August 20th, 2021 is a day that will go down in wrestling history. The second episode of AEW Rampage saw the long awaited return of CM Punk. Yes, after a 7 year hiatus from pro-wrestling, (or 16 years as he cheekily stated in his return promo,) the Voice of the Voiceless finally returned to a wrestling ring, sending shockwaves through the wrestling landscape. Now I don’t know about you, dear reader, but CM Punk is my all time favorite wrestler. He is the reason I started following wrestling in 2009, he’s the reason I started following wrestling insiders in 2014 after he mysteriously left WWE, and for those reasons he’s probably the reason I ever started writing these articles. There’s a lot to unpack about his return, so it’s an honor for me to run down 5 directions AEW could take CM Punk.
1. (The Obvious) Vs. Darby Allin
I think it’s clear that there is no worse case scenario as long as Punk is on the screen. Only the absolute worst WWE-level trash booking could come close to ruining this return. So I’m not gonna dwell on it.
Instead I’m going to talk about the one certainty in CM Punk’s involvement in AEW. During Punk’s all-timer promo he cut on Rampage, he made a point to say that wants to face the young and hungry talent in the AEW locker room. Then in a stroke of brilliant iconography when CM Punk calls out Darby Allin, a literal spotlight shines up to the rafters revealing the young daredevil. The match was made on the spot. CM Punk vs Darby Allin will take place at All Out 2021.
I think there’s only one possible direction this match can go. It’s CM Punk’s first match in 7 years, and it’s in his hometown of Chicago. So of course CM Punk is going to pick up a win here. Now I can already hear the stampede of bad faith takes crying “They’re bringing in old WWE guys to bury their young talent!”, but this loss isn’t going to damage Darby’s status at all.
He’s been a consistent top draw for Dynamite and him facing Punk is a dream match. If anything this match will help further his character, because in Chicago Darby is going to have to play the heel. That’s not really a side we’ve seen come out of him that often, and watching him respond to a crowd that isn’t fully on his side could be interesting. A key part of why Darby is such a compelling character is because he has an instinctual drive to not lose that rivals Kenny Omega.
They’ll likely have Punk playing up his ring rust. Darby relentlessly coming back against him in his first match is very likely going to turn the Chicago crowd against Darby. So when CM Punk finally puts away someone who’s presented as an unkillable speed demon, not only is the pop going to be massive, but it’ll give Darby’s character something to build off of going forward.
2. A Feud with Team Taz
I was talking about CM Punk’s return on my podcast the other day (@TripleFriendPod on Twitter) when we started doing some light fantasy booking of feuds CM Punk could have following his match with Darby. One of my co-hosts Tahnee (@hangmanpages on Twitter) had brought up the idea of him feuding with Team Taz, based on comments he made during a post Rampage media scrum.
Among the likes of Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, and Brian Pillman Jr., he named Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs as people he’s excited to work with. And while Jungle Boy and BPJ might be more enticing matches on paper. There’s a very easy way to knock two names off the list in one feud.
Of course both Ricky Starks & Powerhouse Hobbs are the two active members of Team Taz, now that Brian Cage has split from the group. And I know that Team Taz is a lower card group, so it may feel like Punk feuding with him would be dragging him down the card, but CM Punk’s star is shining bright right now. So it’s more likely that his involvement with the team of younger guys will help elevate them more than any other feud has. Starks gets to promo off with one of the best talkers in wrestling, and Hobbs, who is quickly becoming one of the most compelling big men in the company, gets to sharpen his skills against the veteran performer. And the added bonus of hearing Taz and Punk throw barbs at each other would make the entire feud worth it.
3. What Scores Will He Settle?
A key piece of evidence dropped in his Rampage promo that indicates who he may feud with in the near future was him simply stating “There’s a couple of scores to settle in that locker room”. Initially that may sound like he has plans to feud with some of his old rivals from WWE, but I had a look at the AEW roster and there aren't actually many people who could be considered an iconic CM Punk rival. The person from WWE that has the most history with him is Chris Jericho, and I know not many people are clambering for an aging Jericho to feud with CM Punk any time soon. So I don’t really see what scores he’s looking to settle… Well… There is one.
In late 2018 Colt Cabana sued CM Punk over unpaid legal fees following a defamation lawsuit filed against them by WWE physician Chris Amann for comments the two made during Cabana’s Art of Wrestling Podcast. The two eventually settled the lawsuit, but the bad blood between the two seemed to linger. Now they’re both on the AEW roster, and that means one of two things. Either they’ve since made peace, and are a-ok with working together, or they haven’t and will just ignore each other in the locker rooms. And since I’m a positive guy who needs content for this article, let’s entertain the scenario where they’ve made good.
It’s not as far out of the realm of possibility as it may seem. When CM Punk appeared on Rampage, he truly seemed to be in a much better place mentally than he was 2 or 3 years ago. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t at least started a process of putting that water under the bridge, but it’s not my place to speculate. What I will say is that if they do manage to put their beef behind them, I wouldn’t mind seeing their story play out on TV.
Colt Cabana has not yet been used to his full capacity in AEW. He’s noted that he’s ok being an undercard guy, helping young guys get over, and his shenanigans with the Dark Order have been fun, but he’s capable of so much more. Now that Punk has come to AEW he has a reason to come to the forefront. If both sign up on making it a storyline, it’s not too personal as to make fans uncomfortable bringing it up, but it’s still juicy enough to make a compelling wrestling story.
4. A Feud with The Elite
At first glance, it may not seem like there’s enough historical context to pitch this direction with any sort of confidence, but that just means you haven’t been paying attention. Aside from Darby blatantly stating he wants to face The Best in the World (Punk’s nickname) the members of The Elite have been teasing the arrical of CM Punk more than anyone.
Kenny Omega has worn multiple shirts representing things that CM has stood for throughout the years, and The Young Bucks have been performing his signature moves in their matches. The Elite have truly been the harbingers of CM Punk’s arrival.
So it’s interesting that the night CM Punk appeared in the company, Kenny Omega cut a very salty promo. Not on Punk specifically. He cut a promo on Christian who he’s currently feuding with, but he was complaining about him ruining a night that was supposed to be meant for him. When obviously the night was meant for Punk. This could be taken as a silly throw away line. Kenny has a habit of making jokes like that, but it goes further. On AEW’s YouTube series Being The Elite, an episode simply titled “CM Punk”, there’s a shot of Kenny and The Bucks reacting to Punk’s historic entrance. They were visibly annoyed at the reception Punk was getting.
Now what happens on BTE isn’t always indicative of what’s to come on official AEW television, and a lot of fans would have problems with Punk feuding with the world champion any time soon, but keep in mind that Kenny isn’t going to be champion forever. He’s due to drop that title sooner rather than later to Hangman Page, and when he does, he’s going to need a new top level feud away from the title. Kenny being a narcissist, it would make sense that coming off of the biggest loss in his AEW, he’d turn his aggressions towards the one person in the company who is a bigger draw than he is.
5. A Feud with HEEL Jon Moxley
In recent weeks, Jon Moxley has been on a slow descent into madness. His promos have become bitter and more aggressive ever since getting kneed two oblivion by The Young Bucks at Double or Nothing. Normally his entrance would be used to energize him. The fans singing along to Wild Thing would hype him up, but recently he’s seemed to tune out the crowd as he walks to the ring. If you want a more in-depth analysis of Moxley’s descent into heeldom please check out Gareth’s article on the topic in the related articles below.
As I mentioned before Moxley’s promos have become more abrasive than they normally would be. Before this transition he’d often cut biting promos, but would still show a bit of respect for people he didn’t outright hate, but lately he’s been taking no prisoners. Throwing barbs at everyone from NJPW legend Hiroshi Tanahasi, to top AEW babyface Hangman Page. Even cutting a devastating promo on up and coming heel Daniel Garcia saying “He has a better chance of getting me pregnant than tapping me out”. It’s clear that he’s become frustrated at losing his spot as top babyface in the company, but in a promo he cut on Dynamite this past week, he had a few lines that couldn’t be pinned on one particular person in the company.
Along with calling out Kenny Omega, Hangman Page, and Christian Cage, he seems to linger on the fact that “Everybody wants a piece of AEW these days”. Initially that could just be seen as him ranting about 2point0 (the former Ever Rise from NXT) coming in and causing him trouble. After all, he ties the line to events that happened earlier in the night when the tag team jumped him from behind, but the line means more when you pair it with another line he adds later. He goes on to talk about how he was the champion during the pandemic era of AEW. Saying that he carried the brand through dark times and helped plant the flag on Wednesday night Ending the thought with “Now y’all want a piece”. That’s not him condemning 2point0 for getting work in AEW after being released from WWE. That’s a pointed jab at any big name that decides to jump on the AEW bandwagon AFTER he did the work to get the train rolling. And it’s not a coincidence that he cut this promo the same week CM Punk made his AEW debut.
As someone who’s only been doing these articles a short while, it’s insane to me that I get to write about the return of my all-time favorite wrestler so soon. It makes it feel like fate in a way. It’s clear that CM Punk’s return meant a lot to a lot of people. The moment itself was magical and whether you’re a long time fan or a casual fan, you could tell just how big his return is for wrestling as a whole. I know this week’s article isn’t as analysis heavy, and probably leans more towards the side of fantasy booking at points (sorry, Craig) but I couldn’t not write about CM Punk, but the truth of the matter is that him coming to AEW is a blank slate. So anything he did in WWE or ROH can’t really be applied to what he’s going to do in AEW, because everything he’s going to do is brand new, and that’s exciting. The coming weeks, months, and possibly years are shaping up to be the most exciting times in wrestling history. And I’ll be here speculating the directions they could go.
As always if you think of directions AEW could take CM Punk let me know on twitter @SaltyAyyycob