What Must CM Punk, Daniel Bryan Achieve to Consider Possible AEW Run a Success?August 4, 2021
The wrestling world is abuzz at the prospect of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan joining All Elite Wrestling, and rightfully so. The idea of two of the industry's most respected and popular stars of the last decade joining the young company and adding their expertise and star power is exciting.
Lost in the fervor, though, is one glaring question: What do they have left to gain from the move?
Both have already been world champions, wrestling the top stars the industry has to offer on the grandest stages of them all. They have sold merchandise, filled arenas and padded their resumes.
Is there really a storyline, moment or championship that can alter their already Hall of Fame-worthy legacies?
A return to the ring for AEW provides fresh matches, but what can Bryan and Punk do to consider their potential run with Tony Khan's promotion a success that they haven't already accomplished elsewhere?
Daniel Bryan: Remind Fans Who He Is
While stuck under the WWE umbrella, Bryan watched as other wrestlers around the globe earned the label of "the best," one he wore proudly earlier in his career.
None was more touted or propped up as the measuring stick over the last decade than Kenny Omega, the reigning AEW, Impact and AAA Grand champion.
While Bryan was chanting "Yes!" and hugging Kane, Omega was developing a reputation of the best in the business. When WWE pulled Bryan from the ring due to concussion and neck injury concerns, Omega rose to prominence as the leader of the Bullet Club and on the strength of his in-ring work with Kazuchika Okada.
Even as Bryan was delivering a five-star classic against Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania 35 in 2019, there was still no denying he had seen his title taken by Omega—at least in the eyes of the die-hard fans.
Free from the shackles of WWE, which demands a certain style of in-ring storytelling, Bryan can now work how he wants to. He can kick the life out of his opponents, twist them like a pretzel on the mat and have those long technical matches that earned him acclaim as The American Dragon on the independent scene.
And he can have that dream match with Omega.
Bryan became a more polished sports entertainer in WWE and made millions doing it. Now, he has the opportunity to rediscover the grittiness that defined his earlier career and showcase the unmatched technical ability that sometimes took a back seat in McMahonland.
He can wrestle Omega, help create new stars out of AEW's young roster and contribute to the future of the industry. He can also, and perhaps more intriguingly, use the company's working relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling to go across the Pacific and have long-awaited showdowns with Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Minoru Suzuki and others.
After a decade with WWE, in which he became a bigger star than even he could have imagined, this new chapter allows him to throw it back a bit and rediscover the side of himself that earned high praise long before there was a Yes Movement for him to lead and that should be very exciting for the fans who remember his early career.
CM Punk: Go Out On His Terms
By now, everyone knows the story. Fed up and frustrated with creative and beaten up from nonstop touring around the globe, CM Punk walked out on WWE following the fulfillment of his contractual obligations and has not wrestled a single match since.
This, despite an obvious demand from fans who still chant his name in arenas around the world.
For seven years, those same fans have imagined a day when they would hear the opening chords of Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and the tattooed antihero would step through the curtain, back to save them from the monotony of WWE programming.
They are closer to getting that than ever before, but not in Vince McMahon's company.
Punk may have many different reasons for returning to wrestling, but among them has to be his desire to close things out on his terms.
He devoted such a huge chunk of his professional life to the industry, and while he has said he didn't miss it, there has to be a desire to wrap up his career according to how he saw it while simultaneously sticking it to the company that never saw him as "the guy" in the first place.
There are fresh matches and new rivalries for him in AEW, but there is nothing he will accomplish there that will make him any bigger of a star now than he was at the height of his WWE career. There just isn't.
However, he owes it to himself more than anyone else to have one last great run of matches and stories before he hangs up the boots one last time. And if that means doing it as one of the faces of the first company to provide competition to McMahon in 20 years, even better.