CM Punk and the Most Over Stars in WWE and AEW Right Now
The wrestling business has always been about the reaction. While individual matches and moments can be special on their own, it is the attention they get from fans that elevates things to another level.
There is a reason that crowds returning to events was of such importance. The energy and life that can change the way everyone perceives events and stars returned to arenas.
WrestleMania 37 was special because there was a packed stadium of people watching, and All Out 2021 was one of the biggest moments in All Elite Wrestling history thanks to the crowd reaction.
Every wrestler craves to be over with the audience. They want fans to love or hate them based on the character they play. That impact can resonate in a way that cannot be matched by anything else.
While there are many wrestlers who are over with the crowd in WWE and AEW, only a select few can truly transcend labels. These are the performers who make their mark at a level almost no one can match, including stars such as CM Punk and Roman Reigns.
This list does not include anyone who is not actively competing. John Cena may have wrestled at SummerSlam, but he is not an active competitor. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock don't count, either, even though they can turn up on a show from time to time.
MJF: Few know how to get a crowd angry like MJF. While he occasionally has to rely on cheap shots that may cross the line, his charisma and presence have allowed him to be one of the most loathed heels in wrestling.
Lucha Brothers: Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix got some of the biggest reactions at All Out through their work in the ring with The Young Bucks. Even before then, though, they were hugely popular. They just haven't quite hit top gear in popularity.
Britt Baker: The Doctor is the top talent in the AEW women's division for more than one reason. She makes every moment count and her charisma is off the charts. However, she is still more popular than over, playing the heel but getting the reactions of a babyface.
Jungle Boy: Jungle Jack Perry has one of the catchiest themes in AEW seems to be on the verge of superstardom. It won't take long for him to come join this list, but he still hasn't reached main event status with his pops.
Orange Cassidy: A unique talent, Freshly Squeezed is clearly over with the younger audience. His signature look is imitated in every single AEW crowd. He is straddling the line between side attraction and centerpiece of AEW. It's all a matter of what he does next.
Bianca Belair: The EST of WWE is on the verge of superstardom. She is the rare talent who has been able to overcome bad booking and lean into good booking. It's all a matter of sustainability in an era that has been dominated by only a few select women.
Sasha Banks: No matter what WWE does with The Boss, she remains a featured attraction. She is as special as they come. She just needs to find the right balance between heel and face for crowds to fully buy into.
When CM Punk returned to the ring in Chicago on AEW Rampage for the first time in seven years, the reaction was unlike anything wrestling has produced in years. It was a special moment.
Pops like that are once-in-a-generation moments. Right now, there may not be a single star who can rise to the level of The Best in the World's popularity.
Even two months in, fans are still overwhelmingly excited to see Punk. He has a generation-defining air about him as he did at his peak in WWE.
The thing that makes Punk's popularity so special is that it is at the level of the greats who have now retired.
Punk is so over that it transcends wrestling, and his presence feels like an event. This excitement may eventually recede to a respectable popularity, but each crowd is still riding the high of his return.
Roman Reigns has always been a special talent, but he has become a force of nature since returning to the ring at SummerSlam 2020 and turning heel. He can control attention with just a whisper.
WWE fans can be fickle and rarely follow the script, but it is clear how much the crowd is behind him. He can certainly draw heat as a villain, but it is his aura that entrances fans into making noise for him.
The Head of the Table is on the run of his career, and he could get the loudest pop WWE has heard in a long time when he turns face again. It would be a dramatic shift from a few years back when fans were barely interested in him.
Reigns has earned the respect of the audience and crafted one of the greatest world title runs in WWE history.
It is clear who the star of the show in WWE is, and The Tribal Chief will not give up that crown for a long time to come. He is the one unmitigated success story in the company at the moment.
'Hangman' Adam Page
When "Hangman" Adam Page disappeared for a few months on paternity leave, many questioned if the landscape of AEW had passed him by.
He was popular at the time of his departure and largely expected to take the AEW World Championship off Kenny Omega. Would he lose all of that in his absence?
The answer upon his return was a resounding "no." The Cowboy stormed into Philadelphia's Liacouras Center last week in the main event to win a shot at Omega when he wants it.
The reaction for Hangman was so universal that crowds even booed Jon Moxley when it looked like the former champion might take the win from him.
While the 30-year-old might not have the name recognition of most on this list, he has been able to capture the hearts and minds of the audience with his storytelling and natural charisma. It has been one of AEW's most profound stories to watch unfold.
Many loath Brock Lesnar's use in WWE, but there is no doubt crowds around the world will react when his music hits. He continues to craft his own unique legacy as the part-time attraction worth every penny to WWE.
The Beast Incarnate has mostly worked as a heel and shined particularly with Paul Heyman behind him. His work in the ring is so brutal that it can create underdogs out of even the biggest of men.
Lately, though, he has been a babyface in a rivalry with Roman Reigns. Crowds have been buying into every moment as he plays confident spoiler to the biggest star in WWE.
While The Tribal Chief can elevate some talent, he and Lesnar are elevating one another. It has been a rivalry that has outshined almost anything else the company has put on.
Fans will flock to watch Crown Jewel when Lesnar and Reigns go head-to-head, but The Beast has that effect with almost every match.
Whether you love or hate Fozzy's most defining track, "Judas", it has become an unmistakable attraction in AEW. Chris Jericho is at the center of that. He is a star and a legend all his own who has made his theme a moment every time he arrives.
It was solidified in August when the 50-year-old was not allowed to play his theme on his way out to the ring against MJF. The audience bought into what AEW was selling and sang his theme acapella, giving The Demo God one of the greatest entrances of his career.
His theme has arguably started its own movement in AEW. Jungle Boy and Jon Moxley have the veteran to thank for their own entrances causing such a loud musical response.
Jericho knows the business. He has performed for 30 years and sold unique crowds for decades. He adapts to the times and ensures he's always relevant. Right now, though, he is at perhaps his most popular.
AEW has made him into a featured attraction in a way WWE never quite did. He feels like a legend on the level of some of his greatest rivals including The Rock and Shawn Michaels. His presence in the company gives a weight to the rest of the product few others can match.
There is certainly an argument to be made that he should consider backing off a bit to allow more young talent to thrive, but there is no argument that he is one of the most popular wrestlers of this generation.
Many women can lay claim to changing the wrestling industry. Names that immediately come to mind include Trish Stratus, Lita, Gail Kim, AJ Lee, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey. Plenty more before and after have also made their mark.
However, no one has transcended women's wrestling in WWE quite like Becky Lynch. At her most popular, she was not just the biggest star in the women's division but also the biggest star in the world.
Before Lynch took a hiatus, she had lost some steam due to poor booking, but her time off only fueled excitement among fans to see one of the best again. She is a charismatic powerhouse who can make anything work, even turning heel at a time when she could have been the biggest face in the business.
The Man's return was the loudest moment at SummerSlam in August, but it was also a dud that Lynch and Bianca Belair had to reshape into something better. They have done just that, and The Man remains massively over, just in a new way.
She is controlling crowd reactions and turning them toward her opponents. She has helped elevate The EST of WWE to such an extent that we no longer have to be reminded of the shoddy SummerSlam booking.
Lynch is a star and the only talent who can genuinely compete night after night with Roman Reigns for the top spot in wrestling.
Nothing is quite like hearing an entire crowd chanting "Yes!" as Bryan Danielson makes his way to the ring. It was special at WrestleMania 37 and then at All Out 2021. It will continue to be special every night.
No matter his size, the former Daniel Bryan has always been one of the most popular and revered talents in wrestling. If he returned to WWE tomorrow in an arena of 100,000 people, he would get the loudest reaction of anyone.
At the moment, the 40-year-old has morphed his style to return to his roots. His match with Kenny Omega earned rave reviews because it was another fantastic night for one of the best technical wrestlers of all time.
Fans appreciate his dedication to his craft. He changed the game just as much as CM Punk before him, opening doors that many of AEW's top young stars walked through.
It is hard to imagine a single night in the future when Danielson is not one of the most over men in the building.
The American Dragon has risen again, and he's still one of the best at everything he does.
The New Day
The New Day have done the unthinkable. Over seven years, Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods have remained friends and allies while dominating wrestling. That kind of consistency has made them popular on a level that is hard to measure.
It is especially felt when one of the trio steps out on their own. KofiMania culminated in Kingston winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 35 in front of a raucous crowd reception that has rarely been matched.
Big E has now branched out on his own and become a star in the eyes of every fan watching. His run to the WWE tile resonated because he never lost sight of who he was. He has become a voice of the locker room through sheer likability.
Woods may feel like the odd man out for the moment, but he has made his mark in unique ways. When he does get his chance on his own—perhaps in the ongoing King of the Ring tournament—he will rise just like his teammates.
The New Day as a whole can get a huge reaction in any arena. Together, they create such a unique aura that they can make the wackiest stories work. This group is special on so many levels, and fans celebrate that.
There is a genuine argument to be made that no one is as popular right now on a week-to-week basis as Adam Cole.
"Hangman" Adam Page and CM Punk have certainly gotten louder cheers for one night, but the former NXT champion has ignited crowds in a way few can match since arriving on AEW at All Out.
His theme tune rocketed up the iTunes charts, and few things elicit such a massive reaction as the "Boom!" and "Adam Cole, Bay Bay" chants.
It could be argued the 32-year-old is not doing his job as a heel given how popular he is, but he has managed to twist that reaction so well in recent weeks. He even had the crowd outright booing him after his cheap victory over Jungle Boy.
As he continues to twist the fans and use the natural heat of The Elite to his advantage, he can turn that initial popularity into something that benefits all those around him.
Cole's theme will likely forever cause the same reaction. When he finally turns face, he might be untouchable for crowd response. At the moment, though, he is in a place he wants to be, and he will use his charisma to make himself and everyone around him more over.