Don’t look now, folks, but we are potentially on the verge of a seismic shift in the professional wrestling landscape.
By now, you’ve probably seen the news that AEW has signed Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan, for those new to wrestling) and also looks to have signed none other than CM Punk. Whether you’re a fan of either man, in or out of the ring, is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that they are two of the biggest names in the business, and will bring in more eyeballs to the AEW product.
Let’s talk about those extra eyeballs for a moment. Dynamite has had some very good viewership numbers over the last couple weeks, with the show being back to their normal day and time after the NBA Playoffs came to a close. Two weeks ago, they were able to pull in 1.025 million viewers. It was their first time topping the million-viewer mark in a little over two months, and it represented a nearly 222% increase from their Friday Night Dynamite low a month earlier. Last week’s number was even better, with Dynamite bringing in 1.148 million viewers. That’s a 12% increase from the previous week, and it was the third-highest number in the history of the show. It also was a 36% increase from the same week in 2020, which is a crazy jump. Bringing Punk and Danielson in would increase the numbers, for sure, but by how much? Can you see Dynamite reaching the 1.5 million viewer mark regularly? How about even higher than that? Keep this in mind… WWE is seeing Raw bring in an average of less than two million viewers every week. Dynamite is already pulling in bigger demographic numbers in key areas than Raw is. Smackdown is already outdrawing Raw, so can you imagine the stories and hot takes that we’ll see if Monday Motherfucking Night Raw becomes the third-biggest wrestling television show in the United States?
Things are trending in the right direction for AEW. They’ve been riding high for a while now, both with their already-stocked roster, and then with new additions recently like Andrade El Idolo and Malakai Black. Now you’re telling me they could continue riding that wave of momentum into signing two of the best in-ring performers of this generation? That’s crazy.
Is it all rainbows and butterflies, though?
Signing two big-time talents like that, especially back-to-back, presents a ton of potential problems for Tony Khan and the crew.
First things first, when and where do you have them debut? The early buzz was that Danielson was set to possibly make his debut on the September 22nd episode of Dynamite, airing from Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York. It will be the first-ever wrestling event held at the venue, which is a beautiful stadium with a retractable roof and a unique (for wrestling) seating setup that should allow for some crazy noise. The event is on pace to be the largest live event in AEW history, and the largest non-WWE show in America in over 22 years. It will undoubtedly sell out, with a crowd coming close to 19,000 in attendance. That seems like a pretty good place for Danielson to make his debut. Not only is it a huge spotlight show, but as Bryan Danielson, he had some of the best matches of his career in New York.
CM Punk, being the second “announced” signing, made things a bit more complicated. The easy-peasy, super duper slam dunk of all slam dunks is to have him debut at some point during the company’s upcoming stretch of shows in Chicago. Dynamite on September 1st, Rampage on September 3rd, and All Out on September 5th are all taking place there. A CM Punk return is going to cause a crowd to go banana pudding, but in Chicago? That’s going to be an all-timer. Which show, though? Dynamite is the “flagship” show, and would probably have the most people watching, so that makes sense. Rampage will still be a brand new show, and you want people to see it as a show equal to Dynamite, so that makes sense. All Out would have the most “wiggle room” to work with creatively, being on pay-per-view, so that also makes sense.
The problem there, of course, is those dates. Say Punk makes his debut at one of those Chicago shows. Would having Danielson debut only three weeks later be too much, too quickly? Could Danielson’s debut take away from Punk’s debut a bit? Outside of things like the Invasion storyline or on the episode of Raw and Smackdown after WrestleMania, you rarely see debuts bunched up like that, and especially major debuts like Punk and Danielson would be.
What choice would AEW have if they’ve signed both men? If you have Punk debut in Chicago, what are you supposed to do with Danielson? Let him sit at home for several months and have him make his debut down the road? That’s a little weird, no? Wait until Full Gear in November? Revolution in late-February/early-March? Double Or Nothing in May? A random episode of Dynamite or Rampage in between? Like I said, it would be kinda weird to have him sign and not debut for months on months. This isn’t back in the day where you could get away with that if you wanted to because nobody would know that a company has signed a particular wrestler. Fans these days hear and read about the news and rumors all the time. The AEW fans already know he’s on board, according to the rumor mill, and they’re going to start chanting for him. Hell, they might start chanting for him this week. These are people who chanted “Whooooo” when Andrade said he was bringing out a surprise on last week’s episode of Dynamite, after all, thinking that Charlotte Fucking Flair was just going to waltz out there and be with her man.
If both men are signed, both men would have to debut soon, and relatively close to each other. That’s just the corner that AEW has backed themselves into. It’s also a corner that they’ll live with being backed into. The bigger problems come once they’ve gotten themselves out of that corner.
Would it be a safe assumption to make that Bryan Danielson and CM Punk aren’t coming to AEW to be lower-tier performers? If Danielson comes in and starts feuding with Peter Avalon, we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. Punk’s first AEW feud being with Sonny Kiss would be an incredible waste. No offense to Sonny Kiss. No, Punk and Danielson are coming in to be in and around the main event scene, as they should. Seems easy enough, but let’s look at the current AEW main event scene, including those who are floating near that spot and those who could be inserted there with zero problems, for a minute.
- Kenny Omega
- “Hangman” Adam Page
- Jon Moxley
- Cody Rhodes
- Darby Allin
- Chris Jericho
- Jungle Boy
- Christian Cage
- Malakai Black
- Andrade El Idolo
- Eddie Kingston
- Lance Archer
- Orange Cassidy
- Penta El Zero Miedo
- Rey Fenix
- Sammy Guevara
Honestly, you could probably throw a handful of people onto that list to make it longer, but let’s just run with that for now. What happens to that list when Danielson and Punk come in? The top of the top will be just fine. Kenny Omega will remain in the main event scene. Jon Moxley is a “made man” in AEW and will be at or near the top of the card for as long as he’s under contract. Veterans like Chris Jericho and Sting continue to be mega over to this day and could at least contend for titles without crowds getting upset about it. Bringing in two new main event players means that two spots at the top of the card disappear. Does that mean people like Jungle Boy or Sammy Guevara have to wait a bit longer until they claim their “spot” at the top? Could it mean that new signings like Christian Cage and Andrade El Idolo get passed by the two bigger signings?
One thing that can help things at the top of the card is to make the TNT Title mean more. You could actually argue that we’ve already reached that point. While it isn’t on par with the AEW World Title, it has still been held by some of the top guys on the roster, and has been defended in numerous Dynamite main events. Allow me to paint a picture for you. Let’s say Miro is still the TNT Champion come the September 22nd episode of Dynamite. Now, let’s say that he comes out to cut a promo saying that he wants some real competition, blah blah blah, and that’s what leads to Bryan Danielson’s debut. Is that a “waste” of Danielson because he isn’t going after the World Title, or is it something that can further elevate the TNT Title? I tend to lean more to the latter there.
Another thing that can help is the aforementioned Rampage television show that is set to debut soon. AEW continuing to bring new people in puts their roster riiiiight on the verge of entering “bloated” territory. We saw it with WCW, and we saw it with the WWF. What did those companies do when they had more wrestlers than they knew what to do with? WCW created a new television show, Thunder, and the WWF introduced Smackdown to the world. The idea behind those new shows was that there were too many people on those rosters getting lost in the shuffle, so adding extra programming would allow everyone to get spaced out a little better and allow everything to breathe a bit more. AEW could really use that, not just to get their top guys a more even amount of television time, but also to make sure their women’s division gets more time to shine.
I’ve seen some people talk about a “brand split” for AEW, and let me tell you this right here and now… no, thank you. Their roster isn’t THAT bloated. Yes, there are currently 72 active male wrestlers on their roster, which is more than Raw and Smackdown combined, but their number comes down a lot when you remove those who are better served by performing on Dark and Dark: Elevation right now. When you focus on the “main” male roster, there’s just not enough for any sort of split.
Here’s the weird spot that AEW is in… with everything I’ve already talked about here, the company is still trying to grow and continue being a major player in the world of wrestling. Do you know what that means? They might still bring more people in. I’m not saying AEW should or would sign these people, but the likes of Braun Strowman, Alberto El Patron, Buddy Murphy, Carlito, Breezango, Rob Van Dam, Matt Cardona, and Velveteen Dream are available. That’s just looking at a small fraction of the names with mainstream exposure that AEW could sign. Throw in some of the top independent and international names, and the list grows even larger. Add in the women of the wrestling world and you have some crazy numbers. Any new signing is only going to further exacerbate some of these issues, albeit on a bit of a smaller level unless they’re bringing in the likes of Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, or The Rock.
So… what the hell does AEW do? Let’s start with Punk’s debut, since it would probably come first chronologically.
The face pop that Punk would get coming out in Chicago would be insane. The overwhelming choice for the fantasy booking of fans has him making his debut after the main event of All Out, basically planting his flag to proclaim himself as “next up” for an AEW World Title shot. Okay, let’s say that happens. The overwhelming choice for fantasy booking the All Out main event has “Hangman” Adam Page defeating Kenny Omega to become the new AEW World Champion. Okay, let’s say that happens. Would it be a great idea to take Page’s epic face pop for winning the title and immediately outshine it with a louder and longer-lasting face pop? In that city, Punk would get a face pop even if he showed up and laid Page out with a sneak attack after the match. Does that mean Omega retains the title? That might make Punk’s pop even louder, incredibly enough, but does that ruin this long-term story with Page being set up as the man to dethrone Omega? The healthy medium there is one of two options:
- Omega cheats to win, and we get a brawl between The Elite and The Dark Order, leading to Punk’s debut to swing the odds
- Page wins the title, gets attacked by The Elite after the match, we get the brawl between The Elite and The Dark Order, and it leads to Punk’s debut
That’s it. Punk’s return to the world of wrestling after being away for seven-and-a-half years is too big a story to happen anywhere else on the card. He can’t show up in a random mid-show promo where Tony Schiavone introduces him. It can’t happen after some random match on the card. Think of it like Jon Moxley’s AEW debut at 2019’s Double Or Nothing pay-per-view. Can you imagine if Mox showed up after Best Friends vs Angelico and Jack Evans? No, his debut had to happen after the Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho main event. Nothing else would’ve made sense, nor would it have been able to harness the electricity that was in the MGM Grand Garden Arena that night. That’s where I’m at here for a possible CM Punk debut. Not only does it need to be involving the top of the card, but it should happen at All Out. Free television would be cool and all, but even the thought of Punk showing up at All Out should drive extra pay-per-view buys, so it makes sense all around.
If Punk isn’t signing with AEW, but Bryan Danielson is, then just replace Punk with Danielson in the previous scenarios. However, if Punk is signing/has signed, then what do you do with Danielson’s debut?
I think I’m in the camp of people that feels Danielson could do a lot to elevate someone like MJF. The only concern there is the obvious correlations that can be made between MJF and The Miz. Danielson spent so much time feuding with The Miz through the years, so would having him come to AEW and feud with MJF be viewed as something too similar? Going back to what I said earlier, what about feuding with Miro over the TNT Title? That would be a great way to elevate the title even further, but combining that scenario with the aforementioned Punk debut scenarios might mean putting titles on both men almost at the exact same time after having them debut at almost the exact same time.
Another problem that hasn’t been discussed enough is that AEW is in need of some major players at the top of the card as heels. I’ve already said that Punk isn’t going to get booed no matter what happens, but the same can be said about Danielson, although perhaps to a lesser degree. Not saying Punk is a bigger star than Danielson, or that he’s a better performer, but that lengthy time away is going to drive the reactions he gets when he returns. Danielson, for example, could show up and cost Adam Page his match against Kenny Omega. That might get him some heel heat. I have no idea why he would do it, but it’s just a random scenario I’m putting out that could get a heel reaction. If we’re going to be realistic, bringing these two into AEW probably means a heel turn or two is coming from someone already in AEW. Moxley? Cody? Something needs to happen somewhere.
This type of speculation is a lot of fun, especially for someone like me who has content to create. I’m excited to see what the hell is going to happen next for AEW in this wild ride that they’re on. We could be on the verge of seeing the game completely changed, potentially forever. As a wrestling fan, if you’re able to put down the stupid “turf war” nonsense, this has to be exciting for each and every one of you. I know it’s exciting for me.
What say you, ReaderLand? How would YOU have Bryan Danielson and CM Punk debut for AEW? What do you think the viewership numbers for Dynamite will be if/when these men are signed? 1.5 million? Higher than that? As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Matt Cardona Winning The GCW World Title: I’ve been hard on Cardona/Ryder through the years, but I have to give him credit here. Not only was he put through absolute hell in his match against Nick Gage, which got my respect, but he ended up winning the GCW World Title and being the top trending topic on Twitter for a very long time because of it. The violence of the match, the surprising title switch, and the fan reaction in the aftermath was all over social media for a while. It got plenty of attention for Cardona, who hasn’t had the post-WWE career that a lot of people predicted he would have. On a somewhat related note…
- Nick Fucking Gage On National Television: If there’s one person I never thought I would see on WWE, NXT, or AEW programming, it’s Nick Gage. There he was, though, coming out as MJF’s goon to set up a match against Chris Jericho. I have absolutely no idea how much he will be allowed to be himself in the match, but I’m not missing it for anything, I can tell you that much.
- Samoa Joe Returning To In-Ring Competition: While he did just fine as a color commentator on Raw, it just wasn’t the same. He was entertaining as William Regal’s right-hand man for a few weeks, but that, too, just wasn’t the same. I’m so glad to see Joe returning to the ring after 18 months away. Could it mark the end of Karrion Kross’ NXT Title reign, as well as Kross’ time with NXT? We shall see.
- Dakota Kai Attacking Raquel Gonzalez: It would’ve been easy to have it go the other way around. Gonzalez is the monster, so having her attack Dakota at some point would’ve been almost expected. Kudos to NXT for going the more difficult route, with the much smaller Kai as the aggressor. Now that the NXT Women’s Champion is all by herself, we’ll really get to see what she’s made of. The emotional promos alone are going to be fun in this feud.
- Jon Moxley vs Lance Archer: I saw that a ton of people were surprised to see Archer win the IWGP United States Title here, and there’s a good reason as to why. Going into the match with Moxley, Archer was 31-8 in his AEW career. Of those matches, he was 0-3 when a title was on the line. His booking was the same from day one. He’d look like an unstoppable monster, earning himself a shot at a title, only to lose the title match, and then he’d be back to looking like an unstoppable monster again. Why would anyone truly expect something different for his fourth title match? The match itself was the wild, violent brawl that you would expect from these two, but it’s almost secondary to Archer finally getting over that title hump.
- Roman Reigns Getting To Respond To John Cena: Back when Reigns was a face, even his biggest supporters would say that promos weren’t his strong suit. Whether it was his own shortcomings or WWE’s shortcomings when it came to scripting him and writing for him, promos weren’t why you watched Roman Reigns. He was never someone who would say much, and when he did say something, there was often a bit of a disconnect. In his new heel persona, everything sounds more natural. For instant proof of that, look back at the build to No Mercy 2017, when Reigns and John Cena were on their way to their mega match. Cena destroyed Reigns in their promo battles, leading to the memorable moment where Reigns seemingly forgot his line during one the promos. Egging him on, Cena responded by patronizing Reigns, saying that everyone would wait for him while he found his line. It clearly frustrated Reigns, and understandably so. Fast forward to last week’s episode of Smackdown. A much more comfortable Reigns cut a scathing promo on Cena, saying a lot of the things that people have been complaining about when it comes to Cena and his career. Reigns was having fun. He was as animated as he’s been since starting with this character change. It was refreshing to see.
- Sting & Orange Cassidy Having A Showdown: No, I don’t care if you dislike the Orange Cassidy gimmick. I enjoyed watching Sting go toe-to-toe with him in a slow-motion “brawl” at ringside. It was mindless entertainment. Sometimes, that’s all I need in a wrestling match/segment/promo/moment. This was one of those times.
- Ridge Holland: Right when it looked like he was about to become a major player in NXT, he suffered one of the more gruesome leg injuries you’re going to see. After missing nearly ten months, Holland made his return to NXT, aligning with Pete Dunne and Oney Lorcan and entering a feud against Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher. Time will tell if he becomes a top player again, but it’s good to see that he was able to rebound from his injury and unfortunate luck.
- Chavo Guerrero: It never really made a ton of sense to put Andrade El Idolo with Vickie Guerrero, but having Andrade with Chavo is a much better fit. Vickie can get heat, but her promos are more of the gimmicky variety. Chavo will be able to cut much better promos for Andrade when necessary. As an added bonus, he looks like he could still step into the ring as a wrestler in a pinch. Chavito has always been underrated, and it’s good to see him back at this level again.
- Damian Priest vs Sheamus: A fun match for television, and building to something bigger in the future. There’s a ton of potential for these two to have themselves a good’n at SummerSlam, potentially elevating Priest if/when he becomes the new United States Champion.
This Week’s Playlist: “The Wire” by HAIM… “Hot Summer” by Prince… “Sweet Dream” by Alessia Cara… “Steam” by Leon Bridges… “Digital Animal” by Honey Claws… “Tears In The Rain” by The Weeknd… “Often” by The Weeknd… “The Hills (Remix)” by The Weeknd & Eminem… “In The Night” by The Weeknd… “Starboy” by The Weeknd & Daft Punk… “Swim Good” by Frank Ocean… “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra… “Perfect To Me” by Josh Tatofi… “WIN” by Jay Rock… “If You Know You Know” by Pusha T… “SUMO” by Denzel Curry… “Summertime In The LBC” by The Dove Shack… “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler… “St. Elmo’s Fire” by John Parr… “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” by Lenny Kravitz