CHICAGO – With all due respect to Kanye West, that’s how you have a Chi-town homecoming.
Windy City native and recently AWOL Superstar CM Punk made his grand return to the ring at WWE Payback, defeating Chris Jericho in a bout that had a solid chance of not happening at all after he seemingly walked out of WWE the night after WrestleMania. Punk’s absence left everyone with more questions than answers, but while the WWE Universe has certainly thought about him now and then, he showed little impetus of returning to the ring … until Payback unfolded in his hometown of Chicago.
With his back to the wall, the former WWE Champion not only saved face for himself (not to mention Paul Heyman, who accepted Jericho’s challenge on the then-absent Punk’s behalf), but reasserted his dominance over Y2J and earned a fresh start following three heartbreaking losses, all in one fell swoop.
With that being said, it was hardly a cakewalk for the self-professed “Best in the World.”
The long layoff seemed to have left Punk (sporting Wolverine mutton chops and Chicago Blackhawks-hued trunks) worse for wear in the beginning. Jericho took advantage of Punk’s seemingly slowed reflexes to keep the Chicago-made grappler on his heels, hauling him through the ropes and leaving him splayed on the outside for minutes on end.
With Punk’s wind slower than usual, the former WWE Champion turned instead to his extensive arsenal of holds to keep Jericho at bay, but The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla was simply more conditioned than his challenger and turned Punk into his personal punching bag as a result. For all Punk’s looming presence in Chicago, it seemed as though the sabbatical would allow Y2J to send Punk the way of deposed World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler in short order.
Things became so dire for The Straight Edge Superstar that Paul Heyman attempted to insert himself into the action. But the mad scientist’s presence seemed to throw Punk off more than anything, giving Jericho the opportunity to reverse a brief Punk comeback into another beatdown, while Heyman slunk slowly back to his post at ringside, both chastised and somewhat uncomfortable by the unfortunate turn of events for his client.
More on that later, though.
Despite the Heyman hiccup, Punk rode the momentum of a rowdy Chicago crowd to a monstrous resurgence, reversing the Walls of Jericho into a standing Anaconda Vise and nearly putting Y2J away with a double whammy of a flying elbow and Go to Sleep. With chants of “one more time!” raining around him, Punk attempted the combo again and ate a midair Codebreaker for his troubles, tilting the scales back in Jericho’s favor.
Punk’s hometown fans willed him to a final run, but their support led to overconfidence that nearly cost him the bout in the form of an ill-advised standing hurricanrana that Y2J reversed into the Walls of Jericho. With defeat moments away, Punk powered out of the maneuver and unleashed the GTS again, the impact sending Jericho bouncing off the turnbuckle and into a second execution of the maneuver to put the tilt to rest.
So call it a happy homecoming for The Second City Saint, although he did not seem particularly pleased that his most fervent disciple – Heyman – saw fit to interfere in the bout and not allow Punk to earn the win on his own terms. Still, the victorious Punk left the Allstate Arena with his head held high, buoyed by the love of a rowdy, elated, and blissfully riot-free crowd.