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CM Punk: My My Hey Hey

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CM Punk is fired from All Elite Wrestling after his actions at the beginning of the All In pay per view broadcast at Wembley Stadium in London, England on August 27.

“The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
This is the story of a Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten”
– Neil Young My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Or maybe this was always the way it was supposed to end.

Click here to skip to the recent events of the past week.

“Out of the blue and into the black”

When the rumours began about CM Punk returning to pro wrestling to join All Elite Wrestling, it felt too good to be true. AEW had been on a roll, headlined by the program between Kenny Omega and Hangman Page. Page was originally slated to win the AEW World Heavyweight Championship at All Out that year but the win would be delayed to Full Gear so he could enjoy the birth of his child. AEW had to quickly come up with a new main event involving Christian Cage. Because of this, Tony Khan had to stack All Out with the debuts of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson. But what about those CM Punk rumours?

Despite the doubts, the second episode of AEW Rampage dubbed The First Dance was a sold out United Center in Chicago, Illinois on a rumour. A rumour well circulated, and a rumour everyone knew, but with nothing confirmed it was unprecedented. That sold out crowd chanting for CM Punk, Cult of Personality by Living Color ripping out through the arena, and the arrival of CM Punk. Not just in AEW, but a return to professional wrestling.

Punk coming to AEW made All Elite Wrestling feel more than just an alternative to WWE doing good numbers in their own niché. They felt like a real competitor. This was their WCW getting Hulk Hogan moment. World Wrestling Entertainment might be a bigger company with bigger reach but this was a company barely two years old convincing the biggest wrestling star of the early 2010s not named John Cena to return to pro wrestling. This is what all of those years felt like it was building for. All of the best in professional wrestling under one roof, and it wasn’t the roof of Vince McMahon.

“If at all through my journey, any of my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down? Let me just say. Let me just say I understand, if you all understand that I was never going to get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally, staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”
– CM Punk

We didn’t know at the time that CM Punk did try to negotiate to return with WWE but Vince McMahon, despite FOX saying they should sign him, said he would sign anyone but. Punk did an interview saying they played with him, and we just treated that as it never got serious. But it never got serious because Vince McMahon didn’t want him. From the very beginning, CM Punk was telling us what we wanted to hear. This was the only place he could get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. In All Elite Wrestling.

There are some great talkers in pro wrestling today, many of which have been cutting better promos than CM Punk as of late. But none, absolutely none of them, are as good as making you believe it than CM Punk. You might get a good line, you might keep a cohesive narrative, but nobody has his conviction. The reason there are pro wrestling fans today thinking his firing is a storyline, thinking he did nothing wrong, thinking he was a man pushed to the edge, it’s because CM Punk makes them believe. In a business like pro wrestling, a business about telling stories with physicality, one which used to have the protection of kayfabe and people not knowing it’s a performance, to be able to convince so many is a gift.

Between August of 2021 to March of 2022, I don’t think there had been a better comeback in professional wrestling. CM Punk came back, worked with one of the hottest young stars in Darby Allin, and began working every week. He was helping make AEW Rampage a successful show for All Elite Wrestling on Friday’s. His programs with Eddie Kingston and Maxwell Jacob Friedman are very much memorable and important for both men. He immediately filled the void created by Cody Rhodes leaving to the WWE. What’s funny is that the Eddie Kingston program would be the first cracks in the facade CM Punk created. Eddie Kingston gave him hard truths about people not wanting him to be there, and Punk being friends with the booker and judging Eddie. Punk retorted with cheap pops for St. Louis and calling Kingston a bum. We didn’t really see it at the time, but this would end up encapsulating CM Punk’s run in All Elite Wrestling.

In his program with MJF, it felt like the two best promo men in the business going head to head. MJF and Punk did a great job building reality into the program, with Max expressing how CM Punk leaving was a catalyst to his hateful attitude. Punk felt responsible. It felt like the start of a program that could last for years, the hero and the monster he created out of his actions. How even though you stood up for yourself and did what you thought was right (walking out of WWE and then they fire you on your wedding day) it can still create victims, it can still damage and hurt people you didn’t expect to. The program culminated into a dog collar match at AEW Revolution 2022, with CM Punk cutting one of the most clever wrestling lines I’ve ever heard.

Max, will you be my Valentine?

Prior to the match, CM Punk came out to Miseria Cantere by AFI, a true throwback to his time in Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor had just recently sold to Tony Khan and now CM Punk’s first major breakout in the wrestling business wouldn’t be owned by WWE but instead by AEW. At the press conference after Revolution, CM Punk was clearly emotional about everything. This had been a perfect ride. It was so perfect that CM Punk started talking about how Bret Hart deserves the Saudi Arabia money that WWE wrestlers are getting when they do trips to Ridhya.

Wait, what?

They give you this, but you pay for that

This was the first moment I felt like something might be off. Something might be wrong. Up to this point I had been completely behind CM Punk and his run in AEW. I mean, I totally took Eddie Kingston’s side in their program but hey, it’s Eddie. But I didn’t reject CM Punk. This is the first time I’m thinking wait a second. Are you okay there? Did Max hit you too hard in the match? Are you okay?

Following this would be the first ever Owen Hart Cup Tournament, a tribute to the late Owen Hart in collaboration with the Owen Hart Foundation run by Martha Hart, Owen’s widow. It was the first time since Owen Hart passed away that a professional wrestling company got the backing of Owen’s wife and children to pay tribute to him. And during the whole tournament, CM Punk just kept talking about Bret Hart. Dax Harwood kept talking about Bret Hart. Cash Wheeler kept talking about Bret Hart. All three men spent this tournament for Bret Hart’s deceased brother doing call backs to Bret Hart matches. They were publicly trying to get Bret Hart’s attention during this Owen Hart tribute. It left a foul taste in my mouth. For others it was a lovely tribute. CM Punk deliberately, for weeks, tried to take attention from the Owen Hart Foundation and Owen Hart Cup to instead pay fealty to his brother.

Following this would also be CM Punk’s program with Hangman Page, which should have been a great program to help solidify Hangman Page as the AEW Original and Ace of the company. He beat Bryan Danielson in his first defence and also beat Adam Cole at Revolution. Beating CM Punk at Double or Nothing would have established an AEW original as better than the former WWE stars who had come into the company in the past year. As the program began, something was off, with Hangman Page immediately angry about CM Punk with no reason. Punk just laughed about it, and began beating all of Page’s Dark Order partners (except Colt Cabana.) Eventually Page and Punk would have a confrontation in the ring, where Punk once again just said he didn’t get Page’s problem and would beat him. Adam Page would cut what we thought was a bizarre promo, but it ended up being an encapsulation of what a lot of people felt about CM Punk behind the scenes.

When I wrote about it in May of 2022, I said Punk wasn’t Hulk Hogan, but this program was just the beginning. Funny that. I thought it was all a work. It turns out the, “You talk a big game about worker’s rights, yeah well you’ve shown the exact opposite since you’ve gotten here” line got to CM Punk, and he lit into Adam Page after the show. Punk even considered skipping town and not showing up for Double or Nothing. He still did, and him and Hangman Page had a really great match. Up until Punk twice tried to execute a Buckshot Lariat and both times couldn’t pull it off. There’s video of the live crowd laughing at the man who was about to become World Champion. Much like throughout the Owen Tournament, the match was once again a Bret Hart reference. Only this time it was Hangman Page as Roddy Piper at WrestleMania refusing to use a weapon to win the match. Hangman Page said he would beat Punk and rid AEW of him. Instead he lost, and spent the summer lost as well (Summer is the worst season for Hangman Page as any fan could tell you after his 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and even this year in 2023) while CM Punk was expected to ride high as AEW World Heavyweight Champion.

But he got injured. We got an interim champion in Jon Moxley, and when CM Punk returned we thought things would be good. Instead Punk immediately called Hangman Page out for a match and when Page didn’t show up he called it Coward Shit. It was Punk going into business for himself to try to insult Page for his workers rights line, which Punk still wasn’t over. We soon got the Punk/Moxley match, but not before they wrestled two weeks prior to All Out and Moxley destroyed him to become the undisputed World Champion. We would later find out this was Moxley as a free agent insisting he should be the undisputed champion going into the match and Punk reluctantly agreeing. The match they had was fanastic, but Punk got hurt again. And in getting hurt, he did his press conference as Champion, and that’s when we got to see CM Punk at his worst.

The press conference, followed by Brawl Out, has been a dark cloud over AEW for the past year. CM Punk claimed that former World Champion Hangman Page hadn’t accomplished anything in the wrestling business, despite being World Champion during the hottest period in AEW’s history. He threw the entire company under the bus with Tony Khan sitting beside him. It felt like an endorsement of everything he said. As for the Brawl Out with Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, I won’t go all into it. There’s better sources for that. To simplify, everyone got suspended, and everyone eventually returned to work. First The Bucks and Omega at Full Gear, followed by CM Punk months later at the debut of AEW Collision, a new TV show on Saturday night.

“And once you’re gone you can never come back

In the meantime we got everything. Talks of CM Punk’s contract being bought out and a return to WWE. CM Punk randomly going to a Monday Night Raw and being escorted out by security. CM Punk at an NJPW event. CM Punk at an Impact Wrestling event. CM Punk expected to be announced for the AEW Collision announcement at the Warner Bros. Discovery upfronts only for all of his photos to be pulled and any mention of him pulled from the announcement. There were rumours he would be feuding with Chris Jericho to begin Collision, as an olive branch from “the other side” and to help having a Canadian star for some of Collision’s first shows in Canada. It didn’t happen. There were rumours of CM Punk booking AEW Collision himself and it being his show with his roster. That seems like some of it was true at least. Ace Steel, who allegedly bit Kenny Omega at the Brawl Out (and not the dog that was in the locker room. Do not say it was the dog) was brought back to AEW with back pay as a remote agent for AEW Collision.

Punk finally made his return on June 17, 2023 once again at United Center in Chicago. It was like a reboot of sorts. United Centre. Brand new AEW show. CM Punk cutting a big promo to kick things off. Collision was his baby. It had a different feel to Dynamite and Rampage. It used people who hadn’t been on TV in a while like Miro and Andrade and almost Scorpio Sky. It felt almost like its own universe in All Elite Wrestling. It was also missing The Elite and Blackpool Combat Club, two of the hottest acts at the time in AEW who were just finishing up their program with a Blood and Guts match a month later. This was an attempt to keep the two locker rooms separate to avoid another problem.

But to quote Rancid, “the boy’s a time bomb

We started getting news. CM Punk confronted Ryan Nemeth over a tweet. CM Punk has been telling people they are not booked for Collision and telling them to fly back home. Christopher Daniels, the head of Talent Relations in AEW and the main producer of Ring of Honor tapings before and after Collision was kicked off the show under the reasoning that if Ace Steel has to stay home so should Daniels. Talk that Punk wanted back on Dynamite. Talk that Punk wanted the soft brand split to end. Hangman Page was asked to show up for a Collision taping to do a promo but was asked by Tony Khan not to come. People in AEW thought Punk made the call but Punk insisted he wanted to talk to Page about working with him again. Talk that Punk tried to set up a meeting with The Elite but they refused, first reported that it was scheduled and then cancelled. Oh, and Jack Perry wanted to do an angle with real glass and was told they don’t do that on Collision with the segment being cancelled despite a car being brought in to do it. More on that later.

When you’re out of the blue and into the black

Last week was AEW All In, in London England. AEW sold over 80,000 tickets to their debut in the United Kingdom. Apparently CM Punk tried to leave late to the show, and because of that he missed the arranged shuttles. He tried calling AEW and then decided to take the train and get directions from fans. When he made it to the show he ripped into Tony Khan and threatened to quit. He had to be convinced to still do his opening match with Samoa Joe. On the pre-show, Jack Perry wrestled Hook and had a car brought to the arena. During a replay, he knocked his hand on the glass. “You see? Real glass. Cry me a river!” before soon being put through the windshield. This was a reference to the cancelled car spot for Collision.

There are a million reports as to what happened, but the details everyone seems to agree on is that CM Punk confronted Perry about his comment, they had a back and forth, shoves exchanged, maybe a punch, maybe a choke hold, and then people split them up. Punk in a rage confronted (or lunged) at Tony Khan saying he quit. Samoa Joe, his opponent, talked him out of quitting and they went and did their All In match. This would be the last match of CM Punk’s AEW career.

Unlike Brawl Out, Tony Khan saw all of this. There was no doubt, no conflicting reports. There was video of the incident from Wembley Stadium cameras. Jack Perry and CM Punk were suspended, and last night on AEW Collision, Tony Khan publicly fired CM Punk for putting staff in AEW in danger at the show. It’s rumoured that Punk also signed a non-disclosure agreement before returning to AEW about one more fight and he’d be fired without compensation and tied to a gag order not to speak. None of that is known yet, but CM Punk has yet to say anything on his favourite way to communicate on Instagram. He removed his promoting of AEW Collision and that’s it.

The king is gone but he’s not forgotten

CM Punk got fired on his wedding day from the WWE, months after he quit after the Royal Rumble. This time, after several times insisting he quit, he was fired in less than a week from AEW.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. CM Punk was supposed to be in the perfect situation to succeed, a company that respects pro wrestling and respects what he brings. The owner is the biggest CM Punk fan, even standing on his chair and chanting, “CM PUNK!” when he made his Collision return. He had power. He had control. He had friends, some paid off with Starbucks gift cards, but friends nonetheless. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Or maybe this was always the way it was supposed to end. When CM Punk first entered the AEW locker room it was with an understanding that Colt Cabana would have nothing to do with him, the two friends estranged after a lawsuit. CM Punk couldn’t shake his hand and say hey, we don’t have to be friends anymore but we’re both a part of AEW and we should all support each other. From the very beginning, Punk couldn’t have a united locker room. And slowly, that fracture got bigger. For a lot of people this is ridiculous. CM Punk is a major star. Colt Cabana is nobody. But Colt helped build the blueprint which the Young Bucks took to grow BTE, which grew into the All Elite Wrestling we see today. A lot of people feel like they owe Colt.

There was a lot of confusion when stories came out that CM Punk tried to get Colt Cabana fired. But AEW doesn’t usually fire people (funny to say today) and instead just usually has contracts expire. What happened with Colt Cabana is that Colt was mostly an agent, and he at one point left to do Young Rock to play the Brooklyn Brawler. While he was gone, Ace Steel came in as a producer and essentially filled Colt’s role. So when Colt came back, he didn’t have a job to come to. So with his contract up soon, he’d be easy to let go. The Young Bucks instead got Colt Cabana re-signed.

You can say he didn’t try to get Colt fired, but it’s pretty obvious there was some scheme there and Ace Steel, CM Punk’s best friend and chair thrower at the head of a Jackson, and alleged Kenny Omega biter (don’t say it was Larry, I repeat, it was not Larry), replacing Colt Cabana while he’s off to film a TV show it’s hard to think he had no knowledge of what was going on. Especially since the press release said CM Punk was fired from both a performer contract and employee contract.

This is the story of a Johnny Rotten

There’s just so much, and possibly more to come out now that a lot of people are no longer worried about Punk coming back to ask them if they have a problem and if they want to step outside.

For the CM Punk supporters, they will be ride or die. I get it. CM Punk might be a terrible person to work with if you get on his bad side, but he’s deep down a good person who supports good causes. For a trans wrestling fan, having a top star like CM Punk put the flag on his t-shirt means more than anything I or anyone else could say about his actions and behaviour’s. Punk truly feels like an ally, someone trying to get better each year to support people who need an ally. For the wrestling fan who loves it when these guys don’t actually get along and actually fight for top spots, Punk felt like the good ol’ days. He felt like a return to when wrestling was real to them. With CM Punk gone from AEW, there might not be much left for them to stay watching the shows.

For those who don’t like CM Punk? This is Christmas. He’s finally gone. A Jim Cornette supporting antagonist to everything that made them love and support The Elite in the 2010s is finally gone and AEW can finally heal without his constant presence casting a shadow on the promotion. For all the good he did, he severed the locker room and ensured AEW was always in conflict. His “Camp” always leaking little stories to make CM Punk look good and others bad, stories that would always get changed a few hours later or details added by others, it just always felt like there was a problem in All Elite Wrestling. Prior to Punk, people knew about the stories of Cody and the Elite not getting along anymore, but it stayed private and quiet. You couldn’t avoid the CM Punk gossip. And after all the stories finally come out, the company can move on.

For me? I don’t know. There is a lot CM Punk brought up about AEW I agree with. The handling of merchandise, social media, marketing, and having too many people backstage? He’s 100% correct and it’s things AEW needs to stop trying to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and just improve it. He had some good ideas with AEW Collision, especially allowing a lot of people time for promos. I don’t know if Bullet Club Gold gets over the way they are right now without having AEW Collision to do it. There’s a lot of matches I wanted to see that I will never get to. Kenny Omega, Jay White, Bryan Danielson one last time. I won’t get a Darby Allin rematch. I won’t get Rush and CM Punk. I won’t get Malakai Black and CM Punk in a singles match and that really bums me out. We will never get to see Maxwell Jacob Friedman vs. CM Punk like we were once going to at All Out 2022, and then at Full Gear 2022, and possibly at All Out 2023 if things happened differently. It’s clear that CM Punk the Real World Champion didn’t matter to MJF, the actual AEW World Champion. And Ricky Starks, who was rumoured to be facing CM Punk at the main event of All Out in a strap match, he loses out on his main event opportunity.

It’s better to burn out than it is to rust

But you can’t attack executive vice presidents. You can’t attack fellow wrestlers. You can’t lunge at the president of the company. You can’t cause a pay per view to start late. You can’t endanger staff. You can’t do these things and expect nothing to happen. You also can’t say you quit over and over and expect to still have a job. Even if you support CM Punk, you know this. He told his boss multiple times in London, England he quit. He quit on AEW. And then he got fired. It’s ultimately what he wanted.

I hope CM Punk doesn’t return to the place that made him sick in the first place. I hope CM Punk starts his own wrestling promotion instead. Prove to the world that your vision of professional wrestling is right. Create a third wrestling promotion for people to make money and watch weekly. Ultimately, I hope the rage in CM Punk subsides and maybe this second run, for everything it was, was still a way to go out with his head high. He made his point. Whatever he does next, whether it’s becoming the new Joe Rogan for UFC or going back to film and television, I will keep an eye on it. As an observer of All Elite Wrestling and pro wrestling as a whole, I am glad this era of AEW is over and they can move on.

In some ways, the promotion needed this. It needed this shock to their system to realize how fragile things could be. It led to their greatest heights, and in some aspects their greatest lows. CM Punk’s era of AEW will be remembered forever. For better or worse.

“The king is gone but he’s not forgotten.”

Photo courtesy All Elite Wrestling.

AWAW Aaron Wrotkowski 2024