When CM Punk "retired" from pro wrestling in 2014, a lot of people thought that his role as the catalyst for change in the WWE was over as he retired to his couch. Punk was famously quoted for saying that he "can't change wrestling by sitting on his couch in Chicago." What's interesting is that's exactly what he did in 2014, but that is also exactly what he is going to do in the Octagon for UFC.
No one outside his close circle knows for sure how deeply he thinks about pro wrestling anymore. Listening to him speak recently, it seems like he isn't thinking very much about it at all, yet that doesn't change the fact that CM Punk still holds significant power over WWE and the perception of pro wrestling going forward as he fights in the UFC sometime later his year, or early next year.
What's especially interesting is Punk's influence to change wrestling is mostly positive, even under the potentially permanent dark cloud his exit from pro wrestling was at the time. Punk is still doing his part to change the WWE and pro wrestling. Punk's performance in UFC is going to drastically alter how wrestling is viewed by fighting, wrestling and sports fans all over the world. Punk's most important moments in this industry are still yet to come.
Here are ten ways that CM Punk is still altering the wrestling industry.
10 Punk's Claims Against How WWE Is Handling Its Medical Situations
After Colt Cabana and CM Punk did the infamous podcast heard round the world, there was an immediate lawsuit from WWE's Dr. Chris Amann for the comments Punk made specifically about how his staph infection was handled, and how the neglect of WWE's talent was due to both laziness and stupidity. The case is moving along, but there have definitely been changes behind the curtain in WWE doctor's lounge.
If Punk was indeed neglected, how does WWE explain the current Ryback situation? He's been out for a few weeks now with a staph infection. If Ryback is ironically going to have to drop the Intercontinental Championship because he can't go at Summerslam, isn't that a commentary on Punk's infection when he claims he was left untreated, working matches when he was sick and hurt? The changes behind the scenes are still a mystery, but there are flashes of things being caught that weren't caught before. One can only hope for the performers' sake.
9 Punk's Keeping His WWE Legacy Intact
CM Punk has always been a clean superstar. Of course, he can have an attitude which he's demonstrated when people challenge him or when he feels disrespected. Overall, he doesn't get himself in the kind of trouble that would damage his image, especially when his attitude was a huge part of his schtick.
The current Hulk Hogan situation with the racist comments and his WWE firing is a prime example of the image destroying behavior that Punk is clearly too smart to let slip. Punk is a private person without a drinking or drug problem. Unless something drastically changes, it's hard to imagine him doing something that would present the WWE in a negative light that would hurt its image as well as his own. His ambivalence towards pro wrestling is only helping WWE, whether they want to admit it or not.
8 CM Punk's Career Would Be Legitimized As a True Athlete
This is where things start to get really interesting. When Brock Lesnar came to WWE in the early 2000s, he was an NCAA wrestling world champion and an insane physical specimen. Over the next few years, he became a WWE guy. That's the brand he had on him. When he took his services to the UFC, a lot of people thought he was going to fail in spectacular fashion, but then his success not only silenced his critics, but it revolutionized and legitimized him as a true athlete and fighter. So much so that in 2012, when he returned to the WWE, Brock Lesnar was a UFC guy.
If Punk has success in the UFC, it will do the exact same for him and his career. Sure, Lesnar did it, but he's a genetic freak of nature. If Punk can go from being The Best in the World to becoming a true athlete, then a lot will change in wrestling because their best can handle fighting in the UFC. WWE isn't just a "wrestling entertainment" company anymore - legitimate athletes are bred and trained.
7 Punk's Legitimacy Does the Same For WWE Performers
Let's take this a step further: if Punk is branded as a legitimate fighter in the UFC, than so too can anyone he fought with at a very high level in wrestling. That legitimizes the likes of John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, and a host of others, not because these men have any interest in furthering their MMA careers, but because they were able to match Punk in ability in a WWE ring. Had they devoted their time to the Octagon instead, a lot would be different.
If wrestlers are considered to be true athletes by most major sports fans, a lot of positive changes are coming for the WWE.
6 WWE's In Ring Product
First and foremost, if WWE suddenly has the legitimacy to call themselves true fighters in the sports world without half the sports world laughing, everyone knows that they would use that to bring their product to a new level. A lot would happen in terms of performance in a WWE ring. While there would still be lucha libre style and the type of matches you have now, there would be an entirely new style that specific guys would be able to use much like Brock Lesnar is now.
That brutal and real style would be used in a similar fashion to the way that WWE used to use Brawl for All, or A Lion's Den match during the Attitude Era. It's possible WWE could create it's own MMA fighting brand on the WWE Network. You'd have the crossover appeal within WWE to bring in MMA guys and even UFC fighters to become WWE fighters. It's a little bit of a reach, but it isn't something that WWE wouldn't at least consider if it were brought up in a creative meeting.
5 The Male Demographic
Punk's success in UFC would allow WWE to acknowledge his body of work and potentially create appeal for the male audience. Success for Punk means more people would take WWE seriously which means more fans would put their eyes on the WWE product. This would be especially true of the demographic Punk reaches out to, which is primarily the male demographic of young adults.
If WWE were to capitalize with it's own WWE Fight Night sort of product where the male demographic is specifically targeted to draw them into the product, that could also target mainstream audiences with the usual programming. WWE's product was strongest when young adult males were giving their full support. WWE is, after all, a fighting product by design. Giving a real and edgy product to the audience that complains about there being a lack of those traits would make things a lot easier for those in power in WWE.
4 Punk is Bridging the Gap Between UFC and WWE
WWE has had no qualms about capitalizing on UFC star power before. Punk's continued success would only continue to bring union between the two companies. Between Brock Lesnar bouncing back and forth between both companies, Ronda Rousey's special appearances and Punk's success, the bridge for the two to do real business together that would benefit both would make the fighting industry united in a lot of ways.
WWE gets the ultimate rub here since its show is scripted. At the same time, UFC gets to show WWE fans what they're missing. It's the only scenario that could allow UFC and WWE stars to crossover. Speaking of which...
3 UFC to WWE Crossover Potential
If Punk is successful, there are opportunities for him to make a return to WWE in a special appearance type of scenario after all the legal stuff blows over. We're talking years down the line, so maybe a Hall of Fame situation can be worked out. Even if Punk never steps in a WWE building ever again, the crossover appeal for UFC talent to work in WWE is still ever present if these companies are working together.
For UFC talent, they need to be in the prime of their lives to fight as hard as they do. This is not a knock on WWE, but after UFC fighters are out of their prime in the fighting game, WWE is an option to still be active, draw, make money and use their reputation to further their legacy. That's exactly what Brock Lesnar has done after his health issues killed his UFC momentum. The possibility for UFC fighters to take on WWE guys and gals on WWE's turf is something a lot of fighters would benefit from doing.
2 WWE to UFC Crossover Potential
It works the other way around, too.
Lesnar and Punk can do it. There's no reason to believe that WWE superstars wouldn't have the exact same options to jump over to the UFC. The only issue with those kind of crossovers, or even a WWE vs. UFC scenario, would be the training. Punk himself has talked about how he can be in "Wrestling mode" when training, but all it takes is a small jab to wake him up. The same might occur for UFC fighters when the bell rings, or when a stiff punch happens in the ring. Brock Lesnar has been criticized for being unsafe during his current WWE run. In reality though, they're professional fighters. It would just take the right approach and the right guys to make sure everyone is safe.
When you consider the WWE-MMA style division creation again, that would give a lot of WWE talent to train and get a taste of it before they made the jump. The NXT brand and Performance Center would expand as well and wrestlers would be trained as fighters. That would only add more dimensions to the WWE's in-ring product as mentioned earlier. Being able to watch WWE talent and UFC talent mix anywhere would make a lot of money for a lot of people.
1 CM Punk Can Change the Perception of WWE as a Sport
This is really the point when you look at Punk's potential success as a UFC fighter. His success in UFC establishes him and anyone else he has faced before as a true athlete. That point has been made. That legitimacy may allow a lot of things to happen in WWE, UFC, or both together. Ultimately, what Punk's success does for wrestling is it makes the "wrestling is fake" argument not as strong as it currently is.
Non-fans and MMA fans say a lot of negative things about WWE, but if Punk proves himself, WWE would not only be legitimized, it would take a very big step towards being considered a sport by those who don't get it.
There is a lot of opportunity for Punk to change how wrestling is presented because Lesnar could have been a fluke, but Punk could make it a pattern. Before you know it, maybe WWE has a fighting division. Perhaps UFC guys follow in Lesnar's shoes, or WWE guys jump ship and follow in Punk's footsteps.
Ultimately, the possibility of walking into a social situation and starting conversations about WWE could become just as common as UFC, the NFL or anything else. It was like that once and it is very possible for CM Punk to continue making that happen. Punk is going to change the perception of wrestling whether he wins or loses. As a wrestling fan, everything could change if he succeeds.