Last night was one of the most raucous WWE crowds that I can remember and for good reason. There was a buzz in the air that Chicago native CM Punk would make his glorious return in front of the hometown crowd and put him squarely into the Wrestlemania 30 picture with four weeks to build up a story and set up a match. Alas, all the hype and speculation ended up being just that as CM Punk did not make an appearance on Raw and is not only not in the Wrestlemania plans but also really not returning to the WWE any time soon. Most fans were holding out hope that Punk’s departure the night after the Royal Rumble was all just part of a storyline but after last night’s Raw concluded without a CM Punk sighting it has become painfully obvious that we may have seen the last of CM Punk in the WWE for good.
The WWE played it smart and seemed to hint at a return of Chicago’s favorite son all night long. Raw opened up to the deafening sound of “CM PUNK!” chants and all of a sudden “Cult of Personality” erupted over the arena sound system and the Allstate Arena exploded. Only, it wasn’t CM Punk but his former manager Paul Heyman coming out much to the dismay of the crowd. Heyman weaved a fabulous promo about CM Punk never being ideal for WWE’s top decision makers that he was a rebel who said and did what he wanted and that WWE doesn’t want him back at the moment and that he wasn’t in the building. This seemed to build the notion that Punk would be showing up tonight since it was the first time anyone on WWE TV had even mentioned his name since his abrupt departure.
The segment concluded with a Brock Lesnar/Mark Henry showdown that ended with Henry taking an F5 through the announce table. The chants for Punk grew but the segment ended with no sign of him and seemed to cut the likelihood of CM Punk’s appearance in half instantly. Surely, if he was going to return he would show up right away to give the crowd what they wanted and avoid the crowd hijacking the show the remainder of the evening. The rest of the hour continued with the occasional chants but two extremely entertaining tag matches quieted the crowd considerably.
The chants continued throughout the extra long three hour show (ending well after 10pm) and picked up steam when Daniel Bryan was getting assaulted by The Authority, Batista and Randy Orton. The show ended with Daniel Bryan lying at the feet of The Authority and the final cries for CM Punk fading to black with the camera. There was obvious disappointment from fans on social media as the realization that CM Punk may be gone from WWE for good began to set in. If he was going to return it would have been last night. He didn’t and now his future with the company really seems to be up in the air.
It’s safe to say that Wrestlemania 30 will be without CM Punk barring a surprise appearance. After that there is always the Raw the night after Wrestlemania that has seen some big returns the past couple of years but if he remains absent after that then the clock really starts to tick as his contract is legitimately up in July. WWE returns to Chicago for the Payback pay per view in June, the only other logical return date and that will seem incredibly unlikely barring a contract extension.
The WWE’s biggest obstacle on the Road to Wrestlemania was going to be the one they faced last night in Chicago and they survived by playing the CM Punk card brilliantly. From Paul Heyman’s “Punk bomb” to mentioning him by name, acknowledging the crowd’s chants and playing his music it kept hope alive throughout the night and didn’t end in a riot.
No one knows for sure what the future for CM Punk holds except for the man himself. He’s been quiet on social media, made rare public appearances and hasn’t ripped WWE in any way. Maybe he is burned out and clearing his head. Maybe he’s just getting his mind right and nursing nagging injuries. And maybe he’s really done with WWE. The latter would be a disappointing end to the career of one of the most popular and controversial WWE Superstars in the modern era. He has stated in the past that when he was done in WWE he would be “done for good” and retire.
At 35, he’s still young but acknowledges that the toll wrestling has put on his body makes him feel much older. The chants for Punk will still pop up here and there during shows but the longer he’s gone the more the chants will fade. He’ll always be Chicago’s favorite son but it seems the Second City, and the WWE, will be without their “Saint” for the foreseeable future.