“I’m here to try and elevate everybody”
With no thought of the massive psychological damage it would cause to middle aged children and the dread it would impose on their already suffocating sense of mortality, with no consideration given to the fact that it was Christmas 2021, like, yesterday, 2022 is soon coming to an end. In previous years I have trailed the year’s Necessary Evil’s list of the year’s best music by naming the year’s best in comparatively unimportant sectors such as films and video games. 2022, however, saw an event so momentous that it renders all other debate on art or even the wider human condition comparatively meaningless, and so I owe it to my legions of fans, I owe it to the internet, I owe it to the culture itself to mention it. Not only that, but I’ll have to try and explain its importance to non wrestling fans, which might actually beyond my ability.
I’m not saying that this was the only thing that happened in 2022, just that all other stories pale somewhat in terms of significance and longterm repercussions. We all enjoyed the Conservative Party exposing the Capitalist lie that money indicates real value as some of the richest people in the country incompetently accused each other of being incompetent with such incompetence that it’s likely to freeze and/or starve a large section of their constituents. Lol! I am literally rolling on the floor laughing. I am a ROFLcopter. This isn’t new though, and of all the talk about opinion polls and potential general election losses, the ruling class fighting amongst themselves while the lower classes suffer is hardly new, will result in no revolution, and the best possible scenario in this country’s broken political system is the other party get in and basically continue the same shit. Sure, The Queen died, and in doing so revealed the longstanding lie that the UK is in some sense a developed country separated enough from its colonial history and repressed shame to be capable of rational thought. But will there really be any longterm ramifications of a gross head of a gross imperialistic state being replaced by a perhaps more gross son in a shamefully gross role? Come back to me when Charlie boy uses his accession press conference to bury the whole Royal Family and throw the whole system into doubt. In fact, have Charles Windsor come to me himself after that. I’d kiss his ugly face. Kings have press conferences, right? OK, we also had Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, after which Twitter had so much fun that Elon Musk decided he had to stop it. Because of… a weed meme or something…? Honestly, it’s hard to know with that nincompoop, he has the brain development of a thirteen year old Trust Fund kid, and so is extremely hard to understand as an adult. These things also happened, and I’m not ignoring them. The war in Ukraine also happened, which I am ignoring, because it’s difficult to make jokes over. Not necessarily for taste reasons – when has that ever stopped me before? – more that it’s a conflict with absolutely no good guys that any glib comment is likely to support fascism and imperialism in some form if just by association.
Hey! Speaking of ‘no good guys’! Speaking of… fascism…? No, I stretched the segue too far, should have stopped after the first one.
2022 really turned on its head in September, in either the late hours of the fourth or the early morning of the fifth. Its central players were the organisation All Elite Wrestling (AEW); its president Tony Khan; its executive vice presidents (EVP) and star wrestlers Kenny Omega, and brothers Matt and Nick Jackson; fellow wrestling headliner ‘Hangman’ Adam Page; a midcard wrestler named Colt Cabana generally more famous for his podcast; and the company’s biggest star, unquestionably one of the biggest and most notable wrestlers of the last decade. Perhaps the most important of the last 20 years. CM Punk.
Ah shit, I have to explain what AEW is, don’t I? Why don’t all of you people just watch wrestling? It’d make my life a lot easier and allow us to have far more meaningful philosophical conversations. Can you imagine if halfway through that last paragraph I had to stop and explain what a ‘queen’ or a ‘Will Smith’ was? Now you know what it’s like. I’m hurt, and I’m old and I’m fucking tired, and I write for fucking children.
Listen, if you’re already fully in the know about the background and events of All Out 2022, I can perhaps understand that you might not be interested in reading me retelling the whole story (though why you wouldn’t be interested in my honeyed prose baffles me), so I’ll do you a deal: here’s the Larry the dog, you can play with him while I try and go over the last 40 years of professional wrestling as succinctly (and hilariously) as possible. Once he returns to the blog, you’ll know it’s time for my general reactions, which you know is going to be fire. Deal?
Crash course: since the majority of you reading were born World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment (WWF/E) has been almost unchallenged as the biggest and often only name in professional wrestling. They brought out and/or destroyed all the old territories in the early 1980s to become by far the biggest name in the ‘sport’. For a small time in the mid to late 90s (eighty three weeks, to be precise) their rivals World Championship Wrestling (WCW) could say that they were actually a bigger deal. In 2001 WWE brought out the company and shut them down. And, seriously, that was the end of any real competition to WWE’s hegemony. In the next close to two decades, there were more niche independent federations with roughly one percent of the popularity, or even Japanese/Mexican wrestling for the fanbase’s more prominently bearded necks (plus TNA I guess, which… is impossible to either describe or justify…), but in all seriousness WWE had no competition. And, for a huge amount of that time, WWE was fucking awful. Subject to the insane, ultra right wing and sexually destructive impulses of multibillionaire Vince McMahon* since he took the reigns over from his father in 1982 (and immediately set about destroying the competition), the lack of competition had lead to the company making little efforts and reducing in effect all professional wrestling to a stale and nonsensical turd with no respect at all for the fans’ intelligence.
(*holy shitballs, and he was forced out in 2022! After finally being called out on the years of sexual abuse that literally everyone knew was always happening! Well, technically because of the funds he paid to women from company coffers, because Capitalism, remember? Who cares about anything else apart from money? And this isn’t even the 2022 story I’m talking about!!)
In 2018, respected wrestling journalist (yes, those things exist, honest) Dave Meltzer Tweeted the seemingly understandable statement that no wrestling show not under the WWE banner could sell out a 10’000 seater stadium in the USA. Because of course it couldn’t – WWE had spent the previous 35 years strangling and then greedily consuming any other organisation that would dare pose the smallest threat, any other promotion even considering such a move could just look at the blood stains on WWE’s bib. Wrestler Cody Rhodes (son of the deceased legendary booker Dusty Rhodes, whom… Jesus, I don’t have time for all this shit), who had recently left WWE, took the bet. In his now historic reply, he also mentioned The Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson), who had recently shown how its possible to have a notable and wildly successful wrestling career without even touching the WWE’s enforced superstructure. They ran the show, it was a massive success. So much of a success that they realised that an appetite existed for a proper alternative to WWE on a larger scale. They were put into contact with squillionaire wrestling fan Tony Khan, and also got in touch with Kenny Omega – a Canadian wrestler widely regarded as the best in the world who had become an extraordinarily big star in Japan and a huge name globally despite, again, no blessing at all from the WWE. Moneypants Khan was installed as the president, Rhodes, Omega and The Bucks as EVPs, and All Elite Wrestling was born, debuting its weekly TV show ‘Dynamite’ on October 2nd 2019.
And yeah, it was pretty good. Like, ‘best wrestling show in most people’s living memory’ good. WWE, of course, tried to snuff it out at birth, scheduling a new television show on another TV channel at the same time to prevent any wrestling fan from watching this supposed ‘competition’. AEW trounced it pretty much every week, until WWE sheepishly moved this new show to a different time in order to not suffer the rough comparison every week. There was a proper alternative to WWE for the first time in years, AEW were signing the most exciting wrestlers in the world (many of whom were savagely fired by WWE during the COVID pandemic knowing that there were few options for them, while WWE posted record profits) and it was amazing.
As soon as AEW’s success became evident, people started whispering about the potential of the biggest signing that any wrestling company could make. Did this new company actually have the clout to tempt the wrestler who inspired more devotion than any other? The world’s most talked about wrestler despite not being in a match for seven years? Could they possibly tempt CM Punk out of retirement??
The stage was set when… Ah fuck, I’m gonna have to explain CM Punk, aren’t I? Will you people please do some out of class studying sometimes? Just a bit? Read a fucking book sometime, I beg you.
Rather than getting lost in my old admiration for my (former) bae, my (former) spirit animal, my (former) everything CM Punk, I’ll instead save time by simply quoting an astonishingly good article from 2019 that captures the adoration surrounding the man far better than I ever could:
[in 2011] Punk single handedly became the decade’s hottest wrestler for about 5 minutes. He was allowed to speak his mind off script on an episode of [WWE] Raw, and responded by cutting the infamous and beloved ‘Pipebomb’ promo. In it, he complained that WWE was just full of second rate wrestlers just kissing Vince McMahon’s arse, that the company would probably be better after Vince McMahon’s dead, and decried the fact that his superior wrestling ability was being ignored. He said he hated the idea that he wouldn’t be headlining the upcoming Wrestlemania, and instead it’d be a part-timer like ‘Dwayne’ (“Oh my God! He used The Rock’s real name! He’s breaking the fourth wall! He is so edgy!!”). He was the best wrestler in the world, the company was ignoring him, and he was allowed to just say that! Vicious, jagged reality was infusing the usually tightly controlled WWE product and we freaking loved it! The response was huge and wide ranging, giving the WWE a bit of mainstream media attention that they otherwise would crawl naked over broken glass to attract. If they wanted to, they could have made Punk their biggest star since Steve Austin.
They didn’t want to though. WWE hate it when wrestlers become big on their own ideas, and they especially hate it when a wrestler does so on the basis of how much he thinks WWE stinks. They cooled the fire down as quickly as they could, and when everyone else had lost interest they gave him the title and let him hold it for a record 434 days. […] By… 2013, he must have had it up to fucking here with this freaking company, and was obviously eyeing an exit he’d eventually escape through months later.
Who wrote that majestically succinct prose, outlining Punk’s crowning ‘Pipebomb’ moment and his magnanimous exit from the company less than three years later?
Fucking me, you pricks! Please, for the love of God, please do some background reading. I won’t be here to hold your hand through education and self-improvement your whole life.
Really, it was Punk, his Pipebomb promo, him managing to bring a style of independent wrestling into the mainstream, his refusal to play the game and simply walk away rather than continue to jump through hoops at WWE, that really first articulated and sowed the seeds of discontent with WWE’s bad practices and its misunderstanding of the wrestling artform that would eventually lead to the formation of AEW. AEW didn’t have Punk, unfortunately. They did have Colt Cabana though.
Back in 2014, soon after leaving WWE and soon after leaving wrestling entirely for seemingly the final time, CM Punk guested on Colt Cabana’s ‘Art of Wrestling’ podcast. Colt Cabana was and is also a professional wrestler, though never anywhere close to Punk’s level of success. He had instead largely achieved prominence through podcasting, where he was a real innovator, being one of the first wrestlers to really utilise the form and hosting almost definitely the biggest wrestling podcast at the time. Oh, and he’d been best friends with Punk for more than a decade at that point, with the two being near inseparable since starting their careers together at Steel Domain Wrestling in Minnesota. It was always likely that Cobana was going to be the first to get the interview with Punk that everyone wanted at the time. And Punk certainly ‘spilled the tea’ regarding his hellish time at WWE. Only, this was back in 2014, so instead of ‘spill the tea’ we generally referred to it as ‘lit an absolute dumpster fire of a shitshow’. Yeah, you should know by now on that’s generally how Punk operates. He accused the WWE doctors of being incompetent schemers, which WWE objected to and took him to court, Punk won. However, Cabana believed that Punk and him had a ‘verbal agreement’ that Punk would help him with his legal fees, that Punk didn’t fulfill. So Colt sued Punk, and Punk then countersued, and two of the most famous BFFs in wrestling were soon attempting to claw each other’s financial throats out. The case was settled in 2019, but the friendship was obviously beyond salvaging. It was and is incredibly sad.
During the next seven years, Punk got his dick kicked off in UFC a couple of times, but generally sat on his Chicago sofa eating meat sandwiches. His experience with WWE (and the resulting, heart breaking legal issues) were so traumatising that he wouldn’t even step foot in a wrestling ring again.
Until, holy shit, he turned up in AEW on August 20th 2021.
It was an absolutely amazing moment. It will be at least mentioned when people look back after subhuman greed has scorched our skies and poisoned our oceans as one of the greatest and most notable moments in the history of professional wrestling. Of performance art. There were multiple people in the crowd at Punk’s hometown of Chicago in tears. Which, on the one hand, yeah, lol beam me up softboi. But, on the other hand, I and every other wrestling fan one hundred percent fucking get it. Punk must have known he’d made the right decision, his love of the very medium was reignited, he was surrounded by worshiping fans who obviously ‘got’ the type of wrestling he’d always been attempting to push. He was in a company that recognised his star power, one where he would finally be the true main event, one that was on his side and wouldn’t put the same restraints on his work and health as WWE did. At the next PPV event, 2021’s All Out, Punk would have his first wrestling match in seven years, and the show would also see the AEW debuts of other beloved former WWE wrestlers Adam Cole and Brian Danielson. It really seemed like a momentous event, one that signaled that we perhaps shouldn’t just be thinking about AEW as the ‘second’ wrestling company for much longer.
Yeah Colt Cabana was still at AEW, but it shouldn’t be an issue. There were rumours that CM Punk demanded that he be taken off all programming, not nobody was taking them seriously.
Fast forward one year, to All Out 2022, and CM Punk lit another dumpster fire of a shit show. And locked the doors so that nobody could escape unscathed. In true Frank Costanza Festivus style, he decided that he had a lot of problems with you people.
The main event of All Out saw Punk capture the AEW world title for the second time. He had only recently returned from an injury that had forced him to relinquish the title in his first reign after only eight days. At the press conference after the event, Punk sat still bloodied from his match minutes earlierm munching on cupcakes from a box and cracking opening seemingly neverending cans of sparkling water. The assembled press began to ask questions about the event, but Punk had a few things he first needed to get off his chest. Well… a lot of things. He pretty much opened by stating it was “Fucking unfortunate, that I have to come up here and speak” about his relationship with Scott Colton (Colt Cabana). But… you don’t have to at all, Punk… in fact, I imagine we’d all prefer it if you didn’t. Oh, you’re still going. Punk went into great detail about why he was no longer friends with Colt Cabana, why it was nobody’s business why he was no longer friends with Colt Cabana, and why he was no longer friends with Colt Cabana (in case you missed it the first time), why it was ridiculous that he was being questioned on why he was no longer friends with Colt Cabana, and, oh, one more thing, here’s why he’s no longer friends with Colt Cabana (“I’m very sad today that I had to get up here and say his name, he doesn’t fucking deserve it”). He was insistent that that we all recognised that Colt Cabana shared a bank account with his mother – mentioning it several times – as if he believed that one slam dunk would see him deigned automatic moral victor. It was weird, it was completely unprovoked, it was at least a little bit unhinged, and had he stopped there it would have been an unimaginably petty and bitter attack on another wrestler in the same company that, honestly, not many people have really thought about in quite some time. But he didn’t stop. We’re only just getting started ladies, gentlemen and nimbies.
The fact that I have to sit up here, because we have irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs and couldn’t fucking manage a Target, and they spread lies, and bullshit, and put into the media that I got somebody fired when I have fuck all to do with him. Want nothing to do with him. Do not care where he works. Where he doesn’t work. Where he eats. Where he sleeps. And the fact that I have to come up here and do this, in 2022, is fucking embarrassing. And if y’all (the assembled press) are at fault: fuck you. If you’re not: I apologise. But what did I ever do, in this world, to deserve an empty headed fucking dumb fuck like Hangman Adam Page to go out on national television and fucking go into business for himself? For what, what did I ever do? Dave (Meltzer, journalist in attendance), what did I do? Didn’t do a God damn thing
One of Punk’s greatest talents, and perhaps the main reason why he inspired devotion like no other wrestler (and few real sportspeople??) of his era is his unmatched ability on the mic, being incredibly articulate and able to make a crowd hang on his every word. And by this point in the press conference (we’re only three minutes in!) everyone listening was entranced. Even if what he was saying was fucking mental. This next segment needs a bit of unpacking. Apart from the general ‘fuck Colt Cabana’ vibe, pretty sure you’re au fait with that by now. The ‘irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs’ could only mean the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega (the true founder, Cody Rhodes, had gone back to fucking WWE by this point, which was… fuck, how long do you want this post to be?), whom he was accusing of leaking stories to the press about him stopping Colt Cabana from working (“If you’re an EVP, you don’t try and belittle your top babyface, try to get your niche audience that’s on the internet to hate him for some made up bullshit rumour. Really pisses me off. You’re stepping on your own dick”*). And as for Adam Page ‘going into business for himself’…? Erm…?
(*I don’t want it to be lost in the general discussion around the All Out press conference what an amazing turn of phrase ‘stepping on your own dick’ is)
I’d like to at this point take a quick aside and tell you about a time in 2003 when singer Barbra Streisand sued Pictopia.com for $50 million after a supposed invasion of privacy. She claimed an aerial shot of her house was visible in a photograph on their website. Before the lawsuit, this apparently privacy challenging photo had been downloaded six times (two of which were by Streisand’s attorneys). After the trial become public knowledge, the photo was downloaded 420’000 times over the course of a month, meaning a near infinite additional people saw the photo than would have done had Streisand simply done absolutely nothing. Oh, and she also lost the case and had to pay $177’000 in legal fees. Two years later, Mike Masnick of Techdirt was sufficiently moved by the incident to name an entire thing after it: “How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let’s call it the Streisand Effect”. Just keep the Streisand Effect in your mind as I discuss Punk’s Adam page gripe.
‘Hangman’ Adam Page is one of the most beloved wrestlers on the AEW roster, had been there since the very start and his two year long storyline that culminated in him becoming AEW Champion at Full Gear 2021 was perhaps AEW’s greatest ever angle and, honestly, one of the greatest stories told in modern professional wrestling. Page would hang on to that title until Double or Nothing 2022, where he dropped it to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it!!) CM Punk, The next night on AEW Dynamite, Punk, high on adulation after his first AEW title win, jumped into the crowd and into the arms of his adoring fans.
In doing so, he broke his foot and was forced out of action for two months.
An interim champion was crowned while he sat at home. Frustrated at his injury. Doomscrolling Twitter, Watching the company get along just fine in his absence. Hang on, what did @CockBurner65655 just say about Colt Cabana? Punk was afforded plenty of time to his own brain. His own paranoia. He had time to mull over a comment that Adam Page had made to him during an exchange on AEW Dynamite in the build up to their title match. That promo, the one that literally nobody else read too much into, when Adam Page spoke about Punk not respecting workers’ rights? When he said that he was “Defending All Elite Wrestling from you“? That… was that a Colt Cabana reference?? A Colt Cabana reference so subtle and insidious that literally nobody else but CM Punk got it?? That’s fucking diabolical!! So Punk seethed, and he stewed, and he plotted, and he grew angrier and angrier in isolation. He was hurt, and he’s old and he’s fucking tired, and he works with fucking children. Then he came back from injury… and went to his private dressing room away from all the other wrestlers. And seethed, and he stewed, and he plotted, and he grew angrier and angrier… He was hurt, and he’s old and he’s fucking tired, and he works with fucking children.Until after All Out 2022 he felt it was the best time to air these grievances and point everyone to a promo he assumed everyone was talking about but instead just sent 420’000 fans flocking to his private villa. What’s worse, everyone looked at the aerial shots of Punk’s house and saw nothing but an empty field.
Now here he is, more than four months later, saying how “I’m trying to run a fucking business (??) and when somebody who hasn’t done a damn thing in this business jeopardises the first million dollar house that this company has ever drawn, off of my back, and goes on national television and does that, it’s a disgrace to this industry, it’s a disgrace to this company… I will still walk up and down this corridor and say ‘If you have a fucking problem with me, take it up with me, let’s fucking go'”. Punk – with a growling voice, increasingly irate and covered in the blood of both himself and his opponent – informed the whole locker room that they should take up issues with him face to face, as he aired all of his dirty laundry in front of the world’s media before going back to his contractually obliged private dressing room separate from all of his colleagues. Because, as he says, he’s trying to run a fucking business.
But… you’re not, Punk. You’re a performer. You don’t run any business. Even Christiano Ronaldo – always the useful measuring stick when it comes to celebrity athletes overinflated sense of importance and ego – doesn’t complain to his manager about being subbed by saying he’s trying to run a fucking business here. Those ‘irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs and couldn’t fucking manage a Target’? They kind of are, and you’re the only person jeopardising that. Also, managing a Target is probably really difficult, and you do play fights for money, you elitist prick. That awkward looking teenage boy grimacing next to Punk in that press conference? No, he isn’t a kid tragically in the last stage of chronic anemia who got to meet Punk on a Make a Wish scheme, that’s actually Tony Khan, AEW president who is literally trying to run a business that he’s silently watching his biggest star absolutely torpedo. And he’s forty years old. Yeah, I know. To Punk though, he is running this business – this whole revolution in wrestling entertainment kinda started with him, these young bucks and Young Bucks that he’s working alongside were often teenagers inspired to become wrestlers while watching Punk’s trilogy with Samoa Joe in 2004, or the original Summer of Punk in Ring of Honor, or – bah Gahd! – his era defining WWE match with Jon Cena in 2011… The difference is that these teenagers grew up and decided to actually do something about WWE’s polluting dominance, actually prove how it could be challenged, actually built a career outside of it and actually build a real alternative. Now, they were technically Punk’s superiors, and he is no longer the God that crowd reactions had always lead him to believe.
Punk would also dig up another deep cut, another issue that nobody had previously known about, bringing far more attention to something that he obviously wished to censor (is there a name for that?). He referenced an interview that Page gave at Galaxycon (fucking Galaxycon!?!) – during Punk’s injury absence, while he lay alone angry and frustrated and searched for any evidence he could to support his growing paranoia (He was hurt, and he was old and he was fucking tired, and he worked with fucking children.) – where he said as an aside that he was ‘too stubborn’ to take advice:
We have a locker room full of great, brilliant minds (lists retired wrestlers now working behind the scenes)… But our locker room, for all the wisdom and brilliance it has, isn’t worth shit when you have an empty headed idiot, who’s never done anything in the business, do public interviews and say ‘I don’t really take advise’. Who the fuck do you think you are? You know? That’s stupid. ‘I’m on a team with Barry Bonds, Mark Maguire, Sammy Sosa (think these are NASCAR drivers or something?) and I don’t need to work on my swing! I’m not going to listen to these guys when they tell me how to swing a baseball [sic]’. Fucking go fuck yourself… Fucking grow up
And this was the crux of the matter. Why wasn’t he more central to all of this? Why weren’t these younger wrestlers who had been so celebrated for revolutionising the industry coming to him for advice? Why wasn’t he shown more respect? Why wasn’t he getting all the adulation? Was it something to do with Colt Cabana? He’d seen all the talk online. Were these younger wrestlers doing this? This Twitter account with an anime pfp and thirty two followers certainly thinks so! Why were they all out to get him??
You know what? I guess I was kind of joking when I stated that this was a more important global event this year than the bourgeois obsessions like Royal Extinction and politicians actively murdering people. I can kind of concede that not as many people globally were affected by Punk’s Pipebomb II (Mindy’s Bakerloo). I realise that there’s a significant chance that the vast majority of people reading this blog haven’t the slightest clue what any of this is and can’t grasp the significance of it. However, I’m not joking in my belief that CM Punk’s public self-mutilation instilled a minor sense of trauma in at least one – and likely more – generation of wrestling fans, the possible destruction of two pillars of wrestling fandom and eternal optimism. Punk was always our guy, he was the one who instilled so many younger fans first critical thinking towards the hegemony of WWE, the first to suggest to the mainstream that a life outside it existed. He was the modern prophet who vocalised people’s desire for something better in the product they were being served, they wanted great wrestling not just the WWE that they were being force fed. For older fans like myself, who had grown up a stupid fucking kid idolising Ultimate Warrior and The Undertaker in the late 80s and early 90s, who had grown into a stupid fucking edgy teenager during the stupid fucking edgy (and frequently brilliant) Attitude Era. Fans who had slowly lost interest for around a decade after Steve Austin turned heel after Mania X7, WCW and ECW were brought out and liquidated, and WWE’s monopoly lead to a bloated and gross product that didn’t really care about catering to anyone with functional networks of brain neurons. People who were brought back to wrestling after CM Punk’s emergence highlighted how wrestling could be differently, how mainstream professional wrestling could actually be presented in a way that required more than a millisecond’s consideration. I hate the phrase -and so do you – but it really did seem like ‘wrestling for adults’, but not in the sense that middle aged fathers were pointing at their dicks and you might see a little sideboob here and there, but in the sense that it was ever so deep and even freaking emotionally intelligent. Doth I protest too much? Perhaps I doth. Just accept that there is a definite through line from the reaction to Punk’s work in WWE – including inspiring so many to go back and watch his earlier work in the significantly smaller promotion Ring of Honor – and wrestling around the world getting significantly better on a wider scale. Rightly or wrongly, the current style, quality and popularity of wrestling always seemed like wrestling through CM Punk’s frame.
But that press conference…
It wasn’t so much what he said – although I’m struggling to think of a comparable incident in living memory where a mainstream wrestler got in front of a live camera and basically called people they worked with cunts – but the whole edifice that we were witnessing crumbling. Punk wasn’t cool. He wasn’t on our side. He wasn’t fighting alongside us in our great battle against the mainstream. He was just an angry old man complaining about kids, Complaining that he didn’t get enough respect. Repeating Facebook memes like he was your racist uncle repeating that story that he read about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s secret ring of Just Eat door to door pedophilia. There was real hatred burning behind his eyes. That famous masterful oration that had inspired entire generations now twisted to voice gross malice. The former hero was actually an obnoxious old bully. Dude, CM Punk is kind of a dick…
One of the most repeated stories of Punk’s time in WWE seemed to always chime with how he (and we) were always batting against the strangulating old assumptions and carny nonsense. It involved The Undertaker, one of WWE’s top stars for thirty years until his 2020 retirement, and unquestionably one of the biggest ever stars in wrestling. You even might have heard of him, you fucking noob. He saw the wrestling business evolve over many decades and through many different incarnations and as a result takes the industry extremely seriously Oh, he’s also a zombie funeral director who can occasionally teleport, fly and shoot fireballs. Like I said, extremely serious, because wrestling is a completely serious business that you have to take 100% seriously at all times.. He once chided CM Punk while he was WWE champion for wearing more casual dress backstage, that such attire wasn’t befitting a champion and he should maybe dress up more formally. This misdemeanor eventually lead to Punk losing his title in a squash match – to Undertaker, naturally – and came to embody the very culture of sweaty old men and their ridiculous egos and principles that Punk was always fighting against in his quest to modernise the business. Well, now Punk was the Grandfather, staring back at us through angry, obnoxious eyes, challenging us to check our own age. What are you fucking brain dead fucks even doing watching this anyway? How old are you? What are we even offended at here? Surely we should always be on the side of a guy calling out his superiors at work? Are we so offended because it’s somehow ‘hurting the business’?? It may have been this generation’s version of 1996’s Curtain Call incident. Only then people were supposedly shocked to see wrestlers embracing lovingly who were presented to them as mortal enemies, and now we’re shocked to see what elements of wrestling kayfabe we seek to protect, and also how some of the people we worship are actually belligerent old cunts. It immediately seemed like Punk, the so called ‘Voice of the Voiceless’, was never truly fighting for the oppressed, he was just fighting. This whole time, he wasn’t concerned with punching up. He was just punching.
It didn’t end there, of course. Punk and those irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs – Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks – got into a huge physical fight backstage while the press conference continued. Our friend Larry the Dog played a central role but is yet to tell his side of the story. Earlier that night Punk had won his second world title and Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks became the first ever AEW trios champions. They were all stripped of their titles within days and suspended as the company launched an investigation into the incident. It was insane, carny bullshit that you would read about happening in some 70’s regional circus federation called something like Bumfuck Idaho Wrestling Bonanza. Only you wouldn’t. Because you would never have wrestlers burying their colleagues and revealing behind the curtain like this. Three months later, it seems that they’ve concluded the investigation, that the EVPs will soon be returning and that all that is left with CM Punk is to finalise the buyout of his contract. Colt Cabana made his first appearance on AEW television for almost a year, which, while not proving that CM Punk had him blacklisted, certainly showed that AEW wanted you to think that. Punk’s year in AEW was fantastic, don’t let the sad and messy ending retcon how amazing his matches, promos, and programs were. But it was now definitely over.
What will the longterm damage be the AEW? At this point, I think that all we can justifiably say is ‘some’. The innocence of the company is gone, the idea that this was some utopia run for wrestlers by wrestlers – ‘All Friends Wrestling’ as Jim Cornette has long been disparagingly calling it – where a safe and fulfilling work environment is placed above all else. CM Punk has left a dark cloud over the company – over the very idea of a successful WWE alternative – that’s going to be hard to shake off.
However, next Saturday sees AEW’s first PPV since All Out. And despite everything – despite the emperor not only having no close but has sat in front of me and angrily torn strips of his flesh off for twenty minutes, despite pulling back the curtain and not only seeing that the great Oz is not only a feeble old man but he is sat stuffing cupcakes into his mouth while calling Dorothy an empty headed fucking dumb fuck – I know that deep down I want the main event to end with that famous crackle of static and Living Color’s Cult of Personality blaring over the loudspeakers, I know that I’d take him back in an instant, and I know that I’ll never learn.
The grass isn’t greener on the other side, the grass is greener where you water itCM Punk September 4th 2022
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