CM Punk made headlines when he walked away from World Wrestling Entertainment in early 2014. Unlike so many before him who left the company for a time period only to eventually return to the WWE, Punk stayed away for good before telling the world his story via the podcast hosted by his real-life friend and pro wrestler Colt Cabana over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Wrestling fans hoping that the two sides would come together for a reunion had those wishes dashed when Punk put pen to paper on a deal with mixed martial arts organization The Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Punk has stated on several occasions that he is retired from the professional wrestling business and also that he has zero interest in ever working for the WWE or for any other organization. History has shown that wrestlers who make such claims often return to the industry for one reason or another. For every Shawn Michaels, who has kept his word and not had another match since his last loss to the Undertaker, there are the likes of Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Terry Funk and so many others who seemingly cannot help but keep going until their bodies give out on them.
The smart money is that Punk will perform in a WWE ring again before all is said and done, if only for one more program or even one more match for the right money. There is a long list of opponents for a Punk return contest were he ever to fancy one, and he would likely have his choice of feuds were he to rejoin the WWE. Those involved in the decision making could set Punk up to take on a line of opponents that are involved in one particular faction, or the “Straightedge Superstar” could be booked to take on a talented in-ring worker and put together a five-star classic match.
20 The Big Show
While it would not make for the most interesting storyline in the eyes of some fans, Punk returning to the WWE to feud with heel faction “The Authority” makes perfect sense. The Authority would want to squash Punk, while he would want to hit back at those responsible for why he left the company in the first place. Punk would, in storyline, want to get his hands on the head of the group (more on that later), but, as any good heel faction, he would first have to go through several henchmen. It starts with Big Show, and it goes on from there.
The man formerly known as the “Big Red Machine” is now playing the role of “Corporate Kane,” a hired gun of The Authority and a man who has teamed up with the Big Show. Punk having a short feud with Kane after he takes care of Big Show, or vice versa, would add any further length to the storyline that would ideally finish with the Straightedge Superstar getting his hands on Triple H. Before that, though, Punk could, after beating Big Show and Kane, revise a feud from his old days in the Ring of Honor promotion.
18 Jamie Noble
Noble is technically retired as an in-ring worker, and whether or not he is physically able to go for an entire match is not known. He and Punk did have a memorable feud when the two were working for Ring of Honor, and Noble now serves as a member of The Authority. Assuming that Noble's back could sustain taking a few bumps, the two could work a relatively safe contest that finishes with Punk going over. Noble could serve as the final hurdle that stands between Punk being able to face off with Triple H at a pay-per-view event, perhaps even at WrestleMania.
During what became that famous podcast episode in which CM Punk explained to fans why he left the WWE, he described how he was legitimately injured while working with Ryback. There alone is a reason for why he would, in a storyline, want to return to the WWE and get some revenge. “The Big Guy” would need to be told to take it a bit easy when working with Punk this time along, as guys are not actually supposed to get hurt during matches. So long as Ryback is on his best in-ring behavior, this match could make for a decent one-off.
16 Bray Wyatt
The former storyline cult leader could take on the man who has “Cult of Personality” play as he makes his way toward the ring. For this feud to make sense and to be enticing to Punk and to fans, Wyatt would have to be booked as a strong heel for several consecutive months, perhaps even to the point of Wyatt winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Do not expect the WWE to recognize the fact that Wyatt, who once went by the name “Husky Harris,” has a history with Punk when the two were part of Nexus. That is a part of Wyatt's career that the company would like for fans to forget.
The WWE has thoroughly dropped the ball with Cesaro, as he has everything that the company could ask for in a performer. Cesaro has a great look. He can cut good promos. He is a talented in-ring worker who can play either a babyface or a hero. Cesaro is also legitimately one of the strongest guys in the WWE. None of that has resulted in the company putting him in main events, however, but that could change if Cesaro were to be booked in a program with CM Punk. The two would certainly put together matches that would have fans on their feet in appreciation.
14 Dean Ambrose
This is a match that the WWE would have to consider if only for the entertainment that it would bring fans. Ambrose and Punk are similar in certain ways. Both are somewhat clunky inside of the ring, and both are great talkers who can cut engaging promos. The WWE has, for whatever reasons, dropped Ambrose down into the midcard, and thus he would have to be built up before he was put into a program with a superstar such as Punk. Ambrose has the skills in and outside of the ring to be worthy of such a feud, so much so that Punk putting him over would be logical.
13 Kevin Owens
Nobody can say with any certainty as of the posting of this piece that a feud involving Kevin Owens and CM Punk would make sense, as Owens has not yet been called up to the main roster. Owens has been booked as a strong heel in his early days with the company, being catapulted straight to the main event of NXT as the champion of that branch. The man who went by his real name, Kevin Steen, on the independent circuit should be the next great heel for the WWE, and he and Punk could put together an instant classic inside of the ring.
12 John Cena
What was perhaps the best match in the career of John Cena involved CM Punk as his opponent, and a feud featuring the two would be easy to create. Cena could play the heroic babyface protecting the “brand” and image of the WWE, while Punk could return and claim that Cena is only where he is on the card because Punk left the company for greener pastures. A majority of fans would likely treat Punk as the hero in this case, but the WWE and Cena have gotten used to crowds turning on the leader of the “CeNation” during matches.
11 Hideo Itami
The WWE has left no question via NXT programming that it is Itami and not CM Punk who is the master of the “Go to Sleep” finishing maneuver. Setting up a match involving the two would be easy as pie to create. Both could come close to hitting the GTS on the other during television segments leading up to a match that would take place on pay-per-view. Fans would leap to their feet in anticipation whenever Punk got Itami on his shoulders and vice versa, and the in-house crowd would absolutely erupt whenever one hit the move on the other.
10 Chael Sonnen
Wrestling fans have been waiting for years for the MMA fighter to make his debut in the WWE, and the hope is that Sonnen will link up with the company for at least a handful of matches. A feud involving Sonnen and CM Punk would make for some legendary microphone work, as they are two of the best promo guys in their businesses. Those interview segments alone would be phenomenal to behold, so much so that the match itself would be somewhat of an afterthought. They won't be meeting in the UFC for several reasons, but that does not mean that they can't have a match elsewhere.
9 Roman Reigns
Pro wrestling insiders view Reigns as the next big draw of the business, and he was reportedly set to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31 until those running the company changed their minds and instead put the strap on Seth Rollins. Assuming that Reigns is eventually going to get his run at the top of the card, he could make for the ideal opponent for Punk's return to the company. Whether or not Reigns would play babyface or heel for such a feud would be determined by how the company books him in the future and if he does, in fact, evolve into the next John Cena.
8 Chris Jericho
Pro wrestling is nothing if not repetitive, and thus Chris Jericho and CM Punk once again fighting over who really is the “best in the world” would not be all that unreasonable. Neither will likely ever again be full-time wrestlers, which means they would be fresh and fully fit to work a handful of encounters that should, due to the talents that both possess, be matches to remember. The WWE could even capitalize on this feud and have Punk make a few appearances on Jericho's podcast that has aired on the WWE Network in the past. Watch out for those pipe bombs, everybody.
7 Seth Rollins
Rollins won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31, and all indications are that he is going to keep that title for some time, perhaps all the way up through SummerSlam 2014. While pro wrestling logic suggests that Rollins is holding the championship until Brock Lesnar returns to work his set dates with the company, Punk returning to the company to reclaim that title that he held for over a year would also be logical. Punk would be the babyface in this feud, and he would also be attempting to take down a member of The Authority.
6 Finn Balor
Both were kings of the independent pro wrestling scene. Both have wowed crowds while working for a WWE developmental organization. Balor is seen as one of the future stars of the WWE, and it is believed that he will receive a call-up to the main roster perhaps as quickly as the summer of 2015. Balor and Punk and both tremendous in-ring workers, and the two would unquestionably work out some fascinating and must-see matches. The hope here is that the two would work a program and not just have a one-off contest, as fans would be entertained by watching Balor and Punk have multiple encounters.
5 The Rock
It is no secret to anybody who follows the business that CM Punk did not like the fact that a “part-timer” such as The Rock would receive the pay that he did and that Rock would be booked in main events and ahead of those who worked for the WWE every week. Add in the fact that Rock was the undisputed victor of his feud with Punk, and a storyline involving the two were Punk to return to the company writes itself. While Rock is a very busy man with several endeavors lined up, he has shown in the past that he is happy to have a match and even a program in the WWE.
4 Brock Lesnar
The WWE could go one of two ways with a feud involving Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. Paul Heyman could unleash his monster heel on a returning babyface Punk, or Heyman could turn on Lesnar and once again align himself with Punk. There is also the added aspect that both have a history of being in the UFC. These two have had a WWE feud in the past, with Lesnar being put over in that contest. It would be time for “The Beast” to return the favor and give Punk his win back if the two were to again meet inside of a WWE ring.
3 Daniel Bryan
One reason that it is such a bummer that CM Punk is no longer with the WWE is that Daniel Bryan has been slowed by numerous injuries over the years, and just how much Bryan has left in the tank is unknown. These two have put on great matches in the past, and there is no reason to believe that they would not again do so if both were healthy and up for such a contest. WWE would not even have to go far to book a program involving these two. Punk could simply tell audiences that he returned to the company to take on the only wrestler who he sees to be on his level as it pertains to overall talent.
2 Triple H
One could easily argue that this is the top match for Punk were he to return to the WWE anytime soon. A reason that Punk left the WWE in the first place had to do with the fact that he was being booked to face Triple H, and his real-life heat with those running the organization has been well-noted by Punk himself. The two are professionals, and they would likely be able to put any harsh feelings aside in order to do business and have a fun match that would attract attention from fans. Triple H doing at least one final job to Punk is what makes the most sense.
1 Steve Austin
This is a potential match-up that could interest both performers. “Stone Cold” is believed to be interested in working one final WrestleMania card, one that will see him get his hand raised, and the WWE teased a future Punk vs. Austin showdown when advertising the WWE '13 video game. The match would likely be a big-money draw, something that both of the wrestlers would enjoy, and it would also give the talented in-ring workers an opportunity to work together, something that was never a possibility when Austin was in his prime and the biggest draw in the business.