Live Reaction to the Debut of AEW Collision and CM Punk’s Return in Chicago

All Elite Wrestling debuted a brand new, two-hour show on TNT called Collision last Saturday night on June 17. The show also brought the return of CM Punk after over nine months away from the company.

I attended CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling in August 2021 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. It was a much different vibe then. The crowd was absolutely insane. I hadn’t experienced a show like that before. The whole United Center literally shook with how loud everyone got. It was awesome to have Punk back in wrestling. He still had massive fan support after his exit from WWE in 2014 and the way that company treated him during his time there and on his way out. The show was also the debut episode for Rampage, aptly titled “The First Dance.” Everyone got ice cream bars from Punk after the show and were happy. Those good time feelings didn’t even last a year.

Punk had great matches and feuds in AEW with the likes of Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston and MJF. He was building to more until he broke his left foot last June while stagediving into the crowd during one of his entrances. His wrestling feud over the AEW world title with “Hangman” Adam Page turned real after comments made by the champion about “worker’s rights” during a promo between the two on a May 25, 2022 episode of Dynamite deeply upset Punk. The line by Page was related to Colt Cabana not appearing on AEW programming since Punk’s arrival in the company and potentially getting fired. Page thought Punk was responsible for after the two former best friends had a bad falling out several years ago. According to Punk the comments took him off guard.

A few months later on Dynamite during his first night back after recovering from his foot injury, Punk called out Page unexpectedly. He said Hangman not coming out and confronting him right there was “coward shit” and not “cowboy shit.” He also said that the “apology must be as loud and as public as the disrespect,” in reference to their personal issues over Page’s comments. That’s also a great line considering what came afterwards from Punk just a month later. Hangman had no idea the promo was happening and wasn’t scheduled to come out. Punk was so mad about the Page situation that he went to AEW upper management to discuss the issue and had increasing frustrations within the company. At the time, the line and promo from Hangman flew over most people’s heads until it became a big story a few months later.

His actions following the Hangman feud, his blowup at the press conference following the All Out pay-per-view on Sept. 4, 2022 and repeated situations since then diminished the star aura around Punk. Even though Punk beat Jon Moxley to become the AEW world champion for a second time, the post-match media scrum had nothing to do with the show or the match he just won. Punk’s rant at the press conference attacked Page, the EVPs (Nick and Matt Jackson (the Young Bucks) and Kenny Omega) and Colt Cabana with insults and complaints all while AEW president Tony Khan sat there frozen next to him for most of the rant. It made the company look terrible as Punk basically crapped over the whole promotion. As a fan it was incredibly disappointing to watch and I haven’t viewed Punk the same way since.

“Brawl Out” happened in the Now Arena immediately afterwards, where Punk, Ace Steel (an AEW agent/producer and personal friend of Punk’s), Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks had an altercation. While Punk had said during his rant that anyone with a problem with him in the company could tell him to his face, when that actually happened it didn’t go so well. Doors were supposedly kicked down, chairs were thrown, someone got bit and a dog supposedly got hurt. Punk supposedly threw the first punch during the altercation. Lawyers got involved, stories supposedly leaked to the wrestling media and non-disclosure agreements were signed. Punk was injured during his match with Moxley and went away for months to recover from a left torn triceps. The situation was never addressed publicly or on AEW television.

An incredible amount of drama has followed all those events since last May. A black cloud hung over AEW that brought the company’s tremendous progress to a halt. Omega and the Young Bucks were suspended for a few months and stripped of the Trios tag titles while not much repercussion seemed to fall on Punk except him now getting his own show. Some of Punk’s postings on platforms like Instagram are just bizarre, where he continues to call out wrestling media people, called his coworkers like Chris Jericho liars and complained about his feud Moxley too. Fans became split between wanting Punk fired or thinking the Elite caused all the drama. A lot of fans were simply turned off on AEW by the whole situation. It wasn’t even known if Punk would ever return to AEW.

Punk is using the same force that got fans behind him in WWE against the bad corporation, except this time people really like the corporation and the guys who formed it, like the Elite. In retrospect the whole situation makes a lot of the things Punk said on his return run in question. It also makes the whole persona of being a man of the people less authentic. Speaking “truth to power” and those catchphrases really doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. Through his own actions Punk comes across as very difficult to be around and like some of the wrestling stars of the past like Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan. Imagine having a coworker like that at your own job. It would be brutal. Punk’s other public comments about standing in solidarity with co-workers just makes him look hypocritical and insincere after his own actions goes against that. Basically it all comes across like Punk acts one way for his public persona but in reality he might not be that person, which disappointed a lot of fans.

Some fans keep pushing for The Elite and Punk to have a match or feud over the whole controversy, and “make money.” Why would the Elite guys need to? Punk also keeps pushing to make amends with them so they can obviously make money on a big PPV match. At this point, they really don’t need to work together. I can’t imagine Punk and Omega having a match on the quality level that Omega is known for. They legally can’t talk about anything either way so the build up would be a lot of running in circles.

The constant complaining from Punk about wrestling journalists and wrestling media in this whole situation reeks of the “fake news” talking points we hear in politics in an attempt to absolve legitimacy of a report or story. For some people, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer is supposedly the root of all problems in this AEW situation. A lot of the wrestling media does fall short but to specifically keep calling these specific guys out by name as “liars” is weird. A lot of these wrestlers talk to the “dirt sheets” and get stuff out there (like Punk and his camp even probably have). I’m still not sure what the big lie is or what truths the general public doesn’t know, especially given we’ve heard a lot out there from Punk’s side and not much from the other.

Collision was officially announced on May 17. It was created as a third show for AEW, a weekly program that will be equally important as their flagship Dynamite. One of the potential ideas is that Collision could be sort of a soft brand split between talent, where guys like Omega, the Young Bucks and Page will appear on Wednesday while Punk and others will be on Saturday nights. The company’s other show Rampage on Friday nights has basically gone off a cliff in relevancy and viewership over the last year so it’s crucial that Collision doesn’t follow the same pattern. In the last few months AEW started getting over the fallout from the Punk situation and a combination of other factors that led the shows to feel flat and uninspired for most of the past year. AEW also recently sold over 65,000 tickets at Wembley Stadium in London for All In on Aug. 27, without Punk on weekly television or even his status in the company clear.

In a recent ESPN interview Punk brought up Page again, saying their match at Double or Nothing last May was ruined for him because of everything surrounding it. At one point during the match he claimed Page hit him harder than usual and he wasn’t sure if the move was done on purpose. Punk is still going on about the Hangman situation and said, “here we are over a year later and ain’t shit been done about it.” Page still hasn’t said anything publicly about the whole ordeal. In the interview Punk did say he apologized to Khan after the press conference by putting him in that situation and they supposedly have a great relationship now. His view of the whole situation is that it wasn’t a big issue, “shit happens” and that lies being put out have made the situation worse than it actually is.

There were audible boos on Dynamite when Khan made the announcement on May 31 of Punk’s return to the company on the debut show of Collision. Punk’s return to AEW almost didn’t happen again, as the company delayed the announcement of the debut episode’s location in Chicago at the United Center by a week to May 24. His name was initially removed from press material put out by Warner Bros. Discovery on May 17 until some things were sorted out, as the media company said Punk was not affiliated with Collision. It came out there were some issues with Ace Steel getting his job back as an agent and the role he would have, who had been fired after the “Brawl Out” events. This led to Punk being at odds again with AEW and jeopardizing the launch of the show. Collision would have a harder chance of success without Punk, as Saturday nights already face tough competition from other sports and live events.

In the make-believe world of pro wrestling, the illusion has been pretty much exposed.

The debut show for Collision wasn’t sold out, as there were visibly empty seats scattered all throughout the United Center. For Punk coming back in his hometown after so much time away and surrounded by all this controversy, you think it would have been a sell out. AEW actually heavily promoted Collision for weeks, going as far as announcing the main event featuring CM Punk ahead of time. For several weeks leading up to the show, Tony Khan would drop another announcement on Dynamite about Collision. This is a lot different than when Rampage debuted, where it was built on a rumor of Punk returning to wrestling.

Collision was a fun show to attend though. The two hours of Collision went by pretty quickly. I initially debated even going to this show because how centered around Punk it would be but figured it would be interesting to be there for the first-ever episode. It’s crazy to think about just how much the sentiment towards Punk has negatively changed since he first came back. I had seats in section 217 that were $60, which wasn’t bad for the view they had. I was also able to get them pretty easily on the first day tickets went on sale. Having pro wrestling in the United Center is really cool though. The atmosphere in the arena was filled with passion and excitement. The Collision entrance stage looked awesome. There were Ring of Honor matches taped before and after Collision. Seeing someone like Kyle Fletcher wrestle was cool, who has a ton of potential to be a big star.

Before the taping started as fans began to fill the arena, CM Punk chants broke out with a lot of fans booing them down. I thought that was a sign that when the show actually started Punk would get a mixed reaction. That wasn’t the case tough. Tony Khan came out right before the show started and got loud boos, which showed the fans were more on Punk’s side.

Punk opened Collision and stood in an AEW ring for the first time in over nine months. He started talking about how he’s tired of being nice. He repeated, “tell me when I’m telling lies” a few times. He said there are some people who hate him for the same reasons the Chicago fans all love him. He said he’s the truth, and the truth is painful. One of the big moments during the promo was when Punk said, “I am the one true genuine article in a business full of counterfeit bucks,” which was a clever line aimed at Nick and Matt Jackson. His other big line about how the only people softer than the fans who want an apology from him are the wrestlers they like was just eye-rolling when he himself has had so many issues in the last year. It all just comes across now as fake pro wrestling instead of blurring the lines between reality and fiction, which is what the sport can do so incredibly well sometimes. Punk is easily one of the best talkers in wrestling but there are holes in the armor now. It’s a lot harder to suspend belief and also sympathize with him being the victim in all this. He comes across as incredibly unlikable now. His promo mentioned guys that he will probably never work with or who will never get to say anything in return because of lawyers and NDAs. If it doesn’t lead to a match then what’s the point?

This return and promo would only work in Chicago, where Punk’s hometown fans will basically support him no matter what. The crowd was really into Punk’s promo. There were also loud “Fuck the Elite” chants during the opening segment. Unless Collision takes place in Chicago every week, Punk is potentially going to have problems with fan reaction on this show. It’s also a big test for him and if he can carry Collision in metrics like ticket sales and ratings. It’s not a guaranteed success like when he first came in and AEW had already established itself with Dynamite and sold-out PPVs. Even after the Punk announcement a few weeks ago, the United Center didn’t sell out. Ticket sales for the upcoming Canadian shows of Collision were at pretty low sales too until the past few days when the numbers picked up.

The crowd in the United Center was loud but not as high energy as Punk’s debut in 2021. That’s one of the main things I noticed being in the building. The CM Punk chants were loud but not earth-shattering anymore. It felt like more of a typical Chicago wrestling audience instead of a big show/big return crowd. I think all the drama definitely hurt Punk’s brand, even somewhat in Chicago.

The rest of the card for Collision was announced before this show. Kevin Kelly, Nigel McGuinness and Jim Ross were announced as the broadcast team, which could be the best in wrestling. Andrade El Idolo and Miro would make their returns to AEW after both being off television for months. Wardlow would defend his TNT title against Luchasaurus. There would be a tag match between Ruby Soho and Toni Storm vs. Skye Blue & Willow Nightingale. The Acclaimed would also appear. The main event featured CM Punk and FTR (Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler) vs. Juice Robinson and Jay White (Bullet Club Gold) with Samoa Joe.

There’s something about Wardlow that’s not clicking right now. It also feels like he has had the TNT title too many times now and needs to get away from it. Christian continues to be pretty great though, as he acted like he was the one who actually beat Wardlow for the title. The Andrade match against Buddy Matthews didn’t work live and killed the crowd in the building. Both guys worked through the match supposedly injured. Maybe it came better on television but I thought it was bad. What are the Acclaimed doing? Ever since losing the tag team titles in February they have been floundering. The fans love them but they seem to be pretty aimless now. They got a huge reaction in Chicago but aren’t involved in anything significant. They also recently lost to House of Black in a Trios title match on Double or Nothing.

The first Collision had a good main event. It was slow at times, but they had almost half an hour to close the show out. The match had a lot of back and forth. I was surprised there wasn’t more outpouring from the crowd at times for Punk to get in the ring. A lot of the match had Cash getting beat up. Towards the end of the match Punk did get a hot tag from Cash and the crowd erupted but for most of it the reaction felt normal. It did not feel like a big return match for him. Punk looked okay in the ring but he’s obviously going to need more time to get back into full gear. Joe beat the hell out of Punk and they had some great interactions, which is the rumored big first feud for Collision. Punk vs. Joe should be good given their long history back in the early days of Ring of Honor. It was great to see Jay White, who had worked for New Japan Pro Wrestling for years so I hadn’t had a chance to see him since he became such a big star. It was a solid match but there were no angles set up for next week’s show.

After the show ended Punk and FTR talked to the crowd for several minutes. Dax complained about journalists again, saying the media wants people to think its Dynamite vs. Collision when it’s really just all AEW. He also said he gets a lot of criticism for being Punk’s best friend. Dax is another guy who went from fan-favorite to completely unlikeable, partly because of his ties to Punk and stuff he posts on social media or said on his own weekly podcast. Punk also talked about how he wasn’t sure if people were going to hate him or not, even in Chicago. Punk and FTR also visibly supported gay and trans rights by bringing a fan into the ring and holding up their sign, which is great and hopefully was genuine.

More Ring of Honor matches followed Collision. The matches after Collision were tough as more than half the arena immediately left and the remaining crowd were totally dead for the first few matches. Dalton Castle has something special to him. The crowd woke up and really got behind him during the third match. I left early around 10 p.m. because I had no idea how long they were going to tape for. I did miss out on the Chicago Street Fight match between Athena and Kiera Hogan for the ROH women’s title, which I read turned out to be great.

I don’t think the featured guys like Andrade, Miro and Scorpio Sky are going to keep people tuned in every week to Collision. The show needs its own identity and it already feels like the land of misfits and troublemakers within AEW. Andrade hasn’t done much in AEW and Miro has been a mixed bag too. Right now the entire show really boils down to CM Punk carrying the program. It does gives other talent a chance to rise up though and become new stars like Powerhouse Hobbs or others from the company’s deep talent roster. The real question is whether Punk is going to last or will there be another issue that happens behind-the-scenes? Physically Punk also isn’t the same as he was during his WWE run. He also got injured a few times in just a year with AEW. Is he going to be able to hang with the crazy talent level in the company?

One of the other issues following the debut is what’s the hook for the next Collision. There was nothing major set up for the following weeks, outside from House of Black beating up Andrade. Even Miro’s return didn’t really cement much since he beat Tony Nese pretty quickly. Collision sort of already feels like just another AEW show, which is exactly what needs to be avoided. The other problem that AEW sometimes faces is just having shows with matches, like what happened to Rampage on a lot of weeks. It could be pretty cool to have Punk as the “real” champion who never lost, as he alluded to in his promo by carrying a red bag with presumably the title belt he was stripped of inside it. That story was tried before in WWE, when that company brought him back after just a few weeks from winning and “leaving” with the world title at Money in the Bank 2011, completely killing the storyline.

On Dynamite this week, Punk came out during the opening segment to give backup against Bullet Club Gold beating up FTR and Ricky Starks. Afterwards Punk said, “I’m a Collision guy, I’m not even supposed to be here,” which hints again at the two shows being more of a brand split. There’s just another tag match announced for the second episode of Collision taking place in Toronto, with most of the same guys returning from the first main event like Punk and FTR with Bullet Club Gold but adding Ricky Starks and The Gunns. The other matches for Collision announced on Dynamite were Swerve Strictland vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Nyla Rosa vs. Willow Nightingale in the women’s Owen Hart Foundation tournament, and Brody King vs. Andrade El Idolo. Christian will also address the TNT title situation and Sting/Darby Allin reveal their tag team partner for the Forbidden Door pay-per-view this Sunday. It sounds like a decent card but also completely skippable. Punk will also be facing Satoshi Kojima as part of the men’s Owen Hart Foundation tournament at Forbidden Door, which feels like such a random, nothing match compared to the other high-profile New Japan cross-over contests on the card.

Hopefully the company finally moves past the CM Punk/Elite drama and Collision grows to be successful. There’s still potential to do some cool things with Punk but it’s going to be an uphill battle against public perception and with the personalities involved.

Photo Gallery:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.