They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

If that's true, then WWE fans must be really missing C.M. Punk, who bolted the company several months ago and never looked back.

Punk was one of the company's most popular performers when he abruptly left prior to a Monday Night Raw broadcast in January. Speculation abounded as to why Punk would choose to leave a lucrative gig with WWE in the prime of his career.

Whatever the reason, Punk has steadfastly stood his ground, telling friends that he is financially secure and has no overwhelming urge to return to the ring.

That would indeed make him a rare character in the wrestling business. History, however, might suggest otherwise.

Most wrestlers who have left behind coveted spots on the roster eventually return. They miss the adrenaline rush, the pop of the crowd and the financial rewards that the business affords.

So far Punk has distanced himself from the industry.

If and when Punk chooses to return to WWE, there's little doubt that he would be immediately pushed to the top and back in the main-event, world championship picture.

Punk (Phil Brooks), 35, is known to have a lukewarm relationship with WWE exec and power broker Triple H, whose view of what a world champion should look like doesn't match that of performers such as Punk and Daniel Bryan, but more along the lines of "true heavyweights" such as John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista.

Triple H, however, is savvy enough to realize that Punk and Bryan have tremendous fan bases, a fact that takes on even greater significance with the recent launch of WWE's new network.

A match between Punk and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin - one that both stars have considered in the past - would undoubtedly be a marquee bout at Wrestlemania.

The deciding factor in Punk's possible return could be his new bride, AJ Lee (April Mendez), who recently returned to WWE after taking some time off to set up residence in Chicago with Punk.

And with WWE owner Vince McMahon still reeling from a painful financial setback, a return by Punk could be counted on to increase house show, pay-per-view and merchandising sales.

WWE sources say that the return of Lee, who was immediately crowned divas champion, is not connected to any similar movement on Punk's part.

It's clear that Punk was unhappy when he left the company, a fact that was confirmed by his former manager, Paul Heyman, who stated on a podcast that Punk "had lost the passion" to perform. His frustrations, he said, were keeping him from being "the best C.M. Punk he could be."

Punk has until July 17 to decide whether he wants to remain under contract with WWE.

Punk has been far from idle during his hiatus from the ring.

He's made numerous appearances at Chicago sporting events, most notably at Cubs and Blackhawks games, and at MMA fights and charity functions, but has said very little about the wrestling business.

"It feels good," Punk said in a recent interview. "It's a lot easier when you hook up with organizations like the Cubs and being friends with some of the team members. It isn't hard to support their charities. Plus I get to do fun stuff like bowl and paint chairs and play whiffle ball with Bill Murray. It was super fun and for a great cause."

The self-proclaimed "Best in the World" will co-host the red carpet pre-show for the first-ever AP (Alternative Press) Music Awards on July 21 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

Will Punk ever return to silence those weekly chants at arena shows?

If he does, Mick Foley told USA Today, it will be on his own terms.

"He marches to the beat of his own drummer. I will say he doesn't respond to me. I used to be able to reach out to him. I think he's just cut off all communication with people from the business, and if he comes back, it'll be on his own terms, and I respect that."

Flair at MSG

Ashley Flair (Fliehr), daughter of 16-time world champion Ric Flair, was scheduled to make her official WWE debut on July 12 at Madison Square Garden as part of the Summer Slam Heatwave Tour.

Ashley, 28, who is billed as "Charlotte" (her hometown), has been competing the past two years at WWE's NXT facility in Florida where she is that division's women's champion. A recent bout with Natalya (Nattie Neidhart) was widely considered one of the best divas matches in recent years.

Her famous father, the Nature Boy, is scheduled to return for a long-term on-air role beginning Monday night at Raw in Richmond, Va., and the next night at Smackdown tapings in Fayetteville, N.C.

Flair says that he doesn't know what his immediate role will be, but a vacant general manager position could have his name on it.

Santino retires

Santino Marella, who in recent years has become one of WWE's most entertaining comedy acts, has announced his retirement from in-ring competition.

The 35-year-old Marella, along with his green sock sidekick "The Cobra," is hanging up the tights due to a third neck injury.

Marella, who has been on the company's main roster since 2007, hopes to remain with WWE in a non-wrestling capacity.

The Ontario, Canada, native (billed from Italy), whose real name is Anthony Carelli, opened a pro wrestling and mixed martial arts training school called Battle Arts Academy in Toronto in 2013.

He debuted on WWE television in 2007 and won the Intercontinental Championship in his first match by pulling off an upset over the late Umaga.

He was used mostly in comedy roles the remainder of his WWE career.

Did you know?

This week's trivia fact comes from longtime Carolinas mat pundit Jimmy Ryan.

Ryan reports the little-known gem that eight-time NWA world champion Harley Race began his career in the early 1960s under the name Jack Sherman.

In addition to his ring duties, Race also served as driver for the 800-pound Happy Humphrey (William Cobb), considered the heaviest wrestler of all time.

Other names Race would use early in his career were The Great Mortimer and Jack Long.

OSCW returns

Local wrestling fans can get their squared circle fix when Old School Championship Wrestling returns with "Tag Team Wars 7" on July 20 at the Hanahan Rec Center.

If you're a grappling fan and have never been to an OSCW show, you owe it to yourself to sample one of the best independent promotions in the region. The price is right, and the OSCW crew never fails to deliver.

Two of the featured teams will be The Sons of Midnight (former WWE star Gangrel and Dr. Creo) and former WCW Flock members Sick Boy and Lodi.

Others on the bill include The Washington Bullets, Vordell Walker, Brandon Paradise, Eric Bradford, Michael Frehley and B.J. Hancock.

Adult admission (cash at door) is $10; kids (12 and under) $5.

For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.