When CM Punk returned after seven years out of the wrestling industry, he wasted no time in setting up his personal dream match. CM Punk vs Darby Allin at All Out in Punk's hometown of Chicago was set. It was a match built on mutual respect between two fan favourites, both with their own point to prove.
CM Punk has been gone for the better part of a decade and has been watching as the likes of Darby Allin have come in and done exactly what he used to do. He wants to prove that he is still as good as he once was and believes that Darby Allin is stick that he must measure up to.
Darby Allin, meanwhile, is in that stage of his career where he's still got something to prove. On the verge of being a true star, dare you say an icon? And it is that shadow that looms over Darby Allin, of Sting, that puts so much pressure on him. For him, this match is about proving that he can hang with a true icon.
The motivation for both men is simple; prove a point.
The Key Stats
Darby had to utilise his speed, despite early success with a hammerlock submission. 5 dives show how Darby utilised his speed and aerial advantage. Even in his 3 grapples and 3 strikedowns Darby is having to utilise his body and momentum in order to take Punk down. Darby also went for more pin attempts, most of which were surprise-rollups where Darby used his speed and element of surprise for near-falls.
Darby also had to out strike Punk in order to remain competitive, throwing over double the number of strikes which, whilst not as strong as Punk's strikes, gave Darby the space to get in more serious offence.
Punk focused more on big hits rather than volume, with 5 strikedowns and 5 grapples. Punk's gameplan was built around submissions, spending 14.2% of the match locking in various holds. This, combined with two finishers, gave Punk the advantage in terms of big offence and allowed him to control the majority of the match.
How it Played Out
This match is split into five sections. It opens with a feeling out period in the first five minutes. The first four of which are incredibly even as Punk drinks in the atmosphere and Darby proves to be no push-over against the veteran.
There are moments that nod to Bret Hart's championship defence against 1-2-3 Kid from 1994. Allin gets the better of Punk in the opening exchange, turning a collar-and-elbow tie-up into an arm drag which Punk acknowledges with an identical expression to Hart's. In the third minute Darby starts to utilise a hammerlock submission, just as 1-2-3 Kid does against Bret.
This feeling out process ends in the fifth minute when Punk threatens to hit the GTS. Darby retreats to the outside before returning to the ring and hitting a springboard arm-drag and two coffin splashes on Punk in the corner to land the first serious bits of offence in this match.
Punk responds to Darby's offence in the sixth minute when he throws Allin into the corner. Darby brutally bounces through the ropes, against the ring-post and down to the floor. This changes the tide in the match and Punk begins his focus on submissions, spending 133 out of the 240 seconds locking Allin in various holds between the sixth and ninth minutes.
Whenever Darby tries to escape these holds, utilising his speed advantage, Punk uses his experience to hit moves like the kitchen sink, just as Bret Hart did against 1-2-3 Kid, as well as a tilt-a-world backbreaker as Excalibur on commentary points out Punk's change in strategy towards submissions and slowing Darby Allin down.
Punk's submission game plan only works for so long though, failing in the tenth minute as Darby Allin begins his comeback, finally getting free to hit a stunner on the Chicagoan. Darby continues his offence with various palm strikes, a coffin splash off the middle rope and a code red for a near-fall.
Punk, seeing the match slipping out of his control, resorts to extreme measures as he sets up for a superplex from the top rope. Allin once again uses his speed and agility to reverse the superplex and lands on Punk, once again, just as 1-2-3 Kid did against Bret Hart in 1994, for a near-fall.
At this stage you can see on the graph above that Allin has clawed back a chunk of total offence, proving how effective his comeback was from the tenth to twelfth minutes, but the remaining gap also shows how effective Punk's submission strategy was.
After bridging out of a pin attempt, Punk hits a GTS on Allin who falls out of the ring. As the referee counts to ten, Punk sits in the ring, taking a breath and re-strategising which Excalibur on commentary points out. The new strategy being; play the hits.
When Allin returns to the ring at a count of nine, Punk resorts to his striking background and with Darby in the corner, hits a running knee in the corner combined with a clothesline. A classic piece of Punk offence before he once again goes for the GTS in the fourteenth minute. Darby, playing possum, reverses the move leading to the final section of the match; a frantic back-and-forth that leads to the finish.
In the fifteenth minute, Darby throws everything at the wall, elbowing his way out of Punk's GTS attempt as Punk falls to the outside. Allin hits a tope suicida before going to the to the top rope and hitting a flipping senton on a standing CM Punk to the floor. This takes Darby ahead of Punk in total offence for the first time since the sixth minute, completing his comeback. Darby gets Punk back in the ring and goes to the top rope for a coffin drop.
As Darby goes to hit the coffin drop, however, CM Punk simply sits up and laughs, as Darby crashes on the mat. This is the moment where Punk realises that he can still keep up with these younger guys and that he has, indeed, "still got it".
Punk goes to hit a GTS but Darby blocks it and goes for his Last Supper pinning manoeuvre. Punk kicks out of a move that has won Darby many matches. As Darby is going for a poison-rana, Punk puts him in position for, and hits, the GTS to get the win.
This frantic finish exists not just for the excitement of the crowd, but also to show us that Darby will fight right until the end. Constantly squirming out of the GTS and bringing the fight to Punk. It also tells the story that Punk won this time, but it was close and on another day maybe Darby hits that coffin drop. In short, Punk gave Darby as much as he possibly could to get him over in defeat.
An Ode to Bret Hart vs 1-2-3 Kid?
CM Punk said in the build to this match that if he was fifteen that Darby Allin would be his favourite wrestler. It is perhaps not surprising then that Punk would take inspiration from a match that happened when he was fifteen and involved someone who Punk has previously described as his wrestling "idol".
Even less surprising given that the Rampage before All Out, Punk wore a Bret Hart shirt. Punk has not tried to make any secret that this match is an ode to the 1994 clash between Bret and 1-2-3 Kid, but it is also a lot more than that.
Punk vs Darby pays homage to the 1994 match in its story as a young upcoming star steps up to fight a veteran in order to prove a point, as much as anything. However, this is a tale as old as time that has been done time and time again in wrestling.
The tribute to Bret vs 1-2-3 Kid comes more in borrowing minor spots. However, the major story beats within this match are original to CM Punk vs Darby Allin. Spots such as Darby bouncing off the ring-post, the GTS to the outside or CM Punk sitting up out of the Coffin Drop. These are the spots that drive the narrative of this match and make it what it is; a beautiful tribute to a legend that brings a modern twist on a classic story, whilst remaining unique to itself.
CM Punk said that he would only return to wrestling to tell stories that interest him, so it is probably fair to say that his aim would have been to give 15-year-olds today the same feeling he had watching Bret Hart vs 1-2-3 Kid. Did they achieved that? Hell, they made fully grown adults feel like 15-year-old kids again.
CM Punk, Darby Allin and AEW all nailed the build to this match. They went with a simple and respectful feud, nothing too intense, just a pure celebration of Punk. And to Punk's credit he wanted to give back and, although he lost, Darby is elevated by this match.
The story, in short, is that CM Punk loved wrestling as a kid. He grew up watching Bret Hart, but as he grew into wrestling he developed his own style and brought his own personality. In his years away from the ring, and through watching AEW, Punk grew to love wrestling as if he were a kid again. Watching Darby Allin reminded him of how it felt watching Bret Hart and gave him the itch.
CM Punk vs Darby Allin is a love letter to pro-wrestling, inspired by Bret's influence, the essence of Darby's character and topped off with Punk's continuous brilliance.
Match Star Ratings (out of 5):
Grappl: 3.88 stars.
Cagematch: 4 stars. WON: 3.75 stars.
PWM Writer's Opinion: 4.25 stars.