Hot Take: AEW's Blatant CM Punk Teases Could Blow Up Spectacularly

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2021

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2016, file photo, CM Punk stands in his corner before a welterweight bout at UFC 203 in Cleveland. Punk went 0-2 in UFC and has given himself until the new year to decide if he wants to keep fighting. Punk hopes to stick in the sport as a mixed martial arts announcer. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)
David Dermer/Associated Press

All Elite Wrestling would create one of the biggest moments in modern wrestling history if it lures CM Punk out of retirement.

But it could also be flirting with a flop.

That's just the nature of the business, where risks are required to succeed. AEW knows all about that after stepping into a niche among fans and blowing all the way up, sending WWE reeling in a handful of ways, whether it was winning a head-to-head ratings war on a specific night or gobbling up released Superstars and using them better.

But AEW has been a little too on the nose about Punk's possible arrival. From announcing a last-second show at United Center in Chicago to Darby Allin dropping a reference to being the "best in the world," to name a few, AEW seems to be doing a wink-wink with fans.

Granted, we have already outlined how AEW managing to reel in Punk and Daniel Bryan would take the promotion to a whole different level for a number of reasons. But it's a well-known fact of the industry that a poor reveal or debut can derail something permanently before it ever gets going.

So it makes the current approach a little suspect. Amid the hints, AEW announced Rampage would take place August 20 at United Center, an arena so big WWE often doesn't bother with it. It's one of four shows it is running in an oversaturated market in a short timespan.

To be fair, Bryan Alvarez of Wrestling Observer Newsletter said AEW moved 10,000 tickets on the presale alone, which is a staggering number. Unless there is some serious scalper action going on, that's the power of Punk, AEW and the wrestling hotbed that is Chicago.

But it's also just another mark in the AEW has to nail this column.

All those hints and an ambitious extra show is a huge risk. AEW is seemingly saying "no thanks" to a massive television rating for its flagship program, instead seemingly relegating one of the most anticipated returns in history to a one-hour show. Rather than bumping one of the already scheduled shows to a bigger venue, it has opted for an additional show.

A Punk return on an hour-long show sounds fun and odd at the same time—if that's even what's going on. While Punk seems nearly guaranteed to make his return, this is wrestling, and wrestling likes to swerve its fans.

Even if there isn't a big swerve (it was just a heel who came out to "Cult of Personality"), AEW has had another mishap in this area already. The promotion teased a big signing/surprise and it was just Christian. Cool, but the apathetic reaction was palpable.

David Dermer/Associated Press

To be clear, outside of another "it's Christian" moment, AEW has done incredibly well with the majority of its signings. Sting has been used perfectly so far. The company has walked a smart tightrope between propping up stars and building for the future. It has also yanked things that weren't getting the desired reaction. AEW has respected its fans, and compared to the competition, that is saying quite a bit.

But this has to be perfect. And maybe it will be. If Punk can pop a rating for Rampage and AEW can have the ensuing episodes do well, it has another show right alongside Dynamite in importance. Plus, it helps the big build for All Out, provided Punk is ready to go by that pay-per-view.

Still, it all almost feels like too much. It's hard to say what's just right for a hypothetical of this magnitude. But AEW is banking so much on this, and the expectations are higher than almost anything we have seen to date.

If there's a company that can pull it off, it's probably AEW. For the good of the sport and its fans, let's hope the Punk-return rollout doesn't sputter.


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