www.thesportster.com

CM Punk: 5 Things To Watch For In The Next Year (And 5 That Will Never Happen)

CM Punk is a polarizing and enigmatic figure. Out of a rough upbringing, he beat the odds to become one of the best known independent wrestlers in the world, en route to a WWE contract. In WWE, he exceeded modest expectations to arrive as one of the top five biggest full-time stars of his generation and arguably second to only John Cena at his peak.

But Punk left WWE, and seemingly wrestling on the whole in 2014. Citing health issues, creative frustrations, and burnout, he went home. In the months to follow, he emerged as a vocal and unapologetic critic of WWE. After a brief foray into the world of MMA, Punk is rumored to have made his presence known in small appearances for small wrestling promotions, which has gotten the internet talking about if he is staging a comeback and what that might mean. This article takes a look at five very real possibilities to keep an eye out for, and five things fans might want but that will never happen.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Roman Reigns Will Save SmackDown (And 5 He Won't)

10 Watch For: More Masked Antics

CM Punk declared himself retired from professional wrestling, and yet when a masked man came to the ring at a small indie show in Milwaukee this past weekend, and delivered Punk’s signature Go To Sleep finishing maneuver, it got people talking.

Sure, other wrestlers could use the GTS—Punk himself cribbed the move from more recent WWE exile Hideo Itami. The masked man had roughly Punk’s build, though, and Punk just happened to be spotted wearing the same sweatshirt on the same day, and Wrestling Inc. went so far as to suggest it was confirmed that the masked man was Punk. If the rumors are true, we may well only be at the beginning of Punk generating buzz by making low key appearances at small shows to get the Internet worked into a fervor.

9 Never Happen: A Return To WWE

Some fans might imagine that CM Punk’s renewed interest in participating in professional wrestling could mean he’s setting a course to return to WWE. Indeed, during the 2011 WWE version of the Summer of Punk angle, Punk suggested he might take the WWE Championship and work smaller promotions, and went on to make unannounced appearances at WWE-related events.

However, given just how ugly Punk’s departure was, and the legal issues that have followed from Punk eviscerating the company on Colt Cabana’s podcast, it’s hard to imagine him mending fences. At the least, Punk isn’t heading back to WWE anytime soon but rather may have renewed his interest in wrestling with an eye toward working elsewhere.

8 Watch For: Random Appearances

If it really was CM Punk who appeared for MKE under a hood, it establishes a precedent that Punk is not only interested in wrestling again, but open to working for very small promotions.

Be it under a mask or with his face out in the open, it will be very interesting to see where Punk surfaces next in a pro wrestling related context. Appearing in Milwaukee was logical enough given he is based out of nearby Chicago and purportedly trains for MMA in Brew City. But could that be just the first step in his wrestling comeback? Indeed, Punk could go on to appear strategically for other indies, en route to bigger stages. He has a long history with Ring of Honor, and appearing there would almost certainly be mutually beneficial. Then there’s All Elite Wrestling, which just so happens to have major shows coming up in Las Vegas and Jacksonville.

7 Never Happen: An Impact Wrestling Run

While CM Punk has relationships with a number of wrestlers and a history working a number of different promotions, there’s one smaller promotion it’s not likely for him to revisit, even for a single night. Punk worked for Impact Wrestling briefly, back before he’d broken out as a national level star, and back when Impact was still in its earliest days. Whereas he might have been a breakout new star, the company relegated him to a supporting role relative to WWE and WCW alumni who got pushed on top.

RELATED: 10 Unexpected Tag Teams That Actually Worked

Punk has never seemed to have much positive to say about Impact. In appearing at indie shows, an implicit part of his missions seems to be to give those smaller promotions the rub. Punk holds a grudge, and even under new management, there’s little reason to think he’ll show up in Impact.

6 Watch For: Manipulating Social Media

CM Punk got over in WWE based largely upon his organic connection with wrestling fans. While he isn’t necessarily super active on social media, he has used Twitter to his advantage in key moments, including the implication that he set up his most recent masked work to generate intrigue around himself.

While Punk isn’t affiliated with a single company, or as he builds to the point at which he does announce signing, we can expect him to use Twitter to his advantage in once again building an organic buzz among an audience of the hardcore fans he most resonates with.

5 Never Happen: A Traditional Full-Time Schedule

CM Punk seemed to have a variety of complaints about WWE by the time he left, but not least among them was the rigorous schedule and feeling that he wasn’t given proper time or guidance to heal up from health issues.

RELATED: 10 Best Matches in The Undertaker's Career

Punk will probably never work a full-time WWE schedule again. He’s in a position such that, if he ever chose to mend fences, he could demand a part-time arrangement. Meanwhile, in the more immediate present, he’s more than equipped to call his shots anywhere else and appear for one-shot deals, or only as often as he feels comfortable with, staying away from the constant grind of the road.

4 Watch For: An AEW Appearance

CM Punk left WWE because he was fed up with a variety of dimensions of the company, and a big part of him staying away from wrestling elsewhere seems to be him not wanting to take a step down in his career trajectory. All Elite Wrestling presents a meaningful alternative to WWE for someone like Punk.

Based on what we’ve seen so far—particularly with All In—the promotion has more of an old school, indie sensibility than WWE, which is right up Punk’s alley. Moreover, with billionaire Tony Khan’s backing, Chris Jericho claims to have earned the best money deal of his career with AEW. Surely Punk could garner a similar offer for his star power, and the intrigue of him returning to the ring.

3 Never Happen: Apologies For His Controversies

CM Punk left WWE under controversial circumstances, as he didn’t go home with WWE’s blessing or clearance, but rather because he was confident the number of dates he had worked and his health status warranted him leaving the company freely. Moreover, he was scathing in his discussion of the company on the Art of Wrestling podcast, and then proceeded to burn a bridge with close friend Colt Cabana over disagreements about covering legal fees.

RELATED: 10 WWE Matches That Should've Received 5 Stars (But Didn't)

Punk is a proud man, arguably to a fault. It’s unclear whom he’ll ally with, or pick a fight with next. What we can count on is that he’s not about to apologize for pissing anyone off, or for having acted on principle up to this point.

2 Watch For: A Huge Heel Turn

While CM Punk proved himself a popular face in WWE, there’s little question that his promo style in particular lends itself best of all to working heel. He’s a big enough name that if he does, indeed, return to sports entertainment, and particularly as an active wrestler, he’ll probably have the crowd behind him at first. That initial support from wrestling fans will only make it more devastating when he turns heel.

Punk could turn heel in a traditional wrestling sense, working for AEW or elsewhere. Another alternative is that he makes a less obvious heelish move of turning on hardcore fans on social media or how he conducts himself in his randomized appearances for smaller promotions. One way or another, we can expect Punk not to endear himself for too long.

1 Never Happen: Sell Out His Principles

There are those people who treat wrestling as a business and don’t seem altogether invested in their character or how they come across so much as they care about the bottom line of getting paid.

If CM Punk was in wrestling for the money, he probably would have protected his relationship with WWE—perhaps taking a little time off, but not severing his connection to the largest wrestling promotion in the world. The general sense is that Punk is set financially, lives conservatively, and pick his spots. As such, there’s no reason to expect him to do anything he’s not comfortable with at this point, regardless of the money getting thrown at him. As his UFC run attested, he’s out to do what matters to him, regardless of how unpopular or potentially embarrassing it might be. If he returns, it will be for him.

NEXT: The Billion Dollar Princess: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Stephanie McMahon

More in Wrestling