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MJF vs. CM Punk is the Feud That Can Elevate AEW to a New Level

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 5, 2022

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

All Elite Wrestling All Out's main event on Sunday night featuring CM Punk and Jon Moxley got the promotion back on track with an unexpected twist—the return of MJF and, more importantly, the long-awaited standoff between MJF and CM Punk.

CM Punk predictably got the win in Chicago after a very unpredictable (and polarizing) path back to the AEW World Championship in the wake of his injury and amid the MJF-Tony Khan standoff.

AEW masterfully wrapped it all up in the closing moments of the event. A Hollywood-level promo explained everything before and after the big reveal and return.

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MJF MAKES HIS RETURN TO <a href="https://twitter.com/AEW?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AEW</a> 🚨<a href="https://t.co/EiJf4CiR5K">pic.twitter.com/EiJf4CiR5K</a>

In short, the obviously MJF figure who won the Casino Ladder match earlier that same night storywise was in the match because of behind-the-scenes bartering with Tony Khan himself.

In the "leaked" voicemail, Khan promised to pay his disgruntled superstar a lump sum, put him in that high-stakes match and most important of all: He agreed not to force MJF to sign an extension.

That's the most important storytelling aspect that might get passed over on first glance. Amid rumors of a serious real-life gap between MJF and the promotion, he hasn't been seen since early June after cutting a reality-blending promo on Khan and leaving.

Astute fans, of course, easily picked up on the parallels between MJF's situation and CM Punk's past woes in places like WWE. Punk's ill-timed injury that derailed this feud and the likely "Summer of Punk 2.0" put MJF in this weird purgatory where AEW didn't want to just up and use him in anything else.

But if AEW was going to attempt to recapture the stunning momentum of the obvious main event scene between the two, it needed to do so with a bang.

Sunday night was that—in emphatic fashion. There was no hand-waving MJF's presence in the ladder match as just pro wrestling things, which respects the fans. Even better, it's clear what MJF has described as "the bidding war of 2024" will still very much take center stage in this feud now that Khan has agreed not to force a contract extension.

Meaning, where AEW's main-event scene goes from here might be the most captivating thing in pro wrestling today. There's no better pairing of mic workers and storytellers, for one. And two, we've got MJF working with Stokely Hathaway, which if nothing else, could perhaps give Wardlow something interesting to do after MJF's real-world drama appeared to derail his push.

And if there's one thing AEW has been very good at so far, it's those long-term storylines.

The plight and rise of the homegrown "Hangman" Adam Page remains the top example. This new saga about to unfold takes a veteran Punk who sees a younger version of himself in MJF and lets it simmer. And the challenger for the title, while a pillar of AEW itself, is only 26 years old and an actual generational free agent in the industry.

Rest assured WWE would trip over itself to add him—any promotion would at any cost. And remember, nothing's impossible after Cody Rhodes went back.

None of this is to say the journey here was perfect. The strange injury angle a few weeks ago where Punk lost to Moxley in a matter of seconds remains an odd decision. Punk came back a week later and had a weird pick-me-up interaction.

Narrativewise, it was impossible to imagine Punk would lose again, especially in Chicago. The match was fine, with Moxley impressively getting his own chants in Punk's hometown, of all places and times. We're also going to have to talk about the fact both Moxley and then MJF got chants there, which could always eventually be cause for Punk to be the one who works the heel role if fans side with MJF's plight against the machine itself.

But more importantly, AEW ducked that mentioned narrative issue and avoided cliche things like MJF simply interfering in the main event itself.

The result is a critical course correction for AEW at the most important of times with WWE suddenly on the rise with Triple H as head of creative.

Just like at the start of the summer when this feud was clearly the play, AEW has a potentially all-timer of a feud on its hands given the performers and depth of the storyline potential.

In a way, the name of the event—All Out—is perfectly fitting. AEW course-corrected with the groundwork laid here for Punk vs. MJF, and it doubles as a chance to elevate the company to unseen heights.

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