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Why CM Punk Quit WWE

February 9, 2014

On 27 January, half an hour before the start of Monday Night Raw, C.M. Punk informed Vince McMahon that he was “going home”, in essence quitting WWE.  Having one of its top three babyface stars quit in the middle of the build up to WrestleMania 30 has thrown WWE for a loop, in particular as it came on the back of a rather controversial Royal Rumble.  There has been a lot of discussion and speculation as to why Punk decided to leave, yet the reasons for his decision appear to be quite evident.

First, Punk is hurting.  This should be obvious to anybody who has paid attention to Punk’s physical appearance and the way he moves in the ring over the years.  Things got so bad for him last year that he took two months off after WrestleMania 29, which in retrospect was probably too short of a break for him.  Indeed, had the Payback PPV last June not been held in Chicago it is doubtful that he would have returned so soon.

The fact is that Punk has barely taken any time off since making his debut in 1999.  As a very determined perfectionist, he worked a hard style each and every night.  It is one thing to wake up the next morning, shake off the aches and pains and get back in the ring to do it all over again when one is young and hungry.  It is an entirely different manner to be able to do that by the time one is 35 years old, least of all when money is no longer an issue.  In Punk’s case, this factor is more pronounced than most given that his straight-edge lifestyle means that he has likely never used painkillers to help him get through the day.

That drug-free approach is of course a great thing for Punk’s long-term health, unless he compromises that by continuing to put his body through the rigours of professional wrestling even as it tells him he needs to stop.  Punk has allegedly been telling people backstage that he has undertaken multiple MRIs and blood tests to try and determine why he feels so run down all the time.  With no tangible medical reason found, the only potential solution became to take a break from wrestling and see if that helps him.

The second main factor to consider is, as mentioned above, that Punk is by all accounts financially secure.  Whether or not he has enough to last him for life is anybody’s guess.  It is no secret, however, that Punk leads a low-key lifestyle.  There is no Nature Boy style squandering of earnings here.  He has invested a lot of his money into high-end Chicago property, with his only major personal expense appearing to be the private coach to take him around WWE events that he will now no longer require.

Of course, there is always more money to be made.  Steve Austin noted that he regrets his own walk-out in 2002, since it led to him leaving a lot of cash on the table during his prime earnings years.  Don’t feel too sorry for him, however, Stone Cold is still a multi-millionaire after all and Punk is anything but strapped for cash.  There is often a dividing line between financial earnings and physical well-being.  Quite where that line is drawn is a personal decision.

At first glance, leaving WWE during the most lucrative period of the year appears to be ludicrous.  Punk could have stuck it out a couple more months, worked WrestleMania and collected a hefty pay-off for doing so.  Again, his physical health is a major determinant here.  If his body is in such bad shape that hanging on that little bit longer would have been very dangerous for him then he is better off getting out sooner rather than later.

Another major point to consider, however, is that the WrestleMania pay-off for 2014 is likely to be considerably less than would have been expected just a few months ago.  The launch of the WWE Network will change everything.  The number of actual pay-per-view buys for the event will drop considerably this year, with the majority of viewers taking the more economical option of subscribing to the network instead.  The word backstage in WWE is that none of the talent have been informed of how the network will affect the major royalties they used to receive from WrestleMania, traditionally the biggest pay-off date on the calendar.  It seems hard to imagine how WWE could maintain the same pay-off levels without losing money on the show and this appears to have removed any remaining motivation Punk had to stick around.

The third factor, underpinning all of the above, is Punk’s lingering discontent with the creative direction of the company.  This has been no secret but was reiterated in public by Punk during a Wizard World event in Portland on the 25 January.  In his appearance at a Q&A event, he admitted that he used to argue against perceived flaws in the creative team’s writing but had now just grown tired of the fight, instead just showing up to do as he was told.  After his return in 2013, Punk seemed to exist in an alternative universe from the main program.  He was contained in a lengthy feud with good friend Paul Heyman for several months, yet by October that had run its course and so his character finally became embroiled in the nonsensical Authority storyline that now dominates proceedings.

Events at the Royal Rumble indicated that Punk was scheduled to go on to face corporate Kane at the Elimination Chamber, en route to a match with Triple H at WrestleMania 30.  Although we may never know for certain, it would appear that Punk would lose to Hunter if such a match transpired.  There is always room for one major heel victory on the big day and this would have been the most logical option.  Punk’s current contract expires in July nonetheless.  He had given all the signs of not renewing it at that time, so putting him over at WrestleMania rather than a guy who will be a TV regular would have been counter-productive.

From Punk’s point of view, however, putting his body through even more pain in order to put over Triple H and pay-off a very weak storyline, for little financial reward, proved to be too much aggravation.

The creative direction aspect of Punk’s discontent should not be under-emphasised.  Mick Foley, one of the few in the business who know Punk fairly well on a personal level, noted that “Punk is a really honest guy.  He rubbed people the wrong way.  A lot of people personally don’t like him, but if you were to ask the guy to change, you’d eliminate who he is. You’d take away his drive.  The sky should have been the limit, and it hasn’t quite been. There have been some decisions made as far as his direction that I didn’t agree with. I knew he was thinking of leaving. I knew he was looking forward to leaving for a while.

Although most of the WWE talent nowadays are content to just do as the company tells them, Punk has an old school wrestling mentality that makes him think about the business in a different way from most of his peers.  He is not content to just have a job in WWE and meander through it as a drone.  As with the likes of Foley, Bret Hart and others, he thinks about the business, his character, his matches and his direction in terms of logic and of continuity.

These days, however, WWE shows tend to be re-written multiple times and have lapsed into an even-steven booking mentality in which wrestlers trade meaningless wins and losses, creating an environment in which nothing seems to matter.  Dropping a mind like Punk’s into this environment is indeed like dropping a pipe-bomb.

Back in 2011, when Punk’s last contract was drawing to a close, his frustrations about not being able to tell the stories he wanted to tell at the top end of the card had him on the brink of walking out.  He had invested heavily into his feud with Jeff Hardy and the ensuing Straight Edge Society, only for it to fall apart in a meaningless and highly forgettable way, leaving him as just another body killing time on Raw.  If there is no reward for the heavy emotional investment that is required for genuine creative artistry, then that emotion will become resentful.  In 2011, it turned into anger.  In 2014, it turned into apathy.

Backstage, there are many who disagree with Punk’s decision.  One anonymous WWE employee published the following rant online:

Honestly, Punk is being a little bitch.  I liked him so much before his run leading to and after that Money in the Bank in Chicago.  He’s a guy where you have to be really in his circle for him to I guess open up, which I understand, but being put in a feud with Kane and then with HHH at Mania is not a bad thing.  Now I understand he feels this is his last Mania and he wants to main event and really, with the right storyline, that match could main event, but literally after the Tribute to the Troops incident he’s just been difficult.  There are so many there that want his spot, that want to say, ‘I need a weekend off to go to UFC.’  I really and fully believe he’s a little jealous of the crowd reactions to Bryan and it’s getting to him—He’s just been such a dick lately.  That interview with Ariel, he acted like he was the victim at the Troops taping when Michelle was just joking.  Little bitch AJ took it to the wrong level.  Do you really think AJ would have a ‘pipe bomb’ interview time or longest Diva champ BS if she wasn’t dating Punk?  Punk really doesn’t want to be the face of the company.  That’s BS.  I hate hearing that shit.  He says he does but this isn’t ROH or OVW.  He would bitch so much if he had to do Michael & Kelly at 9 a.m., then fly to a different state (for Raw), do a Make-A-Wish at 1 p.m. and then RAW, then do SmackDown, then do something Wednesday to fly home Thursday to be on the road Friday or Saturday.  No way he could handle that for four months.  He may come back as soon as Monday or he may never come back, but if never comes back he better remember how many fans he’s fucking over right now, the same way he believes the WWE is fucking him over.  And I’m not defending Vince or HHH.  Especially HHH, because people are seeing that HHH taking over isn’t as cool as they thought it would be.  Outlaws, Nash, X-Pac, Flair, HBK, Batista—yeah must be nice to be HHH friends.

To many, Punk’s disgruntled attitude towards the creative direction of the company became tiresome.  It would appear that even Punk himself grew tired of the complaining.  He tried just complying with it but with no clear motivation to keep him interested, decided that the most logical option was to leave.

The manner in which he left has proven to be quite controversial.  There was no attempt to put somebody else over on the way out.  There was no notice given to the company so that they could write out his character and have more time to consider the ramifications for the WrestleMania 30 card.

Maybe that was the point.  After all, Punk’s current opponents were Kane and Triple H and neither of them can be said to need any sort of rub.  Punk’s current disapproval of WWE’s approach to creative is built around the idea that they have no respect for it, hence he has no respect for that team.  Another point made by Punk at Wizard World is that, although he had no problem with Batista, it was Daniel Bryan’s year and that he should be the guy fighting for the title at WrestleMania.  Punk’s abrupt departure, along with events at the Royal Rumble, have led to WWE taking a long, hard look at the WrestleMania 30 card.  Bryan may well still wind up getting that title match after all.

Still, this is the wrestling business and Punk may well wind up returning.  In fact, it would be shocking if he did not.  Vince McMahon reportedly wants to get him back, since Punk remained the #2 merchandise seller behind John Cena.  It seems that Vince will be the one to handle any future discussions with Punk, not Triple H, in order to circumvent any potential personal disagreements between Punk and Hunter.  Certainly Vince has more personal respect for guys like Punk, who stand up for themselves and their personal beliefs.  He sees such talks as a challenge, as a competition that he could win.

Nonetheless, the likeliest option for Punk’s potential comeback is for him to sit things out for a few years.  By all accounts, the one goal he has left in the business is a WrestleMania main event.  Not one of the three or four under-card “main events” they have nowadays but the legitimate last match of the evening.  He didn’t get that as WWE Champion or when challenging The Undertaker’s streak.  His last and best option at getting it will be in a few year’s time when he becomes the returning part-time star.

By that point, WWE will have run out of many of their current WrestleMania feature attractions.  The Rock has scratched that itch already.  The Undertaker will be retired for good.  Brock Lesnar will have been and gone.  It will be too late for the likes of Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, Batista and anybody else from years gone by.  Even Triple H will likely have had a few corporate lunches too many to go in the ring any longer.

At that point, Punk can demand himself the WrestleMania main event, work a brief program to put over Roman Reigns or whoever may be on top by then, and head off to live in a cabin in the woods where he doesn’t have to deal with any of these irritating human beings ever again unless he wants to.  Or, perhaps by then John Cena and Randy Orton will be the part-time superstars hogging the WrestleMania spotlight, in which case nothing will have changed.  Either way, in the here and now Punk has to do what is best for himself.  Even if he never appears again, we’ll always have an abundance of great memories from his time in the wrestling business…

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From → Wrestling, WWE

5 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Off the page and commented:
    hate it , why punk , why

  2. “Punk has allegedly been telling people backstage that he has undertaken multiple MRIs and blood tests to try and determine why he feels so run down all the time.” …Sounds like a pregnancy test is in order!

  3. “Stone Cold is still a multi-millionaire after all and Punk is anything but strapped for cash. There is often a dividing line between financial earnings and physical well-being. Quite where that line is drawn is a personal decision.” …Stone Cold’s endless pursuit on his show of working the Amazon Affiliates programme makes me wonder if indeed there is a line there! Guess he probably won’t ever deal with a suplex from Jeff Bezos though.

    • Stone Cold draws that line under an ice cooler of beer, whilst sitting on a giant, Walter White sized stack of cash, waving his rifle at those pesky damn neighbor kids so they get off his lawn.

  4. “The third factor, underpinning all of the above, is Punk’s lingering discontent with the creative direction of the company.” …Yes! Yes! Yes!

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