In a way, just getting to last Sunday’s All Out pay-per-view in Chicago felt like a relief for All Elite Wrestling. The show ended with the crowd thanking a bloody and beaten workhorse, Orange Cassidy, after dropping the All-Atlantic title to Jon Moxley after 31 successful title defenses. This, coupled with the sudden return of Bryan Danielson, the various losses from various members of The Elite, and the continued success of the Better Than You Baybay, felt like a much-needed smash of the reset button.
There was seemingly no choice to do so this time around, as the elephant in the room elected to stampede over it. If the term reset doesn’t feel new to you in watching All Elite Wrestling, it shouldn’t. We have reached the year anniversary of the infamous All Out post-event scrum where CM Punk ate muffins and aired out his grievances on a number of people from Colt Cabana and Hangman Page; this was supposed to be CEO Tony Khan’s ace in the hole, and it’s not hard to see why.
Punk was a long-retired ultimate get that was considered the crown jewel of the young wrestling company. This was supposed to open doors to even more opportunities, as in Punk’s early days – he stated he wanted to work with The Elite in a program. Think about it; Kenny Omega vs. CM Punk in a main event would have been intriguing. The Voice of the Voiceless is going up against the Best Bout Machine in a dual of wrestling past and present. However, fans will presumably never get that matchup (at least inside the ring).
It should have been the easiest slam dunk in terms of programs for a company that likes to lean into the work/shoot aspects of the business. The drama of it all clouded the things to celebrate. In five short years, All In turned from an indie celebration (which would be the gear for AEW to form) to a record 81,035 sold-out bonzana at Wembley Stadium in London, England. However, it would quickly be out of the news cycle, considering the backstage dust-up between the now-released CM Punk and Jack Perry and the wonderment surrounding that situation.
In all actuality, it may have been headed for this abrupt end from what we know. AEW Collision was formed – perhaps to keep Punk and The Elite away from one another. Expectantly, that divided the locker room. While some wrestlers got some needed airtime, there were reports of Punk not letting specific individuals backstage. Collision created a different feel for AEW, but it would always be an uphill battle heading against the heart of college football season. Thus, you had an environment with a figurehead still fuming about what happened prior with an axe to grind and the carte blanche to do as he pleases.
Not all the responsibility for this falling apart should fall on Punk’s shoulders (although he does have culpability. Why even do that Hangman promo?). A significant drawback of trying to keep one person happy is that you have multiple blind spots. While Punk was not in the right for his various comments, the mockery of this situation by the EVPs of the company is not the proper method either. The inability to get these men in a room and come to somewhat of an understanding is a failure. Khan mentioned wrestlers not liking each other, and that’s all well and fine. I’m sure in many professions, personalities clash.
However, it isn’t easy to allow the top people in your company to set that tone – there’s a trickle-down effect. Collision has to reshuffle its identity with heavy competition; AEW has lost a top star, has another young star suspended for the immediate future, and has looked to the veterans of Jon Moxley and an injured Bryan Danielson to clean up the debris. Revamping is commonplace in the world of wrestling. Wrestlers refresh their gimmicks, shows change sets, and titles change hands.
But AEW as an entity needs a steady course of stability. It needs to lean on the stars who are currently present, drawing down on the itch to leak salacious details to drum up interest and tell good stories. Most of all, the man in charge needs to set the tempo. That’s all, that’s it. We often hear that AEW is the utopia of the wrestling business, and now we have to see it, not listen to it.