The question is AEW making the right decision buying CM Punk out of the rest of his contract, despite being their biggest free agent signing?
There have been a lot of allegations thrown around over the past several weeks since the events that took place at the All Out Press Conference. I had previously written about my thoughts on the train wreck that was that press conference. My opinion on that press conference hasn’t changed, I still think CM Punk was completely out of line to go off like that and Tony Khan lacked the leadership ability in my opinion to put a stop to it.
I do want to address one compliant that my post received in that the Elite caused all this and Punk was only defending himself. First off, I never said the Elite were innocent in all this and in fact said I understand Punk’s frustrations that stories about him are appearing in the media that he doesn’t want out there especially if they aren’t true and his anger toward the Elite is understandable if he believes they are the ones leaking the stories.
However, the old saying two wrongs don’t make a right comes to mind here. You cannot hijack a press conference and go on a rant about your co-workers being unprofessional, while you yourself are being completely unprofessional ranting and burying your co-workers while your boss is literally sitting right there appearing helpless.
I knew instantly watching that press conference that this was likely the last we would see CM Punk in AEW. Thoughts of his WWE walkout in 2014 immediately came to mind. My feelings that I had in 2014 when Punk walked was that it was unprofessional to walk out. I’ve always been a strong believer that you honor your contract that you signed and agreed to.
However, as I got older and hearing Punk’s side of things, I understood the situation better that he was essentially burned out and he wasn’t happy with the situation that he was in. As someone myself that has experienced that feeling of being burned out and wanting to quit the situation I was in, I understood where he was coming from. Could it have been handled in a more professional manner with his WWE exit from both Punk and WWE? Sure, but that ship has long since sailed.
The fans were begging for his return to wrestling for 7 years they chanted his name, and those chants went unanswered until August 20, 2021. CM Punk would make his return to wrestling. As I wrote at the time, as a fan of the CM Punk character I was very excited to see his return to wrestling and I felt it was the right time for him to return.
The CM Punk that cut that debut promo, seemed like a changed man that had made peace with whatever bitterness he had towards the business that he felt his WWE run caused him and was now ready to give back to the business that he was willing to love again.
A Lot Changed In One Year:
Looking at the two photos above and knowing that they are literally just one year apart is truly telling on how dramatically sour the relationship between CM Punk and AEW appears to have gotten. That first photo right after AEW signed CM Punk, arguably the biggest free agent that was on the board. The pure happiness and excitement that is on both CM Punk and Tony Khan’s face was evident. That second photo shows a CM Punk that is clearly angered and fed up with the people he is working with and a clearly uncomfortable Tony Khan. How dramatically everything changed for Punk from happy and beloved to angry and hated in only one year’s time is truly unbelievable and sad.
As a wrestling fan, I was very excited at what the future held for a CM Punk run in AEW. As I wrote after AEW All Out 2021, it was and still is one of the best wrestling shows I have ever watched top to bottom. That show had such a buzz especially with CM Punk’s first match in 7 years being booked for it. As a wrestling fan, you just get a feeling whether or not a show is MUST SEE and it’s rare that you get this feeling. WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and All In were previous shows that I got that feeling from and I was getting the same feeling from All Out 2021.
The show delivered and Punk’s run in the company appeared to be going in the right direction especially his feud with MJF. This was in my opinion the best feud in AEW this year and the best in the industry except for Cody Rhodes vs Seth Rollins. Coming off that great MJF feud especially that amazing Dog Collar match, it appeared the sky was the limit for CM Punk in AEW.
First Shot Fired – Lit The Fuse To The Press Conference:
AEW was finally going to put CM Punk into the World title picture nine months after his debut and it seemed kind of obvious that CM Punk was going to walk out of AEW Double or Nothing 2022 as the AEW World Champion. Hangman Page’s title reign didn’t exactly set the world on fire like AEW had hoped so it appeared that the smart play was to put it in the veteran with the very hot hand, CM Punk.
The above promo however would start the clock by lighting the fuse that would eventually lead to the explosion that was the All Out Press Conference. I remember watching this promo, thinking that something seemed a little off and not the typical promo just to hype a PPV match. It felt personal and a little out of place when Hangman said, “I’m defending AEW from you”.
It turns out the reason it felt a little off is because Hangman Page did something unprofessional, he went off script without telling Punk. To Punk’s credit though, he is enough of a professional and master of the mic he was able to make it work and made the promo go full circle back to the title match at Double or Nothing.
After that promo, that is when management should have stepped up and pulled them both in a room and squash this apparent issue that they had with each other. It appears that nothing like that happened, but they did do business with each other, and Hangman did the job for Punk, making Punk the new AEW World Champion. However, Punk would suffer an injury in that match leading him to leave the company for a few months as the company would crown an interim champion.
Second Shot Fired:
Punk makes his return a few months later just in time for him to complete his first year in the company and to unify the world titles at presumably All Out. However, Punk decided to go off script himself and call out Hangman Page. This isn’t just as bad as what Hangman did, but in fact was so much worse.
See when Hangman did it, it was totally wrong and unprofessional, but Punk was at least in the ring and could have responded. When Punk did it, not only was Hangman not out there, but he also couldn’t go out there especially if Tony Khan said no.
This makes Hangman look like less of a man, when he is literally called out, but doesn’t answer the call. Hangman’s hands were tied unless he was willing to get fired over it and Punk knew exactly what he was doing here.
Both sides now had completely unprofessional moments against each other and again it appears management did nothing to resolve these apparent issues that they had with each other. Instead, it appears to me as a fan that they are completely ok with the apparent real-life animosity they had with each other.
In fact, Tony Khan had the following to say about animosity in the locker room:
“There is a lot of conversation about people not getting along and not liking each other. I definitely think it’s more apparent than ever that there is a lot of that. I don’t like everything either.
I don’t like everything people say and there are people who have said things pretty blatantly and people that work here who have gone out and slammed me, blatantly, in public and there is only so much I will take. I’m a pretty nice guy and I’m very flexible. It’s nice being home.
Being here, seeing a lot of my friends, I have a pretty calm demeanor, generally, with people and I’m willing to put up with a lot of abuse. I have a demeanor of service. I try to service people and that includes wrestling fans. I will gladly offer a hand or whatever I need to do to make somebody feel better.
There is only so much slamming me and knocking me that I can put up with. On the other hand, I’ll do what is right for business when I have to. When people don’t get along or don’t like each other, I’ve had people said as much stuff about me over the last few months as anybody and sometimes you have to take it and move on with business and that’s part of it.”Tony Khan
Blurring the lines by using real life heat is something that can definitely help take an angle to the next level. As I have said multiple times before, I’m a big proponent of taking advantage of real-life situations when both sides are willing to be professional in the ring. When you’re able to turn real life issues with each other into money, that tends to help at least dissipate some of the heat.
There was no more heated situation than when Amy Dumas (Lita) cheated on Matt Hardy with Adam Copeland (Edge). Vince McMahon was forced to choose between keeping Matt Hardy, Lita and Edge and although Edge and Lita were in the ethical wrong here, they were kept because the company likely saw them as more financially valuable to the company than Matt Hardy.
However, months later a discussion was had since the crowds kept chanting his name, the company would have a conversation with all three and they were willing to put their real-life issues aside in order to make money with this angle.
Final Shot Leading To The Press Conference:
The former best friends, CM Punk and Colt Cabana have had issues for years, so it really wasn’t much of a surprise that Colt Cabana’s presence on AEW TV went away with the arrival of CM Punk into AEW. CM Punk is obviously the bigger name and draw than Colt Cabana, so regardless of the reason why he was removed it is reasonable to assume AEW management did not want to anger their biggest star and were willing to choose Punk on their TV over Cabana. Punk denies vehemently that he asked for Colt Cabana’s removal from AEW.
Then the rumors started circulating that AEW was going to let Colt Cabana’s contract expire and had no intention on renewing it. Colt Cabana is very well liked in the locker room including the EVPs the Young Bucks, who pushed for him to be re-signed. The apparent compromise being that he would be on the ROH show and not the AEW product.
These rumors of Colt Cabana being forced out by Punk, apparently angered him based on the press conference. It appears his issues with Hangman Page r were still something that angered him, and he felt that Hangman’s friends and fellow Elite members, the Young Bucks, may have been the source of the leak considering who reported the information and how close that reporter is to the EVPs.
If the Bucks did leak the story that Punk wanted Cabana out of AEW, that is both incredibly unprofessional, but insanely shortsighted from a business standpoint. As EVPs, you are supposed to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company as a whole. So, badmouthing one of your biggest stars hurts your stars reputation and hurts your company’s brand as a whole. Which is clearly not in the best interest of the company to let some personal vendetta get in the way of making a business decision.
I’m not going to discuss the press conference here as I have already do so previously, which can be found here and I’m not going to get into the allegations that the two sides are making towards each other. What I am going to discuss is my personal opinion on the matter from the actual facts and what can be reasonably deduced from the reports.
There was clearly a brawl that broke out backstage after this incident and it came as no surprise considering how Punk berated the EVPs and essentially said if you have a problem with me come find me.
All the parties were suspended pending an internal investigation on the matter, however, considering an Elite promo was aired on this past week’s Dynamite and reports of AEW pursuing a contract buyout of CM Punk, it appears a side has been chosen by Tony Khan. I said in my piece about the press conference, that Tony Khan would likely be forced to choose between his EVPs and CM Punk.
When you have talent that cannot work together because there is too much animosity, a decision has to be made on what is best for the company as a whole. It was clear from the moment that press conference took place that either the Elite or CM Punk were leaving the company in my opinion.
The sides apparently cannot put their issues aside in order to do business with each other, so there is no storyline or angle that can be done to salvage that disaster of a press conference.
So, for Tony Khan as the boss, he needs to weigh his options here on what is the best for the promotion, do you allow your three EVPs, Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and likely Hangman Page walk and keep Punk or do you let Punk go in hopes that the EVPs still won’t leave down the road? The other factor to consider is who side is the locker room on in this situation.
Chris Jericho, a veteran and locker room leader and someone that has worked with Punk in the past allegedly called Punk “a locker room cancer” and to add credibility to this, when a fan tweeted that Punk was toxic, Jericho liked the tweet. So, if a large portion of the locker room feels the same way and don’t want Punk there and/or don’t want to work with him, this pretty much makes the decision for Tony Khan simple, let Punk go and buy him out.
No talent is bigger than the company that they are working for and as the boss you need to make the decisions that are in the best interests of everyone and not just one person. Every talent on a wrestling roster is an investment in time and money for a promotion and when that investment’s returns aren’t worth the headaches it causes and will do more harm than good to the company, it is time to divest out of that investment.
It is a terrible shame that once again Punk has yet again burned a bridge in the wrestling business, but this time the fans are more split than they were when he left WWE in 2014. There are a number of fans that are not only on Punk’s side but have completely turned on him entirely. One of those fan’s is Wrestling Republic’s own, the host of Soul Sessions. Ben “Soul” Loughran:
“Let’s go back to 2019, I began to fall in love with the world of wrestling. Mostly watching back the Ruthless Aggression Era of WWE. No matter where I would go. I would hear about this wrestler one wrestler, the voice of the voiceless, CM Punk.
So, I decided to go on a deep dive of his work. From ROH to ECW then the WWE. This man was amazing. His in-ring work and his promo. They caught my attention, and I was drawn to his style.
Then the rumors of the self-proclaimed best in the world, was returning after a 7-year absence, but not to WWE, but to my favorite company, AEW.
AEW: Rampage – The First Dance
I woke up at 3am, loaded up FITE TV and waiting as the episode began. The chants grew louder and louder. Until. The static hit and the place erupted.
For the next year, I’d be fully invested in his AEW journey. I would finally make the journey to Orlando for AEW Revolution 2022. To see CM Punk vs MJF live. It was a true experience and something I will hold dear as a wrestling fan.
Punk would become injured and Jon Moxley would become the interim champion. I was excited to see punk return and when he did. I was just happy to see him back and can’t wait to see what he would do next.
Yet, things would feel off. Reports of backstage issues with Punk would emerge and I just thought of them as false narrative. Punk even would post on social media to show his appreciation for coming back to wrestling in AEW.
Then, All Out 2022 happened. Punk would become AEW champion and it was teased we would get a Punk vs MJF feud for the AEW title, this could have been a great feud. I would then go to sleep and could not wait for the upcoming dynamite to see the fallout from All Out. I woke up and checked Reddit. To see utter chaos that was the All Out Media Scrum.
Punk appeared unhinged, attacking his co-workers and trying to make Colt Cabana seem as a smaller individual than himself, possibly out of spite. I was shocked and then the more details would come out about the altercation between Punk, Ace Steel and the Elite.
Then I realized, I can’t follow him as a fan anymore. I will still hold the memories of enjoying Punk’s return and watching his entrance at Revolution 2022. But he tried to take down the company that helped me truly enjoy wrestling, as well as watching wrestlers through the pandemic that made me feel true joy. Punk may still think he is the best in the world but to a former fan of his.”Ben “Soul” Loughran
Soul’s feelings on CM Punk are echoed by a lot of fans right now including this Instagram video that shows a collection of clips with Punk making conflicting statements about the role of veterans and young talent years later:
For me personally, the first thought when watching the press conference made me think back to a promo all the way back in 2011 that Triple H cut on Punk in a build up to a match between the two:
Specifically, this excerpt of the promo that Hunter cut on Punk that even back then felt like Hunter was letting his true feelings about Punk out right here:
“You’ll only accept change if it means CM Punk is on top. Because unless CM Punk is not the guy, that’s not enough for you. You and me, are a lot alike, Punk. The only difference is, I told everybody in the eye, “I’m gonna step on you to get to the top”. You Don’t have the balls to do it. You back door your way around. You try to be a martyr.”Triple H – WWE Smackdown – August 30, 2011
I’m not the only longtime fan that was thinking of this promo when it all went down as it began to be shared all over social media and comments of “Hunter was right all along” began to surface.
At the end of day, there were mistakes made by everybody involved in this mess, but Punk’s unprofessionalism during that press conference far outweighs anything the Elite allegedly did to drive Punk to go off at the press conference like he did in my opinion.
Tony Khan as the owner should have resolved these issues months ago behind the scenes and certainly should have shut down that press conference instead of allowing it to embarrass himself as a owner and AEW as a whole. One thing is pretty much certain that CM Punk’s AEW run is over and it’s just a matter of working out the buy out specifics.
I think this ends one of two possible ways, either Punk completely leaves the wrestling business forever outside of possible conventions or a possible HOF induction or documentary down the road.
The less likely scenario is a very short final WWE run for his WrestleMania main event/HOF induction.
However, if this were to happen, I think the earliest it could happen is in 2024 at WM 40 in Philadelphia. Outside of his hometown of Chicago, it is the only other logical place with all his history there with ROH, for his WM main event spot that has alluded him his entire career and something he always wanted.
Triple H has shown an ability to fix destroyed bridges before including Bray Wyatt, Bruno Sammartino and Ultimate Warrior. The fact that AEW is rumored to be concerned about a non-compete in their Punk negotiations means that either Tony is possibly nervous that he could jump or Punk possibly expressed interest in a WWE return or Punk is possibly just using it as a negotiation strategy to get more money out of them in the buyout in order for him to agree to a longer non-compete.
2022 has shown us that to expect the unexpected in more ways than one so the only thing for certain in this business is never say never, but it’s likely going to be a long while before we see Punk in a wrestling ring again if ever.
Photo Credits – AEW, WWE, Denise Salcedo’s YouTube and TIGERStylePRO’s Instagram