The end of CM Punk’s career in professional wrestling is a sad story. His last appearance on WWE programming was in the 2014 Royal Rumble, where he was the first entrant and stayed in it until the final four. Kane eliminated him from the match and put him through an announcer’s table. The next day, Punk left wrestling due to extreme issues with his health and the lost desire to physically and creatively continue to deal with the grind of a professional wrestler’s day-to-day life.
While his body could have healed, his mind was made up. Having watched and listened to Punk talk about his creative philosophies about the business and his departure, Punk was a performer who just always wanted to know what was coming next. Punk strikes you as a guy that wanted to feel like he was needed and that his character had great purpose on WWE TV. After WrestleMania 29, his character in WWE lost its identity and Punk slowly lost his health and desire. So, he rightfully left.
What keeps fans lingering is there wasn’t a final story to end Punk’s career. Punk left the business with much better possibilities than a feud with The Authority and a Mania match with Triple H. Instead, CM Punk should have become the Intercontinental champion at WrestleMania 30. He should have been the one to elevate that championship. It would have been the perfect ending for his career.
In early 2009, Punk defeated William Regal on Raw in Manchester to become Intercontinental Champion. However, his reign would end only 49 days later. On another Raw, he was defeated by JBL. Punk never got another run with the IC Championship and he never won the United States Championship. Punk’s history with midcard titles isn’t very strong.
If Punk had channeled his energies into becoming the best IC Champion of all time, his character would have been revitalized. After losing the WWE Championship to The Rock, missing out on the WrestleMania main event again, becoming the last victim of the Undertaker’s undefeated steak made Punk understandably disgruntled. His position and stock in WWE was dropping despite being one of the best, if not the best, wrestlers in the company. Punk needed something he hadn’t done before to focus his frustration and talent.
A lengthy run with the IC Championship would have made Punk massively important once again to the WWE product. The history and prestige of the championship is directly associated with WWE’s history and some of the most old-school performers in this industry. When he won the WWE Championship, Punk said that he wanted to make the title interesting again. For 434 days, that’s exactly what he did, but he could have done the same for the IC title, which would have brought him full circle.
The Intercontinental Championship wasn’t a title of great prestige in 2013. Throughout the year, it was passed around between The Miz and Wade Barrett, until Payback when Curtis Axel emerged to become IC Champion with Paul Heyman by his side. Payback was the same night that CM Punk returned from his vacation to Chicago against Chris Jericho with Heyman by his side. After all that, Punk could have targeted the IC title and Axel with Heyman being all the glue necessary to make the feud.
Heyman vs. Punk was a major storyline in 2013. Heyman turned on Punk at Money in the Bank, which led to Brock Lesnar vs. Punk at SummerSlam. That was a great match, but it left Axel in limbo. If Punk and Axel was an ongoing feud with Heyman at ringside with his allegiance shifting back and forth, his turn on Punk would have made more sense. The only difference is Axel vs. Punk would have been the match at Money in the Bank where Heyman could turn, or Lesnar could interfere.
There is still Punk vs. Lesnar at SummerSlam and it’ll go down the same way, but then Punk has something to chase. Not only is Punk after Heyman for his betrayal and revenge, but he’s after the IC title which is the only other championship he has been chasing since he was younger. He was WWE Champion for 434 days, but now the magic number is 455 to break The Honky Tonk Man’s record.
Punk could have had ambition to be become not only the greatest WWE Champion, but Intercontinental Champion of all time. That’s a story a lot of fans would have been truly invested in, especially with Heyman vs. Punk being the central issue of Punk’s quest to become IC Champion.
The feud would have elevated the IC Championship into a much brighter light than just being a midcard title. Not to mention, this feud could have elevated Curtis Axel to not just be the whipping boy between Punk and Lesnar, or Punk and Heyman. After Punk had beaten Axel and Heyman, he’d be Intercontinental Champion. Punk could have been doing for the IC Title in 2013 what John Cena has done with the US title in 2015.
Punk’s storyline to be IC Champion for 455 days would have been another year of Punk telling memorable stories. That would have been a year of Punk telling a historic story, elevating the title and several young talents to be able to wrestle and hang with The Best in the World. CM Punk would have been IC Champion going into WrestleMania 30. He could have worked with anyone and could have easily been involved with The Shield trio at the event. The options would have been something else.
If things had gone differently, maybe this was Punk’s ticket to the main event of WrestleMania. Maybe, this is even the ticket to Punk keeping his sanity in the business and continuing to wrestle in WWE. There’s no Magic 8 Ball to see if this would have worked, if Punk would have broken Honky Tonk Man’s record, or what Punk would be doing today.
But, it’s interesting to question and wonder if Punk could have been Intercontinental Champion in 2013, and what that would have done to change WWE’s future.