There are a couple hard and fast rules in wrestling:
1. Everyone comes back.
2. Nothing is real until it happens.
These are clashing at this very moment in AEW, but the first tenet looks to be gaining a pretty serious advantage when it comes to CM Punk.
Reports of Punk’s return broke a couple weeks ago. Rumors spread around wrestling websites and subreddits perhaps more than they do for sports. And there are always more credible outlets than others, and you figure out what’s what after a certain amount of time. Which means you dismiss most of it, because it’s the same as those trade rumors you hear, like how the Phillies are definitely getting Mike Trout. As we said at the time, because it was Sean Ross Sapp at Fightful.com, the reports of Punk signing with AEW had some weight. Maybe the most weight they could get when it comes to wrestling whispers and conjecture.
But still, it was just that. A report. And this was CM Punk. In a lot of ways, he’s been like a god in the wrestling world — and for the past seven years it was mostly because he had been talked about, but never seen. The stories of his power and influence flooded everywhere, but you couldn’t actually see it. You had to hear it from others. And it’s always felt like that’s the way it would stay. He wasn’t gettable, despite any rumor.
AEW is definitely making it seem like they know better.
Last night AEW put on another killer Dynamite — their recent streak since returning to live crowds has hardly been matched by any company — and part of the reason it hit home so hard was the constant knowing smile the production had when it came to any mention of anything near Punk. Which is funny, because he wasn’t mentioned at all. But it didn’t stop any fan from making the connections that were so easily discovered.
Even if you missed the Bucks’ importing Punk’s knee-building move, which I did at first, it was hard to not get struck right between the eyes by the announcement from Tony Schiavone immediately after that match. Normally, AEW announcing the second-ever Rampage — their new one-hour show on TNT, which debuts on August 13 — wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It might not be called the B-show, but it kind of is going to be. So why did the venue for the second Rampage, not even the inaugural show, need a prime, hyped-up slot for its announcement?
Because it was unveiled that the venue would be not only in Chicago, which just so happens to be Punk’s hometown, but at the United Center, perhaps the biggest venue AEW has ever used. They’ve normally opted for arenas with seating of around 8,000 to 10,000. The UC can hold 15,000 or more for a wrestling show. Hmmm… how would they guarantee filling a venue of that size for a show that technically doesn’t exist yet?
And then they named it The First Dance. Of course, that’s a play on The Last Dance, being in Chicago and all. Still, what’s dancing first? It’s not even the first Rampage.
The kicker was Darby Allin’s taped promo about the Chicago show, which immediately followed that announcement:
For background’s sake.
It looked odd at first, because AEW is running three shows in Chicago just two weeks after this August 20 date — a Dynamite, a Rampage, and their tentpole PPV, All Out. Cramming in another Chicago show so tightly seems like overkill.
But once these rumors start, and get as inferno-raging hot as they are now, you’d better pull Punk from out behind the curtain, otherwise even an AEW crowd might hijack the show with wrestling’s ever-present “C-M-PUNK!” chants. Maybe they didn’t want to unveil him until All Out, but that could have meant that all of the previous shows, and all of All Out until that moment, would be awash in the crowd demanding Punk, taking away from the action in the ring. You’d like to think AEW crowds are a different animal from WWE crowds, and would give the product right in front of them the attention it deserves. But no one can hold onto their senses when it comes to Punk.
So did AEW create yet another Chicago show just to debut Punk and get that out of the way? It’s starting to feel like there can’t be another way to look at the move. And sure, you tease all this to make sure you sell all the tickets and get all the eyeballs on the TV, and then you don’t have to do it. But if you don’t… well, see above.
The mischievous side of me would love to see AEW unveil Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson instead on August 20th, but even that could be poisoned by the disappointment from fans that he’s not Punk. It would come with great risk.
Whatever the actual scheduling is, it feels like the world of big time wrestling is about to undergo a seismic shift. Even if it’s the kind of thing you can’t yet get your arms around due to the disbelief.