By Mike DellaCamera for F4WOnline.com
There’s an episode in season 6 of The Sopranos where Tony Soprano says, "Remember when is the lowest form of conversation”.
In the framework of the show, he’s saying that to antagonize one of his captains, but what he really is talking about is how people are generally conditioned to live in a place that consists of what was instead of what is. By not embracing change and moving forward, we are stuck being what we always are, much like the snake perpetually eating its own tail.
Nostalgia is fun for a little while; by its very definition, it is a longing for the things that made us happy in the past. But that’s all it is: a fleeting, ephemeral feeling, one that can't last. Moreover, it hampers growth, individually and as a group.
For years, WWE has felt old and stale and a place where for years, you could just pencil in John Cena, Randy Orton, etc. for main event spots on any of the big shows. Progress towards something new and exciting is coming....slowly, but it is coming. Diving into the past pushes reset on the last two to three years.
CM Punk coming back to WWE is that reset button and it should not, and absolutely cannot be pushed.
Talking about the past is easy; it’s the whole ‘being in the present’ thing that is hard. That's what Tony means when he talks about ‘remember when’. It's taking the easy way out when you have nothing meaningful to say. Look at what WWE has done when it’s been desperate in the past - they constantly take the easy way out. Need a big WrestleMania main event? Just bring The Rock back. Can’t figure out that extra special WrestleMania moment? Have a 40-something father of 3 wrestle the Undertaker and fall off a cage through an announce table.
WWE is in a weird place where the roster is, arguably, the deepest it’s been in quite some time - deep enough the company was comfortable doing a full-on brand split. The company is beyond the point where they need relics from the past to move the company forward. They can use the nostalgia pops for what they should be: brief one-offs meant to elicit emotion. If Punk comes back, all the progress they’ve made toward this so called ‘new era’ goes right out the window.
Punk coming back wouldn’t make him a savior or a redeemer, but rather a pariah and everything he hated back when he worked for the company. He would come back and take the spotlight away from other people who have been on the road 300+ days a year grinding the house show circuit. He would take away the spotlight from guys that worked, guys that grinded through the indys, and struggled like he did to finally "make it" and become successful.
Guys like Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose would all lose time in the spotlight to Punk and what a bright light that would be. Look at the coverage Punk is getting for his UFC debut. A man with zero professional fighting experience got a full documentary series, and an immense amount of mainstream media coverage. I mean, he got an entire #PunkWeek on this site dedicated just to him and his fight.
Can you imagine what would happen if he came back to wrestling? There would be no B-storylines and no midcard. It’s would be The CM Punk Show, and everything else would pale in comparison. All anyone would care about is who Punk feuding with, when is Punk coming out, and what he would be going to say. The gravitational pull around him would consume everyone and everything. There would be no excitement or variety, there would just be...waiting.
Here’s the thing: people will never forget CM Punk.
How many people "got back into wrestling" because of him? The WWE version of Summer of Punk re-kindled my waning interest in the product. It was immediately something fresh, and something as close to new as the WWE will allow. He, and subsequently WWE programming, became must-watch television for the first time in years.
This is why his legacy is unquestioned, his mark on the industry is indelible, one that almost is above reproach. Crowds will chant his name long after the idea of a Punk return is even a possibility. He will always cast a huge shadow as long as he remains in the public eye, but that does not mean moving from an 8-sided ring back to a square shaped one would be a positive thing. Punk was an advocate for change, someone who constantly and consistently pushed against the status quo. He made it possible for the current era of wrestling to even exist.
Without Punk there would, in all likelihood, be no Rollins, no Owens, and no Finn Balor. People often credit Daniel Bryan for breaking the glass ceiling and making a place for actual wrestlers to succeed in WWE, but Punk certainly put a few good sized dents in that ceiling before Bryan smashed his way through.
It is no secret that Punk hated and absolutely despised the fact that Rock came back to main event two Wrestlemanias while otherwise having nothing to do with WWE in the time between his appearances. He rightfully felt like those spots should go to someone who had been with the company through the years (specifically him) as a reward for all the work one puts in physically and mentally. By that logic, how could he ever come back? The second he did, he would become the thing he once hated most.
There's also that people would have to buy in and believe that he would come back for anything other than a money grab or as a way to extend his time in the spotlight. Punk hasn’t missed many opportunities to take shots at WWE. On last week's UFC media call, he spoke about how much it sucks to carry a company on your back, and how he doesn't feel the need to engage in ‘a weird verbal, pissing contest’, which, ironically, was the part of wrestling that he excelled at more than anything else.
Remember when Punk poured out Paul Bearer’s ashes from the Undertaker’s urn? Remember when the Straight Edge Society essentially made Smackdown much watch? Remember when Punk dressed up like Jeff Hardy? Remember June 27th, 2011 - when Punk sat cross-legged at the top of the ramp and changed everything? Remember when Punk entered through the curtain in Chicago then left through the crowd?
Let’s remember those things fondly, but on our own. Let’s be able to remember someone who was (probably) The Best in The World, and not someone who came back and ruined all the good that he did. No matter what happens, Punk changed the game, but it’s more than time for us to wish him all the best in his future endeavors.