Tag: AEW

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #077: “CM Punked?”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #077: “CM Punked?”

A little over a year ago, I wrote a love letter to Phil Brooks on this site. My feelings for CM Punk then are the same as they are now. He remains the reason I returned to pro wrestling fandom. He’s my favorite pro wrestler. Full stop. Cool? Let’s go.

First, let’s get the “facts” out here so we can get the the personal-opinion-penguin (which, trust me, is why you’re here):

On Sunday, September 4th, 2022, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) threw a pay-per-view, “All Out”. The main event saw CM Punk face Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship. 

The story thus far? This year, Punk won the belt originally in May from Hangman Adam Page. 3 days after winning, Punk announced he had shattered his foot, and needed to take time off. AEW doesn’t have champions give the belt back. Rather, they hold a tournament to crown an interim champ. Say hello to Jon Moxely. Upon Punk’s return… the belts were unified in an impromptu match that saw Mox decimate Punk after a single botched kick seem to show that Punk came back from injury too soon. 

With no opponent to face at the pay per view, Moxley left a signed contract on the mat the next week. CM Punk’s long-time friend and coach Ace Steele marched to the ring, grabbed the contract, and later in the show… slapped the taste out of Punk’s mouth to “re-awaken” the Second City Saint. Smash cut to Sunday, Mox — the younger, meaner, current champ… now facing an underdog Punk (fighting from underneath is kinda-sorta his MO, after all). After a bloody battle, Punk became a 2-time champ — crowned in his home city of Chicago. A whole bunch of storyline stuff happened (another article, I promise), and the show goes off the air to uproarious applause.

After the show is why we’re here. As part of the presentation of these pay-per-views, AEW owner Tony Khan throws these odd “Media Scrums”. Faux-press-conferences where various show performers come out to answer questions from the pro wrestling media. Let’s go ahead and stop right there.

Reread that as many times as you need to.

During the scrum, newly crowned champ CM Punk — bloody, battered, and hungry for muffins (no, seriously…) — took his chair. He shot a barb or two at the assembled bloggers, podcasters, and pro-wrestling journalists as things settled. Without a single question asked, Punk began a deluge of word-vomit that started with his current relationship to fellow grappler Colt Cabana and ended with a five paragraph monologue about AEW’s EVPs/on-air talent the Young Bucks and their friend the “anxious millennial cowboy” Hangman Adam Page. In short: Phil Brooks loathes them all for any number of reasons… all of which are outside the purview of the on-air character of professional wrestler CM Punk. By all accounts (and you’re welcome to pull up the video on youtube yourself… I’m not linking it for many reasons), this airing of grievances burned down the fourth wall between storyline, and “dirtsheet” journalism. For the uninitiated, “dirt sheets” are pro-wrestling tabloids; backstage accounts of real politicking and drama behind the stage personas. Shortly thereafter, Phil Brooks left the stage. The ghost of CM Punk never seemingly entered the scrum.

Reports of Punk and the Young Bucks getting into a physical altercation following the presser dropped. Countless wrestlers, media members, and fans all took to the social media streets to give their opinion. It’s “Punk vs. AEW” in the locker room. Following the real fracas, AEW owner Tony Khan was forced to strip CM Punk of his title, as well the Young Bucks of their newly-won Trios belts — won on the same night with their bestie Kenny Omega. Punk, if the same dirtsheets that he glowered at are to be believed… suffered from a very real torn tricep during his match. So, even with a belt, Punk’s now staring down months of recovery… putting AEW and its fans right back to where it started in May. 

But unlike then, with a sullen-but-committed CM Punk vowing to come back stronger than before… now we were treated to a tirade of a tween having a hissy fit over mulled-over stories and unseen backstage peacocking. The once self-proclaimed “voice of the voiceless” suddenly self-immolated. The fans (myself included) left scratching our heads as to the why of it all. 

Personal-opinion-penguin time!

In my heart, I want to believe this is a scripted, Kaufman-esque storyline. With 7 years of downtime, and a deep love of comic books and pro wrestling in his heart? Punk is master storyteller. I could easily see him behind closed doors with Kahn and company concocting this whole affair. The “Punk who can’t stop smiling” act would eventually wear out its welcome. What better way to let Phil Brooks’ creativity loose than a supernova heel turn. Perhaps feeling the tricep injury post-match (assuming the adrenaline kept Punk going and he was unconvinced of an injury during the actual match) led to unleashing this self-destructive angle that seemingly removes the shine from the apple. I fear however, this is me swinging at any theory my mind can concoct to explain away the awfulness of it all.

If this is indeed a shoot? I’m disappointed in Phil Brooks as a professional. At 43 years old, he knew better (again: leading me to think this is all some concoction of fiction). During his electric comeback speech, he laid it out:

I’m back. And I’m back for you. I’m not gonna lie, I’m back for me too, and I’m back because there’s a hell of a lot of young talent that I wish I was surrounded by 10 years ago. So insane that I sit back and I say, well, hell, they’re here now, so why aren’t you? Here I am. I’m back, because I want to work with that young talent that had the same passion that I had stamped out. I’m back because there’s a couple of scores to settle in that locker room. I’m back for the young guys.”

And for the better part of a year? Punk was back for those young guys. He wrestled solid matches with Darby Allin, Powerhouse Hobbs, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty, Wardlow, Max Caster, John Silver, and of course… an unforgettable series with MJF. The latter, of course, the heir to the throne that Punk’s sat at for so very long. Following that series, he transitioned to his match with Hangman Adam Paige, took the title, and well… here we are now.

What happened to Punk while he rehabbed his shattered foot? AEW’s ratings didn’t significantly shift up or down. Matches and angles remained as decent as they’d been with Punk actively competing — save anything as dynamic on the mic as his MJF feud. It’s hard to imagine Punk sitting at home and seething over things essentially remaining generally positive; save perhaps a scenario wherein he rages against the notion his absence was missed but not detrimental to the overall brand. The rarely-to-believed blogosphere seems to believe Punk’s diatribe was premeditated. That’s even more baffling to me; because going into business for himself by way of backing up the bus over beloved roster members would only wind up with everyone losing. “It’s them or me” seems shallow for someone who had nothing left to prove to the fans that loved CM Punk.

In the wake of the fracas, fans like me sit in idle. AEW’s television this week pulled an amazing WWE-esque smoke-and-mirrors show. Punk removed from the opening video packages and graphics. No mention by name, save only for MJF referencing that Moxley “went to sleep last night” and mimicking Punk’s taunt. YouTube news channels like What Culture and Cultaholic now have multiple reports daily, and think-pieces lending to their view count. The dirt sheets lap up every muffin crumb to drive click-baity BS while the fanbase sours. Social media is now choked with memes and carefully chosen video clips that rewrite Punk’s history to show him the villain of the piece all-along. 

Was this what he wanted? Like many, the line from The Dark Knight lingers in my mind. “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s deflating to think that after deciding to return to the ring with nothing left to prove… Punk became so self-absorbed that he became blind to the irony his bang-the-table preening was no better than those he mocked during his pivotal pipebomb promo that pushed his career forward (and soon enough to its then-end). How could he not understand that publicly airing his dirty laundry with his coworkers was a better way to solve a problem then sitting down like adults in the back away from cameras and civilly discussing the issues at hand? We’ll likely never know.

I’ve met Phil Brooks. He was nice. Genuine. Dare I even say… a sweetheart. I wouldn’t want to believe the guy who snapped a shot of my birth announcement comic to send to his wife and was elated to be given a copy (because my second son happens to be Colton Mikel Fishman, aka CM Fish)…had grown so bitter — especially over so little. For better or worse… I believe in the long game. When Punk heals up, I pray for a return. An explanation. An angle. Anything to retcon or relight this dim ending to the brightest spot in my (and many others’) wrestling fandom.

CM Punk. Phil Brooks. You’ve said of yourself… you are the best in the world. Well, sir? Prove it. 

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #070: Vince McMahon Can Twitch My Ass

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #070: Vince McMahon Can Twitch My Ass

As the seasons turn, and we remain locked indoors, awaiting the eventual end of the plague (either the coronavirus or Donald Trump’s presidency… I’ll take the end of either at this point)… I’m left once again watching professional wrestling. Since the beginning of the pandemic, both the WWE and AEW have chosen ways to bring back the crowds. AEW is selling a very small amount of tickets for socially-distant, attendee-testing-at-the-gate fans to enjoy tapings of AEW Dynamite in Daley’s Place (the amphitheater at the base of the stadium where the Jacksonville Jaguars play). The WWE has opted instead to drain Orlando of its power grid by way of their Thunderdome “stadium” — with the arena where the Orlando Magic play basketball now housing the ring, and an insane amount of LED boards where a virtual audience and piped-in crowd noise are filmed during their tapings.

This weird new normal has created some interesting times — if perhaps some less-than-stellar product. But some pro rasslin’ is better than none. I’m not apt to complain there. Something happened not long ago in the WWE though, that has caused me to sour that much more to their ever-dwindling-in-quality-product. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #070: Vince McMahon Can Twitch My Ass”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #068: The Nails In WWE’s Coffin Are Elite

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #068: The Nails In WWE’s Coffin Are Elite

Not even a year removed from the debut of AEW Dynamite — the weekly 2 hour wrestling program from All Elite Wrestling — I consider myself a full-blown convert. Each week, WWE’s stranglehold on the pro-wrestling (ahem… “Sports Entertainment”) industry slips further and further down. In fact, just this past week, their ratings continued to plummet. And while all TV ratings right now are not-great? The WWE has less of an excuse. They are still producing weekly entertainment. It’s just that in comparison to Tony Khan’s black-white-and-gold brand… WWE is looking a lot less shiny. So much so I’m not even watching DVR’ed episodes with any zeal. At best, I listen to results (and complaints) from YouTube reviewers a few days after episodes air. While the WWE is literally too big to fail for now? As AEW Champion (and former WWE staple) Jon Moxley might say… it’s time for a paradigm shift.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #068: The Nails In WWE’s Coffin Are Elite”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #067: Speaking Out on Pro Wrestling

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #067: Speaking Out on Pro Wrestling

For any living under a rock, #SpeakingOut is a movement in recent weeks that has exposing a litany of professional wrestlers for their misogynistic behavior publicly calling them out to be dealt with. In the wake of everything occurring throughout the world, it’s a breath of fresh air to see those in the business who need action taken against them start to suffer for their behavior.

What we’re seeing is a systemic change; where allegations are being met instantly with action and repercussions. You might say that #timesup to live by the “wait and see” or “innocent until proven guilty” defense used by many who bear the brunt of the hashtag. But it’s clear by way of all that has come out:

Women will be believed. They will be heard. And those accused must deal with the ramifications. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #067: Speaking Out on Pro Wrestling”

Another Smart Marc Podcast — The Pilot!

Another Smart Marc Podcast — The Pilot!

Just in time for professional wrestling to implode, Pop Culture Squad is proud to present the pilot to Another Smart Marc — a pro wrestling podcast as part of our Pop Culture Squadcast Network!

Join PCS columnist SmartMarc Alan Fishman and his guest, singer/songwriter Jeremy Lieb as they breakdown the coming and (mostly) goings in the world of rasslin’.

The lads discuss the current empty arena shows — the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’re taking Friar Ferguson levels of ugly. And if you get that reference? Well my friend, you’re just another smart mark.

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So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #062: No Audience? No Wrestling!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #062: No Audience? No Wrestling!

With the increasing pressure of the CDC, state governance, and… well… common sense, live entertainment may be on the verge of hiatus. I speak specifically of professional wrestling — with both the WWE and AEW continuing to produce shows weekly. This perhaps coming to no greater head than Wrestlemania itself. Let’s just unpack that, shall we?

Vince McMahon’s first ‘Mania was the gamble that paid off to dividends still reverberating today. The WWF of 1985 presented the carnival-tinged cavalcade of muscle-bound pugilists in a venue and scope that prognosticated future success to the tune of billions of dollars earned. Fast-forward to the COVID-19 stricken wastleland that is America at present. Wrestlemania 36 just ended it’s 2-night audience-less presentation. In spite of death-defying stunts, first-and-likely-last-time-ever matchtypes like the Boneyard Match between the Undertaker and AJ Styles, or the Firefly Funhouse match between John Cena and The Fiend… after 7 hours of grunts and prat falls to the echos of an empty warehouse, I’m astounded this was considered a good idea. At all. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #062: No Audience? No Wrestling!”

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #059: How AEW has the WWE in a Rest Hold

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #059: How AEW has the WWE in a Rest Hold

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, my adoring public. But rest assured, I’ve been knee deep in content saturation; trying to find a specific hook to yammer on about on my little home on the interwebs. Well, since it’s been long enough since my last wrestling run-down, I felt it was time to return to the squared circle and once again wax poetic on the virtues of Cody Rhodes and company. Let’s do the thing:

The win/loss record makes inconsequential matches actually matter

When AEW gets into their mid-card, their simple system of tracking wins and losses (and soft resetting at year end) means every match has a purpose. By telling us presently-not-on-the-top-five Jungle Boy is facing off with 5th ranked Superbad Kip Sabian, even without a lengthy backstory, the match suddenly matters. A win over Sabian might mean Jungle Boy gets on the ranking board. But if Kip nips Jungle Boy in the bud, he’ll hold more wins than #4 on the chart, and suddenly his stock is skyrocketing. This makes every match have ramifications. It forces us, the viewers, to think of the predetermined contests as holding a narrative built around the sport between the ropes. This suspension of belief is what pro-wrestling used to be rooted in. Continue reading ““So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #059: How AEW has the WWE in a Rest Hold”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #052: Things I’m Thankful For – 2019 Edition

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #052: Things I’m Thankful For – 2019 Edition

It’s about to be that time again. I know it’s likely my article drops after all y’all done gorged yourselves  all day on good foods. But it’s still time to reflect on the year that is almost over, and figure out the bests, the worsts, and what-have-you. As I’ve written on other sites, I like to assemble a list of those things I am most thankful for at the time of writing. A time capsule of positivity, if you will. Except we live in cynical nasty times, so, well, this is what you get. Enjoy it. Hate it. I don’t care anymore!

(Because some people will like to throw stones… this list is purposefully built in random order, and should not be dissected for importance. Jerks.)

1. I’m thankful for Bill Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch, Alexander Vinman, Jennifer Williams, Kurt Volker, Tim Morrison, Gordon Sondland, Laura Cooper, David Hale, Fiona Hill, and David Holmes. As of this writing, we’ve no idea if Donald Trump will be impeached or removed from office. And while his blatantly obvious scheming would have me personally hurl the book at his orange mush so fast, it’d break the sound barrier… I am not in the House of Representatives. So, I digress. I am thankful that those above testified openly and honestly about what they saw, heard, and felt about this whole Ukraine situation. Because as it was plainly (and brilliantly) put: “This is America… Here, right matters.”

2. Schitt’s Creek, GLOW, Orange is the New Black, and The Good Place. Somewhere between my terrestrial cable subscription (it’s retro chic, don’t you know) and my Netflix account, I’ve enjoyed an amazing smattering of peak sitcom joy. And those shows listed above all have, at their core, belief in joy. Despite our joyless world, these shows have all touched my heart, and remind me of the good in the world.

3. AEW and NXT. Well, no doubt you knew this one was coming. AEW and NXT have both reminded me what good professional wrestling can be when it wants to. Well-crafted in-ring stories paired with over-the-top-but-still-plausible storylines are literally incomparable to the standard dreck dealt to me by the still-Vince-driven RAW and Smackdown shows. And make note: I will be doing a best-and-worst list of wrestlers / storylines in 2019 before the end of the year. You’ve been warned.

4. My wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. While we’ve been a couple now for nearly 19 years, it’s the last ten that have been the legally sanctioned ones. This year, I went all-out gifting the love of my life into a complete stupor. A custom-made Funko (err, Fishko) Pop figure was paired with a cameo video message from my wife’s true bae, Joey Fatone (of NSYNC fame). How did I know I did well? My wife said plainly “Well now I feel a little bad, cause I can’t compete with those gifts.” Damn straight. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #052: Things I’m Thankful For – 2019 Edition”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #023: MOSTLY IN On AEW

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #023: MOSTLY IN On AEW

The siren’s song of Pro Wrasslin’ hath grabbed me again, and I’m unable to think about much else pop culture wise these days. The groundswell amongst smart marks such as myself is reaching a fever pitch over the announcements concerning AEW — All Elite Wrestling. Financially backed by the Shah family, helmed in-part by Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, with a growing talent roster highlighted by “Mr. Highlight Reel” himself, Chris Jericho. In short? AEW, more than any other promotion in the states, has the potential to be viable competition to the McMahon empire.

It’s not been this exciting as a fan since the Monday Night Wars… maybe, kinda, almost, hopefully.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #023: MOSTLY IN On AEW”