CM Punk vs. Tony Khan

(Photo Credit: WWE)

CM Punk was right.

The much-anticipated CM Punk appearence on the MMA hour with Ariel Helwani streamed yesterday, which was a part of a slew of Wrestlemania-related appearances on the show. In true CM Punk fashion, he spoke about things that others within the TKO scope won’t, albeit with his own spin on those topics. Within the nearly two-hour appearence, a vast portion of it was spent on his exit from All Elite Wrestling. I’m not necessarily sure that any of his comments were earth-shattering or ground-breaking, but they did seem to confirm much of the narrative around the company.

Before the All Elite tidbits that made the rounds on social media after the appearence, it was interesting to note that while others on the roster spoke about Vince McMahon when asked, Punk elaborated more than anyone else. The real-life Phil Brooks called the accusations against the former WWE boss, “indefensible and horrific.” Brooks is right. Furthermore, he made a comparison to Chris Benoit, in terms of the public side of someone compared to what they did in their private life. Obviously, Benoit’s actions were reprehensible and more severe, but Punk’s comparison more or less explained how Vince was gone as far as being persona non grata in the company. In some ways, the willingness to mention both names painted the interview in a specific light, as far as Punk is willing to be upfront with his opinions, which gave the impression that he wasn’t there to be a WWE shill.

It was extremely interesting that Punk said that while he signed an NDA about the original backstage brawl with The Elite, he didn’t seem to have anything signed to prevent him from talking about the fight with Jack Perry at Wembley Stadium. When he was on the shelf with the triceps injury that he sustained in the match with Jon Moxley before the previously mentioned fight with The Elite, he visited Raw backstage when the show was in his hometown on Chicago. On the MMA hour, Brooks claimed he was just there to visit friends, but I will still say what I wrote about the story about the time, CM Punk is a master politician, and that’s not necessarily a negative in the political shark tank of the sports entertainment business, but I think it’s fair to say that his backstage visit was still to see if the door would be open for a WWE return if the situation with All Elite wasn’t resolved after he healed from surgery.

A few of the most intriguing notes about his hiatus from All Elite more or less confirmed a lot of what the narrative appears to be within the company based on the decisions made, social media posts, and some of Tony’s comments about the entire situation. Punk said, “Tony is not a boss, he’s a nice guy” and that’s basically what the common thought is about him. He’s a great guy that cares about his roster, and that’s wonderful, but there’s a harsh reality of the business world. Tony started All Elite as a way to play promoter and wanted to be friends with his favorite wrestlers. If he can’t make the tough decisions or deal with the reality of business then he can’t be an effective boss. Punk added that AEW “is not a real business.” Again, this was a common criticism about the company and there are numerous examples of it. As difficult as Phil Brooks was to work with and as unprofessional as he was to bury the company that was paying him during the infamous press conference, if Tony Khan was a legitimate boss, The Elite and CM Punk would’ve been put in a room to work out their differences to use the negative of the backstage fight to draw money for the company with a series of matches. Along those same lines, and I said this at the time of the entire debacle as well, as egotistical as Punk is, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega failed just as much at their job as EVPs. To consider them management, and the fact that they supposedly still have those titles as a part of management is laughable. Sure, Punk wanted to sound like a tough guy and said if anyone had a problem with him then they could go to him so he shouldn’t be shocked when someone did. However, if The Elite were truly management then they have to put their personal grudges aside for the best of the organization, it’s one of the responsibilities of being a part of management. In a legitimate company, the Vice Presidents can’t get into a fight with the talent at the water cooler.

I thought the statement “not a real business” summed up a lot about All Elite Wrestling because it essentially explains why the assets on the roster aren’t maximized and why it looks like a vanity project more often than not. How many times has Tony booked something because it was a match that he wanted to see rather than a match that might draw numbers? He tweeted about aspirations to win “booker of the year” from The Wrestling Observer, but unless that includes a cash prize, booking for what sells tickets should be the priority. Don’t get me wrong, from a historical perspective, Dave Meltzer is one of the best resources in the history of the business, but by definition, he caters to a niche demographic of diehard fans. There’s nothing wrong with that either, he has made a living from it for decades, but the point being, Meltzer’s philosophy or newsletter isn’t designed to draw the national television audience. Tony is booking for a niche when the target audience has to be much broader than that. As I’ve said many times, if Tony was only concerned with “five star matches” then he could’ve started an independent company and spent a lot less of his family’s money. If a product is on national television, even if it’s an alternative product, the goal must be to draw the biggest audience possible from the general public. That’s why there are advertisement and commercial revenue streams associated with national TV. The ability to generate seven figures will always be more important than five stars.

A few more of the notable quotes were that after the brawl with The Elite, Punk claims that he told Khan “they don’t want me here, just let me go” and asked for his release. If that’s true, it’s even more of an indication that Tony isn’t an effective boss since that would imply that he assumed that during Punk’s recovery from surgery that the issues on the roster would randomly resolves themselves. At some point, couldn’t the guy that signs the checks tell the talent that he pays a hefty salary to that they should act professional and work with each other or just release them from those high-priced contracts? The bottom line is, regardless of what side of the story that you hear, there’s never a point where Tony acted like a boss to handle the situation. Assuming it’s true that The Elite didn’t want Punk in AEW, and by most indications that was the case, it was probably because CM Punk didn’t go into the company with the agenda to work with his friends and have fun like it was an indy show. Punk was there to make as much money as possible, and wanted to do what he thought the right moves were to make that happen. Sure, Phil Brooks wanted to make himself look as good as possible and use his position in the company as the biggest star on the roster to add to his resume, but that’s basically the goal of everyone in the organization. Pro wrestlers are independent contractors so as much as Brooks might claim he was there to “help” AEW, he was there to get as much cash as possible, and you can’t blame him for that.

The friction with The Elite was seemingly that Punk was smart enough to know that you have to have someone to work with so you can’t stream roll or politic like Hulk Hogan in WCW. It’s just my two cents, but I have no doubt that if The Young Bucks would’ve been professional enough to put their personal grudges aside, CM Punk would’ve worked with them and then All Elite would’ve drawn the biggest money possible for the organization. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. But again, The Bucks are there to work with their friends because Tony is paying them good money anyway. Punk put a wrench in those plans because he was a much bigger star and didn’t care who he worked with, he just wanted to draw the most money possible. By nature, the addition of CM Punk to the roster took some of the spotlight away from The Elite.

As far as his return to AEW from the triceps injury, Brooks said that Khan didn’t want to release him and wanted to give Punk the Collision show to get the people that didn’t get along at different venues. Punk said that he told Khan that it wouldn’t work, and it didn’t. Brooks told his side of the story of the fight with Jack Perry as if he handled it calmly, but I doubt that. However, we know that Punk’s version will naturally have a slate to it, as its his perspective. This was another example of the mismanagement from Tony because the office knew that they were bringing a car into the stadium for the spot that led to the fight. As I wrote in an article last week, Jack Perry ultimately cost AEW the ability to promote CM Punk. Punk is a much bigger star and much more important to the company than Perry. Jack Perry is completely expendable, and it speaks volumes to Tony’s avoidance of any type of conflict when it was recently reported that despite being his boss, Khan hasn’t talked to the former Jungle Boy in months. Punk noted on the MMA Hour that he didn’t hear from Khan for months after the infamous All Out brawl.

In the time since the Punk interview aired, some of the AEW talent have praised All Elite Wrestling on social media. Of course they are, that’s where they make a living, and without All Elite, most of them would probably work independent shows for a fraction of the money that Tony Khan is paying them. But, make no mistake about it, the lack of communication, the lack of firm decisions made, and the lack of leadership that Punk referenced in the interview are only a few of the reasons that All Elite Wrestling is a vanity project. Make no mistake about it, Tony Khan is a nice guy, you hear that from almost everyone that works with him, but that doesn’t mean that he has any qualifications to be a wrestling promoter. But hey, Tony gets to be friends with his favorite wrestlers, more talent get to make a living, and in the process, there will be a few diamonds in the rough in terms of quality pro wrestling bouts from AEW.

It’s ironic that the lack of business sense in AEW is more or less what brought CM Punk back to the WWE. He credited CEO Nick Khan for how the deal was made, and in truth, it was a smart move since Nick Khan is a neutral executive without being involved in Punk’s rocky exit from the WWE a decade ago. Phil Brooks knew that he could make major cash if he was willing to work in the WWE again, and TKO knew that bringing CM Punk back into the fold could translate to more money through ticket sales and merchandise. You don’t have to exchange gifts at the holidays to work together if there’s money to be made, and it’s not surprising that the cash solved the rift between Punk and the company.

All that said, I’m not sure CM Punk, despite what he might say publicly, changed all that much in the span of a few months between his AEW departure and his WWE return. However, he might have a better perspective on the WWE’s agenda to try to draw the biggest money possible when it clearly wasn’t a priority for AEW. When you take into account that All Elite Wrestling lost $34 million last year, it’s difficult to argue with Punk’s statement that the organization isn’t a real business.

Tony Khan is still a nice guy. CM Punk is still a talented jerk, but he was right.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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