CM Punk faced off against Darby Allin at All Out in his first match in seven years. To celebrate this our writers have sat down to propose 5 potential opponents for CM Punk in AEW. So without further adieu...
Craig William (CraigPWMusings)
1. Cody Rhodes
To me this iteration of CM Punk is a story-telling guy. I always want to see what everyone can do with Omega, because Omega is the best. But with Punk, it’s Cody. CM Punk hated the system, so much so it made him ill. Cody Rhodes also hated the system and what it did to his family. However, the system broke CM Punk as it would have most of us but not Cody. Cody went out on his own, linked up with some of the very best wrestlers in the world and put on a 10 000-person show that was supposed to be impossible out with WWE.
Meanwhile Punk was gone, for seven whole years, and is now the beneficiary of what Cody, The Elite and Tony Khan have created. Just to add juice, Cody is essentially the face of that thing they created; AEW. That’s a heck of a story and one that they don’t have to build from nothing. Also, we all love when wrestlers address the real world and build stories from there and Cody is one of the absolute best at this.
2. Bryan Danielson
It may jump out as odd to put Bryan Danielson as the second man on my list however, AEW is about a theme as much as it is about a collection of wrestlers. They spotlight, build and create talent. The function of AEW is to service fans with the best stories possible and it just so happens that promoting unique, homegrown talent is a terrific way of doing this. However, fans have also been frustrated for years by the presentation and who gets pushed. This was why NXT was so successful for a while. Fans had hope that when these wrestlers came up things would change. Obviously, it never did.
Daniel Bryan is a wrestler who overcame this as much as any has, much like Punk. However, the two never really clashed on the big stage. The story there is obvious, who really is The Best in the World? In ROH Brian Danielson was seen as this and CM Punk made it his moniker in the WWE. I also think Brian Danielson may be the best foil for Punk in the ring.
Add in the possibility of two very different redemptive arcs crashing into each other and you have an utterly fascinating mix of histories.
As mentioned earlier, I see Punk as more of a promo guy than an in-ring guy as he returns to the ring. Time may prove me wrong, but I feel somewhat comfortable in that assertion. So incoming promo-legend versus young, up and coming promo king? Yes please. I cannot wait to hear MJF’s promos on the guy who is essentially the biggest babyface in wrestling right now, after just one promo of his own.
4. Kenny Omega
I mean it’s Kenny Omega, he’s the God of Pro Wrestling and Punk is the best in the world. It’s arguably the biggest match for Punk to have as well. During the 7 years he was away, Kenny Omega has arguably changed the game bringing a new style of wrestling to American shores from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Omega is the other obvious name for putting on a classic with Punk in the ring. However, don’t expect this one right out of the gate, Omega will want to build something interesting and quite rightly so.
5. Adam Page
This one is for a bit down the road. CM Punk is wrestling’s biggest babyface right now, replacing Adam Page, for now. Page will retake that position, probably not too long from now. However, this feud won’t be about any of that... Some way down the road Punk can turn heel and be the perfect heel for Adam Page during some sort of relapse. The Straight Edge heel Punk tearing Page down for giving in to his vices while deriding the crowd for the same. Adam Page can be a lightning rod for a storyline based around self-worth, self-esteem and the pitfalls of sliding down the mental health slope, somewhat like what he is don’t now but with Punk playing the harsh inner voice we all have that derides one’s self when we mess up.
Page with Punk in the right could mesh fantastically. Page is young, strong and talented. Expect a paced, smart match that gets something special out of a twilight, Punk.
Gareth Ford-Elliott (@RHWGareth).
1: Jon Moxley.
People are going to get bored with how much I’m banging on about Moxley vs Punk, but it is my number one dream match in wrestling at present. The story is right there. Punk said he would leave WWE, go to Japan, the indies and fly the flag for pro-wrestling. Mox went and did exactly this. But now that Mox has built a brand with his sweat and tears Punk wants to come and profit off it? Come and take Mox’s spot at the top? That won’t sit right with him, and he’s teased as much.
Forgive my fantasy booking, and I understand why people wouldn’t want this, but this is what I want. CM Punk defeats Darby Allin in the main event of All Out before holding up Darby’s hand. Darby leaves the ring and CM Punk cuts a show-closing promo when Mox this the ring and drops Punk on his head. If you’re going to turn Mox heel, make a moment that people will remember and find it hard to forgive him for.
From there you do a 2-week build to AEW Grand Slam in Arthur Ashe stadium. Because this feud doesn’t need more, the angle will be hot, and the story is already set. Week 1, in Moxley’s hometown of Cincinnati, Mox outlines why he did what he did on Dynamite, Punk responds on Rampage, presumably after a Moxley main event. The next week the two come face to face and have a promo battle.
This is all you need to do to build the match for Grand Slam, where this match can main event. You can debut Bryan Danielson at the end of it, ideally after Eddie Kingston helps Mox beat down Punk after losing. But yeah, we’ll see. (Give me what I want, TK).
2: Malakai Black.
This would be an amazing match from a stylistic point of view. Both guys mix MMA into their offence and it’s near impossible to have a bad match with Black. There are also interesting story elements to this. There are a host of things Black could go after Punk for. However, Punk could just as easily see Black picking on the AEW roster and as the great bloke he is he could call out Malakai Black and be the first guy to do so. Many possibilities, no idea what they’d do but I know it’d be great!
Pac is probably my personal favourite wrestler in AEW, but I don’t choose him for such a reason. Pac, at his best in AEW, has had a huge chip on his shoulder, not too dissimilar to CM Punk back in the day. I am holding out hope that at some point we see Pac at his bastardly best targeting Punk’s name to get where he deserves to be, on top. Besides my love for Bastard Pac, though, the promos between these two could potentially be fantastic.
4: Powerhouse Hobbs.
This comes mainly because Punk named Hobbs as someone he wanted to face and because I love Hobbs. I'd love to see him get a big spot main eventing a Dynamite against CM Punk. Even more specifically though, CM Punk was a face of WWE’s revamped ECW-lite brand and Taz was a face of Paul Heyman’s ECW. It would simply be brilliant to see these two exchange words before Taz sets Hobbs on Punk at a Dynamite held in the Hammerstein Ballroom. Do it, Tony. GIVE ME WHAT I WANT!
5: Kenny Omega.
I have tried to pick opponents different from Craig’s above me. But alas, this is the obvious one and it’s obvious for a reason. The self-proclaimed “best in the world” vs. the self-proclaimed “greatest of all time.” I can’t even imagine what genius they would come up with and given that we can basically confirm this will happen at some point, I’ll wait patiently.
1. Brian Danielson
There was a great series of articles on the sorely missed Online Onslaught website back in the day about the great Montreal indy scene, who have gone onto great things since then. One of the things that struck me about the writer’s analysis was the metaphor of Chris Hero and Mike Quackenbush as the Superman and Batman of the International Wrestling Syndicate. However apt that was, it was even more true a few years later of two wrestlers coming out of Ring of Honor: Brian Danielson and CM Punk. Fast forward 17 years after their feud in RoH, and on August 19th with rumors of his impending return swirling, Punk posted to his Instagram the iconic cover image of the Dark Knight Returns, the story of an older Batman coming out of retirement, opposed by, among others, a Superman who had knuckled under to the forces that had led to that retirement, who asked “maybe you should have stayed retired, maybe we were better off without you?”
2. Darby Allin
Of course, this feud is already happening. But as is—a story of mutual respect and proving who is best on a particular night—it doesn’t have legs. But it certainly could do. The best Punk feuds are about a difference of philosophy, centered on Punk’s obsession with authenticity. The idea of Punk confronted with a younger generation of punk, with doubts about his own authenticity, absolutely thrills me.
3. Eddie Kingston
Obviously for the promo battles. But also: the key to the Mad King’s character is self-loathing and resentment of those in a better space mentally. Punk is the perfect representation of someone who’s been through mental health battles and has come through to the other side, centered and bursting with gratitude. Perfect for Eddie to enviously despise.
4. Lance Archer
(...and, more importantly, Jake Roberts.) In Neal Stephenson’s great historical novel series, Quicksilver, much of the conflict centers on the philosophical clash between the Cavaliers and the Puritans. The Snake and the Punk are perfect representatives of these, and I’d love to see that conflict play out!
At the post-show media scrum, Punk said that Sting had told him he wished he had gotten to work with him back when Sting was in his prime. But after seeing him in that Texaas Tornado match earlier this week, Sting doesn’t seem so far from his prime to me! What with Punk scheduled to beat up Sting’s emo nephew on September 5th: is it maybe Showtime?
Joe Cabana 1. Ethan Page A name I’m a little surprised Punk hasn’t mentioned, Ethan is destined for much bigger things in AEW than to be managed by Dan Lambert with Scorpio Sky. Punk could be the program that genuinely makes Ethan Page in AEW. They’re both killer promos, killer at the character work and they’re more than capable of putting on a great match. This is one I’d really love to see. 2. Young Bucks I have no idea who CM Punk would team in such a scenario, but I know he wants to do this match, and I know I want to see it. The Bucks have done it all in wrestling, I feel like this match with Punk would finally give them that feeling of doing something huge for the first time again. If Punk’s tag team partner for this is the guy with the “Yes schtick”, then my God. 3. Kenny Omega I need to see CM Punk vs Kenny Omega. That’s it. 4. MJF MJF is someone who can really push CM Punk to the limit, he wouldn’t be afraid to say all the controversial things that everyone is kinda thinking about CM Punk, that no one really want to talk about. I’m sure Punk would fire back the way only he can, I think this needs to happen for the promos alone. I’m in love with the idea. 5. Ricky Starks Look who’s creepin’ and crawlin, it’s Ricky Starks in the mix. Here’s a name that again, I’m REALLY surprised hasn’t been brought up by CM Punk, unless I’ve missed it? Ricky is exactly the kind of young talent Punk is looking for, he can handle himself on the mic, he can handle himself in the ring, and CM Punk can help elevate this guy to the next level just by working with him for a few weeks. Ricky Starks had to make my top 5.
Ibrahima Niang (@BackupHangman)
1. Powerhouse Hobbs
Among the many things that make CM Punk a great professional wrestler is his in-ring versatility. He's historically displayed the ability to have quality matches with larger sized talent aside from ones bereft of skill like Ryback. The reason CM Punk vs Big Man matches work so well is because Punk is adept at working from underneath and garnering sympathy. His very real-life physical fragility would come into play, and he’s always been somebody that played babyface in peril strongly as there would be a palpable and imminent sense of danger on his end during these kinds of matches. Punk’s comebacks resonate so well because of the apparent physical disparity coupled with the fact that he’s extremely over. It always felt earned when he finally landed his signature moves.
Will Hobbs is one of the young talents Punk expressed interest in working with and he’s a great choice, given he’s an ascending prospect with very clear physical gifts. Hobbs’ being Punk’s dance partner would be a mutually beneficial endeavour because it gives Hobbs something tangible from a story standpoint to sink his teeth into and make his, with him being at the forefront and it allows Punk to slip into a role he thrives in: the underdog. Hobbs gets the rub working with a legend, the promo work with Punk and Taz will undoubtedly be great, Hobbs will project a feeling of terror unseen in a CM Punk match since his SummerSlam 2013 classic against Brock Lesnar, and the match will rule for all the aforementioned reasons.
2. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is somebody that I’ve always felt to be one of the best talents on the entire AEW roster, but at the same time it feels like he’s actively losing ground within the scope of the product. In 2019, Rhodes was the promotion’s shining protagonist. Positioned as the figurehead to shower all the goodwill and gratitude for AEW’s existence upon, Cody was the clear man. However, somewhere along the lines something changed. Tracked back as early as Double or Nothing 2020 when he beat Lance Archer to win the inaugural TNT Championship, there began a noticeable online groundswell of Cody resentment by people who felt that he abused his power as an Executive Vice President. The belief was that Rhodes went into business for himself and prioritized making himself look good over helping the talent.
This criticism, categorically unfair as it is, continued to persist and the groundswell resentment snowballed further during the Anthony Ogogo debacle where American jingoism prevailed over what looked to be AEW’s new star. For better or for worse, Rhodes finds himself in a position now where there are audible boos for his entrance, promos and angles. It can be argued that its due to the fact that he most recently has been paired with the white hot, recently acquired Malakai Black, but it's very clear that the audience doesn’t fully receive him the way they used to. The detractors are there, and they’re increasingly vocal. Certain people’s minds have been made up, and the narratives are out there. As I said earlier, it's unfair, but people will tell themselves what they want to believe when they just don’t want to like you, and there’s a contingent of people that just don’t want to like Cody.
Cody should give them a reason to dislike him.
I am of the philosophical belief that in wrestling, it is wise to identify the direction of the tide and react accordingly rather than go against it. CM Punk’s integration into the AEW product would be the perfect opportunity for Cody Rhodes to slowly turn into a heel. I would have him fully lean into his criticisms of selfishness and abusing power. This could be done in subtle ways, with Cody and Punk’s initial interactions being portrayed in a way where Rhodes acts condescending towards Punk while making it clear that he’s jealous deep down that Punk is the apple of the fans’ eye basking in all the adulation.
You could have Rhodes reminding people in promos that he started AEW and have the first big plot point in this narrative being a Punk interview that runs a bit long, with Cody walking out in a headset essentially signalling for Punk to wrap it up, to the ire of the fans. The destination for this would be a situation where Cody Rhodes is the clear authority figure who is insecure of his evolving position in the AEW landscape opposing CM Punk, who slips into his familiar anti-establishment position. Punk has made it a point to note that he does not need to be the “Voice of the Voiceless” in AEW, but this would be a story that allows him to reprise that role.
This one is simple, MJF is the best heel in AEW and is a phenomenal talker. CM Punk is the biggest babyface in all of wrestling at the moment, and is also a phenomenal talker. Both men are better workers than probably given credit for, and excellent storytellers. They both like watching mid 80s southern territory wrestling and with their like-mindedness, they’d likely come up with some blistering interactions and confrontations. Let the old school babyface vs heel magic happen.
4. Kenny Omega
CM Punk cannot call himself the Best in the World without facing Kenny Omega. This is the biggest money matchup that Punk can possibly have in AEW. As much as I wanted to be a hipster and contrarian when it comes to choosing 5 opponents for Punk, the Omega matchup is unavoidable and makes too much sense. It also is poetic because Punk was the face of the hardcore fan movement within WWE in the 2010s and Omega became the face of the hardcore fan movement outside of WWE in the second half of the decade. Too see two incredibly important, and historically significant figures in wrestling history go head-to-head would be monumental on every level.
5. Bryan Danielson
I want this to be CM Punk’s final wrestling match ever. I don’t think there is a better opponent for him work with, as he gracefully exits the business that he has affected too much. Bryan Danielson and CM Punk’s histories are intertwined and them facing would be the beautiful, somber culmination of the independent wrestling movement. Danielson is one of the greatest to ever lace a pair of boots, and it's fitting that the ground they wrestle on is called a canvas, because he and Punk are artists. I want this to be CM Punk’s last painting.