How CM Punk And Eddie Kingston’s AEW Full Gear Match Added To Both Of Their Legacies
Blood, hatred and flipped birds. What a match.
‘Isn’t this the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life?’
Full Gear was an enthralling and exhausting show. We saw nine main card matches, most hovering around the 20-minute mark, with very few gaps in between.
The shortest bout - and the only one to clock in at under a quarter of an hour - was CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston. They made the most of it.
Moreover, the contest thrived in contrast to its surroundings. Looking strictly at the match times, you’d expect it to flounder amidst MJF and Darby’s expertly-developed opener, the elongated chaos of the Falls Count Anywhere match, and the ultimate catharsis of Hangman vs. Omega.
Instead, Punk and Kingston made the absolute best of what was honestly a very tricky situation.
That might not seem true on the surface. Was there really that much to overcome? After all, both men are incredibly well-liked, so much so that their clash was always going to be highly anticipated, even on such a stacked card.
They are also comfortably two of the most charismatic wrestlers of the modern era, and will go down in history primarily because of their personalities. That would give any feud a good headstart, before we’ve even mentioned that their storyline was rooted in reality. That furious promo segment on Rampage laid bare the historic tensions between the pair, dragging backstage arguments from behind the curtain and into the public eye.
I understand that it may not have surprised all of us; many already knew that Punk was seen as a little uncompromising in his younger days, to put it very mildly. But for a whole host of newer or younger fans, that would have proven to be a major shock, and an intriguing extra wrinkle.
But for all the key ingredients driving this feud towards success, I still believe that heading into Full Gear, Punk and Kingston found themselves in a difficult scenario.
There were many obstacles to overcome. First, the relatively short match length, which ended up being 11 minutes. This required a pretty ferocious pace, especially if they intended to squeeze in all the moments and minutiae their rivalry deserved. For a man fast approaching his 40s and another comfortably into his own, 11 minutes just doesn’t sound like enough time to tell such a tale.
There was also the question of the booking. This detail may have gotten lost in the hype surrounding the match - and the pay-per-view in general - but weren’t Punk and Kingston in something of a lose-lose situation? Punk’s first AEW loss would surely feel too early, but with the alternative of Eddie coming up short in another big match, neither outcome seemed particularly fun.
We now know that they overcame all the potential pitfalls, and did so with laughable ease, honestly.
A ferocious pace was needed, and a ferocious pace we got. The match felt frantic and like a fight, but somehow never became too rushed. There were moments where it ground completely, confidently to a halt, like Punk’s extended selling of Eddie’s cheap pre-match backfist, or the tease of the five-knuckle shuffle. Then it would explode back into life in a whirlwind of blood, biting and flipped birds.
If you can’t tell, I liked Punk vs. Kingston quite a lot.
It took two masters of the craft to make the bout feel so real, not just in terms of the actual blow-by-blow physicality, but in the storytelling beats too. There was emotion in this match - primarily hatred.
They also overcame the other major obstacle mentioned earlier: the booking. Punk won, which was probably the least-damaging call on balance, but Eddie got his heat back in a far bigger way than a simple post-match beatdown.
Firstly - and full credit to him for this - Punk sold the effects of the match like hell, even falling when the referee tried to raise his hand. But more explicitly, there was the handshake moment.
In his refusal to shake Punk’s hand, Kingston reminded us that he’s not quite a normal wrestler, one innately affected by wins and losses. His value instead comes from staying true to himself, and the true Eddie Kingston would never shake CM Punk’s hand at this point in the story.
This match really was a remarkable, difficult achievement, but it’s easy to say that a few days after the fact. How will we look back on it in a few years, in relation to both wrestlers’ careers?
Punk’s legacy didn’t demand a return to wrestling. We’re all damn glad he did, especially at All Out when it became apparent he was still very good. In fact, Punk’s whole fledgling AEW run has been incredibly impressive so far, with last weekend’s match its crowning achievement to date - and even though he didn’t need to come back, performances like that will only reinforce his standing in history.
It can be easy to forget that, given Eddie’s sudden rise, he’s already had countless defining moments on multiple smaller platforms. With the majority of his career likely in the rearview, Full Gear might possibly have hosted the biggest match of his entire life. (It’s either that or the bout with Cody - the one that launched him here.)
So it’s important to recognise that Punk vs. Kingston will have the same positive effect on the latter’s legacy as it does the former. We should look back upon it as a major moment in Eddie’s career, regardless of how late it came, or that he lost. The fact that he’s still reaching new personal heights perhaps makes it even more important for him; there’s a definite romanticism about an older wrestler finally realising his dreams when he thought the chance had long passed him by. Not that Eddie comfortably fits the protagonist mould...
A real hero would have shaken Punk’s hand, and certainly wouldn’t have sucker-punched him before the bell - but Kingston isn’t a real hero. He’s far too human for that. This match (and the surrounding incidents) spelled out the reason we love him, as an imperfect and relatable figurehead.
Punk isn’t a hero either, by the way. He’s played the role from time to time, but always with a touch of malice. In most other circumstances, the post-match handshake offer would be seen as a magnanimous act, but I don’t reckon so here. Punk seemed absolutely dripping in smugness (and blood), to the point where I was actually pleased that Eddie took the dishonourable route and walked away.
Does this moment point to a future heel turn for the Second City Saint? It would certainly be jarring, with Punk still relishing the role of the returning icon, and all us fans continuing to relish it with him. But you know what they say: the greatest trick the devil ever pulled...