Backstage Details On CM Punk's Return To Wrestling In AEW
How Punk came to return detailed
What appeared high improbable only a couple of years ago became a reality on August 20, 2021, as CM Punk returned to professional wrestling to open AEW Rampage: The First Dance.
The Second City Saviour has since established himself in All Elite Wrestling and Punk had his first match in seven years at All Out on September 5 when he went one on one with Darby Allin.
Punk's return came after a long courtship from Tony Khan and AEW, something which ESPN detailed ahead of the September 5 pay-per-view.
As previously known, Punk was one of the wrestlers Tony Khan wanted to sign before the launch of AEW and ESPN noted both parties sat down on December 26, 2018, in Chicago. Khan and Punk spoke for more than an hour, but the 42-year-old, having been embittered by his WWE departure, was "pessimistic" and Khan admitted to ESPN that Punk "wanted to see how this thing went."
There was then strain on the relationship between AEW and Punk in 2019 after Punk didn't return to wrestling at one of the promotion's opening pay-per-views.
"The fans really had an expectation. It wasn't anybody's fault. It wasn't like we were trying to give people the perception he was coming and it wasn't like he was trying to give the perception he was coming. But people just really wanted it to happen, because it's just something people really care about," Khan stated.
Despite the setback, Khan continued to hope Punk would be open to a return and the AEW President was encouraged after Punk returned to wrestling as an analyst on WWE Backstage in late 2019. Punk himself has admitted his short-lived stint on the FOX show opened him up to the possibility of an in-ring return.
WWE Backstage was later largely cancelled in June 2020, and Khan and Punk had already started to talk more a few months earlier once the COVID-19 pandemic began. This ultimately allowed both parties to have a "low-pressure friendship" as Khan had no plans to bring Punk back without fans in attendance.
"Everyone is at home more. People are reconnecting with people they haven't talked to as much, and connecting with friends. I talked to him a lot. He was watching the shows and enjoying them. He liked a lot of the young wrestlers who were becoming breakout stars on AEW Dynamite," Khan said about this period.
Punk was then impressed by AEW's handling of Brodie Lee's illness and subsequent passing as no one in the locker room leaked that The Exalted One was sick.
Then, on February 12, 2021, Punk responded to a fan on Twitter about which AEW wrestlers he would like to work with. Punk named five young wrestlers and Khan texted him soon after, noting he liked the list. A few weeks after that, Punk and Khan began discussing The Second City Saviour's AEW debut and how much it would cost to bring him in.
"Once he wanted to come back, there was nothing standing between us. He was looking to be well compensated, but I would want to compensate CM Punk. That wasn't that hard to figure out. Him wanting to wrestle for AEW was the biggest thing we had to establish. Once we had that established, we all wanted the same stuff," Khan noted.
This all ultimately led to Punk's return at Chicago's United Center on August 20. The former WWE Champion hadn't yet signed his AEW contract, though, despite buying 15,000 ice cream bars and Tony Khan's promises that no one would be disappointed. They instead operated on a handshake deal until Punk put pen to paper 30 minutes before Rampage went on the air.