If you look online, you’ll find fans coming up with many reasons why The Elite and CM Punk should work together. At the same time, despite the fact that I personally would love to see that, if you put me on the “Con” team on a debate over that very issue, I could easily find reasons to shoot down almost every single argument for it happening.

Some say that Punk and The Elite should work together because of all the money they’d make.

To that, I’d counter: how? Most major wrestlers these days have guaranteed contracts. Largely gone are the days when talent’s pay was heavily determined by how many tickets an event sold or even how many PPVs were purchased. Unless the rumors of Punk having some kind of ownership stake in AEW are true, or Tony Khan gave everyone involved a big bonus simply to work together, chances are a successful Punk/Elite feud would put zero extra immediate dollars in anyone’s pocket but Tony himself.

Ok, but hey, surely it’d help all of their careers in a larger sense, right? It’d make them bigger stars and give each of them more momentum.

My reply would be, yeah, a well-done Punk/Elite feud could be the hottest thing AEW has ever done and give them all a boost in that sense, but do any of them desperately need that kind of boost? Matt and Nick Jackson are 38 and 33 years old, respectively. Kenny Omega is 39. CM Punk is 44. All of them are already major established stars, all of them, in my opinion, have already had hall-of-fame-level careers. This isn’t a case where anyone here is some 25-year-old upstart where one big feud could make their career. Everyone involved in this situation is already made.

At this point, you might argue: shouldn’t they just work together to not be immature? Aren’t they behaving like children not being able to put this behind them?

I’d say that’s not an invalid way of looking at the situation, but there’s a flip side to that. How many of us have, at least at one point in our life, been forced to work with someone we can’t stand? How many of us have then had the thought, “If I was rich and powerful, I’d never put myself in a position to have to be so miserable working with this douchebag ever again”? We just established that none of these guys need each other to have fame and fortune. Isn’t one of the reasons you work to become rich and famous so one day you have the power not to be forced to work with people you hate directly?

Finally, there are those who say The Elite and Punk should work together for the fans.

How do I put this gently? Fuck the fans. Wrestlers’ jobs are to entertain us, yes, but nobody is owed a specific match or a specific move, or a specific feud. As fans, we certainly have the right to complain if we feel we’re not getting the product we want, and we get to vote with our dollars for the kinds of wrestling we want to see. But as much as I want to see this feud, as frustrated as I get about the idea that these guys can’t put everything behind them to do it, I’m not owed it.

There is one reason why Punk and the Elite should feud that I can’t shoot down, and it’s the reason they actually should work together. It’s the reason I see people offer the least often. It’s a selfish reason. You don’t work together and do this feud to make your boss happy, or to make the fans happy. You don’t work together to make more money or gain more fame. No, you do it to make your own day-to-day lives easier. You do it to move on. You do it so that you’re not Bret Hart in the years after Montreal.

The 1997 Montreal Screwjob is, after all, the historical wrestling event that “Brawl Out” is most frequently compared to, and with good reason: they’re shockingly similar. Both situations were the partial result of a company’s top stars having legit animosity towards each other. Both situations saw wrestlers make veiled “shoot” comments in promos that infuriated their opponents. (Whatever you think about Adam Page’s vague hinting at Punk’s situation with Colt Cabana with his “worker’s rights” comment, it pales in comparison to Shawn Michaels publicly suggesting that Bret was cheating on his wife with Tammy Sytch with his infamous “Sunny Days” line.) Both situations had top stars refusing to lose to the other. Both situations ended with legitimate physical backstage confrontations that the cameras never caught.

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If the similarities continue, that spells bad news for Punk and The Elite. Fans who didn’t live through those years between Montreal and Bret and the WWF’s reconciliation a decade later will never be able to understand just how much oxygen that situation sucked up, and for how long. Yes, Montreal is still referenced fairly frequently today, but it’s nothing like it was then. The screwjob finish was recreated and referenced to the point of absurdity, there were constant debates about the entire situation. Who was right, who was wrong, was it even real? I remember even years afterward, Dave Meltzer couldn’t go a week on his daily Wrestling Observer Live show without a caller asking about it, and you could hear the mental, and sometimes audible, sighs of “Again? Is this ever going to end?” each time.

In that process, Bret Hart was diminished. Maybe you took Bret’s side in that situation, maybe you took the WWF’s, but either way, to so many fans Bret Hart became either Bret the Matyr or Bret the Whiner, and Bret the Wrestler, Bret the Amazing Talent, Bret the Human Being? They were all fighting for a very distant second place in the conversation. Montreal almost immediately became the thing that entered every room Bret walked into a minute before he did. The thing he couldn’t avoid being asked about. The thing that defined him.

And yet, Bret had advantages that Punk and The Elite don’t have. Montreal ended up being Bret’s last night in the WWF, and he was then locked into a multi-year WCW contract. Before that contract ended, Bret suffered a career-ending concussion followed years later by a life-threatening stroke after a bike riding accident. Fans then had very quickly been given very clear, concrete reasons to believe a resolution to the Bret/WWF saga, matches, a feud, not only wouldn’t happen, but that it COULDN’T happen. And despite all that, Montreal still remained the giant shadow that hung over Bret’s career.

Compare that to Punk and The Elite.

While things could change at a moment’s notice, or could even be an attempt to turn reality into fiction, if the reporting is to be believed, not only is CM Punk coming back to AEW, but the animosity between him and The Elite remains so high that they will be kept on separate television shows. We are going to get what is being described as a “soft brand split” built around Brawl Out. If fans wanted a resolution to Montreal, to Bret and the WWF, so badly that they continued to obsess over it when Bret was in a separate promotion, and then later when Bret had lost the ability to wrestle, how much more are fans going to want to see a feud between Punk and The Elite when they’re still actively working in the same fed? You’re taking the hottest potential feud in wrestling and putting it tantalizing close to fans’ faces and expecting them not to focus on the fact that they can’t have it.

If anything, this brand split not only shines a giant spotlight on the divide between the two camps, it drags everyone else into it, making the entire situation that much larger. We’ve heard that any talent that doesn’t want to work with one side or the other can stick to one specific TV brand. Now instead of just speculating about how the animosity between The Elite and Punk, fans are now going to be invited to read the tea leaves of the Dynamite and Collision rosters and wonder who else hates one side or the other. Now we’re in danger of CM Punk vs. The Elite becoming Team Punk vs. Team Elite. Which would be great…if it was a wrestling angle, something that could be resolved.

All of this just supercharges the original factors that caused Brawl Out to happen in the first place and adds new tension points. You don’t think there’s going to be some kind of competition over the ratings of Dynamite and Collision that won’t become personal? That there then won’t be gloating, veiled or overt, from the side that’s winning? You don’t think in this even more tense atmosphere that each side won’t continue to analyze the other side’s promos and social media, looking for digs on them, real or imagined? Oh, and they’re all presumably still going to all be working the PPVs, which means that every few months, after all of this tension gets built up, they’ll be in the same building together. What could possibly go wrong?

People want what they can’t have. In addition to that, in the wrestling world fans naturally want resolutions to hot feuds, no matter how legitimate or artificial they are. How much more are they going to want them when they’re so close to being realized, but there’s this invisible wall erected preventing it from happening? How many questions from fans and the media is everyone involved going to be asked about this situation not for even the rest of their careers, but the rest of their lives? How many chants are they going to have to ignore? How many fans and even wrestlers are going to get even more tribal over this issue, feeling like they have to pick a side? It’s threatening to overwhelm and unfairly define their great careers, just like it did Bret’s. It could become this constant noise they have to ignore in their lives, just like Bret did. But there’s another choice.

Some people may not remember this, but the Bret/WWF grudge got to the point where when the WWE decided to make a Bret Hart career retrospective set finally, it was initially to be titled “Screwed” and the focus was going to largely be on that one night in Montreal. Sure, part of the reason behind that was the bad terms Bret and the WWF were on at that point, but just the fact that it was even possible to reduce Bret’s entire two-decade career down to that one event showed what an outsized presence it had taken in his life.

Of course, we all know that the DVD that came out never took that form. Bret worked with the WWE and created a three-disc set that focused on covering his entire career, rather than one ill-fated night. He’d work to put the past behind him, settling his grudge with Shawn Michaels both on a segment on RAW and an entire DVD devoted to the two sitting together and hashing out their personal history. Bret would even work with Vince McMahon, doing a feud and a match that, for a million reasons, people had long since stopped thinking would ever happen.

The end result of that was it took a lot of the steam and angst out of the entire Montreal legend. I’m not going to say that Montreal is not still talked about and debated and analyzed, or that it’s not still a significant part of Bret’s legacy, but it’s just part of it now, to most fans it’s no longer the whole thing. The public forgiveness, the feud, it took the mystery out of fans’ “What if?” questions, and it took away a lot of the division and hatred among squabbling sides. After all, how angry can you get about Montreal when the people involved are back to working together? It gave Bret his career back.

There’s a phrase I often use when talking about the Punk/Elite situation, and it’s pretty gross, but no other one I can think of describes what they need to do better, and that’s “Eat a plate of shit.” Sometimes in life, you have to do something you don’t want to do, because the larger reward is worth the short-term sacrifice. Sometimes you have to be willing to lose an argument that you deserve to win, in order to move on with your life. Everyone involved in this situation is a big enough star, with enough money and enough career options, that they don’t have to eat a plate of shit if they don’t want to. They can be stubborn, they can refuse to work with each other until the end of time, their successes have earned them that option.

But if no one eats a plate of shit here, they’re facing a life where the thing so many people will think of first when they think of these amazing wrestlers, is a stupid press conference and backstage pull-apart. It’ll be the question they never stop being asked, the matches people never stop asking for. Each side is going to be tied together and most closely associated with people they hate. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe fans and media and coworkers should just forget about this and not mention it. But that isn’t the world we live in. At what point is it just worth it, for your own sakes, to hold your nose, do one feud with each other, do a generic vague apology you don’t really mean, and put an end to all the questions and requests and curiosity? At what point does being right become less important than having a better life? At what point do you just eat the plate of shit?

I am sure a Punk/Elite feud would not be fun for those involved. I’m sure they have differing philosophies about how to put matches together. There’d probably be dick-waving contests about who puts over who and in what way. Every promo would be walking a minefield where you’re trying to sell the real hatred without creating even more backstage strife. Maybe all of that would ruin the feud, but you know what the nice thing is about that, from the wrestlers’ perspective? That would help them personally even more. The Bret/Vince feud? It was terrible, and if anything, that quenched fans’ thirst for more of it even better. People had gotten a taste of what they asked for and they didn’t like it. You can’t lose with an Elite/Punk feud, either it’s great and satisfies the fans’ dreams, or it’s terrible and scares people away from ever wanting to see a chapter two.

It all comes down to some simple questions.

Do you want “Brawl Out” to be something that someone writes an entire book about, or something that has one chapter in each of your respective biographies?

Do you want it to be the subject of whole documentaries, or a ten-minute segment on your own?

Do you want to spend your entire lives running from this so that you can be right, or do you want to hold your noses, work together for a few months, and possibly be able to move on?

Working together isn’t about helping anyone but yourselves, about making your own lives better.

Have you ever played with a Chinese Finger Trap? It’s a toy, a gag gift, a little braided bamboo cylinder. You put a finger in one end, and someone else puts a finger in the other. Now your fingers are stuck together, and if you try to pull them out, the thing just tightens. The more you try to get away from the other side, the more trapped you are with them. The best way to get out of a Chinese Finger Trap is to actually push your finger further in, get closer to the other person, just for a moment, and then all that pressure is relieved, and you can easily escape.

Sometimes the only way out is to go further in.

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