The honeymoon period with CM Punk in All Elite Wrestling has been over for a long time. It easily ceased before this week’s drama unfolded. He’s had to sink or swim based on what his current ability is for several months. If Punk was just a nostalgia act, he’d leave AEW head-honcho Tony Khan with no choice but to relegate his responsibilities to a Billy Gunn-level. That’s meant as no slight to you, Daddy Ass.
Punk’s been far from the “Best in the World” moniker that once held tremendous weight. Punk’s been far from horrid too. He’s a solid member of the roster no matter his credentials. It doesn’t hurt that he has more star power than anyone else in the company aside from Chris Jericho. That pedigree combined with Punk’s admitted desire to “work with the young talent” that had his same passion stamped out in WWE became murkier over the last 48 hours.
Multiple reports have surfaced about Punk going off-script with his remarks toward Hangman Page to open Wednesday’s “Dynamite,” calling him out when the 43-year-old knew he wasn’t in the building. (If Dark Order’s John Silver is to be believed, Hanger was eating backstage at the time). It was the alleged catalyst to a locker-room civil war of sorts between the AEW originals and the ex-WWE guys with longstanding careers in pro wrestling. Decent chunks of the roster are siding with Page and Punk respectively. Insiders believe tensions will only rise if the problem isn’t taken care of soon.
It’s also led to speculation about AEW’s long-term plans for its top spot, with its former world champion (Page), current titleholder (Punk), interim champion (Jon Moxley), and biggest organic star (the presently exiled MJF) all implicated. Mainly, with Punk coming off as disgruntled, another walkout has been forecast. With next week’s Dynamite being in Cleveland, the same city where he deserted WWE in January 2014, it’s a little too coincidental.
Saturday marks Punk’s one-year anniversary with AEW. And the timing to go along with the commemorative day is mesmerizing, celebrating the achievement by being at the center of controversy. I don’t know if Punk enjoys it that way, but it’s fitting. This was his unforced error, he’s a 23-year veteran of the squared circle. If he wanted to squash any beef backstage or on FaceTime, he could’ve easily done so. He bombastically saved it for TBS instead.
Punk’s “clapback” was allegedly in response to liberties he took with promos building up to their AEW World Championship match at the company’s signature pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, in late May. Punk unexpectedly returned to the company last week after suffering a foot injury mere days after defeating Page. The Chicagoan wasted no time airing his dirty laundry with the purveyor of “Cowboy Shit!” upon being given a live mic for the first time in 75 days.
If Wednesday’s promo from Punk was a work, consider me fooled and I’ll be happy to write in the future about how genius the segment was. If it was 100% unscripted, Khan has given his talent more rope than deserved. If there were bullet points and Punk for the most part stuck to them (my pick for the correct scenario), he took liberties with having a live mic and should deal with the consequences head-on. Punk escalating things with the call-out was downright unprofessional from someone who prides themselves on being a “professional” wrestler.
The rest of Punk’s verbal jabs aimed at Moxley and his friends came off as a rapid-fire attempt to smear anyone he could. Calling Moxley the third-best wrestler in the Blackpool Combat Club, seemingly behind Bryan Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli (let’s not overlook Wheeler Yuta though), is low-hanging fruit. Doubling down and saying it’s a trend with him is too because Punk has attempted to take credit for the invention of The Shield, with Chris Hero taking Roman Reigns’ place in the standout trio. Catching a stray too was Eddie Kingston, who was referred to as the second-best Kingston he’s worked with (behind Kofi), and the third-best Eddie (behind I’m guessing Guerrero and Edwards).
What’s the need in propping up outside talents while diminishing those in your locker room? It went beyond building toward a pay-off match. It appears to be built in reality, which is a double-edged sword. The conflict resonates as more relatable but the words have a better chance of coming off as slimy, when no buttoned-up speech should. This faux “pipe bomb” was all punchlines and no set-up. All style, no substance. AEW deserves patience with how many great shows it has had since its inception. However, Wednesday’s show was all kinds of messy. Extremely high peaks and plummeting lows all in 120 minutes.
I’ve been a fan of Punk for a long time. He’s not in my top three favorite wrestlers ever, though. That’s easily Samoa Joe, Manami Toyota, and Kevin (Steen) Owens in that order. He likely wouldn’t have to make it past two hands before being counted. Him being in professional wrestling and having everything that comes with it is better than neither. His coming off as some martyr to call out his naysayers this time around falls way short. Two wrestlers with angles of being disgruntled employees is one too many, especially since MJF’s status isn’t clear.
How AEW moves through this bout of adversity will be crucial to long-term stability. Trying to implement the ideology of a company where everyone’s close was bound to expire eventually. Now that true shakiness has come to light, doing what’s best for AEW as a whole is the only option for everyone involved. And Khan shouldn’t hesitate to punish those who don’t bring their best to that fight. Why? Because every fight happens on his turf. Maybe as a first-anniversary present, Punk needs a dose of that reality as much as anyone.