OPINION: With CM Punk's monumental debut, let the AEW vs. WWE wargames ensue
Last week, while WWE saw many epic "returns" during SummerSlam 2021, AEW witnessed the highly-awaited debut of CM Punk, which deservedly stole the show between both the leading professional wrestling companies and rivals.
When CM Punk left WWE, in not so amicable terms, back in 2013, he left a giant void in the wrestling company. Whenever a wrestler of his stature bids goodbye, eventually, another promising wrestler fills the gap and helps fans in moving on. However, with the Straight Edge Superstar, there wasn't a worthy candidate. Punk's no-filtered persona interlaced with his impeccable technical wrestling skills was unmatchable.
Hence, even years after Punk's heartbreaking departure from WWE, the loyal WWE Universe chanted his name in every opportunity they could find. However, Punk's animosity towards and grievances with WWE built one too many bridges and even a return possibility seemed highly doubtful. This hesitancy changed when Punk surprisingly joined WWE Backstage as an analyst, albeit, he made it crystal clear that an in-ring return was not happening. Then, came the AEW murmurs. Though fairly new to professional wrestling, Tony Khan's company has posed itself as a viable threat to WWE, something that hasn't happened since the legendary WWF vs. WCW rivalry.
What makes AEW interesting is how they cater to both their fans' needs as well as their wrestlers' personal prosperity, giving them wings to fly. Many former WWE wrestlers jumped ship to AEW, not because they hated WWE, but because of the creative restrictions on their storylines where they couldn't go off-key from the script or were kept on the sidelines for far too long. Take Jon Moxley, for example. As Dean Ambrose, after The Shield's breakup, his quick, much-deserved rise in popularity could have made him a true force to be reckoned with. However, after his epic first WWE World Heavyweight Championship win at Money in the Bank 2016, against his The Shield mates, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, Dean, unfortunately, saw a downward trajectory in terms of storytelling.
After The Shield's millionth reunion, fans were shocked to see Dean turn on Seth simply because of the timing. It was on the same WWE Raw episode when Roman emotionally revealed his leukaemia battle. While extremely delicate of a storyline with a hard gamble of will it/won't it work, many felt this could be another light coming Ambrose's way to superstardom. However, this storyline didn't get the justice it deserved. A tired, resigned Dean, who is brimming with so much potential for everyone to see, both in the ring and especially on the mike, eventually decided to not renew his WWE contract and bid farewell in 2019.
After sharing his reasons behind leaving WWE, owing to the major creative conflicts, Dean went back to his Jon Moxley roots and made his highly-speculated debut in AEW, weeks later. Since then, Jon has been given the complete freedom to fly and the wrestler is running with the momentum. While Moxley completely let go of his WWE alter-ego, both physically and mentally, on the contrary, Punk's debut at AEW Rampage - The First Dance on August 21, was reminiscent of his unforgettable The Summer of Punk era.
What with his iconic Cult of Personality theme song blasting during his entrance, wearing his signature tee, the pipebomb cross-legged pose, a passionate promo and even self-financed ice cream bars (To think the money WWE would have made with this!). Transporting us back to the early 2010s, the unsurprisingly monstrous pop that Punk was welcomed back with open arms from fans during AEW Rampage - The First Dance at a "full house" United Center, Chicago (No other city deserved Punk's AEW debut more than his own hometown!), it seemed like the signalling of a new era in professional wrestling. One where WWE isn't the lone top dog!
With rumours of Punk signing with AEW going rampant for a few weeks now, with Punk laying Easter eggs of his own along the way, WWE had to buck up as well. Not only did we get John Cena's eagerly awaited in-ring return against Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam 2021, but we also saw the epic returns of Becky Lynch and Brock Lesnar. While The Beast's return came way at the end, to just teasing himself as Roman's next opponent after John (Spoiler Alert: Roman wins!), Becky got a big return pop, that she has been accustomed to, but at the expense of Bianca Belair. In a matter of seconds, the WWE SmackDown Women's Championship switched hands and left a sour aftertaste, even for the majority excited by The Man's return. To build momentum for one at the expense of another fan-favourite, a hard pass!
A contradictory statement discussed by a fan on Twitter that intrigued me is how the three returning wrestlers in WWE were just handed out championship matches on a silver platter. On the other hand, Punk wasn't gifted a title opportunity on the spot. Instead, a rivalry between Punk and Darby Allin (who was called out by Punk, standing at the rafters along with Sting) was teased at the end of the former's debut promo. You fight for an opportunity for a championship title, before being given said opportunity. That's what makes title feuds interesting AF! Guess whose debut/return became an instant trending topic and raised expectations, times a 100?
As I mentioned before, the excitement before, during and especially after Punk's AEW debut feels like a "new tide" moment because suddenly, everyone is talking about professional wrestling again; the ones who continue to love it, the ones who let go and are coming back again and brand new fans as well. What's even more intriguing is how it's forcing WWE to straighten their backs and rethink their age-old formulas to finally cater to what fans and even their roster so unanimously crave. With a script, John Cena could decimate Roman Reigns on the mike all those years ago. Now, The Tribal Chief can match word to word with the Cenation leader.
Creative liberties can make the world go round and thanks to AEW, WWE is starting to take risks again. And even better, with CM Punk's AEW debut (Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt may soon make their AEW debuts as well!), let the AEW vs. WWE wargames commence. Could there be a more exciting time to be a professional wrestling fan?! I think not!
I'm genuinely giddy with excitement because as CM Punk teased wrestling fans: "I'm back!"
Do you think CM Punk's much-awaited return to professional wrestling with a monumental AEW debut change the landscape? Share your honest, personal comments with Pinkvilla in the comments section below.