For the first time this past weekend, and intentionally no matter what they may say, WWE and AEW ran PPVs/PLEs on the same weekend, perhaps being in direct competition with each other for the first time since NXT was backed off Wednesday nights. Feels like as good of a time as any to see where the companies are individually and in relation to each other with big changes, big stories, and the future as exciting and intriguing as it’s ever been. Here, we wrap up the biggest story in wrestling…for now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring when it comes to Sir Punk.
The line between those who speak truth to power or are genuine whistleblowers, and those that are just jealously bitching is probably a lot thinner than we realize. While there certainly are individuals who call out wrongdoing or things that are amiss, probably because they are virtuous and just doing what is right, there is a fair amount of others who feel jilted, cheated, and missing out on something they feel they’ve earned.
CM Punk became the wrestling icon — maybe even a cultural one there for a minute — by being seen as a paragon of truth. There was no one more REAL than Punk, and he would tell the fans and everyone around him exactly how everything really was, no matter who it pissed off or what it cost him. But what’s become clear is that Punk has only ever been interested in securing his place; he’s insecure and jealous about things we can’t even identify, and his so-called truth-to-power is just a large amount of very polished whining.
Punk taking a flame-thrower to AEW — perhaps safe in the knowledge that he was going to be out for a long time again through injury so what did it matter — colors just about everything that came before in his career. While Punk’s “pipe bomb” will live forever, it doesn’t appear anymore as someone trying to pull back the curtain on a company that was keeping the fans’ from the best wrestling they could have versus someone just angry he wasn’t getting what he deserved and nothing more. It also generally leaves out that Punk was then given a 400+ day reign as champion, to become a crossover celebrity, to open doors he wouldn’t have otherwise gotten right after, but hey, the squeaky wheel and all that.
What was so weird about Punk’s late-night rant after All Out was it didn’t really have anything to do with what he was asked or what the discussion was about. Whether or not Punk had Colt Cabana blackballed was the discussion, not what Punk thought of Cabana. A mere “I have no relationship with him anymore” would have sufficed. And yet, while the aim was to deny that Punk had anything to do with where Cabana was in AEW and that rumors saying he did were false, Punk spent five minutes basically saying, “Well I didn’t have anything to do with his job but here are all the reasons I hate the guy, so if I did, this would be why, but I didn’t, but also he sucks.” And you call them steamed hams even though they’re obviously grilled.
There isn’t much to Punk’s claims that hold water. When accusing Hangman Adam Page of nearly costing AEW a big gate at Double Or Nothing…well those tickets sold out in minutes, as all of AEW’s PPVs tend to, and well before Hangman had anything to say about or to Punk. And it was Punk himself who threatened to walk out on the show, reportedly, so who was risking what?
Or that the Bucks and Omega can’t run a company, except the one they started from scratch that has a major TV deal and draws viewers and crowds on the regular to be proud of. Or that the Young Bucks or Omega or Page haven’t accomplished anything, except for making NJPW and ROH household names among wrestling fans to the point where they could start their own company. And if being a big name in WWE means so little to Punk, which he’s made clear, why is it also a cudgel to beat The Elite over the head with, exactly?
And again, Page’s comments were innocuous at the time. No one other than Punk thought much of them, and then Punk sat on them for months while injured and then decided on his own to make it a thing when he came back merely to satisfy himself. It was the scene out of “Dracula: Dead And Loving It” where Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielsen fight over who has the last word merely to fight over having the last word (yes, only I have seen this movie and I know what it says about me).
Which leads one to wonder what exactly is Punk so mad about. What’s he rebelling against? He was brought in with what we’d have to guess with a bag of money that would dwarf an elephant. He was given his own show in the United Center to announce his return. He was given every match he wanted. He was given the top spot after being in the company for less than a year. He was slated to face the biggest name in Japanese wrestling at Forbidden Door, Hiroshi Tanahashi. He was then given the title back in his hometown again just on Sunday after missing through injury and his first batch of self-interested shenanigans. What more could he want? Who is he lashing out at, really?
It’s comedy of the highest level that Punk laments the people who made the most money off his name are Cabana and Vince McMahon. Well, CM Punk has made a fair amount of money off it too. Sure, money isn’t everything, but Punk gets everything wants and yet keeps looking for more.
It all smacks of the heyday of Hulk Hogan, who was famous for doing anything it took to protect his top spot in either WWF or WCW. Backroom politics, booking decisions, refusing to work with people, and even busting union efforts, Hogan was the leading proprietor of the Hulk Hogan business. Hogan was certainly limited in the ring, and his fame and position were built on his personality, and perhaps he knew just how far behind he was some others when it came to in-ring work as the industry evolved. Maybe he was always insecure about what he could do, which is why he fought so hard and in any fashion to remain on top of all of them.
But Punk isn’t that. He is a good wrestler. A very good one. Maybe back in WWE, he was even one of the best. But he’s not all that special in AEW. Right now, Bryan Danielson or Kenny Omega, or Jon Moxley, or a handful of others could easily argue they are his equal or better. [Editor’s note: The first two are definitely better in-ring, while the third arguably is too.] On the mic, he’s still a very good promo, but Moxley, or Kingston, or MJF, or Jericho are easily his equal if not superior. He doesn’t stick out, except when he tries to tear it all down because…he doesn’t stick out?
Punk still wants to bill himself as an agent of change, except all the people he tried to fight and ran down in front of the media actually did engineer the change he wants to take credit for. They started a whole new wrestling company that has become more than viable and popular. Punk is merely part of it, or was, and looks to be pissing himself because he can’t take credit for it.
Punk showed up in AEW saying he wanted to boost the profile of the company’s young wrestlers. And he did, for a minute with Darby Allin, and even Britt Baker. But then Punk couldn’t stop complaining about working with MJF or Page. What happened to the guy who wanted to help? No different than what he did to younger wrestlers in New York, either.
And AEW will survive without him. Easily. They’ll do what they always do, as they did last night, and pack shows with great matches that fans lap up. AEW’s one card it can always play over WWE to attract fans is that it has multiple candidates for “Best Wrestler In The World.” And it can always import Kazuchika Okada when need be. Who in WWE can make that claim? That’s right, no one. Oh sure, some fans will still bitch and moan. “C-M-PUNK!” chants might be commonplace for a while. But after enough great matches and good storytelling, they’ll fade. AEW was a thing long before Punk showed up, and it will be again.
Punk has spent his career getting mostly everything he wants, and it’s never enough. At some point, it becomes obvious it’s only in service of himself. There’s a hole, for whatever reason, that can never be filled. AEW will be better off when it stops trying to fill it.