Fantasy Booking Dream Match Options for CM Punk at WWE WrestleMania 36
It took five years, but with an appearance on WWE Backstage two weeks back, CM Punk finally returned to WWE...sort of.
While he's definitely involved in WWE affairs once more, his contract is with Fox, meaning he isn't quite back in the family proper. He's also gone out of his way to reiterate he still has no plans to step back in the ring under any circumstances.
In the wrestling business, though, you never say never, so the idea of Punk wrestling again is a hotter topic now than it has been since his departure in 2014.
However, if he ever decides to lace up his boots again, there is an abundance of talent eagerly waiting to face him.
If it's going to happen, he should wrestle at WrestleMania 36, and here are 10 Superstars who could be dream matches for Punk on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Many Superstars could be great opponents for Punk, but they shouldn't take priority.
Brock Lesnar, for instance, is among the biggest names in WWE. However, a match between Punk and The Beast Incarnate would likely be just a repeat of what we've already seen, so why bother?
Triple H would make sense for storyline purposes, but since The Game is a babyface who champions NXT, it's not smart to book him as a heel right now against Punk.
Kevin Owens is a babyface and Punk would obviously be cheered, so that's better saved for another time.
Cesaro has history with Punk from Ring of Honor and could put together an amazing match, but WWE would never put that much focus on The Swiss Superman.
Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura could set up gold promos and quality matches, but even they are lower on the totem pole than others on this list.
Last, but certainly not least, is Bray Wyatt. The Fiend could be a great foil for Punk with character work, but everything would fall apart in the ring. Also, Wyatt will likely still be universal champion at WrestleMania and Punk doesn't need to fight for a title.
Punk against anyone would be a marquee match without having a championship on the line, and it would be more beneficial to the overall card and the roster as a whole for someone else to fight for a belt.
The Anchors of NXT
If Punk did return, it's more than likely WWE would put him on the Raw or SmackDown rosters, but he's expressed a fondness for NXT.
That's not surprising, given how the black and gold brand takes wrestling more seriously and the overall image is that the in-ring work is better than on the main roster.
Punk would probably love to have a match with any of the mainstays on NXT such as Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream and even Finn Balor.
For that matter, Ricochet and Aleister Black, who used to hold down the fort in NXT, would also fit here.
All of those matches would be phenomenal. Those five are among the most trustworthy talents to put on a fantastic match in WWE today, and their styles could mesh well with Punk's after their time with the indies.
There wouldn't even need to be much of a feud. Punk could just pick a fight with one of them and the crowd would be sold.
Realistically, though, this wouldn't happen. NXT has gotten a lot more buzz lately with the move to USA and the overall win at Survivor Series, but it's still not the same as Raw or SmackDown, and with bigger fish to fry on those rosters, WWE would likely rather have Punk against some others on this list.
If Punk were to wrestle again, the most likely opponent for him at this point would be Seth Rollins.
The Beastslayer has made it a point to beg for this on social media by calling out Punk directly for a fight and trying to follow it up in any way he can to build buzz for it.
Sometimes, such as the case with John Cena vs. The Rock ahead of WrestleMania XXVIII, that does come to fruition.
Now that Rollins is a delusional heel, he's in a perfect position to talk about how he's the only one speaking his mind and standing up for WWE while the fans flap their gums and badmouth everything he does.
That type of trash talk, combined with his insistence he's the best, is a great catalyst for The Voice of the Voiceless to return to shut him up and prove him wrong.
They've had their battles in 2013 and 2014, but all but one of those were tag team matches. The only time they fought one-on-one was December 30, 2013 on Raw when Rollins was still learning the ropes.
In April 2020, they could steal the show at WrestleMania 36 to give the fans something truly special.
This past Friday on SmackDown, when the crowd was chanting for Punk, AJ Styles took a side note in his promo to address the crowd and say he would "mop the floor" with him.
Long before those comments, Styles vs. Punk was already a dream match, and that little jab upped the ante and set the foundation for a feud.
It's self-explanatory that one of WWE's most talented athletes would be a perfect opponent as The Phenomenal One vs. The Best in the World has that "special fight" ring to it.
Fifteen years have passed since they last fought each other at IWC A Call to Arms in 2004, and so much has changed. They've grown to become more seasoned performers who can put on an amazing match that may not be surpassed by any other pairing WWE could offer.
WWE could do nothing but put up a graphic that said "Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk" and fans would flock to Raymond James Stadium in April to see it.
Their history together as friends and rivals dating back to the indies already laid the foundation for what would surely be a classic fight.
But they could also tell a complex story about the rigors of fitting into the WWE mold. Neither man is entirely compatible with Vince McMahon's empire, and both have struggled to maintain their personal identity while trying to be the best performers possible.
Both have had heel and face turns. Bryan went on soap-box rants about the environment while Punk had his "holier than thou" character as The Straight-Edge Savior when he preached about substance abuse.
No matter the storyline, though, it would be one of the easiest matches to trust to deliver.
It may sound absurd to put Baron Corbin higher on a list of worthy challengers for Punk than some of the honorable mentions, but there's a method to this.
There are few, if any, Superstars in WWE today who can get the level of heat King Corbin routinely gets. With ease, he's a guaranteed boo magnet and exactly the type of heel fans love to see get their comeuppance.
The Lone Wolf could cut an elongated promo that Punk would interrupt and the arena would explode with fans wanting to see their hero shut the king's mouth.
Corbin also has an impressive list of accolades that give him more credibility than fans are often willing to admit. As a former Mr. Money in the Bank, Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, United States champion and the man who retired Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 35, he does have clout.
Corbin is also a good star to feed to Punk for a victory to save some of the bigger matches for later down the road.
If all you're looking for is the best possible match, Corbin obviously isn't the right choice, but he would be far from a wasted pick when thinking of the ultimate heels to position Punk against.
Like Bryan, Samoa Joe's connection to Punk goes back to long before either was in WWE as they were in Ring of Honor together in 2003.
It's doubtful there are many people in WWE with as much of a personal connection to Punk who would give him the same level of comfort for this match. Joe is not just a former friend, he's also a reliable worker.
Punk will have some ring rust he'll need to shake off, and Joe would be one of the more trustworthy Superstars to carry the load until his opponent was ready to go.
The angle could even start on WWE Backstage, as Joe has been appearing on that show occasionally. One sly comment about how Punk doesn't want to step back in the ring because he's there would be all it takes.
WWE Backstage isn't under the kayfabe bubble, so it would be odd to have angles happen there while everyone is talking about how it's all fake, but stranger things have occurred. Plus, WWE always loves more eyes on the product, no matter the circumstances.
Joe would have to be the heel in this feud and play the part of the dominant monster who is set up for Punk to overcome to send fans home happy at WrestleMania. But if all went well, it could just be the first chapter in a much longer feud.
All the prior scenarios put Punk as the babyface going into WrestleMania, but what if he were the heel?
It's too risky to even try and WWE wouldn't be able to pull it off, but Roman Reigns vs. CM Punk could have an enormous payoff.
He would have to cut an amazing promo to turn the fans against him. Selling out, aligning himself with Mr. McMahon and going against the rebellious attitude he's had the past decade would be necessities, at the very least.
Normally, Reigns would be the default target of boos when paired with someone like Punk, so WWE would have to make sure that didn't happen, which might be too tall of a task. He may not be booked as the unstoppable chosen one as often anymore, but everyone knows that's still the case.
However, if Punk could go into WrestleMania as a heel, he could be the wordsmith to catapult The Big Dog to a level of babyface magnitude that he has yet to reach.
Just imagine how happy Fox executives would be if this was a headline match for SmackDown heading into WrestleMania.
It won't happen and nor should WWE try something this difficult over the safer options, but never say never.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.