By: Abhinav Tirumala
Earlier this week, we broke down the entire CM Punk saga, from his time in Ring of Honor to his controversial ending at All Elite Wrestling. Now, we look at two contrasting perspectives on Punk's time in AEW.
CM Punk Was Right (Pro-CM Punk View)
Punk’s time until that point in AEW led to nothing but success for AEW as a company.
Every pay-per-view with Punk (barring All Out 2022) had a significantly higher amount of buyers than the previous year, with his magnum opus being All Out 2021, which resulted in over 200,000 buys and remains the highest grossing total in AEW history. His return to wrestling was the Loch Ness monster for the longest time, but this time, someone found Nessie. We saw him come back to euphoria in the United Center and it was perfect – he remained just as sharp on the microphone as he was in his prime. Punk cut countless great promos, such as his war of words with Eddie Kingston, his multiple classics during his feud with MJF, and his promo on Jon Moxley before their title match on Dynamite, in addition to his promo before All Out 2022 with his trainer and coach Ace Steel. No one had the presence and microphone wizardry of Punk before he arrived, and no one has been able to capture his magic since. Essentially, CM Punk brought a simplicity and authenticity that All Elite Wrestling has never been able to match.
An example of CM Punk’s simplicity in his work was shown during his debut during the second week of AEW Rampage, subtitled The First Dance. All that occurred during the segment was CM Punk coming out to a massive reaction, taking it in, speaking to the fans authentically, and leaving the ring after his promo. Additionally, Punk’s in-ring style being slower, classic, and storytelling-based, akin to traditional 1980s-style territory wrestling and homages to legends such as Bret Hart, made him stand out in a promotion where most matches are fast-paced, high athleticism, and low on psychology and storytelling. Ultimately, Punk’s star power and controversial personality made him must-see television, always sparking a reaction. Punk would routinely come out to a mixed response, such as during the Forbidden Door pay-per-view in Toronto, where he wrestled Satoshi Kojima.
With Punk’s notoriety and wrestling historically always using personal issues to make money, it would’ve made perfect sense to set up a rivalry between him and The Elite using their real-life problems. Still, it didn't occur because the Young Bucks refused to meet with Punk, let alone try to work through the issues between the parties. All because useless EVPs decided to put their feelings ahead of business. In an industry where those who had problems over much more personal matters, such as Shawn Micheals and Bret Hart, Matt Hardy and Edge, Ric Flair and Mick Foley, amongst many others, including Punk himself, who worked with Hangman Page despite the apparent issues between the two men.
Tony Khan’s lack of leadership ability, such as not forcing his talent to hash things out, trying to be a friend rather than a boss, and letting the dissent fester, proves that Punk wasn’t the main issue. This isn’t to absolve him of any blame but to show he was right about working with children. When children fight, they go out of their way to be petty and avoid the other person, which is the opposite of how business people and professionals conduct themselves. The proof of losing Punk’s star power is now affecting AEW immensely, with ticket sales being meagre compared to previous years and the ratings for Dynamite and AEW Saturday Collision falling after Punk’s departure. Therefore, CM Punk was right in saying what he said at the All Out 2022 media scrum, and AEW’s lower business metrics, lessened star power, and lower ratings bore fruit. Sometimes in life, you take a hit to become stronger; in the case of AEW and CM Punk, AEW took a hit and got knocked out.
CM Punk Was Wrong (Anti-CM Punk View)
Despite his wild proclamations and disrespectful conduct during the media scrum, CM Punk was right about one thing: he worked with children... but he did not realize the child was himself.
For someone with such an accomplished history in the wrestling business, CM Punk has the temperament of a wounded animal. Hangman Page made a straightforward comment, something that almost no one would’ve even known about if CM Punk hadn’t decided to humiliate the man on live television publicly. By doing so, Punk disrespected Page and every superstar in the back who worked to make AEW a place where people came to expect a professional work environment.
Additionally, he caused more backstage tension and discontent when it wasn’t even required. Just three days after defeating Hangman Page, Punk injured his foot and sat out for three months due to injury, rendering the entire ordeal pointless because his frail body couldn’t stay healthy. When CM Punk returned from injury, the first thing he did was attack Page verbally, even though he wasn’t in the building at the time, a cowardly move if you ask me.
Then we get to the AEW All Out media scrum, Chicago Phil’s piece de resistance. In just 25 minutes, Punk managed to take a Chicago-sized dump over the entirety of All Elite Wrestling, promote some muffins, make Tony Khan, his boss and arguably biggest fan, look like a complete fool, and bury the founders of the promotion. To top it all off, Punk threw the first punch in a fight where the EVPs came into his dressing room with the Head of AEW Legal. It is not a smart move for someone trying to cause a physical altercation. Lastly, he once again showed he couldn’t be trusted in a significant spot as Punk injured himself, this time tearing his left tricep just 5 minutes into his match with Jon Moxley, leaving the state of the AEW title in flux again. All of this is without even mentioning that Punk’s outburst at the media scrum overshadowed the return of MJF, who had been absent from the promotion for three months and was planning to once again feud with Punk.
Now, in any typical industry, termination occurs for exhibiting the conduct that CM Punk showed during his time with the promotion, but in the entertainment business, star power gets you places, and Tony Khan gave Punk another chance. With AEW Collision, Khan kept Punk separate from talents he had issues with. He was also given significant creative input into his storylines and the direction of the overall show. Punk also had the power to ban talent from the AEW Collision locker room, such as Ryan Nemeth and AEW Head of Talent Relations Christopher Daniels, who have strong ties to Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks. For the first seven weeks, it worked. But like all things CM Punk, he would once again get in his own way and screw everything up. After a TV taping in Greensboro, North Carolina, Punk called out Hangman Page after seeing a sign in the audience, calling Page a “peg warmer” and mocking that Page doesn’t sell as much merchandise as Punk.
Beyond that, Punk got into a verbal altercation with Jack Perry, triggered by Perry making light of an incident on TV. Despite opening the highest-attended wrestling show ever, CM Punk decided to choke out Jack Perry and cause mayhem in front of his boss, Khan. Punk also lunged towards Khan, cussed him out, and humiliated the man who signed his paycheques. After about a week of suspension, Khan finally made the right call and sent Punk his termination papers, ending his time in All Elite Wrestling.
CM Punk’s return to wrestling was beautiful but in the end, all he proved was what many knew: he isn’t that special and he’s an egotist with no respect for anyone. CM Punk entered AEW in Chicago as a King and left AEW in Chicago as a man fired for cause, a headcase, a villain, and a disappointment. To quote Jon Moxley, “Fragile body, fragile ego, weak mind, weak spirit” is CM Punk’s legacy in All Elite Wrestling.
After presenting a clearer picture of CM Punk’s career, time in AEW, and both sides of the argument, do you see CM Punk as a successful veteran wrestler making a comeback, trying to make the alternative into a more prominent promotion, and using his power and ability to make everyone more money? Or do you see the egomaniac with an attitude problem who is more toxic than a cyanide pool? That interpretation I will leave up to you, the reader, and allow you to best determine the point of view after laying out the career, facts, and details of the man’s legacy.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” but in the case of CM Punk, there’s another cue: the martyr. Is CM Punk the martyr who fell on the sword to show his value, or is he just another wealthy entertainer with an ego to match?
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