CM Punk made headlines last week when he was announced as one of the headliners for Starrcast, marking his biggest appearance within the world of pro wrestling since he left WWE in 2014.
The former WWE champion and current member of the UFC roster will host a meet-and-greet and a stage show at Starrcast 3, the pro wrestling fan convention that will run adjacent to All Elite Wrestling's All Out show in Chicago on Aug. 31. While Starrcast operates independently of AEW, the upstart company touting itself as an alternative to WWE, all three Starrcast conventions to this point have run in tandem with a major event tied to either AEW or "The Elite"'s pre-AEW independent show, All In.
Punk has insisted over the past five years that his pro wrestling career is over, but questions remain about his future and whether he'll make a highly anticipated return to the ring.
ESPN caught up with Punk this week to talk about that, his discussions with AEW, his UFC future, his commentary gig with MMA promotion Cage Fury Fighting Championship and more.
ESPN: You're doing Starrcast. Why is the timing right, and why did you decide to do it?
Punk: They asked if I wanted to do Starrcast. That's basically it. There's no mad scientist formula to it. I hate traveling. I've turned down offers to do signings in other places. It turns into a mission to leave town just to do a signing and stuff. I like to take time with everybody and make sure everybody has a good experience. I try not to just shuffle people through a line. For those of you who don't know what it is, it's not just somebody shoves something in front of me, I sign it and it's on to the next. I really try to make sure everybody has a story to tell or an experience. Sometimes it can be exhausting.
The biggest thing was it's in my hometown. I get to go for one day, I get to have fun, I get to give back to the fans, so to speak. And I get to go home and rest afterward.
ESPN: When you do Starrcast, right or wrong, there is an implied relationship with AEW. Do you have any relationship with AEW?
Punk: No. I know they like to talk about me a lot. If I text Matt Jackson, "Hey, have a great show tonight," which I did when they had their big show in Vegas, that somehow turns into Tony Khan telling people he has a great relationship with me. I've said in the past I've talked to them, but nothing ever came of anything.
ESPN: When you decided to do Starrcast, did you go over in your mind, like, "I'm going to get a thousand questions about AEW."
Punk: Oh yeah, you've gotta brace yourself for it. It's not even AEW. I'm gonna get a thousand questions about WWE. It comes with the territory.
ESPN: Do you feel like there's an expectation from fans that you're going to show up at AEW's show, at All Out?
"I'm competing against myself. For better or for worse, it's in the public eye. So obviously people are going to broadcast my failures. Success quietly hugs you in private and failure slaps you in front of the world. That's just life. People just don't keep that to account when they're talking s--- about you on Twitter or when you stumble and fall, they laugh at you." CM Punk
Punk: I think if there's an expectation, it's purely been built by them. My silence to some fans means something. They're trying to read the tea leaves, but there's nothing to read. I even feel like talking about it may feel like I'm putting some sort of negative slant on it, but I'm really not. The fact is I know they've teased me ad nauseam, and if anybody is gonna get mad it's at me because I don't show up. Well then, I don't know what to tell you. That's one of those things that's none of my business.
ESPN: When you say they've teased you, what do you mean by that?
Punk: They do videos where they talk about me. They're constantly talking about me in the media. And again, maybe this sounds like I'm badgering them, but I'm not. It's just something that happens. I'm a popular guy to talk about. But I'm not doing interviews talking about them. If people ask me about it, I say no, I won't be there.
ESPN: Just to be completely clear, there's nothing imminent?
Punk: The last thing I got -- I got a text from Cody [Rhodes]. And again, I almost don't even know how to reply to them sometimes, because if I reply, they do interviews and are like, "Oh yeah, I just talked to Punk." I'm kind of damned if I do, damned if I don't. I always think if somebody wants to do business with me, they can come talk to me. Texting offers isn't really a way to do good business, at least.
ESPN: Was it an offer via text?
Punk: It was texted through three people and an offer came in through text. This is like a month ago, maybe.
ESPN: An offer for All Out?
Punk: I think it was just a general offer. I never could have done the last one in Vegas [Double or Nothing], because I was in California for CFFC.
ESPN: Speaking of CFFC, how are you enjoying doing commentary for them?
Punk: I love it to death. I go through withdrawals. We have July off and I think I'm driving my wife crazy. She was in L.A. and wasn't around me, so good for her. I can't train [in MMA because of a dental surgery] and I don't have anything to study for, so I kind of go a little bit loony. But I'm very much looking forward to our August show. It's just so much fun. I almost can't put into words how much I enjoy talking to fighters, calling the fights. I feel like I do a decent job at it, and it's just something I really, really enjoy.
ESPN: Do you feel like your future in MMA might be more on the commentary side than as a fighter?
Punk: Yeah, maybe. It definitely feels like that. There's a gray area, obviously. Man, I would love to get a W, but I'm f---ing old. Training camps aren't easy when you're old and you have as many miles on your body as I do. I break everything down into, "Do I love this? No, I don't love it? Then I'm not gonna do it anymore." And training and CFFC are things that I very much love to do, so I'm gonna continue to do them.
I've said a long time ago, you never say never, and I think it's kind of a billionaire's mindset -- if somebody offers you something, you say yes to it and then you figure out how to do it.
ESPN: You're still training at Roufusport with the intention of fighting again, though, right?
Punk: I don't have any date. I don't even know what I'm gonna do. I love the s--- out of it, so I still do it.
ESPN: And you're still on the UFC roster?
Punk: I believe I am. I peed into a cup not too long ago.
ESPN: When you're on the UFC roster, don't they have to offer you fights contractually?
Punk: That I have no idea about, but I will say that I'm a different animal compared to most people. I think I'm just kind of floating right now. But have I been offered anything? No, I haven't. Every time somebody calls me, though, I'm like, "Oh, this is it, I'm cut." I think I've come to terms with it. I'd be like, "All right."
There's people out there that will read this interview and for some reason complete strangers will get furious about what's going on in other people's lives. I don't pretend to say what's fair and what's right. I just roll with the situation I'm in. If I was gonna fight again, should it be in the UFC? Probably not. But again, I'm not gonna ... be like, "Hey, you should cut me." It'll happen or it won't happen. I'm not worried about it.
ESPN: When you look back -- and it's been a few years now -- when you got your start in MMA, do you wish you did anything differently?
Punk: It's hard for me to have any kind of regrets. I don't look at anything in my life like that. What's done is done. I did things completely backwards, and I'm 100 percent fine with that. I'm not going to say, "I wish I would have done this, and I wish I would have started as an amateur, and I wish I would have fought in a cornfield somewhere in southern Illinois." Like I said before, I'm a different animal when it comes to this world. I think obviously it's afforded me opportunities, and I just say yes to things.
I feel completely at peace. I love the experience. Losing stinks, but I'm not dead. I woke up the next day to my beautiful wife, my awesome dog. The sun came out. So I'm like cool, I woke up today. It's not the end of the world.
ESPN: You've done some movies recently. Is that something you'll be doing more of as well?
Punk: I believe so, yes. The list of stuff I've read for and not gotten is f---ing amazing. It's super awesome. The two things I have done, I'm chomping at the bit for them to come out and people to see them, because I think they're amazing.
"Girl on the Third Floor" is the other movie. I'm the lead in that one. That has been showing at various film festivals across the States so far, and it debuted at South by Southwest. I don't like talking about myself in a kind of positive way, but everything about the reviews has been overwhelmingly positive.
ESPN: Did you catch any of the Dean Ambrose/Jon Moxley comments when he left WWE a few months ago?
Punk: No. I just know because it's in the zeitgeist he left and he did an interview on a podcast about how WWE stinks, as far as I know. ... I didn't listen to the interview. I've lived it, you know what I mean?
ESPN: By the end of 2020, will CM Punk be involved with pro wrestling in any way?
Punk: I doubt it.
ESPN: But it's possible.
Punk: Anything is possible, but I've been saying this for five years, man. People are mad at me. I don't understand how a stranger can get furious at somebody else. It's like if I was walking down the street and saw somebody cutting grass and I'd be like, "Why the f--- are you cutting grass? I want you to work at that f---ing Wendy's! Go work at that Wendy's!"
It's f---ing amazing. There's obviously a negative side to that, but I just try to focus on the positive side of that. There's fans, there's people's lives I've touched, and to bring it full circle, that's the biggest reason I'm doing Starrcast. I try not to whore myself out to every single signing. I literally do one a year.
ESPN: I feel like those questions have intensified for you because of AEW. It's an alternative to WWE. People know you're not a big WWE fan. You're somewhat friendly with the guys in AEW. All of those things kind of lead to the are-you-going-to-wrestle-again questions.
Punk: I get it. But also there's a weird thing, and I don't know, it's just across entertainment as a whole, but I'm not that dude that sat down on a stage in Vegas eight years ago. I'm not the dude that left WWE. I'm not that guy. That was five-years-ago Phil. I'm a different dude now. People still have that connotation, like, "Oh, he hates WWE." And it's just like, no, I've let all that go, and I've let all that go so long ago. But there are people that hold on to that. They still think or want me to be who I was. I'm not who I was yesterday. This is my journey, this is my odyssey.
I equate it to just like MMA training. I'm competing against myself. For better or for worse, it's in the public eye. So obviously people are going to broadcast my failures. Success quietly hugs you in private, and failure slaps you in front of the world. That's just life. People just don't [take that into] account when they're talking s--- about you on Twitter, or when you stumble and fall, they laugh at you.
It's just like they don't realize that I'm shielded from that because I don't care. I'm competing with myself in all avenues to be a better teammate, to be a better husband, to be a better athlete, to be a better actor, to be a better writer. All these things.
And it's just life, and I f---ing love it. I love it so dearly. And when I can do cool things, I do cool things. Sometimes I trip and fall and s--- happens. I pick myself back up, and I go, "Well, f---, what's next? All right, let's do it."