A big story broke this week in the midst of the WWE Draft chaos that the contract of CM Punk is set to expire in the near future and he hasn’t renewed. The story indicates that Punk has refused to sign a new WWE deal and is preparing to leave the WWE when his current deal expires.
My old pal Mike Johnson at PWInsider.com was the first to break this huge story earlier in the week. Johnson reports that CM Punk has turned down recent offers at a longer WWE deal and word is spreading within the offices that he may be leaving. Johnson also indicates that Punk’s unwillingness to play ball is a result of burnout and frustration in with his spot in the company.
I can certainly understand his frustrations and so can the thousands of fans that have backed him since from his independent wrestling career through WrestleMania 27. Punk almost appears as something of a toy to the company. Once in a while someone in the office gets hot on him, gives him a belt or a top program, and yet for whatever reason pulls the rug right out from under him a few months later and sends him back to the middle of the pack. Quite frankly Punk has had more runs with the Divas than he has had with WWE championships.
Johnson’s story points out that CM Punk isn’t even seen by the office a top five or even top eight WWE superstar. In ranking the pack Punk falls behind John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H, The Undertaker, Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, Rey Mysterio, and today John Morrison. It has to be frustrating when even his biggest critics know he is a far better worker than Del Rio, Morrison, Miz, and maybe even Mysterio at this stage of the game. Yet for whatever reason when the opportunity arises to be elevated, the company continues to look past him.
How is this for frustration? Remember that feud against John Cena that was supposed to elevate Punk back to main-events earlier in the year? Well neither does anyone else. For those of you who don’t, Punk left the commentary position on RAW and bashed Cena with a chair in one of the most underrated angles of the year back in December. The feud lasted one match on RAW without even a pay per view grudge match.
It gets even easier to understand Punk’s frustrations when you look back at the last few major feuds he has had. When is the last time Punk has gone over in a match against a top guy? Punk is often positioned strong early in feuds with top WWE superstars yet is always the one looking at the lights. As I write this on April 27, CM Punk’s last win over a top guy came on February 14 when he beat John Cena with interference. He hasn’t had one win in his feud against Randy Orton other than eliminating from the chamber. Heck, he didn’t even get a win on The Big Show in their SmackDown feud last year.
I don’t think anyone would blame CM Punk for being burnt out. Other than missing time with a hip injury (although he still came to work as a commentator), he has been on the road constantly with the WWE for the last few years. With little reward for it in regards to push, I am sure it would wear on anyone.
With Edge going down and so much inconsistency beneath Randy Orton and John Cena on the roster, Punk couldn’t ask for a better time to negotiate a new deal. Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, and Batista have pulled similar moves in the past allowing their deals to expire and walking away. Hardy and Jericho wound up coming back a couple of years later in an even more advantageous position and made more money than they ever would have made if they had initially re-signed with the WWE. Batista is still sitting out. While Punk was never pushed to their level, he is a familiar enough of a face to the WWE audiences that with some time away, he could return to the WWE with welcome arms from the fans and a fatter contract than he would sign today.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think that Punk leaving would devastate the WWE or hurt the WWE the same way Batista and Jericho did when they walked out. I do think that he would certainly leave a big hole that fans would feel over time when they are seeing Dolph Ziggler or Drew McIntyre second from the top in matches nowhere near as good as the ones that Punk had.
The good news for guys like Punk in this age of the WWE is that a guy in Punk’s position can make a lot of money fast. He seems like a bright guy and probably saved his money giving him security to do whatever he wants right now. Punk had a long career on the indys before the WWE and there is a good chance he may miss some of that freedom. Punk certainly isn’t getting the leeway to go 60 minutes with Randy Orton in the WWE, yet he could walk back into ROH or an international wrestling company and do 60 minute matches until he is blue in the face.
It certainly isn’t over for Punk if he leaves the WWE. He is young enough to take a lengthy vacation and hop right back into the WWE mix in a few years refreshed and richer. But the appeal of making your own schedule, booking your own matches, and not having to worry about a dress code may mean more to Punk than the promise of another feud with John Cena that ends up with him tapping to the STFU.
Of course this could all change in a second if the WWE and Punk can come to a new deal. However as it stands today, CM Punk is a major WWE superstar with a deal set to expire in a few months.
At 32 it may be more appealing to make less money, work a few weeks here and there, and enjoy something that he could never have in the WWE and that is freedom.
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