CM Punk on WWE Backstage: “I Don’t Feel Dead Inside”

Last night I sat down to watch CM Punk’s first full episode of Fox Sports 1’s new show WWE Backstage. Rumors about Punk signing a deal with Fox to be on a WWE panel show had been going around for months. Last week, he finally appeared, joining Renee Young, Booker T and Paige at the end of the episode with a promise to come back and “change the culture.”

CM Punk! CM Punk! CM Punk!

CM Punk’s return to the wrestling-adjacent world is potentially great news for a lot of CM Punk fans who might be feeling a little bit more optimistic that they could one day see him wrestle again. For other CM Punk fans, the news might not feel so great. CM Punk has spent the years since his exit from WWE as one of the company’s chief detractors, even having to go to court over the allegations he made against WWE on his (now former) friend’s podcast. Dissatisfied live audiences at WWE shows have spent years chanting “CM Punk” whenever they are bored or angry as an impotent protest of vague disapproval in the corporation they choose to give their money to. What a disappointment to have him return to them, not even out of a love for wrestling, but because someone at Fox told him he didn’t have to be nice and then (presumably) put so many zeroes on a check that actual man Phil Brooks entered a state of madness usually only seen in some kind of New Englandy cosmic horror.

I have no interest in scolding anyone for selling out or in joining Corey Graves in litigating or relitigating the “rules of punk rock” (Corey Graves, I am begging you to go on WWE Backstage and list the complete punk rock rulebook). As a late in life wrestling fan who has never and will never trust someone who identifies as straight edge, I have no emotional attachment to CM Punk’s purity. I tuned in as someone who enjoys listening to him call my favorite match of all time as much as I enjoy watching him cut a promo on Jared from Subway. Dude has kind of an infamous knack for verbal lashings.

CM Punk Shoots HARD on Tom Arnold

WWE Backstage is part of Fox’s efforts to turn WWE into a product that makes sense in the media landscape of 2019. It’s the kind of slick, bantery sports discussion program that litters cable tv, but is the first of its kind to talk about pro wrestling. On it, Renee Young and Booker T talk to a panel of wrestler guests and analyze what’s going on in WWE. The addition of CM Punk to the gang, in theory, gives them a tough critic who isn’t employed by WWE and won’t mince words in criticizing them. Hiring him is an incredibly savvy move for Fox. Last night, CM Punk sat down with Renee Young to talk about the state of pro-wrestling in 2019. His hard, juicy, non-WWE-approved opinions are as follows:

  • WWE’s product is overproduced and micromanaged
  • NXT is good
  • the women wrestlers are good
  • the #WomensRevolution stuff is dumb
  • the best characters in wrestling are the ones developed by performers on their own.

In the “Pay It Off” segment, in which the panel discussed current WWE storylines, Punk weighed in on two current WWE storylines:

  • Baron Corbin’s dog mascot Roman Reigns (“You can’t possibly defend that.”)
  • Rey Mysterio vs Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship (“This match could give the fans exactly what they want.”)

Punk also told Seth Rollins to stop tweeting, gave David Arquette a very pleasant F- for his promo attempt, and had to sit through a beautifully put together video package of fans at last week’s SmackDown begging him to return to the ring. Punk didn’t unload on anyone until the end of the show, when Renee Young showed him a tweet from, I kid you not, Tom Arnold, saying Arnold could take him. CM Punk then laid into the 60 year old actor whose latest work of note was a Viceland show about looking for Trump tapes and a Hallmark Christmas movie that at least one imdb user says he isn’t very good in. Hell yeah! Fuck him up! Finally a voice for the voiceless!

There were some bright spots, but overall it was a weird, sad piece of television. Punk pointing out that he does not feel dead inside while absolutely looking like he felt dead inside was a real low point. The big question that the show was pushing was not “what does CM Punk honestly think about WWE,” but rather “remember when CM Punk wrestled in WWE? Gee, wasn’t that great? Will he come back? Will he wrestle Seth Rollins? Will he wrestle Seth Rollins at Survivor Series in Chicago this weekend only on the Award Winning WWE Network?” Renee Young did flat out ask if a return to wrestling is a possibility. Still definitely not looking dead inside at all, Punk replied that while there are no plans to, anything is possible, but he doesn’t want anyone to get their hopes up.

It’s cool, Phil. Watching you on WWE Backstage made me feel and think a whole bunch of things, but hope definitely isn’t one of them.