CM Punk WWE AEW Screen grab: WWE

All things considered, CM Punk’s second promo following his return to WWE went better than his first.

Whereas his first promo — which came on WWE Raw two nights after his return at Survivor Series — didn’t provide much substance aside from him telling the audience that he loved them while referring to WWE as his “home,” his promo on WWE Friday Night SmackDown felt more like an “authentic” version of Punk. While he still used WWE-speak — to the point that it seemed sarcastic — he also teased several future feuds, including with Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes and Kevin Owens.

In true Punk fashion, the Chicago native also blurred the lines between fiction and reality as he made a reference to his controversial run in WWE’s rival promotion, All Elite Wrestling (AEW).

“I don’t know who would feel comfortable working with somebody who randomly just punches people in the face backstage,” Punk said. “I mean, it’s 2023, ladies and gentlemen. You just can’t be doing stuff like that. That’s insane.”

For the uninitiated, Punk’s two-year run in AEW reportedly included two shoot (real) backstage altercations, including one with The Elite (Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks) and one with Jack “Jungle Boy” Perry. Punk’s incident with Perry, which occurred at the All In pay-per-view in August, resulted in AEW firing the 45-year-old for cause, which allowed him to sign with WWE three months later.

Although Punk has reportedly signed an NDA preventing him from discussing the altercations, his line on Friday was a clear reference to the circumstances that resulted in his departure from his former employer. But while Punk is well known for mentioning backstage happenings on-screen — look no further than his famous “Pipe Bomb” promo — this particular reference seemed to fall flat with the WWE audience.

That’s not to say that the audience pushed back on “The Best in the World’s” nod to his former employer, but rather that it didn’t seem to understand what he was talking about. As Punk made gestures to indicate he had just said something spicy — he literally pulled at his t-shirt collar — the fans in Providence, Rhode Island, didn’t react to the line in any noticeable way.

Punk’s line likely would have landed in a city more known for having an insider audience, such as New York City, Philadelphia and of course, Chicago. But, as the ratings suggest, there isn’t as much crossover between the WWE and AEW audiences as one might suspect and WWE crowds are less likely to include fans who are aware of the backstage happenings.

While most WWE fans are aware that Punk was previously in AEW, the reality is that they’re likely only vaguely familiar with why he left. Considering that WWE has painted Punk as a polarizing figure since his return, it will be interesting to see how it navigates an audience that doesn’t seem to be in tune with his most recent controversies.


About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.