June 13, 2024

The WWE Survivor Series 2023 concluded with a stunning conclusion in November when CM Punk made a surprise return to the company. Approximately 8 or 9 minutes before Punk’s comeback, Randy Orton also marked his much-anticipated return to WWE after an 18-month hiatus due to a significant back injury, creating a double dose of significant moments for the viewers.

WWE’s approach to orchestrating these significant comebacks involved announcing Randy’s return one week in advance as an official participant in the War Games match. The announcement served as a bit of a smokescreen to conceal Punk’s unexpected return, particularly given the unfolding events during the show itself. Randy was absent for a significant portion of the War Games match and only made his appearance in the final part of the fight. At that point, Punk was no longer at the forefront of viewers’ minds, intensifying the impact of the “Holy shit!” moment when “Cult of Personality” began playing in the arena.

In a recent interview on WWE’s The Bump, Randy discussed his comeback at Survivor Series and hinted that a less mature version of himself would have been furious over WWE spoiling his significant return one week ahead of time:

“For a month prior, there were all these rumors online that I was coming back. But there were also rumors online that CM Punk was coming back. Instead of it being a surprise that it was me instead of Punk, they let everyone know the week prior Randy Orton’s gonna be the one joining Cody’s team at War Games. It kinda let the wind out of my sails a little bit because I’ve been gone for a year and a half, there’s all this anticipation, people have been expecting me to return for the past 6 months because I’ve been out so long.”

“I can tell that I’ve matured a lot because a part of me wanted to be irate. Right? Like, this was taken from me, this reaction from the crowd that I’ve been looking forward to for 18 months. But after all was said and done, I came out got a great reaction, Punk came out got a great reaction. And I realized after the fact that nobody stepped on anyone’s toes. It was really just a really fun night for the fans. They got Randy Orton back and they were very happy about that. They weren’t even thinking about Punk. And here comes Punk…everybody was excited to see us both.”

I would argue that WWE managed Orton and Punk’s returns as effectively as possible during Survivor Series, and Orton’s observation that it turned out to be a genuinely enjoyable night for the fans is accurate. It serves as an illustration of why WWE has garnered more goodwill from its audience under its new management compared to the time when Vince McMahon was overseeing creative decisions.

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