Home Analysis: Did WWE drop the ball with CM Punk return, rollout on ‘Raw’?
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Analysis: Did WWE drop the ball with CM Punk return, rollout on ‘Raw’?

Chris Graham
cm punk
Photo: AEW

WWE fired the shot heard ‘round the wrestling world with the surprise return of CM Punk at the Survivor Series on Nov. 25, and almost broke the internet in the process.

The company bragged on “Raw” two nights later that the clip of Punk’s brief appearance at the end of the premium live event had drawn 71 million views across social media, which, yeah, wow.

Punk’s first appearance on “Raw” in almost 10 years had been advertised to happen that night, and as you would expect, the excitement over the return, off the strength of the millions of video views, pushed the ratings for “Raw” through the stratosphere.

The Nov. 27 “Raw” averaged 1.884 million viewers, per numbers from Wrestlenomics, up 23.3 percent from its fourth quarter 2023 average of 1.528 million viewers.

Big problem: bad show formatting, lack of discipline with the other segments, whatever, limited the end-of-show promo from Punk to six minutes.

With emphasis: Punk, the prodigal son, returning, got six minutes in his first appearance in nearly a decade on “Raw.”

Technically, “Cult of Personality” was cued up at 10:52 p.m. ET, but he didn’t offer his first word until 10:54 p.m. ET.

The moment should have been milked for maximum benefit – a long, cascading entrance allowing him to engage with WWE fans, who would then have plenty of time to serenade him with the “CM Punk!” chants they’d been keeping alive for almost a decade.

Kind of what AEW did when Punk made his debut there back in 2021.

Punk opened that show and was given all the time in the world to say what was on his mind.

We got none of that from The Best in the World, whose promo was really a whole lot of nuthin’ – he had to hush the crowd so that he could start talking, and then had nothing to say.

We got nothing from Punk on why he was back, no hints on who might be his first target.

Nuthin’.

To compound the problems here, having Punk for the end of the three-hour show didn’t keep viewers tuned in. According to Wrestlenomics, the 10:45-11 p.m. ET quarter-hour averaged 1.768 million viewers, down 5.7 percent from the show’s three-hour average.

And WWE should have known this. “Raw,” at three hours, is known to be way, way, way too long, and it’s typical for the final hour to see a precipitous drop in the number of people watching.

So, they waited too long to get Punk his mic time, weren’t disciplined enough to give him enough time, and then the cascade of mistakes was compounded when word got out that Punk wasn’t going to be back for the Dec. 4 “Raw.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to find out that the Dec. 4 “Raw” reverted back to mean, drawing 1.533 million viewers on average, per Wrestlenomics, basically, back to where it’s been.

We’ll see how Punk moves the needle for “Smackdown” this week – he’s been announced for the show, which averaged 2.044 million viewers for its Dec. 1 episode.

I’d expect there to be some kind of Punk bump this week; I’d also expect WWE to ensure that he gets more time this time around.

Inside the Numbers

There’s something to point out here about that 2.044 million number for the most recent “Smackdown”: that number represented a nice bump back from the 789,000 average for the Nov. 24 “Smackdown” that aired on FS1 because Fox had the Pac-12 football championship game on the main channel.

The FS1 number is maybe a glimpse into the future for “Smackdown,” which will be moving back to cable, to USA, next year after the five-year run on Fox comes to an end.

I wouldn’t foresee “Smackdown” drawing numbers as low as we saw from the Nov. 24 FS1 show necessarily, but more in line with what we see from “Raw,” which also airs on USA, and has been pretty consistently in the 1.4 million to 1.5 million range for a while now.

The most important ability of “Smackdown” in its Fox run has been its availability on network TV.

WWE will miss that exposure when it goes away in 2024.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].