CM Punk WWE Wrestling Return Screen grab: Peacock

The best stories in professional wrestling are the ones that blur the lines between fiction and reality.

CM Punk’s return to WWE following a nearly 10-year hiatus from the company certainly qualifies as just that.

Punk — real name Phil Brooks — made his return to professional wrestling’s biggest company after Saturday’s Survivor Series Premium Live Event (formerly pay-per-view). Despite weeks of speculation heading into Saturday’s show in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, the “Best in the World’s” return to WWE was a well-kept secret, with the company’s chief content officer, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, revealing after the event that not even the honchos at TKO Group Holdings were aware of the surprise.

“Probably the top people at TKO were watching the show going, ‘Holy ****,'” Levesque said during the post-show press conference. “It’s a good thing, right?”

How big of a secret was Punk’s return? The reactions from the wrestlers who were in the ring when it occurred led many to believe that even they hadn’t been clued in. Seth Rollins appeared to be especially outraged, to the point that he had to be restrained by commentators Michael Cole and Corey Graves.

So was this a work (fake) or a shoot (real)? The answers seem to vary.

According to Fightful Select’s Sean Ross Sapp, the wrestlers in the ring for the 10-man War Games main event were made aware that Punk would be returning after the match. But the return was largely kept a secret from everybody else, with a backstage area reportedly being cleared out and Levesque taking over producing duties — including calling for Punk’s music — moments before the return took place.

As for the reactions of the talent in the ring, the outburst from Rollins — who has publicly feuded with Punk at times since the latter departed from WWE in early 2014 — appears to have been a work to set up a future angle, according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Meanwhile, the reaction from wrestler Drew McIntyre — who was visibly angry as he stormed out following the conclusion of the main event but before Punk’s return — appears to have been legitimate.

Punk’s return to WWE, which comes less than three months after he was fired by rival wrestling promotion AEW following multiple backstage altercations, would have generated no shortage of buzz regardless of what form it came in. But the reactions from the wrestlers, whether they were real, fake or somewhere in between, only added to the intrigue of the return of one of professional wrestling’s biggest and most polarizing stars.

So what’s next for Punk in WWE? As Levesque said in his post-show press conference, “Whatever it is, it will be talked about.”

So far, so good.


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.