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.
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.