CM Punk & AEW Have Everybody's Attention Now

You're wrong, Roman Reigns. 

Those won't be words that WWE's Universal Champion, and undoubtedly the promotion's stand-out character in the last 12 months, will be used to hearing. Everything he's touched over the last year has turned to gold.

But if Reigns was confident in his assertion that CM Punk is not a needle-mover to the level of the likes of John Cena and The Rock, watching a short, four-minute clip shared to YouTube by All Elite Wrestling on Friday night and then reading the reaction on social media might knock it ever so slightly.

Reigns' comments - made during an interview with BT Sport - should of course be taken with a generous pinch of salt. But the inflection of bitterness is undeniable. It's unadulterated. 

Perhaps it's even, almost, understandable. On a weekend that was supposed to announce to the world WWE's full return to pomp and grandeur, SummerSlam 2021 isn't what's on everyone's lips.

Instead, all eyes have been on All Elite Wrestling. All eyes were on AEW Rampage: The First Dance. All eyes were pointed towards Chicago, Illinois.

All eyes were on the man who didn't move the needle in WWE.

After weeks of teases, not-so-subtle references, and picking apart the context of every single social media post, CM Punk officially returned to a wrestling promotion for the first time in seven-and-a-half years.

To say we watched Punk step inside an AEW arena for the first time, in his hometown of Chicago, doesn't do the moment justice.

We felt it.

Cm punk aew first dance

All Elite Wrestling

Chicago officials are spending their weekend picking up pieces of the United Center roof off of Interstate 290. An increase in reported sore throats in the area aren't COVID symptoms; it's Second City Saviour Syndrome.

Even more spinetingling, even more heart-warming, were Punk's own reactions. It was almost too much for a man who, by his own-admission, is a bit worn-in-the-tooth, a bit grizzled.

We saw something I'm not sure we ever really saw during his time in WWE. We saw CM Punk happy.

And then we got to hear Punk. On a microphone in a wrestling ring. 

In 2011, CM Punk got on a microphone and lured thousands of lapsed fans back to the world of wrestling.

A decade later, CM Punk got on a microphone and lured thousands of lapsed fans back into the world of wrestling.

It wasn't a 'pipe bomb'. It wasn't a diatribe. It wasn't grievances. It was Punk, back in a wrestling thing, once again filled with the love and want to do the thing he thought he would never want to do again when he left WWE in 2014.

And it was in his mention - or should I say lack of mention - of WWE that arguably stood out the most.

"If at all through my journey my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down, let me just say I understand. If you all try to understand that I was never going to get healthy - physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally - staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.

"I look at it like this. August 13th, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20, 2021, I'm back."

Cm punk aew first dance 2

All Elite Wrestling

WWE loyalists will claim, and are right on a certain level, that Punk had a chance in WWE. A 434-day run as WWE Champion between 2011 and 2013 was the longest in the company's modern history and Punk worked some incredible matches during his run with the promotion.

But while Punk represented what wrestling fans wanted to see, the WWE-built, Sports-Entertainment Terminator named John Cena still main-evented pay-per-views against the villainous Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis and the Big Show (who, somewhat ironically, will also make his AEW in-ring debut at All Out next month).

And in that is perhaps the key difference. In WWE - a world where the word 'wrestler' has become dirty - CM Punk could not be the professional wrestler. Within the pocket universe created by Vince McMahon, few thrive and many fall.

But in losing Punk, WWE lost a not inconsiderable viewership too. An audience that Punk himself told on Friday night 'I'm one of you'. An audience that tuned in, in their hundreds of thousands, to watch the man who got them interested in wrestling again in 2011 get them hooked once again in 2021.

Reigns mentioned Punk in the same bracket as John Cena and The Rock. The reactions to their respective returns to WWE - in 2011 and just last month - were incredible. Punk's on Friday night was no less insane.

The viewing figures, the YouTube numbers (over 4m views across two videos in less than 12 hours), the Twitter engagement. They speak for themselves.

So maybe, on reflection, saying Roman Reigns was wrong is not a completely fair statement. CM Punk may not have been a needle-mover - in the world of Sports Entertainment.

But in professional wrestling? In AEW? CM Punk has everybody's attention now.

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Mitch Waddon

Written by Mitch Waddon

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