One of the most common questions in wrestling will extend into this year and still has no easy answer: Will CM Punk return in 2021?
It's an easy one to hand-wave off with a flat "No" and call it a day. Punk hasn't graced a wrestling ring in an official capacity since roughly 2014. He's since had the controversial podcast, the lawsuit stemming from it, appeared in other combat sports, written a comic book, commentated on WWE programming from a talk show and so much more while not overly seeming hungry for an in-ring return.
But there's always that "What if?" with the wrestling world. If Vince McMahon could patch things over with guys like Bret Hart, the hope for a big return will always remain alive.
Granted, Punk would be returning to a dramatically altered landscape if he did elect to return in 2021. WWE isn't exactly the only big company on the block these days thanks to the red-hot All Elite Wrestling.
But that's what makes the idea of a Punk return so much fun, even in 2021. And he would seem to agree, as he recently appeared on the Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette podcast and said the following (h/t Cultaholic's Aidan Gibbons):
"Without wanting to insult anybody on either side of the fence, any WWE talent or AEW talent, it would take above all an interesting scenario. A story that would be fun to tell. Also, just the stupidest amount of money. But they could save themselves a whole lot of money if they just presented... a fun storyline. Now, what that is, I don't know. I'm a pretty picky guy, especially at this point."
There's also this to consider: "I think there's more interesting people on the AEW side of things for me to wrestle, but that's just because I've never wrestled them before."
And, of course, that's the truth—CM Punk returning to take on the likes of Kenny Omega, MJF and familiar faces with new career trajectories like Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley, would make for a fun time.
Then again, that's also something a guy like Punk might say just to force McMahon's hand into giving him what he wants. Sure, we've all seen him in a feud with Roman Reigns before—but not this Reigns with the title-winning heel presence and a guy by the name of Paul Heyman at his side.
Over the years, the best storylines in any bit of wrestling have smartly weaved in some real-life drama. Punk returning to WWE all these years later, immediately being one of the best in the company on the mic and potentially working his way to that WrestleMania main event he wants so desperately just seems to write itself.
It's easy to forget, partially thanks to the length of his absence, that Punk is only 42 years old. That's younger than AJ Styles, for example. He's presumably got plenty of gas left in the tank, provided a company can motivate him with great storylines to work. Punk, alongside everyone else, knows his big return would be historic. That's why he keeps stressing what happens after the return.
As it stands, Punk getting back in the ring somewhere at his age seems quite a bit more appetizing than a Goldberg or even Edge. He presents so much more as an entertainer across the board, and the return angle itself and the history there is unrivaled.
Granted, when conversing about 2021 hypotheticals, one has to take into account global circumstances. All wrestling promotions spent 2020 working through an awkward but highly entertaining audience-less era due to the COVID-19 pandemic. WWE went as far as mostly shying away from part-time talent like Brock Lesnar, presumably because the presence without a live crowd is diminished.
Should fans start returning to arenas in bigger capacities, especially over the summer or near the end of the year, a Punk return would make quite a bit of sense. What better way to signify a potential return to normalcy in the wrestling world than having the static hit?
Either way, the overarching timing just feels right. Punk himself has seemed more open to the idea in recent years and with the presence of AEW pressuring WWE into an arms race, well, he's sitting right there as a lucrative, historic opportunity for one promotion to seize.
If not 2021, when? It seemed nothing short of a dramatic change to the wrestling world would spur his big return. That change has arrived and the game has changed—seemingly opening the door wider than ever before for a Punk return.