What in the sam heck is going on with CM Punk? Is he going to return to AEW? Remain under contract but never appear on the promotion again? Secure a buyout from Tony Khan and then jump ship back to WWE, where he could potentially wrestle someone like “Stone Cole” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 39? And what about The Elite? After Kenny Omega tried to push aside the tension between himself, the Young Bucks, and “The Best in the World,” AEW’s remaining EVPs certainly took enough shots at him to warrant multiple think pieces and “people close to Punk” weighing in on his supposed thoughts on the match.
Would Punk put his ego aside to return to AEW and compete in an angle with MJF or someone else? Would the locker room, which Anthony Bowens asserts is in good shape, accept him back into their ranks? And what about Tony Khan? Does he have any desire to work with Punk again after everything he’s done up to this point?
One person who has a very strong opinion on the matter is Eric Bishoff, the former WCW head honcho-turned-RAW GM-turned-WWE Hall of Famer, who emptied the chamber on Punk in an interview with Steven Fall of Ten Count fame for WrestleNews.com. Asking the multi-hyphenate, who has appeared on AEW as recently as May of 2021, if Punk returning to WWE would make sense, Bishoff gave the idea a thumbs down, as transcribed by Fightful.
“I don’t think it would be,” Bischoff said. “I think CM Punk sh*t the bed. When Tony Khan brought CM Punk into AEW, he still had that mystique, the Pipe bomb mystique. He was this character that stood up to the man and walked away. There’s a rebel, rebellious quality in that character that I think the average American admires. So Punk had this mystique and still had his fanbase, and Tony Khan was able to take advantage of that. Over a very short period of time, that mystique began to just dissipate, it was like letting the air out of the balloon a little bit more each and every week. CM Punk came in and great ratings, and then, literally, the next week, started in a free fall back down to pre-Punk levels. You look at where AEW is in terms of week-to-week ratings, which is the only thing that we can have to measure that’s public because the financial information is all private, and we don’t really hear anything about the real financial information. We just get the top line stuff. But ratings is the data that we have that we can go, ‘Oh, okay. This is where this product is going.’ Flat-lined shortly after CM Punk got there. Flat-lined to pre-Punk levels.”
In terms of viewership, Bischoff is dead on; AEW drew its best Rampage number of all time when Punk debuted, but the numbers rapidly declined back to the same as they were before his arrival within weeks. But why didn’t PunkMania continue on? Well, Bischoff has a theory on that one too.
“I think that a lot of that has to do with people came, they were excited because of the aura and the mystique, they saw, and they went, ‘Eh. Not so much,” Bischoff said. “Little bit, but eh. Nothing special.’ Then for Punk to conduct himself in the manner in which he did I think left a bad taste in not only the fans’ mouths, but why would anybody wanna hire a guy that’s willing to publicly disparage the guy that’s writing him a check every week when he’s right next to you? Why would anybody want to be in business with that guy?”
Would fans of WWE, let alone AEW, welcome Punk back if he returns to either promotion? Or would his schtick rapidly fall out of favor and result in reactions akin to the one The Elite received in Chicago? That, folks, is the multi-million dollar question.
WWE legend Bischoff suggests how Khan should have handled All Out presser.
Elsewhere in his interview with Fall, Bischoff was asked how Khan should have dealt with the All Out media scrum before things devolved into Punk shooting on seemingly the entire AEW Galaxy before getting into a fistfight with The Elite in the locker room and, frankly, his idea is actually pretty good.
“Tony had a mic,” Bischoff said. “He had his own mic. He could have grabbed that mic, stood up and said, ‘This conference is over. Thank you all very much. Shut down the audio.’ Boom, it’s over. Then sort it out. But to sit there and be thrashed and flayed like a fish by a guy that you’re writing a check to for more money, five times more money than he’s really worth, is mine-boggling to me. Again, I’m stubborn in some respects. I think the most important quality that anybody has in life is loyalty and integrity above talent, and if someone would be that disloyal and show that lack of integrity, I would never want to be in business with him. I don’t care how much money I could make because it’s gonna be a short-term win. You’re gonna win for a minute, and you’re gonna be sort. That’s been the pattern, hasn’t it? It’s a well-established pattern. So no, I wouldn’t hire him back.”
Had Khan shut things down right then and there when it was clear Punk was on the warpath at his presser, could all of this have been avoided? Potentially so, The Elite would likely still be AEW World Trios Champions, Punk would have still had to miss time with an injury, and MJF would likely still be champion thanks to his Devilish return. But hey, you know what they say about hindsight, it’s always 20/20.