Why CM Punk’s Return to All Elite Wrestling’s ‘Rampage’ Has Been Big Business For The Whole Industry
I’ve been a pro wrestling fan since I was six, enjoying Wrestlemania 7, Summerslam 1991 and the WCW Worldwide episodes my older brother recorded on blank VHS tapes enough that my parents would let him take me at my first live show, Battle Royal at the Royal Albert Hall.
That event ended with Davey Boy Smith, “The British Bulldog,” overcoming Manager Jimmy Hart’s villainous rookie count – the monstrous natural disasters, earthquake and typhoon, as well as the despised Bigmouth The Mountie – with a little help from the legendary Andre The Giant. Smith’s connection to the scorching European fanbase at a time when main interest in the United States was starting to wane culminated in a huge stadium show that I also had the chance to witness live, because the whole thing next Summerslam in 1992 was held in my hometown at old Wembley.
Experiencing Bulldog’s appeal live, grasping the ending and subsequent lasting legacy of “Hulkamania,” then, of course, living through Stone Cold’s “Age of Attitude” Steve Austin, The Rock, and even more so as a teenager from 1998 to 2001 really hammered how much the fanbase and the industry in general cover a “golden age”.
When WCW and ECW collapsed in 2001 and WWE took over a mainstream monopoly, the “buzz” that accompanied these “golden ages” was gone for a while. People would often ask, “Who will be the next Hogan / Austin?” We would have settled for a regional version, like the Bulldog.
John Cena was arguably the closest to a Hogan, The Rock or Austin in the 2000s and was doing good business. However, the majority of its ‘buzz’ was built by those who stayed after the Age of Attitude to resist its rise, then engaging in vocal battles with the young fans in attendance who shone through the restlessness, loyalty and respect. Triple H wanted to be frowned upon by Rock and Austin after these two left, and Batista and Edge were big contracts. Still, everything about that particular period seemed, well, a bit forced.
Without any competition, WWE, of course, had the luxury of deciding who would be the face of a particular “era,” for the first time since Vince McMahon hand-picked the Hulkster in the ’80s. Austin and Rock came out of nowhere in supernova, and the company reacted under the pressure of the competition. Bulldog’s popularity across the Atlantic has exceeded expectations and offered a welcome tonic against looming meltdowns and scandals in the United States.
The first time fans really felt that a new “golden age” was starting to blossom naturally came a little over a decade after the Monopoly began, when CM Punk took a sit-down position. peculiar cross-legged on stage, wore a retired legend t-shirt, and spoke in a way and with a degree of vigor and truth that rocked a ton of inactive wrestling fans from a ten-induced coma. years of the same production values, the same segments and often the exact matches.
At the same time, independent wrestling sensation Bryan Danielson had arrived in WWE, changed his name to Daniel Bryan, and ticked a lot of boxes among fans checking out that “Summer Of Punk” deal, despite the fact that he almost ticked zero of Stamford management belongs.
After an era of “Hulkamania”, an era of “European boom”, an era of “Attitude”, forced and inorganic “Ruthless Aggression” and more, what exactly was forming here?
Triple H, who still struggles sporadically, called things in the early 2010s “the era of reality.” He did so as part of his villainous corporate deal that thwarted Bryan’s own rise, giving WWE the only one of their many attempts to recreate Austin vs. McMahon that actually connected with viewers. He said it in a way that was meant to refer to the “reality” of him and the McMahons, giving popular underdogs and their fans a reality check.
In retrospect, “the age of reality” was an accurate description, but not because of it. Instead, the Punks and Bryans were generating buzz because they were very real. So far removed from the monotonous role model of a “WWE Superstar” for the decade before, their work in the ring and on the mic – along with almost everything else about them – was relevant, refreshing, organic.
And while Bryan had his big moment at WrestleMania 30 – again, after fans and life itself forced the company out of their comfort zone at the last minute – punk was gone by then. He had left months before, disillusioned with the way things were and apparently the industry as a whole.
CM Punk, starting with this “pipebomb” monologue, could well have been the next face of a “golden age”; a cultural zeitgeist when things in wrestling seemed exciting and inescapable once again. WWE, unfortunately, had already realized that they no longer had to provide “golden ages.”
Punk’s return to the wrestling ring on Friday, in the opening segment of All Elite Wrestling’s “Rampage” show at a sold-out United Center in Chicago, drew a phenomenal reaction before, during and after, as well as ‘live and around the world, had people wondering what could have been. But what Punk’s return could still accomplish in the future – despite being the same age at 42 as Manny Pacquiao ‘who also takes center stage this weekend in boxing in a fight that many predict will be his last.
However, it’s actually more likely that Punk isn’t that British Bulldog or Steve Austin-esque catalyst in AEW than he absolutely would have been a decade ago in WWE had he had the chance. Instead, it is the sequel to a recovery that has already taken place.
Whether you like AEW or not, whether you can look past the just nit-picking aspects of some aspect of their product, or devote a podcast to trashing it because no one else in the industry will employ you anymore, Genesis of this traditional alternative wrestling company is offering workers more competitive wages, giving fans real viewing choices and forcing WWE out of their comfort zone more often than they are willing to continue to do.
Punk’s decision to return after a seven-year hiatus and do so with All Elite, by his own admission on mic Friday, is in response to that. He feels like pro wrestling is back and will immediately fight someone in Darby Allin who has captured the imaginations of fans and cultural groups in a fresh and organic way in the same way that Punk, Bryan and many others before them were. able to.
As fate would have it, Bryan himself has a strong connection to being the next big name to debut for AEW. It’s likely, given his passion for the fundamentals of pro wrestling, that he’ll want to do the same: work with exciting new opponents and help shine a light on who can be in 2021, 2022 and beyond. beyond Punk and Bryan.
Meanwhile, the current trajectory of things is likely to lead to WWE waking up from a slumber the same way many fans inactive due to the emergence of AEW, continued tributes to the old days. from WCW and now the return of Punk. Their best moments have come from adversity nine out of 10 times, and they’ve already fielded a huge SummerSlam that rivals many past WrestleManias due to the end of lockdown restrictions and an overriding urge to follow the Joneses.
The return of CM Punk was a glorious sign of great promise for a genre that can be so rewarding and then so depressing in a very short period of time. And while he’s unlikely to become the cultural figurehead he should have been for the company ten years ago. Her presence nonetheless serves as a personification of the hope that wrestling can once again be as rewarding for its audience as it once was.