It’s ironic how Roman Reigns suggested CM Punk didn’t move the needle in the business, since that’s exactly what he’s done in the AEW vs WWE battle. Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling might be in its baby stage right now, but it’s giving Vince McMahon a headache he hasn’t experienced since the days of Ted Turner’s WCW.
No one expected Punk to return to the wrestling business after his acrimonious exit in 2014. The politics of sports entertainment seemed to have drowned out the Voice of the Voiceless. And you can’t blame him for feeling that way either, as World Wrestling Entertainment focused more on the stock exchange than its in-ring product.
So, to witness the deafening reception he received and to hear him speak from the heart like he did on AEW Rampage was a powerful moment that wrestling fans have been craving for years now. There was an authenticity and passion in what he said—something that’s been missing from the likes of WWE for far too long. It didn’t feel like a promo; it felt genuine.
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The best kind of wrestling programmes have always existed in the area where reality and fiction are blurred. CM Punk’s infamous “pipe bomb” should’ve kickstarted a revolution in the biz, but the WWE didn’t pull the trigger on the new generation, deciding to let the Summer of Punk ride its course and going back to business as usual. The fact that you’re still seeing Bill Goldberg and John Cena headline events in 2021 is testament to how somethings never change there.
This time, though, the tables have turned. Punk is the marquee, game-changing signing that AEW craved. The subsequent ratings confirmed that the casual fan tuned in for his debut and gave the company the boost it needed to get to the next level. While AEW is far away from the WWE’s total viewership and global appeal, it’s made astronomical strides since its debut in 2019.
In public, the WWE proudly states that it’s only competing with itself. Behind the scenes, however, there’s a panic setting in as everyone notices the good publicity and impact AEW received from the Straight Edge Superstar’s appearance. In fact, FOX is reportedly upset with the WWE that it didn’t even try to bring in CM Punk. Instead, McMahon focused on signing Brock Lesnar… Again.
A few weeks ago, no one would’ve suggested that an AEW vs WWE war was even possible. Recent events suggest this battle might be taking place sooner than expected. With WWE dropping talent left, right and centre and AEW offering a platform for creativity to shine, there’s now a legitimate alternative for wrestlers. Punk could be the catalyst for change in the same way the New World Order (nWo) was for WCW in 1996.
Reigns’ comment was undoubtedly said to get him over and diminish CM Punk’s debut in AEW. However, it had the harmful effect, inspiring the audience to get behind the dark horse. Punk has always enjoyed being the underdog and he’s now signed to the ultimate underdog in this battle. Don’t be surprised if they prove everyone wrong in the long term and significantly move the needle.