CM Punk finally spoke out on his departure nearly a year ago from WWE, and it was worse than a lot of us would have thought.
The one-time Best in the World obliterated the last remnants of any bridge that may have brought him back to WWE one day in the future, telling his good friend, Colt Cabana, that he walked out on his contract after being forced to work through myriad injuries, including concussions and even a potentially life-threatening staph infection.
Punk, 36, appears set on not only walking out on WWE, but walking out on wrestling for good, making it clear that he has no interest in signing with TNA or other promotions. As hard as it may be for some fans to believe, Punk is done, going out on top at a young age, reminiscent of a Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Sandy Koufax.
For Punk, it’s a little bit of those three. The Jim Brown in CM Punk is his outspoken side. The interview with Cabana is an extended pipe bomb, to borrow from that term that he hated being attached to his worked shoot promos, laying into Ryback for working stiff and being a danger in the ring, Triple H for basically being an overfed stooge, Vince McMahon for being ultimately weak in the face of seeing one of his big-money draws literally walk out on his career due to the mistreatment of McMahon’s underlings.
The Sanders and Koufax in CM Punk is the guy who is very much beat up, tired, near-broken, who somehow was able to hide all of that from the viewing public and able to perform at the top of his game while working through injuries that would cripple lesser men, and then was able to walk away even as the once-adoring public pelted him for a lack of understanding into what he was dealing with.
I’m the rare wrestling writer with experience in promoting shows and working behind the scenes in a prominent behind-the-scenes role on a live TV pay-per-view, and with those experiences, I have a ton of respect for what Punk is doing. He’s 36, meaning he had at least another five years, probably longer than that, up to seven, eight years, where he’d have been at or near the top of the business. That puts him into his mid-40s, at which point he would transition into the next phase of his career, a 10-year period from his mid-40s to his mid-50s where he’d occasionally wrestle, either in WWE or on the indy circuit, making big money for one-offs, and bigger money doing signings and related appearances.
Even into his late 50s and then into his 60s and beyond, he’s still CM Punk, still a name with value to draw fans just to get a glimpse of him and maybe a quick autograph and photo.
Hanging up the boots at 36, Punk has skipped straight ahead to that phase for guys 20 years older where whatever money he makes is doing special appearances, and because his time at the top of the game was relatively limited, roughly the last 10 years, his shelf life on the appearance circuit will be limited. Five years, tops, and he’s done.
But is that so bad, really? I bring that up in the context of my experiences in promoting and writing shows. So much of the indy circuit is the older guys from the 1980s and 1990s who are long, long past their prime but nonetheless have to schlep around the country every weekend to make $250 here, $500 there, the lucky ones being able to cash checks for $1,500 or $2,000 on a Saturday night to help fill a high-school gym.
If you’re CM Punk, you’re 36, you’re still young enough that you can rehab the bumps, the bruises, the strains, the pains, and have something of a normal life from here on out. And you can also invest some time into whatever CM Punk is going to be next. At 36, and out of the wrestling business, Punk may actually have a life expectancy into his 70s; meaning he still has a long way to go. Maybe it’s acting, or color commentating, like Bill Goldberg has been able to do calling MMA fights. Maybe he just becomes CM Punk, famous person, and does a little bit of everything.
The Best in the World, in my view, has made the best decision of his life, avoiding the path of a Ricky Morton, a Ric Flair, a Kevin Nash, a Scott Hall.
It’s hard for me, the CM Punk wrestling fan, to want to give up a few more interesting CM Punk main events. I’d love to see Punk feud with Bray Wyatt, to be the guy to take down the monster heel, Brock Lesnar, to work a program with Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose. The hair stands on the back of my neck just thinking about those matches and others.
CM Punk really is the Best in the World: the best combination of in-ring talent and on-the-mic salesmanship that the business has seen since the young ric flair.
For CM Punk the man, though, getting out now is the best move that he could possibly have ever made, and I’m willing to give that up and watch his highlights on WWE Network, knowing that at least they will stand the test of time, and also not be marred by the inevitable decline that would come in his later years.
– Column by Chris Graham