One of the reasons why the current competition between WWE and AEW doesn’t compare to the Monday night ratings war between WWF and WCW from the mid to late 1990’s is because of the lack of head-to-head battles between the two promotions. AEW Dynamite did send NXT screaming and yelling off Wednesdays earlier this year, but that lopsided war never measured up to WCW Nitro going head-to-head with WWF Raw every single Monday night.
We got a small bite of that head-to-head apple last month when WWE extended the runtime of SmackDown to overlap the first 30 minutes of Rampage on Oct. 15. Dopes like me predicted WWE’s commercial-free half hour would handily outperform AEW in the numbers that night. WWE did indeed draw the bigger total audience for those 30 minutes, but AEW achieved a higher rating in the key 18 to 49 year old demographic.
A recent issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter included the following tidbit about that head-to-head battle, where CM Punk advised AEW head honcho Tony Khan to put his match (against Matt Sydal) on first against WWE:
“Punk did tell Khan not to change anything in the show or the booking as a response (changing the card, as both McMahon does regularly now and both McMahon and Bischoff did constantly in the late 90s against each other) and asked to put him first head-to-head ‘because I can take that bullet.’”
The reason I’m bringing this up is because Khan spoke about the 30 minute Friday night war during an appearance this week on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, and he emphasized how happy he was to see Punk beat WWE in the key demo:
“We beat them in the 18 to 49 pretty cleanly. I had a 30 minute head-to-head window, and I had to do six minutes of commercials. I had to. So, CM Punk won his segment decivisely. And then the second segment, which was Ruby Soho versus The Bunny, two female wrestlers who fans had been just really mean to and said your segment’s not gonna do well. And Ruby Soho is a big star who had been fired from WWE just months earlier. They went up against a contract signing of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. If you look at it, they tied it. But in their 15 minute quarter, that’s where I pushed all six minutes of the commercials. So actually without the commercials they would have beat that segment.”
“We won the half hour 0.25 to 0.22, I believe, and it was a decisive victory. And I was really happy in particular for CM Punk, who is a great person, and I’ve gotten to know a lot better in the past couple years. And he had been out of professional wrestling for a really long time, and he had been served a lawsuit by WWE on his wedding day...It’s been a long time coming for him to come back, because he loves pro wrestling, and the pro wrestling fans really love him. It’s been such a blessing for our business, and I thought it was a really cool moment for him to go head-to-head...people were excited to watch the skill of the wrestling match and see the art of it, and see CM Punk in his element.”
Punk revealed on a tell-all interview with Colt Cabana that WWE actually served him with his termination papers on his wedding day, and that’s the number one reason why Punk would never return to work for the promotion. There eventually was a defamation lawsuit where a jury decided that WWE doctor Chris Amann’s claims against Punk and Cabana had no merit. It seems pretty clear that Punk’s past issues with WWE played a role in Khan being particularly happy for Punk to beat them in the head-to-head ratings on Oct. 15.
To Punk’s credit, he has long maintained that AEW should focus on itself and not overreact to WWE’s booking decisions. That’s consistent with the aforementioned reporting from the Observer that he advised Khan not to change the planned card for Rampage in response to WWE choosing to go head-to-head and loading up the final 30 minutes of SmackDown with the top stars in the promotion. AEW did add a YouTube pre-show before Rampage that featured a dream match between Bryan Danielson and Minoru Suzuki, but the advertised card for Rampage itself was not changed.
The end result was a very narrow ratings win for Punk and AEW, Roman Reigns being told to acknowledge The Bunny, and WWE deciding to stay away from picking that same fight again. It’s no mystery why not-a-wuss Tony Khan is happy with how things turned out.