CM Punk, at least for now, opted for a quiet return to the wrestling world.
Punk showed up near midnight on a Tuesday on a show with a smaller viewership than most wrestling shows and announced he would be part of the WWE Backstage broadcasts on FS1.
Meaning All Elite Wrestling is out. All the fan theories about Punk railing against WWE by joining its direct competitor, all the dream matches there and how much sense it seemed to make thanks to the vast resources at the disposal of the Tony Khan-backed product are out.
And that's just fine.
The proverbial writing seemed to be on the wall for this situation. Most Punk interviews as of late made it clear he's a different person compared to the guy who walked out on WWE in 2014. Despite some of the disagreements and happenings there, both parties have moved on to bigger and better things.
Wrestling fans know where this goes. Punk isn't technically an employee of anyone but Fox—but that probably changes, right?
It somewhat stinks for AEW to miss out on the hype of a Punk debut. But with how quiet this Fox emergence was, it's clear he didn't want to make a big splash.
Perhaps more than anything else, the stellar AEW product making Punk's WWE-oriented future nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders is a testament to the product itself.
AEW has been on fire since its debut episode of Dynamite on TNT in October. The established stars are stuck in interesting angles. Cody is putting on world-class matches and isn't permitted to challenge for the top title again. Chris Jericho is doing some of the best work of his career with The Inner Circle while helping introduce fans to future superstars like Sammy Guevara.
Speaking of future superstars, Darby Allin is blossoming under the AEW umbrella. So is MJF. A blatant future superstar like Scorpio Sky is a tag champ in a stacked division thanks to the presence of The Young Bucks and Lucha Bros., to name a few.
And don't forget about the misused. There's no needle-in-the-butt promos from Dean Ambrose here, just unfiltered Jon Moxley chaos with a Stone Cold vibe. Pac is perhaps the most versatile performer in wrestling and being permitted to spread his wings instead of jobbing to an Enzo Amore.
All this with a smooth professional style presentation but an "anything can happen" vibe that, at least so far, has done an excellent job of keeping viewers invested in coming back weekly and making the two hours of Dynamite fly by. It's more than enough each week but leaves fans wanting more. Keep in mind that this is while withstanding NXT's move to live programs Wednesday night as WWE throws Finn Balor and more atop an already strong product there.
This isn't meant to suggest Punk in AEW wouldn't have been fun. He's got plenty of history with Jericho. They could swing history with Moxley (The Shield, for starters). He can work with anybody and is wicked on the mic (it's a shame we seem set to never see Punk vs. MJF on a mic).
This might smack of an AEW-sponsored post. It's not. But it's a tip of the hat to a promotion that apparently doesn't need any more help from the outside. Even weeks before Dynamite's first broadcast, it was easy to think the product would need someone like CM Punk to stay afloat for the long haul. Clearly, that isn't the case.
Punk is back involved with the WWE world in a way that just feels right and leaves the door ajar for more. If he's happy just doing the Fox show, awesome. If he gets back in the ring, that's awesome too.
AEW's little slice of the wrestling world, which figures to keep expanding at its current rate largely because of the strong showings so far, should continue unimpeded without Punk.
The magical speculated pairing didn't happen, but both Punk and AEW are fine remaining at an arm's length like this—the fans win regardless.