CM Punk's pipe bomb in 2011 broke him through as a top star in the WWE, but his departure from the WWE this week was his most shocking course of action yet. Punk reportedly left Monday Night Raw this week in Cleveland, informing Vince McMahon he was going home.
The reason(s) for his departure has not yet been confirmed by Punk, nor the WWE. The reasons have ranged from him being burnt out, to him dealing with nagging injuries, to significant creative differences with the organization. TMZ reported that Punk was outraged over Batista being booked to win the Royal Rumble and headlining WrestleMania. Punk has been outspoken in the past about part-time stars returning and grabbing main event spots from full-time performers, such as Batista coming back out of wrestling shape to win last week's Royal Rumble, taking the spotlight from guys like Punk or Daniel Bryan, despite negative reactions from the audience. This is all speculation and/or internet rumours. All we know for sure is that Punk is gone from the WWE for the time being, and that the company has lost one of its biggest stars.
Punk's contract was due to expire in July, when he will be 35 years old. With a banged-up body and having garnered quite a bit of money over his career, Phil Brooks is worth over $7.5 million. That means he is financially secure and does not have to travel over 300 days a year to earn a living anymore. Despite the big payday that would've come his way at WrestleMania XXX, Punk seems to have decided the paycheque is no longer worth the hassle.
Punk has sold a lot of merchandise since his rise to the top in the summer of 2011 when he cut the most memorable promo of the decade. He went on to win the WWE title from John Cena in his hometown of Chicago at Money in the Bank 2011. After losing the title a month later at SummerSlam, Punk won it back at Survivor Series 2011 and held it for 434 days, before dropping the title to the Rock at last year's Royal Rumble.
Whether he was a face or a heel, Punk was popular amongst fans, particularly the older demographic. Punk was seen as a favourite for men, while women and children's favourite is of course John Cena. Punk actually surpassed Cena in merchandise sales at one point in 2011, something that had not been done in over five years. He was the top seller both at live events and on WWEShop.com. He's remained at or near the top of sales since then.
The abundance of his merchandise available is telling of how much he sells. Punk has 92 total items available on WWEShop.com, including t-shirts, hoodies, phone cases, bracelets, hats, wrist sleeves, and of course a DVD biography on his career. If Punk is indeed gone, that's a lot of merchandise sales the WWE will have to replace. Many older fans have grown tired of John Cena, so they're unlikely to flock to Cena's colourful t-shirts. Daniel Bryan is the most likely guy to take Punk's place in merchandise sales.
Punk's pay-per-view sales also proved to be higher when he was WWE champion through all of 2012. He held the title through the entire calendar year and WWE's total PPV sales were 3,609,000, an increase of over 263,000 over 2011. Many may attribute that fact more to the Rock's big match with John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII and Brock Lesnar's return as well. We can't forget, though, that Punk carried much of the year, having phenomenal matches with Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and Cena. You'd be hard-pressed to find better work than Punk's in 2012. He worked well as a babyface, even following his heel turn in July 2012.
He left his heel image behind this past summer after a string of losses to the Rock and the Undertaker. He returned and soon began a feud with former manager Paul Heyman, losing to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam in what was arguably the match of the year. His feud with Heyman carried through the fall, and he seemed to be on his way to a match with Triple H at WrestleMania XXX. He was placed no.1 in this year's Royal Rumble and Triple H's Director of Operations Kane cost Punk the Rumble by tossing him out of the ring. That appears to be the last we'll see of CM Punk.
Punk was always a talented superstar for the WWE, having held every title there was for him to win, including the World Heavyweight Championship on multiple occasions in 2008 and 2009. His feud with Jeff Hardy was memorable, as was his ascension as the Straight Edge Saviour in 2010. He became the leader of the Nexus in late 2010. His frustrations with WWE grew in 2011, when he did not main event WrestleMania XXVII with John Cena. That honour went to the Miz, and that match proceeded to stink out the joint at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Given the string of classics CM Punk and John Cena would go on to have, you can't tell me the Punk vs Cena would've undoubtedly been a better main event.
That also was a constant frustration for Punk. He's always been vocal of his goal to main event a WrestleMania. He was passed over for the Miz and the Rock's return gave him two straight WrestleMania main events with John Cena. While it's understandable that a mega star like the Rock would get the main event instantly, Batista is not deserving of that luxury, and one can't blame Phil Brooks the man, for being upset at being passed over yet again, in what probably would've been his final WrestleMania anyway.
The WWE is a powerful machine and will continue to roll, despite losing one of its top stars at such a crucial time, WrestleMania season. While they'll move on, this one has to hurt. They've potentially lost themselves a lot of business with Punk walking out. How much longer will his merchandise be available? Will fans forget about Punk quickly, or will his absence cause many fans to turn away from the WWE themselves?
Ultimately, it's always a loss when you lose one of your top dogs, whether you're a sports team, an entertainment business, or any business for that matter. Fans and the WWE alike will miss him.
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