What CM Punk’s Exit Says About AEW

(Photo Credit: AEW)

After more than a year of controversy and two backstage fights, along with numerous rumors of other behind the scenes arguments, as well as the occasional rant on social media or in the arena, CM Punk was finally fired by Tony Khan, the first move that Tony made as an actual boss since the whole debacle began at the infamous All Out press conference last year.

There’s more drama involved in this scenario than at a middle school dance so let’s get to the meat of the matter to get as concise a view on the situation as possible.

As I wrote last week when I covered the initial reports of the fight backstage between Punk and Jack Perry at All In, it’s not that difficult for Tony Khan to say, especially when he pays these guys very well, that if they don’t want to work with each other that’s fine, but everyone must be professional enough to at least be in the same building without a backstage brawl that puts the product in jeopardy for the paying audience. That goes for The Elite, CM Punk, and anyone else. Yes, it’s the pro wrestling business, an ego-driven industry and it’s an unconventional way to make a living, but it’s still a workplace. The top priority for anyone should be the goal to draw money so that everyone involved can make the most money possible, which is the entire point of any business venture. Tony ran his organization like a tree house and some of his roster treated it the same way. Again, the fact that Punk and The Elite were kept in different parts of the building because they couldn’t be professional enough to even see one another speaks to the lack of a combination of professionalism and maturity.

When Punk stood on a soap box and buried the company at the media scrum last year, and Tony Khan looked totally afloat sitting next time him, Phil Brooks crowed to anyone that would listen that pro wrestling was a business, but nothing that he did in the time frame that he ranted last year until his final appearance with the company suggested that it was about business for him. Punk threw Adam Page under the bus after an edition of Collision went off the air to drag the drama back into the headlines just two weeks before Wembley Stadium, he had to get his receipt in against The Elite when he returned for the debut episode of Collision to make sure it was in the forefront as soon as he was back on television, and ultimately, he got into the scuffal with Jack Perry because each of those situations allowed Punk to stroke his ego. He jabbed at The Elite to make sure he told the audience that nobody was his boss, he took a shot at Adam Page to let the fans know that it’s only over when he says it is, and he didn’t mind getting into a fight with Perry so that he could make himself sound like a “real” fighter that was the same guy that got embarrassed twice in the UFC.

Make no mistake about it, CM Punk is about CM Punk, he’s not a martyr for pro wrestling, and much of that smokescreen was lifted during his All Elite tenure. Phil Brooks wanted to “change the system” to put himself in the top spot, not to do a service to the wrestling industry. Brooks, who often cites names like Roddy Piper, Harley Race, and Bret Hart, ironically took the opposite path of any of them. Piper didn’t trust Hulk Hogan in the 80s, and you can’t blame him, but he did business with Hogan because that’s where the biggest money possible was at the time. Harley Race was rumored to have been offered a hefty sum of cash to no-show the first Starrcade and not drop the title to Ric Flair in 1983, but Race was there to pass the torch because he knew it was the right move for the business. Bret Hart certainly seemed to have the right to punch Shawn Micheals in the mouth in 1997, but he showed up and didn’t cheap shot Micheals when they worked together because the ability to put personal grudges aside to draw money is what allows everyone to make the most money possible.

Phil Brooks claimed that WWE management was against him and he couldn’t get along with the office to work there. He went to All Elite Wrestling and it didn’t take long for him to claim that management was against him there, too. Clearly, Brooks can’t get along with AEW office either. I’m not taking anything away from his ability in the ring or the star power that he brought to the table, but the harsh reality is, the narrative that unfolded about CM Punk in the major leagues was ultimately that he made himself unemployable. Brooks might think so, but he’s not as big of a star as Steve Austin or The Rock, and eventually his bitterness towards seemingly everything that doesn’t serve him wasn’t worth the hassle. While there are positives and negatives to this, All Elite is more or less the opposite of the WWE in terms of structure and presentation. Brooks was fired from both places because he couldn’t get along with management so he’s the common denominator.

Keep in mind, this all started because Brooks said it anyone had a problem with him then they could go to him, and then someone did so he wasn’t a victim in the brawl with The Elite.

That being said, The Elite and Tony Khan are also responsible for this mess. The fact that anyone from The Elite are still considered EVPs is laughable. One thing that Punk was right about is, none of them probably could handle the responsibility of managing a Target. Granted, Punk continued to knock The Elite even after his return to the company so you can’t blame them for not wanting to work with him on a personal level, but if they were true professionals, especially in a management role in the organization, they would’ve met with Punk and then everyone agrees to at least be in the same building without incident. If The Elite honestly wanted to draw money for AEW, they would’ve booked a six man tag against Punk and FTR at one of the recent pay-per-views because that would’ve been the biggest business possible for the company.

A management role means that the company comes before personal grudges, that’s one of the sacrifices made when someone takes an office job. Your personal view is secondary to what draws money for the company, and that’s why it’s often a conflict of interest when active wrestlers work in the office. Similar to how Tony Khan failed as a boss in how he handled or didn’t handle the initial incident, The Elite failed just as much in their office roles.

As far as the fight with Jack Perry, it should be mentioned that he should be the next one to get a pink slip. He’s a secondary talent that plateaued, and after his infamous appearance at a convention in England earlier this year where it sounded like he didn’t care about the sport anyway, he’s completely expendable. While I honestly believe it was a matter of time before another incident happened with Punk to prompt his exit from AEW, Jack Perry isn’t valuable enough to the company to be able to try to provoke one of the highest paid stars on the roster. Quite frankly, Punk is a commodity, and Perry isn’t. In fact, if Jack Perry burned his boots, bought a horse, and moved to Montana, it would make zero difference to AEW business.

Tony Khan actually comes out of this whole situation looking the worst. Everyone knew that Phil Brooks was a jerk, a talented jerk, but still a jerk. Everyone knew that The Elite probably did leak information to the dirt sheets because they are too egotistical to see the bigger picture and want to maintain their friendship with The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, which is probably why the argument could be made that AEW is still a niche product. There were questions about if someone from a billionaire family could translate some of his sports and business background to pro wrestler, or if this was an expensive way for Tony Khan to get a chance to be friends with his favorite wrestlers. Unfortunately, the way this entire debacle was mishandled answers a lot of the questions about if All Elite is more of a vanity project than a serious business venture.

Where anyone goes from here is anyone’s guess. Maybe Punk looked for a way to be fired or just didn’t care if he was release, because at this point, what choice did Tony Khan have? It took Punk just two months to get into another backstage fight, how exactly was Phil Brooks going to continue to work there? Some have speculated that prehaps this could open the door for a WWE return for CM Punk, which is probably why Punk showed up backstage at Raw to attempt to mend fences earlier this year. Make no mistake about it, Phil Brooks is a very good politician and knew what he was doing when he humbly showed up at a WWE production when he was still on the shelf with the triceps injury. However, I’m not sure WWE brass would want to deal with any of that baggage, and truthfully, they don’t need CM Punk when the organization already has record-setting profits. This isn’t 1996 when Vince brought back The Ultimate Warrior to try to sway the ratings away from Nitro. Why does the WWE need a 44-year-old injury prone CM Punk on the roster in 2023?

As far Tony Khan, his statement that he felt his life was in danger during the All Out incident is completely ridiculous and prehaps legal jargon to try to avoid paying Punk the remainder of his hefty contract. If Tony honestly felt like his life was at risk at an AEW show then it’s best that he doesn’t continue as a promoter. CM Punk isn’t that dangerous, and if Tony truly thinks that Phil Brooks is capable of putting someone’s life at risk then it’s better to Tony to step away from the pro wrestling business. Along with that, I’d guess that the story that Brooks supposedly “lunged” at Tony is an exaggeration to views online. I also find it difficult to believe that Punk was rude to William Regal upon his debut in the organization, but considering that William Regal is more or less unanimously respected in the industry, if the story is true, it says a lot about the attitude of Brooks.

The bottom line is, unless CM Punk was given the top spot, he wasn’t happy. He couldn’t work for WWE and then he couldn’t work for AEW. He was given his own show to play the top star that he thought he deserved to be, he was given his own championship, and got to pick who was allowed on Collision, but that wasn’t enough. He was under AEW contract for two years, and spent roughly half that time on the injured list between the original foot injury and then the triceps injury. In the span of just a year, he got into two backstage fights, not to mention the numerous times he trashed the company online. There wasn’t a drastic shift in business for All Elite, but Phil Brooks made millions of dollars from his contract so it’s not as though he will be in the bread line since he was fired. CM Punk had well-documented issues with The Elite, Adam Page, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Jack Perry in the span of just two years.

If AEW can continue to be a profitable niche then that’s great, but one thing is for sure, while the odds of a major increase in viewership is slim without CM Punk on the roster, the company had no chance to reach the next level with CM Punk signed to the company. However, make no mistake about it, there are no “winners” in this situation because the argument could be made that Punk tarnished his legacy, while the ineptitude of management more or less proves that All Elite is a secondary company.

If you don’t think so, take this into consideration, two years ago, All Elite Wrestling added CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole to the roster in the span of two weeks, but the ratings are lower now than they were for the company in 2021.

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

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail [email protected] | You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, & Threads @jimlamotta89