CM Punk is finally returning to AEW later this month for the premiere of Collision on Saturday, June 17.
Punk is a polarizing figure in pro wrestling, to say the least; there are plenty of fans who are thrilled about him coming back, while others are rolling their eyes at the rumors that AEW might go as far as to institute a roster split to accommodate his return. Either way, there are plenty of reasons for fans on either side to get out their popcorn while watching this story unfold.
Is Tony Khan making the right decision by bringing Punk back to AEW? I think the answer is clearly “yes”. While AEW Dynamite is doing fine in the ratings without him, this is not a company that should be comfortable resting on its laurels, and we know AEW can do better than its current results. For example, Dynamite was regularly pulling in 900K+ viewers and demo ratings above 0.32 when Punk was around, but numbers that high are now the exception, not the norm.
Pro wrestling is historically a star-driven sport; it’s not a coincidence that the AEW product was at its hottest in late 2021 when Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole all joined the company around the same time. AEW needs as much star power as possible on its programming, and Punk is the biggest star they can add. In that sense, this decision to bring him back is a no-brainer.
The main argument against Punk’s return is that he is toxic in the locker room. I have read arguments of this type so many times in real sports over decades, and in most cases those locker room issues are either exaggerated in fan narratives, or just aren’t as important as production on the field.
It’s true that Punk’s behavior at the All Out media scrum was extremely unprofessional, as was his decision to call out Hangman Page for a match on AEW Dynamite, knowing Page would look like shit for not responding. If Punk has learned nothing and continues to pull stunts like that, then yeah, he should be canned.
But we were less than one year into Punk’s return to pro wrestling when a lot of that shit was going down; it’s worth taking the risk of more potential drama to see if he can make the adjustments and figure out how to better navigate a pro wrestling locker room in 2023. It’s also worth keeping in mind that there are plenty of wrestlers in the locker room who love Punk and absolutely want to see him back.
Ultimately, it’s up to Tony Khan to be a better manager to make sure that his wrestlers don’t walk all over him. Khan was at his weakest point as a manager when he was there nodding along at that media scrum as Punk went on his tirade. Punk shit all over AEW stars like Hangman Page and the Young Bucks, while the guy in charge just sat there and let him do it unimpeded, not realizing the shit storm that was coming his way. If Khan demonstrates that kind of sub par leadership going forward, then AEW is in trouble, regardless of whether Punk returns or not.
The upside of Punk’s return is that he gives AEW the best shot of getting hot again ASAP. His story with MJF was perhaps the last great story told in the promotion, and there was a lot more to unwrap there before the backstage fight at All Out undermined the remaining chapter(s).
Punk is among the most charismatic and skilled talkers in pro wrestling and has a great mind for storytelling. These are qualities the AEW product desperately needs. Punk also has the name recognition and star power that greatly helps AEW as the company tries to build its own stars and expand with more ambitious shows like All In at Wembley Stadium.
AEW has to take some calculated risks going forward in order to gain popularity and strengthen its brand and position. Punk’s return is one such risk that doesn’t have that much downside to it. If the worst case scenario plays out and he once again gets involved in a bunch of backstage drama because he can’t separate personal and professional issues, it’s not a huge deal. There will be some turmoil in the short-term, but AEW will be able to move on without him.
That risk is worth the upside that Punk’s presence brings to AEW’s product, which is why it made sense for Tony Khan to bring him back for Collision.
How do you see Punk’s return to AEW playing out over the next few months, Cagesiders?