With Double Or Nothing now in our rearview mirror, we are officially entrenched in the “CM Punk Era” of AEW. Punk became the fifth AEW World Champion by defeating “Hangman” Adam Page in the Double Or Nothing main event. It doesn’t matter if you think he should’ve been the one to end Page’s reign or not. He did, and that’s the only thing that matters.
As the title of this column suggests, though, I’m wondering about what happens next with Punk.
Right now, we’re in a unique time as far as AEW is concerned. Normally, when an AEW pay-per-view is done, you have at least two months until the next one rolls around. Now, AEW will be right back on pay-per-view 28 days later with Forbidden Door. Yes, it’s a joint show with New Japan, and probably won’t be too TOO much about furthering AEW storylines, but the fact remains that it is the next major focus of the company.
I think it’s a little more difficult to figure out what Punk does at Forbidden Door now that he’s the AEW World Champion. He has gone on record in saying that he has no interest in facing KENTA at Forbidden Door, even though the story sells itself. A lot of people assumed it was simply him working everyone, and they were still calling for that match to happen. It made a lot of sense, obviously. Now that Punk is AEW’s top guy, do you think that match still works? Yes, the story is still there, but has Punk “moved on” to a “bigger” opponent at this point? Adam Page vs Kazuchika Okada was a popular prediction for the show, with the AEW World Champion stepping into the ring with the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Does that mean Punk vs Okada is the popular pick now?
That’s more of a rhetorical question for now. I don’t want to focus too much on Forbidden Door in this column. Instead, I want to look at AEW-driven stories and what happens on the company’s television programming.
The first thing that is going to pop into the heads of fans is a rematch for “Hangman” Page. Unlike the past, though, that isn’t a certainty. When Chris Jericho defeated Page to become the inaugural AEW World Champion, Page didn’t get another shot at him. After Jon Moxley defeated Jericho to become the next AEW World Champion, Jericho didn’t get a rematch. When Kenny Omega beat Moxley to become the next champion, Moxley got one rematch, and it took three months for it to happen. After Page defeated Omega to become the next champion, Omega went away to deal with multiple injuries and hasn’t been seen in the almost seven months since, which obviously means he hasn’t had a rematch as of yet.
Should “Hangman” get a rematch?
Will “Hangman” get a rematch? AEW history says it’s not so likely.
For the sake of the discussion, let’s go ahead and say Adam Page will be the next former AEW World Champion that doesn’t receive a rematch after dropping the title, at least right away. Where does Punk go then?
On the road to Double Or Nothing, there were lots of questions about Punk and Page when it comes to their face/heel alignment. They were both huge babyface characters, but Page was starting to show signs of a possible heel turn, and Punk is… well… Punk, so there’s always the possibility that he has a heel turn in there somewhere. Double Or Nothing showed that Punk is clearly a face, at least in the eyes and minds of Tony Khan and anybody else with any sort of “stroke” in AEW. If Punk is going to be a clear-cut face moving forward, you have to look at the top heels on the AEW roster right now.
- MJF: There’s a couple reasons why this probably isn’t the direction we’re going in next. One, we just finished a feud between Punk and MJF. As good as it was, there’s no need to relive it again this soon. Two, MJF was just squashed to the depths of hell by Wardlow at Double Or Nothing. Some people feel that was going to happen, no matter what, but others feel the match result was directly related to MJF’s shenaniganery and backstage displeasure with his contract. Either way, the squash happened, and that is going to move the man down the proverbial ladder.
- Chris Jericho: He’s definitely one of the biggest heels in AEW right now, but there’s definitely the possibility that he and the rest of the Backstreet Boys aren’t done with their current feud with Santana, Ortiz, and the Blackpool Combat Club. Putting Jon Moxley against Daniel Garcia on Dynamite this week makes that seem pretty likely. It feels like forever since Jericho wasn’t involved in some sort of GANG WARZ feud. He lost the World Title to Jon Moxley on February 29th, 2020 and he hasn’t had a shot at the title since. That’s a long time. Whether you want to see him in the main event again or not, you have to think it’s coming at some point, but maybe not right away.
- Adam Cole: If you’re looking at what he has working in his favor, he has built some momentum in recent weeks by winning matches on his way to being the first men’s winner of the Owen Hart Cup. As far as what he has working against him, it’s the fact that he had two World Title shots against Adam Page in the last few months, and he lost them both. That would be some odd booking to build him up to the main event, have him lose back-to-back title shots, then immediately build him back up to face the next champion. Could it happen? Of course it could. I just don’t think it should happen yet, especially with the assumption that Cole would probably be booked to lose yet another title shot.
- Malakai Black: See, now we’re getting interesting. Like Jericho, I’m thinking we may not have seen the last of Black’s current feud against Death Triangle. On top of that, there are the rumors of AEW already having Trios Tag Team Titles created, with the company merely waiting for the right time to introduce the belts. House Of Black would be some major betting favorites to be involved in the Trios Tag Team Title picture. You have to assume that might take Malakai Black out of the World Title running if we’re getting those Trios straps sooner than later. Man, just think about the promos that could come out of a CM Punk vs Malakai Black feud, though. They would be so much fun. The match(es) would be pretty good, too.
- Miro: At one point in his career, Miro was able to have some good in-ring performances, but he wasn’t really given any opportunities to cut promos that weren’t either “Stereotypical Foreign Heel 101” or finding ways to say “Rusev Day” 29 times. Since joining AEW, he has been given tons of opportunity to cut promos, and he has shined. Boy, oh, boy has he shined. That could only benefit him in a feud against CM Punk, where opponents have to be able to hang with Punk in the ring and on the mic. We haven’t seen Miro since he lost to Bryan Danielson at Full Gear nearly seven months ago, but he’s a monster heel that can easily be placed in the main event scene when he returns. His win/loss record indicates he “belongs” at the top. He has a singles record of 16-2 in AEW, with a 12-2 record on television and pay-per-view. Some may not see that Miro has enough “star power” for a spot like this, especially when compared to those who are usually in the AEW World Title picture, but let’s be completely honest with each other right here and now… more people know who Miro/Rusev is than know who “Hangman” Adam Page is, and that didn’t stop AEW from doing anything with Page.
- Sammy Guevara: Admit it… your butthole puckered a little bit at the mere thought of Sammy Guevara as the AEW World Champion, with Tay Conti by his side, didn’t it? With Sammy now out of the TNT Title picture for as long as Scorpio Sky is the champion, and with his heel reactions seemingly growing by the week, could this be the time for AEW to pull the trigger on a main event push? Any match between Punk and Sammy would be a lot of fun, but I worry about what promo battles could look like. Outside of “stick your tongue out and act like a fucking dipshit as often as possible” whenever he has a microphone in his hands, what exactly does Sammy bring to the table there? Punk would eat him alive. It wouldn’t even be fair.
- Kenny Omega: Omega is merely here on a technicality. He was a heel when we last saw him, but you know and I know that he’s getting an (O)mega face pop when he returns. There aren’t many bigger matchups that AEW could deliver right now than CM Punk vs Kenny Omega for the World Title. It would be a first-time-ever match that would be treated as the huge deal that it is. The obvious issue with anything involving Kenny Omega is that we have no idea when he’ll be ready to return to the ring. It could be this week, it could be next week, it could be next month, and it could be a few months from now. He was dealing with so many ailments at the same time that it’s difficult to gauge any sort of recovery time.
If you look at those choices, I’m all for setting something up between Punk and Miro. They share a bit of interesting history together, as it will be remembered forever that Punk’s last match with WWE, the 2014 Royal Rumble, was Miro’s main roster debut for the company. Not only that, but they actually crossed paths during the match. I touched on this a bit a few paragraphs ago, but it’s worth repeating… what is Miro’s real “star power” in the sport? As I said, more people know who Miro is than know who Adam Page is, but AEW still uses the traditional pay-per-view model. WWE puts their events on for “free” with a subscription to Peacock or the WWE Network, depending on where you are in the world. AEW is still charging $50-$60 for their pay-per-views. That’s not even counting the prices for tickets that get scooped up by bots within seconds of going on sale and are then flipped on the secondary market. Is Miro “worth” those prices to paying customers, or is any World Title program with him bound to be “stuck” on television only? With so much time in between pay-per-views, AEW has prime real estate for mini-feuds to take place on television and then the champions can move on to their PPV feuds.
Some of you are already wondering where my list of face contenders are. As we’ve seen, AEW has no issues whatsoever with putting faces against each other, and the same for heels. Punk vs Bryan Danielson writes itself. The same goes for Punk vs Jon Moxley. As I said in my Jericho entry, though, I think they’re still going to be wrapped up in what they’ve been doing. This is about where Punk will, or should, go next, not where he goes eventually. Darby Allin and Eddie Kingston have already happened, so even if they weren’t involved in stories already, they probably wouldn’t be the next step. Punk vs Jeff Hardy would be the return to a huge WWE feud, but… uhhh… let’s just say Jeff probably isn’t ready for something like that right now.
If you’re looking for face options, I think you can only look at two people, although I think they’re both longshots for different reasons.
- Samoa Joe: The history between Punk and Joe is well-documented. It would be a major deal to get them in a program together again. Joe had been building a lot of momentum in AEW, including a win over Minoru Suzuki to become the new Ring Of Honor Television Champion, but he’s fresh off of a loss to Adam Cole in the finals of the Owen Hart Cup. Is that going to “disqualify” him from moving up to the main event in the eyes and minds of a lot of people?
- Wardlow: Oooh, interesting. Very, very interesting. There are two competing trains of thought with this selection. On one side, you have the thinking that Wardlow has the rocket strapped to his back right now, so AEW should take advantage of that and put him in the top spot right away. At face value, that sure does make sense, doesn’t it? You take one of the most popular performers on the roster and you move them up because that’s going to make the crowds happy. On the other side, you run a couple of dangerous risks by pushing Wardlow to the main event right now. Punk’s insane popularity is going to cut into Wardlow’s face reactions. Look no further than what we just witnessed with Adam Page. Even before Page began throwing heelish aspects into the feud, crowds were split, which was stunning to witness. Page was about as universally loved as anyone in AEW history, but putting him up against Punk had people head in the other direction. Is that really what you want for Wardlow right now? Shouldn’t the focus be on growing his popularity, not taking away from it? The other concern is having Wardlow go from largely working shorter, sometimes squash-style, matches to working the main event style with longer bouts. Personally, I’d have Wardlow continue ascending up the card. With his feud with MJF and Shawn Spears officially over, let’s let him do his thing for real now. Eventually, you could have Wardlow go after the TNT Title. Back in March, Wardlow faced Scorpio Sky for the TNT Title, but he lost due to interference from MJF and Spears. With those two out of the way, it’s easy to write Wardlow as a much bigger threat to Scorpio Sky’s title now. I’m rambling now, though.
If Wardlow continues moving up, put him in the World Title picture. Right now, let’s just let him build himself up.
For now, I would love to see a mini-feud between Punk and Miro. Miro has earned that type of spot, even if it’s just a temporary thing. You could build it up on television, leading to an eventual big-time title defense on an episode of Dynamite between now and All Out. As much as I enjoy Miro’s work, I think you have to make Punk come out of that feud as the winner. From there, the move to All Out is an interesting one. We’ve seen three All Out pay-per-views so far, with two of them taking place in Hoffman Estates (“Chicago”), Illinois, and the other one happening at AEW “headquarters” in Jacksonville because of COVID restrictions. It’s an assumption, but probably a safe one, that this year’s version of All Out will be back in Illinois. If Punk’s popularity is enough to pull away from face wrestlers that are SUPER over, imagine what would happen in his home state. Putting Punk against a face at All Out… for the sake of example, let’s say Samoa Joe… is going to make that face a heel, at least for one night. It would make much more sense for Punk to take on an actual heel at All Out. Shit, go ahead and turn Samoa Joe heel before then. That’s fine. Put Adam Cole in the spot. That’s fine, too. You just need to be careful with your decisions.
Then again… what if we’re on the verge of the third iteration of The Summer Of Punk? That changes everything.
Your turn, ReaderLand. What do you think AEW should do next with CM Punk? Not only that, what do you WANT AEW to do next with CM Punk? Is there any particular person you’re interested to see Punk face? 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
- Blackpool Combat Club, Santana & Ortiz vs Jericho Appreciation Society: As usual, I won’t go into too much detail in my rankings for things that I’ve already discussed in a Running Diary. I will say, however, that this was about as hectic and chaotic a match as you’re going to see. So, so, so much going on everywhere you looked.
- Young Bucks Dabble In Cosplay: If you’re going to refer to the Bucks as doing a cosplay of The Hardys, you can expect them to have a response, and did they ever. Seeing Matt and Nick Jackson dressed up as the Attitude Era versions of Matt and Jeff Hardy was funny enough. Then, you throw in the addition of Gangrel accompanying them to the ring. Taking things over the top, though, Brandon Cutler dressed up as Lita, thong sticking out of his low rise pants and all. Just a bit of mindless fun and entertainment.
- Cody Rhodes & Seth Rollins Have A Battle Of Words & Then An Actual Battle: If they just had their promo battle, it would’ve been included here. Both men were very passionate in what they said as they built to their upcoming match inside Hell In A Cell. Going from fighting words to simply fighting took it to another level, as they carried that passion over. It was a very wild, physical brawl that did a great job of hyping their match up. Very good, and also very believable, dipping into “real life” and personal shots.
- “Hangman” Adam Page vs CM Punk: Really good AEW main event. I loved the fact that Page basically lost the match because he battled his inner monologue about whether or not he should attack Punk behind the Referee’s back. It’s a good layer of storytelling.
- Thunder Rosa vs Serena Deeb: When you watch these two wrestle, it almost comes across as if they really don’t like each other. It’s a good boost to what they do in the ring.
- Death Triangle vs House Of Black: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times… AEW knows what they’re doing when it comes to six-man and eight-man tag matches. This was no different. More action than you’re able to keep track of, and everyone gets a chance to shine.
- The K-O Show: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn work so well together. It doesn’t matter if they’re teaming up or if they’re facing each other. When they’re together, you’re going to get something good. Their argument on the show was hilarious. Zayn busting out the “liar, liar, pants on fire” line, followed by Owens going apoplectic over it and then pointing out that his pants were not, in fact, on fire, was really funny.
- Bryan Danielson vs Matt Sydal: Sydal continues to be one of the more underrated members of the AEW roster. I’m not saying he should be in the World Title picture, but he’s more than capable of going out there with a variety of opponents and putting on a 10-20 minute match that is worked really well. Danielson, of course, is Danielson. Putting them together is a really good idea for a television bout.
- Bianca Belair vs Asuka: Not only was a clean finish surprising, but having a champion win a non-title match is such a wild and crazy idea for WWE. It seems like they never do that. Really good stuff here, even if you make the argument that Bianca could’ve just defeated someone else instead of one of her challengers at the upcoming pay-per-view.
- Cameron Grimes vs Nathan Frazer: As always when Cameron Grimes is brought up, I am legally and contractually obligated to mention the fact that he nearly broke my leg at an independent show a few years back. This match was good, but even though he lost (another non-title win for a champion?!?!?!?!?), I think Frazer looks better coming out of things. It sure seems like he’s got a very bright future in NXT. I’m all for it. He can easily be a main event guy there if they actually commit to some character development for him.
- Jurassic Express vs Team Taz vs Swerve Strickland & Keith Lee: Take a “smaller” guy and pair him with a “bigger” guy. Repeat it, and then repeat it again. It’s an easy formula to make work. I’m very surprised to see the champions retain here, but that did nothing to take away from the match quality.
- Riddle & Shinsuke Nakamura vs The Usos: It’s good to see that WWE remembered putting Nakamura into a story with The Bloodline. We’re being told that Randy Orton’s career is in jeopardy after the attack at the hands of Roman Reigns and The Usos, so Riddle has a new tag team partner for now. Could it be the vehicle that allows for the long-rumored RK-Bro split? Time will tell. For now, this was another good match in the lengthy series between The Bloodline and Riddle.
- FTR vs Roppongi Vice: Oh, just FTR being involved in another good tag match. Surprise, surprise.
- Samoa Joe vs Kyle O’Reilly: This was better than the Joe vs Adam Cole match we got in the finals of the Owen Hart Cup. Their styles worked well together, and both Joe and KOR were looking to out-physical each other at every turn.
- Ezekiel & The Mysterios vs Kevin Owens & Alpha Academy: I have no idea how long WWE can keep this Ezekiel story going, but it has been so much fun watching Kevin Owens descend into madness, thinking that he’s the only sane person in a world of the insane. He is a gem and he seems to be having some of the most fun he’s ever had in the business.
- Jungle Boy vs Swerve Strickland vs Ricky Starks: A very nice amuse-bouche before the main dish that was the three-way tag match at Double Or Nothing. You can never go wrong when these three are involved in something.
- Drew McIntyre, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods vs Sheamus, Ridge Holland & Butch: We’re coming up on the time when Kofi and Woods need to go in a different direction than The Peaky Blinders and Scrappy Doo, but for now, it was another good match. Throwing in Drew McIntyre, who obviously has no problem being in the ring with Sheamus and trying to beat him into the next week, only added to the fun.
- Stokely Hathaway & Athena Added To The AEW Roster: It is a GREAT idea to have Stokely Hathaway as the mouthpiece for Jade Cargill. He can help to mask some of her shortcomings while allowing her to focus on what it is she does best. As for Athena, she is a much needed addition to an AEW women’s division that needs as much star power as possible. There should probably be a bit of a halt on signing more men in AEW, but adding some of the top women in the business is a great idea.
- Ruby Soho vs Kris Statlander: I really like Kris Statlander. She could be something special for AEW. I know she’s over with crowds, but I didn’t think she was so over that she could cause a crowd to turn on Ruby Soho just because she (Kris) lost a match. That was quite the surprise.
- Pretty Deadly vs Diamond Mine: A good match that accomplished a few different objectives. Pretty Deadly needed a good win to continue building their out-of-nowhere NXT Tag Team Title reign. Yes, it was a non-title victory (!!!), but it was a victory nonetheless. This also furthered the story of the fracture in The Diamond Mine, with Roderick Strong losing his grip on the group and everything that has happened to them over the last few months. Lastly, Damon Kemp needed a good performance, and we got one out of him here. With rumors that his brother, Gable Steveson, could be returning to The University Of Minnesota for another year of amateur wrestling, delaying his pro debut for another year, it’s important for Kemp to create a lane for himself. The easy idea of simply putting the brothers together might not be happening for a while, if at all, so Kemp needs to look like he can swim with a group that has all looked strong on their own.
This Week’s Playlist: “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” by KRS-One… “Kick, Push” by Lupe Fiasco… “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check” by Busta Rhymes… “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J… “Break Ya Neck” by Busta Rhymes… “Da Rockwilder” by Method Man & Redman… “Whoa!” by Black Rob… “Nonstop” by Drake… “WIN” by Jay Rock… “GO!” by Common… “Grindin” by Clipse… “What Happened To That Boy” by Baby & Clipse… “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” by Busta Rhymes… “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” by Rick Ross & Styles P… “Breathe” by Fabolous… “What We Do” by Freeway, Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel… “The Truth” by Beanie Sigel… “I Really Mean It” by The Diplomats… “Down Bottom” by Drag-On & Juvenile… “What’s My Name” by DMX… “Off The Books” by The Beatnuts, Big Pun & Cuban Link… “Definition” by Black Star… “Go DJ” by Lil Wayne… “Damn!” by Youngbloodz & Lil Jon… “Ice Cream Paint Job” by Dorrough