Pro wrestler CM Punk made a surprise return to WWE on Saturday night during “Survivor Series: WarGames” on Peacock, a decade after an acrimonious end to his time with the wrestling promotion. Following the conclusion of the men’s WarGames main event match, Punk’s music hit to a deafening reaction from the fans in attendance, followed by Punk coming out and celebrating with the fans.
In a post-show press conference, WWE Chief Content Officer Paul “Triple H” answered questions about Punk’s return, saying, “This was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments that came together very quickly.”
According to Levesque, executives at WWE’s new parent company TKO Group Holdings (following its purchase by Endeavor and merger with UFC) weren’t part of the decision to bring Punk in.
“There’s been zero push from anybody past WWE. It’s myself, [WWE President] Nick Khan. To be honest, very few people knew about it past that,” Levesque said. “It’s a funny thing, because now all of a sudden there’s this mystery entity behind WWE. We’re doing our thing, and we’re trusted to do our thing and trusted to do what we feel is right for business. And I’ll be honest, probably the top people at TKO were watching the show going, ‘Holy s–t.’”
While the idea of Punk returning to WWE has been speculated on after he was fired from rival promotion AEW in September, especially with the Survivor Series event taking place in his hometown of Chicago, it didn’t appear to be a likelihood going into Sunday’s show. The company seemed to tease the idea of a mystery partner joining the main event, but that didn’t end up being the case, with Randy Orton returning from injury as announced to participate.
“This came together super quick, which I’m sure is why it stayed very tight,” Levesque said. “You know, there’s a lot of speculation — at that point, it was nothing but speculation, for most of the time it was speculation. It didn’t really start to come to fruition until everybody stopped thinking it was going to happen, and then all of the sudden, it was happening.”
Punk also notoriously had problems with Levesque behind the scenes.
“A lot of time has gone by — almost 10 years, right?” Levesque said. “And if you are the same person you were 10 years ago 10 years later, you’ve messed up. Everybody grows, everybody changes. And, I’m a different person, he’s a different person. This is a different company, and we’re all on the same even starting ground. So, what’s next for CM Punk? That’ll be interesting, won’t it? I’m interested to see that myself.”
Levesque also praised Punk’s reputation as a lightning rod.
“Love him, hate him, positive, negative, people talk about him, all the time. He is a magnet for that,” Levesque said. “He is a conversation starter, and it’s tough to look past that. And for me, if our fans want it, if the WWE Universe is excited to have it, then let’s go, and we’ll figure out the rest of it from there.”
Levesque praised the wrestlers’ execution of the storylines in the main event, using the metaphor, “A movie with just a bunch of crazy-good CGI is not very good. The story has to be there.” He noted that the various storylines weaving through the match leave some compelling unanswered questions.
The next major event for the promotion is January’s “Royal Rumble,” which has proven to be one of WWE’s most successful shows for both bringing in new fans and bringing back old ones each year. Speculation has already begun about whether Punk’s first match back will be held until the January event.
The viewership for the show grew throughout the event, according to Levesque. He also noted that Saturday’s show was the second of two sold-out shows in the Chicago market, as well as the highest-grossing edition of the annual “Survivor Series” event in the company’s history. He also said it was neck-and-neck with the WrestleMania held in Chicago that he main-evented during his active wrestling career, which was the only show they’ve done in the city that’s grossed more.
The CCO also referenced WWE’s former boss Vince McMahon, who has faded into the background following the merger and personal scandals around paying women to not talk about sexual harassment. He said that he wanted to “keep building on what Vince McMahon made into a global juggernaut for 50 years. And if I have anything to do with and have any say in it, we’re going to make it bigger than it’s ever been before.”
Punk spent two years with AEW starting in 2021, but a real-life feud with multiple other top stars there put a cloud over his time with the company. While with AEW, he suffered multiple injuries, as well as being suspended after a physical altercation backstage with Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks. He was ultimately fired earlier this year following another physical fight with Jack “Jungle Boy” Perry, the late actor Luke Perry’s son, during which he also reportedly lunged toward AEW owner Tony Khan.
WWE star Cody Rhodes was one of the wrestlers who appeared at the press conference following Levesque. Rhodes was an executive vice president with WWE’s upstart competitor AEW and was a key figure in the founding of the company, as well as working there briefly alongside Punk. There were also reports at the time that Rhodes had chafed against Punk coming in as a bigger star in AEW than Rhodes had been.
“If he can help with where we’re going and what we’re doing, absolutely. Welcome aboard,” Rhodes said. “And I have a feeling that the CM Punk that potentially we’re getting is hungry, and that’s the best. … And I’ll give kudos and flowers to Triple H and Nick Khan for getting that done.”
Rhodes noted how hot WWE has been in recent months, saying, “The first thing always is business. … We’re doing record business. It feels like everybody wants to be here. The more, the merrier.”
Beyond Punk, Levesque also addressed Orton’s return from serious injury. Levesque — whose character was closely aligned with Orton in the early years of his WWE run — credited Orton with growth as a performer and as a person. Orton reportedly had significant backstage behavioral issues over the years, particularly in his early years with the company. Rhodes also credited Orton for his career, as they worked together during Rhodes’ earlier run with WWE, both the son’s of older wrestling stars: Dusty Rhodes and Bob Orton Jr.
Levesque had earlier opened the press conference by quipping, “A lot of things to talk about in the show. Let’s talk about the big return: R-Truth, back, right? R-Truth is back, baby!” Wrestler R-Truth, a comedic character, returned after some time away from TV in a cross-promotional backstage promoting Ruffles.
“Eating chips, just going to town,” Levesque continued. “R-Truth is the man. Yeah, and I never saw it coming, and how we were able to keep that quiet, mindblowing. But R-Truth is back, I expect that to be headlines everywhere.”
Before his AEW run, Punk had been largely retired. He’d spent several years practicing mixed martial arts and having just two unspectacular fights on shows for UFC. He also briefly worked as a commentator for Fox covering WWE, but that was short-lived.
You can watch the full post-“Survivor Series” press conference here: