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Unprecendented: CM Punk walks away from WWE at height of his career

cmpunkIt’s not quite Hulk Hogan leaving WWF or Ric Flair walking out on the NWA, but CM Punk’s apparent departure from WWE in the prime of his career is unprecedented.

The only comparison that comes to mind is Stone Cold Steve Austin leaving WWE after WrestleMania 19, at the age of 38, but that was due to the effects of injuries. Punk is 35, and burned out, by all accounts, but also by all accounts injury-free.

Punk is also not that far removed from a long run as WWE champ and the Match of the Year at WrestleMania 29 with Undertaker. But his time at the top of the business, and he was a WWE mainstay for a decade, has taken its toll. In an interview a few weeks before he left WWE for what turned out to be for good, Punk talked about the grueling travel schedule required of WWE full-timers, which basically had him on the road six days a week, 50 weeks a year, for the past 10 years.

That’s tough, no doubt, but it’s no different than what Austin, Flair or Hogan or top stars who preceded them had to endure in years past. Punk has always been a different sort of guy, though, wearing his long road to the top of the wrestling business literally on his sleeve. Part of that was creative, but a big part was the authentic Punk, the perennial outsider, like Austin, whose natural tendencies toward being an iconoclast helped sell tickets, but also pushed him to speak his mind in interviews in ways that had to make Vince McMahon cringe.

A question since Punk walked out on WWE the day after Royal Rumble, a match that saw him enter with the unlucky #1 and last 47 minutes before being eliminated late, has been, Is this for real? Punk famously left WWE in 2011 after winning the WWE title, but it was clear that the exit at that time was a work, because WWE cameras kept capturing Punk on film interacting with WWE officials while he was supposedly a persona non grata within the company.

The wall of silence that has defined this most recent departure by Punk had me speculating that this one was just a more disciplined, reality-tinged work that was being handled well by all sides. Punk hasn’t been on camera anywhere complaining about anything; even his legitimate real-life friends claim that they haven’t heard from him since he walked out on Monday Night Raw and have no idea what he’s thinking or what his plans are.

So the news today that Punk was apparently granted his release by WWE last week seems to be the real deal. Punk, at age 35, is done with WWE, which means, at least for now, he’s done with wrestling. It makes no sense to think that Punk would have anything to do with TNA Impact Wrestling, and it’s hard to imagine anybody on the indy circuit being able to come up with enough money to lure Punk out of the house to wrestle in a high school gym somewhere.

Punk is done until he decides that he’s not done, essentially, and at that point, he calls McMahon, the two come to a meeting of the minds on pay and workload, and Punk gives us another run probably a year or two down the road.

That’s where this story is going to end. Punk is a part-timer at best from here on out, Chris Jericho, perhaps, more than Brock Lesnar, who left WWE to make a run at UFC before injuries forced him to return to pro wrestling against his wishes.

It’s hard to be too critical of the guy in the end. For every thought that you have about what he could do in the next 8-10 years in the prime of his career, you need to think of Flair and Hogan in their 60s still schlepping around in tights trying to make money to pay down their millions in debts to various and sundry entities, including ex-wives.

If this is the end of CM Punk as full-time wrestling superstar, hey, just enjoy that you got out of him, which was a 10-year run that will one day land him in the WWE Hall of Fame.

– Column by Chris Graham

augusta free press
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