Examining CM Punk’s Potential Return To AEW
It appears as if the former two-time AEW World Champion CM Punk is on his way back to All Elite Wrestling.
According to multiple reports, most notably from Fightful Select, CM Punk’s return to AEW has, at least, been agreed upon. Of course, anything could happen since this is a volatile situation but as of now, we may be seeing Phil Brooks back in an AEW ring soon enough. There have been reports of a meeting planned between Tony Khan, Chris Jericho, and Punk to see if they can work together but as of now, The Elite’s Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, and “Hangman” Adam Page, do not seem keen on working with the disgruntled star.
It didn’t have to be like this. CM Punk came in with a lot of fanfare. He brought some buzz to AEW. He was in a great feud with MJF and a decent feud with Adam Page but overall it felt like he could have done more during the time he was there.
Phil Brooks the man has always been a special kind of character. He likes things done a certain way and if they are not done that way, there might be problems. The media scrum at All Out last September was an embarrassment. No two ways about it. Punk didn’t look good basically burying the company that just put the Title on him. Tony didn’t look good just sitting there while Punk buried the company he helped build without stepping in and ending the conversation. If you think about it, only The Elite were punished that night.
CM Punk was injured during the match with Moxley so he was going to be out for several months anyway so unless there was a period where he wasn’t paid by AEW, which I doubt considering he was injured, so only The Elite were punished. They lost their Trios Tag Team Titles, got suspended and Ace Steel got fired. Meanwhile, Punk is being brought back and basically given his own show.
AEW seems poised to debut a new show on Saturday titled “AEW Collision” which would reportedly feature Punk along with any talent that was willing to work with him as a brand split of sorts. Nobody really knows how that will play out but we should know more by the middle of May.
Punk, at least for now, seems willing to make things work. However, does AEW really need CM Punk? Sure, he adds value but does AEW really need CM Punk as much as CM Punk needs AEW? Yes, Punk has his supporters in AEW. He also has his detractors and his detractors are some pretty big names.
I’m not here to bore you with numbers. Yes, CM Punk was technically a draw for AEW. He moved tickets, he moved merchandise, and he sold Pay Per Views. The average viewership is down a little year over year compared to a year ago when Punk was prominently featured in the program with Adam Page that started this whole mess.
We know Punk is a draw. Is he enough of a draw to warrant the kind of trouble AEW is going through to get him back? Sure, we’ve seen roster splits over the last 20 years with WWE. Brand exclusivity is nothing new to the professional wrestling world. That being said, I’ve never seen, on a major wrestling promotion, having the split the rosters into two shows because a large section of that roster didn’t want to work with one person. That person is Phil Brooks. We saw what happened at the All Out Media scrum and we heard what happened afterward. You can draw your own conclusion as to who was at fault for that but there is no denying that Punk’s actions at that media scrum directly led to the events that happened afterward and that’s the issue.
I’m not saying CM Punk is solely at fault. The Elite holds some responsibility for not de-escalating the situation and Tony Khan holds a lot of responsibility for letting Punk sit there for several minutes and essentially bury his entire company and the people who helped build it. CM Punk is not the guy responsible for AEW’s success, no matter how much he likes to think so.
AEW did a million-dollar gate for Full Gear 2022, the first Pay-Per-View of the post-Punk era. Yes, they did 140,000 PPV buys which was down from 145,000 the year before with Punk. A million-dollar gate is still a million-dollar gate. They also sold 12,106 tickets, which was up from 10,442 the year before. Theit viewership has dropped off about 100,000 or so since Punk left. They still sold out Forbidden Door tickets before a single match was announced even though overall ticket sales are down in the post-Punk era.
All of that means that most of the declines are moderate. Other than maybe merchandise, there isn’t one area where there is a significant drop off from the post-Punk AEW. AEW Revolution, the second PPV after Punk left, did 130-140,000 buys which was down from the 165,000 the previous year even though 2023 sold more tickets. The moral of the story is, could all of this be rectified just by bringing Punk back? Or can they improve these numbers simply by putting on better stories?
CM Punk, regardless of how you feel, elicits a reaction. The problem is, is he worth the trouble at this point? Is regaining those extra 100,000 viewers or those extra 20,000 buys worth possibly dividing your locker room? Will The Elite stick around knowing that CM Punk is once again back in their company? We all know he has his supporters both in and out of AEW but look at his non-supporters. Guys like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and The Elite. People that get along with pretty much everybody and you rarely hear bad stories about.
Punk, prior to 2014, was my favorite wrestler. Anybody who knows me knows that. CM Punk is still one of the first wrestlers I download creations for every year when WWE releases another video game. I’ve never doubted his ability to put on a hell of a show. I just don’t think his performances are worth the trouble in 2023 as much as they were in 2013. Punk has a history. It’s well-documented. It’s okay to take one company to task but three companies? You might be the problem, Phil.
All Elite Wrestling also has the Saturday show which will reportedly feature Punk as the star. Is that the message you want to send to your locker room? The Elite haven’t been portrayed as stars since they came back and they did the least amount of damage. The Saturday show will almost certainly do less viewers than Dynamite does. Dynamite is the flagship. That’s the show that’s bringing home most of the revenue. When AEW Collision ultimately falls short of Dynamite, who do you think will ultimately get the blame? CM Punk, of course. The Punk reunion is destined to fail not because he can’t perform at a high level, but because his attitude and character as a person are no longer worth the amount of trouble he brings to your company. Who did he make while he was in AEW the first time? He lost twice, to MJF and Jon Moxley, and got those wins back just a few weeks later.
I had given Tony Khan a lot of credit for how he handled CM Punk post-Brawl Out. I admired him for sticking to his guns and not falling to the pressure of bringing him back. Now, with this new show debuting along with the pressure from guys like FTR, obviously, Tony has given in and decided to take a chance on bringing back Phil Brooks but at what cost? What happens at the PPVs when Punk ultimately has to be in the same building as the people that don’t particularly care for him?
Tony took a monumental risk here. He risked losing a chunk of his locker room when their deals come up. He risked the atmosphere that they had just started to rebuild. It could pay off and they could get hot again like they were from September 2021 until May 2022. Or it could fail miserably.
I gave Tony about 20% of the blame for what happened after All Out. However, everything that happens now is 100% Tony Khan’s fault. Both good and bad. I hope he’s self-aware enough to realize that and I also hope he is smart enough to cut bait if it becomes evident that the experiment has failed, which I suspect it eventually will.
I do enjoy AEW programming and hope Tony Khan knows what he’s doing. I just think splitting up the rosters to accommodate one guy is a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, Tony avoids that disaster before it becomes catastrophic.
Thanks for reading. Check out my TJRWrestling writing archive here. I’m on Twitter @GiftedMoney talking about wrestling among other things, so feel free to message me on there with any thoughts or comments. Until next time.