It finally happened.
After seven years of waiting, fans finally got to see CM Punk make his official return to professional wrestling on Friday (August 21) night.
Multiple wrestling news outlets reported Punk and AEW had reached an agreement months prior and co-owner Tony Khan all but confirmed Punk's debut was set to take place leading up to the event.
But even still, fans anxiously awaited with a "we'll see if/when it happens" approach as the United Center roared with "CM Punk" chants even before Living Colour's Cult of Personality-- which previously served as Punk's theme in WWE, Ring of Honor and UFC -- played over the arena's sound system and his name displayed over the jumbotron.
"The most important thing I'm going to say, this is for everybody at home, this is for everybody who bought a ticket, this is for everybody in the back," Punk said. "If at all through my journey, any of my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down, let me just, let me just say I understand. If you all try to understand that I was never going to get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place."
Punk, who was formally released by WWE months after taking time off in January 2014, addressed his decision to leave Ring of Honor in 2005 to join WWE, which he considered to be symbolic of the day he left professional wrestling.
"I cried because I knew I was leaving a place that I love, and it was a home, and I knew where I was going. It wasn't going to be easy for a guy like me," Punk said. "Because I'm one of you. So I look at it like this. August 13th, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20, 2021, I'm back."
Punk then challenged top rising AEW star Darby Allin to a match at the upcoming All Outpay-per-view, which will also be held in Chicago on September 5.
“I’m gonna keep this very brief,” Allin said in a video recorded after Rampagewent off-air. “This f*****g company changed my life. And afterAll Out, everybody will know my name. CM Punk — it’ll be an honor.”
Allin initially teased Punk's debut last month, dropping the line "best in the world," referencing 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.
After Friday'sRampagetelecast, Punk and Khan participated in a virtual media scrum in which both confirmed that the agreement was part of a full-time contract.
"This isn't a short-term thing or a part-time thing. "This is a 'full-time and we're very excited' type of thing," Khan said.
Punk also confirmed he and Khan have discussed a potential return to wrestling even prior to AEW's official launch in 2019, but talks became serious within the past two years.
"I’ve been talking to Tony Khan for probably a year and a half about this," Punk said. "Some girls are easy to get into bed; I am not. I need to be wined and dined."
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 on The Art of Wrestling podcast that he was sent termination papers on the day of his wedding with former WWE Divas ChampionAJ 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.