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Fans Anticipate CM Punk's Long-Awaited Wrestling Return, AEW Debut Friday

Photo: Valerie Macon

If all indications are correct, CM Punk could be making his long-awaited return to professional wrestling on Friday night after a seven-year absence.

Multiple wrestling outlets have reported that Punk has agreed to a contract with All Elite Wrestling, but nothing has been confirmed.

So far, AEW has done little to downplay those rumors.

The professional wrestling promotion seemingly teased Punk's debut will take place during tonight's episode of Rampage, which will take place at the United Center -- its largest live venue to date -- in the former World Champion's hometown of Chicago, Illinois, announcing it as 'The First Dance,' believed to be linked to a story shared on Punk's Instagram account recently, weeks ahead of tonight's event.

In July, Punk shared an Instagram story featuring a black background with TheAlan Parsons Project instrumentalSirius, famously used during the Chicago Bulls' pregame introductions, most notably during the Michael Jordan era.

Shortly after the post was shared, reports indicated that AEW trademarked the phrase 'The First Dance,' which wrestling fans correlated back to Punk's post given 'The Last Dance' was the title of the docuseries chronicling Jordan's last season in Chicago.

But again, nothing has been confirmed.

Immediately after the 'First Dance' announcement, former TNT Champion Darby Allin responded with a message to potential challengers during the live Dynamite broadcast.

"You know I've been around a lot of men in this world that have laid claim to how they're the greatest and there's only one place to really prove that. Right here in AEW. Even if you think you're the best in the world," Allin said.

"Best in the world" was, of course, the moniker Punk used to describe himself during his famous "Pipebomb" promo and subsequent emergence as one of professional wrestling's most popular characters in 2011.

Naturally, the live audience at the Dynamite taping erupted with "CM Punk" chants after Allin dropped the line.

Even TNT -- which airs both of AEW'sDynamiteandRampagetelevision programs -- is reported to be under the assumption that the former champion will make his debut.

Fightful Select's (subscription needed) Sean Ross Sapp reports TNT vis "very aware" -- though not specifying about what -- and its promotional machine is behind Punk upon his return to wrestling.

Punk's initial 'First Dance' post coincided with another report by Sapp claiming Punk had been involved in ongoing talks for a return to professional wrestling, with sources indicating a preference to join AEW over WWE, earlier this month.

Sapp reported there had been no confirmation on a contract being signed or a timetable for an appearance, but noted that WWE officials believed the former World Champion was headed to AEW at the time of the report.

But again, nothing has been confirmed...although finally, after seven years, it may actually be happening.

Punk was released by WWE in 2014, with his only in-ring appearance since coming at an independent wrestling show, making a run-in while wearing a mask. The former champion claimed onThe Art of Wrestling podcast that he was sent termination papers on the day of his wedding with former WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee, who was still employed by the company at the time.

The podcast appearance resulted in WWE filing a defamation lawsuit against Punk, which was won by the former pro wrestler.

Punk made two appearances in the UFC, posting an 0-1 record (one no contest), as well as pursuing an acting character during his seven years away from the squared circle.

WWE appeared to have made potential progress in mending its relationship with the former champion when he was brought on as an analyst for WWE Backstage, although officially signed by FOX Sports.

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