Superstars over the sport these days for a reason. And even if he isn't in the ring, the impact of his final run, which began with a blistering Pipebomb, is still unfolding in rings around the globe right now.