Pyrrhic victory (noun): a victory or goal achieved at too great a cost.
I almost, almost, posted the featured image, the title, and that definition and nothing more. It really does sum up the saga of CM Punk’s AEW tenure in so many ways. Because make no mistake about it – this company getting the mythical Punk out of retirement really was an incredible victory. It was the biggest coup imaginable at the time…and nothing else, realistically was even close.
It eventually would become, indeed, a victory at too great a cost.
Where to begin? Should I talk about how he was a huge fan favorite in WWE in the early 2010s? Should I discuss that he wound up ticking a lot of folks in that company off to the point that he was eventually fired from there, not only fired from there, but notified as such on his wedding day? Who on earth would do something so foul?
Should I talk about his legendary matches in WWE? The pipe bomb promo? About how he ranted and raved about how stale the product was?
Should I talk about what is one of my all-time favorite GIFs as Punk breaks character and starts legitimately laughing as good ol’ Steph explained to fans that Triple H was the greatest wrestler to ever live?
I honestly don’t know. So many possibilities. But I think the key is that prior to being banished from the business, Punk really was the voice to an ever growing mass of fans who were sick and tired of seeing crap being put before them when they knew they deserved better. Those fans remembered Punk. They remembered the pipe bomb, they remembered everything he had said, and not only that, they believed every syllable of it. And to that end, they used his very name as a rallying cry when they were bored or having their intelligence insulted by terrible WWE creative. In the late 2010s and early 2020s anytime something absolutely sucked the chant of “CM Punk! CM Punk!” echoed through the arena.
It made it difficult for those in WWE who thought they were doing the right things. Make no mistake about it, there were lots of folks within the company that were very glad he was gone following a series of backstage incidents and what is widely regarded as a botched medical diagnosis. I know people who worked with him and term “jerk” was actually one of the nicer ones I generally heard. Apparently being a royal pain in the neck was the order of the day and yeah, after a while you just get tired of the headaches. Anyone who has ever worked in a company of any size knows what I am talking about.
For various reasons, Punk would essentially find himself in exile. Which made him all the more legendary to his fans. Few things are more powerful than a martyr.
And according to basically anyone who knew Punk, being gone from the ring was just fine with him. Wrestling was part of his life, but he had reportedly grown to hate it and was glad that time in his life was over. So the idea of him ever coming back was left to fantasy bookers of the world, not real life ones.
BUT THEN an idea came about of a super indy show with some of the top talent in the world. The question was this – could it possibly draw more than say, 10,000 fans? That event was All In. And it was to be held in Chicago, IL…which just so happened to be Punk’s home town. Of course, this made rumors fly. Wouldn’t it make sense for Punk to appear at the biggest indy event in history, in his backyard no less?
Despite it making sense that he would be at All In, he wasn’t. And once more fans had to learn to accept that he was gone from the business and wasn’t returning.
BUT THEN…from the seeds planted at All In, All Elite Wrestling formed. Not only formed, but landed a major TV deal on WTBS – and thus, Dynamite was born. The company started with a bang and had everyone talking, generating excellent ratings as well as stellar PPV numbers with their first official show, Double or Nothing. A follow up was inevitable, and soon it was announced that All Out would take place the following Labor Day weekend.
Oh, and one more thing – it would take place in Chicago.
Again, the rumor mill was in overdrive, and the fact that Punk himself was slated to appear at Starrcast in an interview segment seemed to be near confirmation that he was going to be joining the crew. Despite everything seemingly lining up perfectly…Punk wasn’t there.
He was done with the business.
Regardless, Dynamite was doing good numbers. So much so that Warner Bros Discovery wanted another show from the company and thus a weekly Friday series, Rampage, was slated to hit the air. And it just so happened that the second episode of it ever was to be in, you guessed it, Chicago. This time, however, there was more than a slight tease. In fact, the company announced that it would be running a MUCH larger arena than normal and not only that, they had a subtitle for the show: “The First Dance”. With everything setting for what could only have meant one thing, tickets sold out immediately.
Apparently he was NOT done with wrestling after all.
After over seven years, CM Punk was back. And he was with All Elite Wrestling.
Following the crowd showering him with deafening cheers, Punk grabbed a mic and uncorked a near decade of frustration. He waylaid WWE, talking about how they had made him sick and he had to fight to get better not only physically but mentally as well. It was a Punk promo through and through. Fans could tell it wasn’t scripted; he was saying whatever he wanted. Fans could tell he was saying what had been bottled inside him for so, so long. And the crowd absolutely loved it. This…this was the start of something special.
Imagine what fans that night would have said if you told that that within two years, he would not only be gone from the promotion, he would be FIRED by the promotion.
But again, let me reiterate – things started great. Ratings were through the roof and Punk was all anyone in the business could talk about. Sure, the guys was older, but his promos were out of this world and in the ring, he could still go. His first run of matches against the likes of Darby Allin, Powerhouse Hobbs, and Daniel Garcia showed this was going to be a lot of fun. And then there was a match with Bobby Fish, with Punk winning of course.
But you see, there was one tiny little issue at the end of that bout where Fish kicked out right at the three count. I mean, it was probably just a small mishap. Maybe Fish didn’t the GTS was Punk’s finisher, who knows? I mean, these things happen right?
Punk didn’t think so. In fact, he was absolutely livid behind the scenes. And you know what…rightly so, right? He’s the big star and while Fish is no doubt talented, not staying prone for the finish was anything but professional. Punk was hot but it was understandable.
Sadly, this was the first sign of darker days to come.
Fun times were ahead first though, as we got Punk and Eddie Kingston, a feud that was a blast and led to a great brawl at Full Gear. After that, Punk was paired up with MJF, giving us more incredible promos and some great matches, including a dog collar match that was spectacular.
Everything was good. Everything was fun. Things were trending upwards and naturally, having worked his way up the card, a title match would make all the sense in the world…which meant it was time for CM Punk vs. Hangman Adam Page.
Cue that car crash sound effect!
To be blunt, these two guys did not get along. From the very beginning, Page made it clear he was not going to bow down to the almighty Punk, digging into some very deep behind the scenes stuff about how Punk wasn’t the good guy he played on screen, but instead was creating a problems behind the scenes. While most had zero clue what Page was talking about, there were those that theorized Punk was involved in making sure his former friend Colt Cabana was not re-upped when his contract expired. I don’t really want to get into the story of Cabana and Punk other than to say they were the best of friends, and they wound up in court against each other. If you want to know more, the Observer is your friend. Anyway, the story goes that Cabana was offered a new contract, but once Punk got word of it, that new contract quickly – any mysteriously – vanished. Whether that was true or not will likely never truly be known, but it sure felt like Page believed it to the point that it was fueling his fiery promos with Punk.
Regardless, Punk beat Hangman at Double or Nothing for the belt in a strange match to say the least. Shots were stiffer than expected, and Punk repeatedly trying Page’s finishing Buckshot lariat only for him to repeatedly land on his butt. Again, though, who cares right? Punk was world champion, the somewhat weird feud with Page was in the rear view mirror, and now we could all move forward without issues.
Just one problem – Punk broke his foot on his very next AEW appearance. Which meant that his title reign, in a feud that had stirred up a lot of controversy both on screen and off, was over before it really even began. Since AEW didn’t really know how long Punk would be gone, they created an interim championship that was won by Jon Moxley.
And make no mistake about it – Mox was GREAT in this role. He stockpiled great match after great match with tons of fantastic promos to boot. When Punk returned, it was going to be one for the ages. And when Punk returned, the unification match was announced for All Out in…yep, you guessed it, CHICAGO.
Inexplicably, however, the match was pushed up to a live taping of Dynamite 11 days BEFORE the PPV.
In a complete shocker, Mox absolutely DESTROYED Punk and merged the interim and, well, non-interim belts together. Fans were shocked and everyone was asking what on earth was going on. For once, there was at least a little logic to it.
Behind the scenes, Mox explained to Punk that doing the match could drum up even more interest in the PPV via what amounted to a Rocky III style-setup for the rematch. Of course every one remembers that storyline from the film, with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character coming in completely overconfident and being obliterated by the buzzsaw Clubber Lang (Mr. T). The end of that film was the fairytale ending, with Stallone rediscovering his roots, getting back to basics, and regaining his title. If it worked there, it would work in wrestling for sure, especially in Punk’s hometown. Unfortunately, there was just one tiny problem: Punk had never seen Rocky III and didn’t understand – nor more importantly buy into – what he was being asked to do.
And hey, while we’re at it, let’s throw another log onto the fire, namely Punk deciding to go off script in the build to that Mox rematch. Did he say something ill towards Mox? Nope – instead, he decided to inexplicably bring up Page again and challenge him to a fight in the ring on the August 17th Dynamite. But there was a catch to it, namely that Page wasn’t in the building that night. So when Punk explained that he didn’t embody cowboy **** but rather coward ****, the Hangman couldn’t answer even if he had wanted to do so. Fans had no idea Page wasn’t there, they just assumed that perhaps Page was a coward. Yep, things were starting to really spiral out of control.
Despite all this, All Out was here and it was time for Punk to once more get the championship in Chicago. He did so against Mox and it was, you know, alright. Except for one thing – during the match, Punk was injured AGAIN, this time tearing his triceps. Still, he toughed it out and had the championship. So props to him for that.
Before the PPV went off the air, Punk’s next challenge was revealed…and it was none other than MJF returning from a hiatus of his own. And then, because things weren’t bizarre enough, something else strange happened – the fans who had been cheering Punk so vociferously now began to chant “MJF!” loudly and repeatedly. At a glance, one could just sense that Punk was more than a bit upset. It capped off a not so great night for Punk…and he was about to let the whole world know it.
The media scrum following the show saw Punk go basically insane, uncorking on anyone and everyone in the company. It appeared no one was safe, be that his ex-friend Colt Cabana (who Punk told us shared a bank account with his mom)…MJF (Punk was no fan of his bringing up WWE on air as a possible landing spot)…Kenny Omega and the Bucks (EVPs who according to Punk couldn’t manage a Target)…and of course Hangman Page (“an empty headed dumb f***”).
And what of Tony Khan, who was sitting right next to him as he ranted? It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and say that he should have just cut the scrum short. I’m not sure that would have been any better or worse than just letting Punk vent and hopefully get it out of his system. Who knows.
Regardless, you may be shocked to learn that the Bucks and Omega were less than thrilled with Punk’s comments and went to pay him a visit backstage. This of course led to a physical altercation and things got completely out of hand. I won’t bore you with the details as a) you can find them elsewhere on the interwebs and more importantly b) no two stories seem to be the same so who knows what actually happened anyway.
What we do know is that following this insanity, a lot of people were suspended. A LOT. Check out this list: Punk, Omega, the Bucks, Punk flunky Ace Steele, Christopher Daniels, Pat Buck, Michael Nakazawa, and Brandon Cutler. Holy smokes. So not only was there great drama that had everyone talking, the company had to suspend anyone who could have possibly capitalized on it.
Eventually, the Bucks and Omega returned. That seemed inevitable; Tony wasn’t going to have All Elite Wrestling without The Elite. But what of Punk? Rumors flew that he was attempting to get a buy out and potentially return to WWE (the same company he told fans that had made him sick you might recall). That did not happen and amazingly, Punk would in fact return to AEW…and he would not only be back, but be the focal point of a new Saturday night show WBD commissioned to be called Collision.
In hindsight, Collision may has well have been called Quarantine. The idea was that Punk would be kept on one show far away from folks he didn’t get along with, and anyone who fell into that category would be sanctioned to Dynamite. No doubt you are reading that and thinking “how on earth could this possibly work?” The answer, of course, was that it wouldn’t.
The first episode featured Punk explaining to fans at home that no less than the head of Warner Bros-Discovery called him “One Bill Phil” and that he was the only real guy around in a business filled with “counterfeit bucks”. Punk also insulted Hangman once more following a Collision taping because apparently he just hated the guy and couldn’t help himself. But hey…the ratings for the initial shows were strong so the company was going to do whatever it could to make things work out as best they could.
What was interesting, though, is that Punk was no longer the super babyface he had been when he first arrived. Carrying the title belt he never lost in the ring, he began to proclaim that he was in fact the “real world’s champion” and essentially being booked as the champion of the show. Again, though, fans were not 100% on his side and at times, were downright hostile towards him. In so many ways, the bloom was completely off the rose. And yes, as you might expect, even more backstage drama followed.
At this point, Punk felt like he needed to tell everyone who would listen what should and should not been done in the wrestling business. For instance, he made it clear that in no way, shape, or form should glass be used as a weapon. To me that makes perfect sense – as they say, glass doesn’t know the script and you have no idea what could happen with it. I mean, just ask Bill Goldberg who nearly lost his arm to a car window that went into business for itself. But one Jack Perry had heard enough from Punk and decided he was flat out not going to listen to the guy.
It all came to a head at the biggest event in AEW’s history – All In Wembley. Well over 70,000 fans (and perhaps over 80,000 depending on who you believe) packed the place. I mean, think about that – that many fans for a show by a wrestling company that DID NOT EXIST FOUR YEARS PRIOR! It should have been a night where everyone behind the scenes was celebrating that success…but of course, that didn’t happen backstage because, yes, you guessed it, there was yet more backstage drama.
In a pre-show match, Perry took on Hook in what was essentially a no holds barred match. A car was involved and just as Perry was about to throw Hook into a car window, Perry looked directly into the camera and said, “It’s real glass…cry me a river.” Backstage, Punk went nuclear. When Perry came through the curtain, Punk and Perry got into a legitimate fight with Khan nearly getting injured as well. Keep in mind this was mere minutes before the show itself was to truly start with Punk facing Samoa Joe! A mad scramble was on to find a potential replacement opener, but Khan apparently told Punk to not ruin the show and shockingly, Punk agreed. The crowd was none the wiser as Punk had a good match with Joe.
Little did anyone know that it would be Punk’s final match in AEW.
Six days later, the final bomb hit. Despite everything Punk had done for the company, including some ridiculously high ratings and the biggest houses the company had ever seen, it just became too much. And at that point, Punk was terminated by the company.
That, my friends, is not only a Pyrrhic victory…it’s also a Gooker award winner.