It was always inevitable that CM Punk was going to receive a babyface pop from the crowd upon his return at WWE Payback, but what was more of a mystery was if he’d actually be booked like one.
Fans weren’t so sure if Punk would be a good guy for one night just because he was in Chicago or if he would go back to being a babyface full-time.
Now, we have our answer. After what happened between Punk and Brock Lesnar on last week’s Raw, Punk is clearly a babyface again.
The question on everyone’s mind, though: Is Punk’s face turn the right move right now?
After all, Punk was clearly the WWE’s top heel before his absence. He was, far and away, the best villain in the company from the time he turned heel last summer up through his WrestleMania 29 match against The Undertaker.
But a number of circumstances led to Punk’s face turn at Payback, and though Punk is a great heel, it was clearly the right move at the right time.
There always seems to be a revolving door of top heels who can main-event just months after being in the midcard. We’ve seen everyone from Big Show to Ryback to Mark Henry to Dolph Ziggler to Jack Swagger emerge as top-level heels in recent years before someone’s swooped in and taken their spot.
The normally heel-heavy WWE has never had a problem with taking a heel and thrusting him into the main event picture, then replacing him shortly thereafter.
On the babyface side, however, things have been a little bit different.
For whatever reason, the WWE has had a much more difficult time getting babyfaces over at the main event level and having them stay there for the long term. Truth be told, only John Cena, Randy Orton, Sheamus and now Daniel Bryan have been able to do that in recent years.
Oh yeah, CM Punk, too.
Lost in all the buzz about Punk’s excellent heel run from mid-2012 to mid-2013 is the absolute fact that, prior to that, Punk spent more than a year as arguably the most over babyface in the WWE.
From the time Punk dropped the infamous “pipebomb” promo in 2011 to his heel turn last summer, he was generating huge reactions from the crowd and doing the unthinkable by genuinely challenging Cena for the top spot in the company.
Although Punk was never able to replace Cena, he got awfully close to it, evolving into the WWE’s clear-cut No. 2 babyface and the most over performer not named John Cena that the WWE had seen in the last four or five years.
It’s hard to create top babyfaces these days—right, Miz?—but Punk became one and solidified himself as a colossal fan favorite, regardless of whether he was a babyface or heel.
Upon his return at WWE Payback, Punk is back in that exact same spot again. He’s the No. 2 babyface in the company again—leapfrogging Bryan and Orton even though those two have spent the last several months causing earthquakes with the monstrous ovations they’ve received from the crowd.
Punk is already majorly over as a good guy, and that’s exactly why it’s blatantly obvious that the decision to turn him again was a smart one.
The WWE doesn’t need to shove a babyface Punk down our throats like it did with Ryback or The Miz. Punk is going to be over with the crowd simply because he’s an amazing performer both in and out of the ring.
That’s something that the WWE has to take advantage of.
Simply put, the WWE needs more top faces than top heels because the faces are the ones that the fans want to see. You can throw any heel against Cena or Punk or Orton—whether it’s Henry, Del Rio or Big Show—and the fans will watch.
But you can’t push any babyface as a main eventer and expect the fans to react to him in a positive way.
Ryback learned that the hard way. Del Rio did, too. The Miz is learning that right now.
Punk, however, is one of maybe a handful of full-time performers whom the fans want to see and whom the fans will genuinely cheer for rather than cheering for him just because they’re supposed to.
That’s why it’s the best business move to make him a babyface for the time being.
The fans love Punk, and even though he’s a fantastic heel, he’s a great babyface, too. He should be in that role as long as he’s generating those massive reactions from the crowd—which he always does.
Remember, guys and girls: You can make a number of superstars a main event-level heel without any questioning it, but you just can’t do that with a babyface.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!