AEW was already saturating the Chicago market with three different shows in early September: Dynamite on Sept. 1, Rampage on Sept. 3, and All Out on Sept. 5. Last night’s big news that the Aug. 20 episode of Rampage will be held at Chicago’s United Center raises the stakes to another level.
WWE doesn’t even run this expensive 20,000+ seat venue when they are in the area. Simple logic suggests that CM Punk is likely debuting for AEW on that Aug. 20 episode of Rampage. It’s not easy to fill up a building of that size, and Punk’s return to pro wrestling in his hometown is AEW’s best shot at doing so. For seven years and counting, a return to the ring for Punk would have been the biggest story in wrestling. And now it really does seem like it will happen.
AEW faces some interesting and difficult decisions surrounding Punk’s debut:
- If Punk debuts on Rampage, then AEW is potentially forsaking the biggest rating in the history of Dynamite in favor of turning an early Rampage episode into must-watch television. Is that tradeoff worth it for a 10 pm ET audience on Friday night?
- What if the slick teases of Punk’s return aren’t enough to move tickets for the Aug. 20 Rampage at United Center? If initial ticket sales are slow, will AEW have to let the cat out of the bag and officially announce that Punk will debut at that event?
- Was adding a fourth show in the Chicago market really necessary for Punk’s debut when three other shows were already on the schedule? Could one of those three shows have been moved to a higher capacity venue for Punk’s debut?
- Does Punk’s debut have anything at all to do with Hangman Page’s booking on Dynamite, which has now removed him as Kenny Omega’s next contender for the AEW world championship at All Out?
I don’t know the answers to these questions with high confidence. My gut instinct is that AEW is overplaying their hand a bit in this scenario by adding the United Center event and not putting Punk’s debut on Dynamite. Then again, Punk’s return to pro wrestling is a massive story; there is a whole lot of money to be made if the United Center show itself sells a ton of tickets, cements Rampage with instant credibility as an equal brand to Dynamite, and helps All Out achieve the highest pay-per-view buy rate in the history of AEW.
Do you think The First Dance episode of Rampage on Aug. 20 at the United Center is best way to debut CM Punk in AEW? If not, how would you do it?