CM Punk’s return to wrestling with AEW should have WWE concerned
Roman Reigns, WWE’s top dog, said something that suggests he’s looking back: “CM Punk was not as good or as (popular) as John Cena…(he) didn’t move the needle like The Rock.” Punk, 42, left WWE in 2014 and has not wrestled since. He showed up on TNT Friday night, debuting with All Elite Wrestling to huge acclaim. When he was with WWE,
Punk often chafed against a perceived glass ceiling for performers seen as undersized or who didn’t curry favor. What Reigns said about Punk is 100% correct. But the same statement applies to Reigns, too. Heck, it applies to almost every wrestler ever. The Rock is wrestling’s No. 1 crossover star of all time, and Cena isn’t far behind.
But Reigns’ house is constructed largely of glass. WWE first positioned Reigns as a top guy in 2015, but he failed to break through for a half-decade. He finally lived up to his push when he turned bad and was paired with manager Paul Heyman. Heyman, one of wrestling’s best creative minds and talkers, has since steered Reigns’ ship in every way possible.
The Rock and Cena never needed that, as long as we’re baring our souls. (Full disclosure: Punk was once affiliated with Heyman in WWE, too.) AEW added Punk, will add Daniel Bryan next month, and has surpassed WWE creatively when it comes to anything WWE does that doesn’t involve a few foolproof stars. WWE owner Vince McMahon still holds the creative reins at 75, and seems more out of touch than not.
AEW told a better story with enhancement talent Fuego Del Sol than WWE has managed to do with the immensely gifted Big E. (Above all, wrestling is about stories.) WWE is fading. AEW is a phenomenon — albeit one that needs to stabilize its TV ratings and walks a difficult tightrope between recycling ex-WWE talent and showcasing those that are young and not yet overexposed, which is where long-term success lies. (Punk knows it. The first name he brought up during his promo Friday was Britt Baker, 30, AEW’s top female star.)
Reigns’ statement was odd, unless he’s never looked in a mirror. (That seems doubtful.)
Reigns is either saying what he’s been told to say, or saying what he thinks McMahon wants said. Either way, it’s stooging for the company and incredibly petty.
It’s the same WWE arrogance that let World Championship Wrestling beat WWE head-to-head for 83 straight weeks in the Monday night ratings war from 1996-98.
But perhaps AEW will provide WWE the same kick up the backside that got McMahon to relinquish some creative control, come up with the R-rated “Attitude era,” take back supremacy and, ultimately, absorb WCW. (The details of that story could fill a book. In fact, they did.)
AEW isn’t yet as good as its cult-like following thinks. But AEW is a bigger threat than WWE thinks. Reigns and WWE looked back. Something is, indeed, gaining on them.