In the end, there’s just too much money to be made and too many things for AEW to accomplish without the bounce that CM Punk provides.
Whether the slightly lacking ticket sales of the company’s new Saturday show were the final push, the hope of completely filling Wembley Stadium in August, moving All Out to a bigger arena, pressure from the higher-ups at Warner Bros., or some combination of all of it, Tony Khan had to make it work. Even with last week’s hiccups, Punk was always going to return, because they need him. The fact that Punk knows that won’t be a problem at all down the road, surely.
With the official announcement that the first AEW Collision on June 17 will take place at the United Center, it’s basically official that Punk will return there. And it appears that Khan is storing all of his problems on the Saturday show. Once it became basically known that Collision was happening, wrestlers like Miro, Thunder Rosa, and Andrade started popping up either back on TV, or on promotional materials. And all of them have provided issues for Khan in the past.
Go sit in the corner
It does seem the easier path for Khan just to put these wrestlers on a separate show, but does it solve much? We still haven’t gotten word that there will be a hard brand split, though that’s been rumored, especially in the women’s division. So will Rosa never face up to Britt Baker and Toni Storm? Those would be the best matches for fans, but clearly there are things to be smoothed over if that’s going to happen. Fuck, Khan let a whole backstage show center on Storm, and Baker Mean Girling Rosa behind her back, which took a far too heavy a toll on Rosa in real life. Is Khan thinking that just keeping everyone partitioned is a permanent answer?
Andrade’s AEW career never quite launched in an attempt to be No. 1, partly due to Cody Rhodes I have and will argue because it’s my thing, and then he drifted Sammy Guevara backstage (which should make him the world’s biggest face, honestly). Is Andrade penned in on Saturdays to not have to interact with Guevara? Don’t fans want an Andrade-Sammy match now? It would do a lot for both, but keeping them on separate shows seems another path of least resistance.
Obviously, the big question is Punk, who for now will just be kept in his own pope-mobile of a show, and away from The Elite. And that’s fine for a while, especially if as rumored he starts with a feud with Samoa Joe, and then gets back to the third match with MJF that the company didn’t get to get to last year thanks to Brawl Out. And that’s just about the biggest match AEW could have.
But it isn’t the biggest. The Punk/FTR v. The Elite, or just Punk and Omega, to a slightly lesser extent Punk, and Hangman Page, these are things fans will be clamoring for. This won’t be a problem through the summer, but that bill will come due at some point. Maybe Khan is just banking on more time being the best healer, as well as the overall momentum of the company as it rolls through Forbidden Door, and All In at Wembley being even more of a salve. That would be best.
Or maybe Khan is just waiting everyone out? Discussing the buzz around contracts for wrestlers gets exhausting, but there is the mothball out there that the Bucks’, MJF’s, and Kenny Omega’s contracts all are up at the end of this year or somewhere around there. MJF makes it a plot point in his character, as you may have heard. Is Punk some kind of insurance for an exodus? It’s hard to see AEW letting any of these guys go, or WWE is smart enough to provide them an alternative if they ever get out of their “hiring freeze,” but this is wrestling, where anything is possible.
Or maybe the final push for Khan was that the Four Pillars match that will main event Double Or Nothing this weekend has come up a little flat. The build has been too long, and quite simply no one other than MJF in it can carry it. The match itself will almost certainly be great, even Sammy Guevara can shine in multi-man contests like this. But Sammy and Jungle Boy have looked like beige wallpaper when put in a personality test against MJF. AEW definitely wanted to pivot it to its younger, more “homegrown” parts of the roster going forward not so long ago, and yet only MJF has made it seem like there’s a real future in that (along with Orange Cassidy). Maybe the old heads are still the way to go.
Still not the Boss — and also still needs The Boss
All of it still gives off an air of Khan not wanting to be the boss and still be everyone’s favorite wrestling fan. There are clearly issues still around, issues which arose partly because Khan never stepped in to squash the perceived slights and ensuing beef. And then they got beyond his control.
Khan should have made clear to the roster that Punk wasn’t the reason Colt Cabana wasn’t around, if that was indeed the case. He should have silenced all the whispers about Rosa faking an injury to get away from Baker and Storm, though they have apparently taken it upon themselves to smooth that one out. Andrade and Guevara could probably use a sit-down. Maybe Khan got too into his fandom and thought all of this was good for business And some of it was, but some of it wasn’t, and there was clearly real-life consequences. Simply walling off people on separate shows is only a temporary solution, at best.
And even with all that, it’s all more exciting than foreboding. AEW just has so much coming this summer, things that could boost it to a new level. The partitioning of parts of the roster could be trouble, or maybe there’s just too much at stake for anyone to immolate it all. It’s going to be a white-knuckle ride, that’s for sure. But it’s fine, Punk is great in tense situations, right?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he prays that Jay Lethal doesn’t actually win on Saturday.