AEW: Brawls, Bites, and Bodyslams (oh my)

AEW produced a fun pay-per-view outing over Labor Day weekend. New champions were crowned, several great matches occurred, and the show closed out with the return of MJF. But no one is talking about that.

The genuine backstage drama that has been reportedly simmering for months reached a boiling point, culminating in a locker room “melee” that is still grabbing headlines over one week later.

It’s the story that will not die.

In a scene reminiscent of Scarface’s spirited “resignation” in the film Half Baked, CM Punk made disparaging remarks at the post-All Out media scrum about Colt Cabana, Colt Cabana’s mama, ‘Hangman’ Adam Page, Target retail stores, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, and Reseda, California.

Punk ended his tirade by stating his door is always open if anyone has a problem with him.

From here on end, words like “allegedly” or “reported” heavily apply as this pier six brawl has grown more fantastical by the day, Which is why I waited so long to write about it.

Nick & Matt Jackson (The Young Bucks) and Kenny Omega took Punk up on his offer and kicked the door down. If anyone creates a parody of this fight, please play Bigge Samlls’ Kick in the Door

Ok, back on task.

Punk punched Matt, and Ace Steel, an AEW producer and the man who trained Punk, threw a chair at Nick, pulled Omega’s hair, and bit him.

Another perspective of the “melee” cites that the door wasn’t kicked down and that Kenny Omega was trying to get CM Punk’s dog, Larry, out of harm’s way, only for Ace Steel to run up from behind and bite him, in an effort to protect his wife.

First of all, who has ever been in a fight and consciously referred to it as a “melee?” At least Fightful.com is trying to make “Brawl Out” happen in terms of branding. Com’on now. Naturally, some have called the whole ordeal a work. However, I’m here to put that myth to rest once and for all.

Any fight story with two different accounts that are as drastically different as a group kicking a door down and rescuing a dog has to be real. I’ve broken up my share of scuffles, and there are ALWAYS two different stories where the combatants paint themselves as either the victim or the reluctant hero.

For some reason, I can picture the Bucks slapping their legs as they kicked in the door…I kid, I kid.

AEW suspended everyone who had anything to do with the brawl, including the producers who tried to break it up. However, Punk didn’t come out completely unscathed. Punk tore his left triceps in his main event win over Jon Moxley and reportedly aggravated it further in the brawl.

How did AEW go from the paragon of wrestling virtue to bats**t crazy like the rest of the industry? It’s storytime, folks.

Reportedly, AEW was not going to resign Colt Cabana when his contract expired in May. The Young Bucks advocated for Cabana, and Tony Khan signed him to a new deal. However, it was earmarked for Ring of Honor, which Khan purchased in March and has only held two shows.

Speculation surfaced that Cabana’s move to ROH was due to his past lawsuit against CM Punk for unpaid legal fees over WWE’s defamation lawsuit against the duo. Whether Cabanna’s move to ROH was a preemptive strike by Khan or Punk set the wheels in motion is anyone’s guess.

ROH wrestlers appear regularly on Dynamite and Rampage; however, Cabana hasn’t had a whiff of TV time in 16 months. Still, Cabana has a lot of friends backstage and has helped many of them earn a lot of money through Pro Wrestling Tees. Among those friends are The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, the company’s executive vice presidents.

The first visible cracks in AEW’s armor appeared in May when “Hangman” Adam Page went into business for himself in a face-to-face promo with CM Punk, citing workers’ rights. Punk returned the favor in Page’s hometown on the 8/17 edition of Dynamite when he called out Page in an unscripted moment, making the former champ look like a coward.

Two weeks later, all hell broke loose, and CM Punk produced the infamous diatribe that sent AEW into a tailspin. Tony Khan was sitting next to Punk during the media scrum and didn’t cut him off. Khan’s once glowing reputation has taken a hit over his inaction.

However, it’s easier said than done, especially when he proclaimed at the post-Double or Nothing media scrum in May, “No one has meant more to AEW’s bottom line than CM Punk.” 

While it’s no secret to fans who moves the needle and generates revenue, as a promoter, you don’t say it publically because those words will come back to haunt you as they are now haunting Khan.

Rumors about Kenny Omega’s attitude backstage have also emerged as he reportedly stated he wouldn’t have hired 80% of the current AEW roster during a meeting that was supposed to rally the troops and get morale back on track.

The emergence of such backstage arrogance could be information distributed from the pro-Punk camp in AEW. Perhaps, it could be delayed smoke to a blazing fire that is now visible to the masses.

Last week’s Dynamite opened with Tony Khan stripping Omega and the Bucks of the newly introduced Trios Titles and Punk of the World Championship. Khan didn’t deviate from his prepared statement and didn’t mention the names of the now former champions. It’s a move that might confuse casual viewers who don’t follow behind-the-scenes news, but it was the best thing he’s done post brawl.

The results of the third-party investigation could force Khan to make some difficult decisions in the coming weeks. There is a real possibility that the Bucks, Omega, and Punk could quit the promotion or even be fired.

The executive title Omega and the Bucks hold also makes them employees of AEW, not independent contractors like every other wrestler on the planet. Employees are held to a different standard, and company executives are held to an even higher standard.

The administrative nature of the situation puts AEW in a more complicated legal quandary than most situations involving backstage fisticuffs between wrestlers. CM Punk was seen icing his triceps during the media scrum, had surgery last week, and will not be back until sometime next year. If the injury was exacerbated in the brawl and three company executives were responsible, Punk would have the company over a barrel.

Many have speculated and even called for Omega and the Bucks to lose their executive positions. If the reports are accurate, they acted like wrestlers and forgot they were vice presidents. Losing their executive privileges means losing employee benefits, such as health insurance. It would also serve as a devastating blow to any ego.

It is a demotion, no matter which way you look at it.

Such relegation involving three of its founders could be the catalyst for resignation. Punk does more for the product than all three wrestlers combined in the short term. If CM Punk is now the apple of Tony Khan’s eye, jealousy is a logical conclusion.

AEW’s television deal with TNT is up next year, and they are not only looking to resign but also seeking an increased payout. Warner Bros Discovery has unleashed the “Axe of Zaslav.” CEO David Zaslav has canceled an abundance of programming across all Warner Bros Discovery-owned platforms. He also canceled the Batgirl movie right before filming wrapped, which cost $90 million to produce.

AEW needs to produce a steady television show with consistently good ratings to not only sign another deal but an increase in rights fees. CM Punk helps AEW obtain that objective more than The Elite.

CM Punk will be 44 years old in October and has proven to be injury prone. Punk injured his foot in May, was out for the summer, injured again in his second match back, and will be out for 6-8 months. Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks are the better options in the long term.

Last year, AEW was professional wrestling’s belle of the ball, and All Out was one of the best pay-per-view events of all time. A year later, a much different story is being crafted. Buy rates are down, attendance is down, Rampage ratings are poor, creative is flat, and locker room conflict has turned the promotion upside down.

The world title tournament is down to Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley to crown a new champion at next week’s Grand Slam edition of Dynamite from Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The tournament is a nice way to steady the ship, but it lacks the excitement of AEW’s normal creative efforts. Despite Moxley’s passionate promo, the prospect of a third run with Moxley in the driver’s seat presents a case of been there, done that.

Booking and producing professional wrestling content is so fun that it almost seems easy when everything is going right. It is much different when things are not going well. AEW no longer has that new car shine, and Tony Khan is no longer the cool new kid in school.

I’m rooting for him to succeed. We all should be rooting for Tony Khan to succeed. Wrestling is a better place for wrestlers and fans alike when there is more than one viable mainstream option.

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