Before All Out, All Eyes Are on CM Punk, But Not for the Right Reasons

AEW is in turmoil heading into their biggest show of the year. The man at the center of it is no stranger to controversy.

Well, that was different.

Last Wednesday, after a very tense week in All Elite Wrestling, Jon Moxley more or less squashed CM Punk to unify their respective interim and lineal versions of the AEW World Championship. Punk did get an out, that he “wasn’t 100% yet” and re-injured his left foot while pivoting to throw a right high kick, but it was quick, decisive, and shocking. But because of the aforementioned tense week in AEW, it was also, well … weird.

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There are a few different ways to look at this, especially since Moxley-Punk is reportedly still the main event for All Out:

  • This is part of a new plan to reverse course on Punk after he — purely out of spite — undermined Adam Page on his promo the week before.
  • It’s using the same kind of Japanese-style “returning injured wrestler isn’t ready yet” storyline they’re doing with Kenny Omega as a way to reeducate fans as to how long major title matches go.
  • Some combination of the above.

Obviously, we’ll have a much better idea after the All Out “go-home” edition of Dynamite. But … how the hell did we get here?

Though there has been no clear reporting as to the actual cause and effect, the perception that Punk is to blame for Colt Cabana being sent to Antarctica, so to speak, appears to have been what caused AEW to go haywire. That led to Page dropping a line on Punk in May calling him a hypocrite for putting himself out there as a “workers’ rights” advocate, something that was largely read at the time as an extension of the “Punk is a wolf in sheep’s clothing” theme of his AEW feuds so far. But Punk seemingly stewed on it for his two months on the shelf with a broken foot, and in his first promo back, challenged Page out of the blue, which wasn’t planned. That meant that Page couldn’t answer the challenge, which made him look weak, cowardly, and ineffectual, especially when the announcers couldn’t clarify whether or not he was in the building.

Regardless of whether or not you think it was fair of Page to drop the “workers’ rights” line on Punk in May, what Punk did in response is very different. What Page said was so vague that barely anyone noticed it for months, on top of being a natural extension of all of Punk’s AEW feuds to date, including with Hangman himself. Punk’s belated receipt, however, was undisputedly bad for business: He undermined a top babyface for no good reason with the full knowledge that the promo put both AEW and Page in an impossible place. Page’s line did nothing to diminish the CM Punk character relative to what everyone else had been saying. Punk’s diversion into calling out Page a couple weeks ago completely undermined someone who’s been groomed as one of the faces of the company since its inception.

It’s definitely enough to make the idea of Punk as a locker room cancer a lot more palpable. Before? It was rumor and innuendo. Now? He’s going on TV and messing with the booking and formatting of the company’s flagship weekly show. If Tony Khan were to decide that Something Has To Be Done, then it would certainly make sense. But we also have no idea if that’s the case. And with All Out still not having a world title match/main event announced four days out, on top of the reporting about Punk-Moxley still being the plan, it makes you wonder just how much the booking is borrowing from at least the general mood around the company. The finish of last week’s title unification match didn’t directly play off of the rumor mill/wrestling news cycle in the slightest, but you can’t seriously tell me that the twist didn’t benefit from it, either.

Tonight is definitely going to be an interesting test of Tony Khan’s booking abilities if the main event of All Out is Jon Moxley vs. CM Punk. If it is, how do you make that a sellable match when Punk was clearly too hurt to be ready less than two weeks earlier and got murked in the process? If that really is the main event, there’s going to have to be some clever storytelling to make the match worth selling again so soon. This isn’t like last year, when Kenny Omega vs. Christian Cage II was the official main event of All Out coming off the first match headlining the debut edition of Rampage a few weeks earlier. In that case, the AEW title was not on the line in the first match, Christian established in the first match that he could beat Omega by winning the Impact World Title from him, and the rematch was not being relied on to be the big draw of the pay-per-view event. Punk’s return to the ring (against Darby Allin) after almost eight years away was the clear draw of the show.

AEW is going through some tests right now. Thanks to the drama with Punk, Thunder Rosa, and others, the previously closed-off company has become significantly leakier. Their biggest pay-per-view event of the year is being sold on a main event that’s being announced at the last minute. WWE is relatively resurgent in various ways stemming from Paul Levesque taking over the reigns of the creative team after Vince McMahon stepped down, with a renewed focus on in-ring wrestling and more logical storytelling in particular. For a new company, that’s a lot to deal with in a short period of time.

How is Tony Khan handling it? We’ll probably have a much better idea after the three shows in five days at the NOW Arena that comprise All Out week are complete.