“It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you.” – Mike Tyson
I’ll start with a **SPOILER ALERT** for Breaking Bad for those who need spoiler alerts for decade-old TV shows. I’m sure you’ll get to it someday. In season five, Walter White found his world as a crystal meth dealer falling apart by his own hand. Instead of being happy simply as a part of an underground meth empire, Walter needed to be the man in control. He had to be the brains behind the operation in order to fulfill his need to be seen as a mastermind. Through a series of events, he takes out his competition while also rousing up suspicion from the DEA. This causes the entire house of cards to begin falling, leading to this pivotal scene with Walter and his pragmatic partner Mike Ehrmantrout. Mike tears into Walter, letting him know that it was his hubris that caused the downfall of their successful empire.
“We had a good thing, you stupid son of a bitch! We had Fring, we had a lab, we had everything we needed, and it all ran like clockwork! You could have shut your mouth, cooked, and made as much money as you ever needed! It was perfect! But no! You just had to blow it up! You, and your pride and your ego! You just had to be the man! If you’d done your job, known your place, we’d all be fine right now!”
On September 4, 2022, CM Punk took the stage at the press scrum after the All Out PPV in Chicago, Illinois. Punk had just won the AEW World Title in the main event against Jon Moxley, tearing his triceps muscle in the process. Punk was hurt, he was tired, and he felt like he was working with children. In an airing of grievances rivaling that of Frank Costanza, Punk went off.
He made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with former friend Colt Cabana and blamed AEW EVPs The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega for spreading the rumor that he forced Cabana out. Once Punk got off the stage, he returned to his locker room where a fight started between himself, The Elite, and various other parties. Suspensions were doled out for most involved, including the Elite, but Punk…just vanished. His injury was known, but no other punishment was announced for Punk.
Upon return from his injury, CM Punk was not punished for his part in the melee. Instead, on the outside looking in, it looked like Punk was being rewarded. AEW had a new show coming just in time for Punk’s return, called Saturday Night Collision. Punk would be the centerpiece of the weekend, the face of the newest addition to the AEW schedule. He would be at the head of Collision, a key member of the Collision roster after AEW went through what was being called a “soft brand split.”
As time went on, we learned that Punk was not only the marquee player on Collision, but he was also a major player behind the scenes. Punk had a hands-on approach when it came to Collision, with it frequently being described as “Punk’s show.” Think about that. CM Punk, after taking part in the biggest backstage blowup since the Montreal Screwjob, came back with control of an entire show. He came back with his hands on the wheel of a major part of AEW television. The man once known as the Voice of the Voiceless had major control of a pro wrestling promotion and its television. He had a good thing. He had everything he needed. It should have been enough.
The problem was that it wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough. CM Punk was given the reins to control and run a major pro wrestling show. He had control of his stories. He had control of who he worked with. Hell, he had control over who got in the building, whether it be talent or management. But what Punk didn’t have was the one thing he couldn’t control.
CM Punk couldn’t control The Elite. No matter how much he asked, no matter how hard he pushed them, no matter how hard he went after them in the press or in subpar off-air promos, The Elite weren’t biting. Punk wanted to work with The Elite. He wanted to turn a black eye for the company into greenbacks, making money off of AEW’s most embarrassing scene. Punk consistently pushed to meet with them, to both apologize and find a way to capitalize on it—a noble enough cause.
The elusive meeting never materialized. The Elite did not want an apology. They were fine never working with Punk again. Some people found the Bucks to be petty and childish. “Let bygones be bygones and be professionals,” they shout from the rooftops. Some people find their actions justified after the disrespect shown to them and their work at Brawl Out. After all, an apology does not have to be accepted. The Young Bucks seemed fine with Punk living in his own world on Saturdays while they worked Wednesdays. But what is undeniable is that the Elite’s refusal to do business with Punk drove him off of an easily avoidable cliff.
Punk could have accepted the reality of the situation and run Collision his way. He could’ve had some fun with it and added to his impressive AEW resume. It’s unlikely, but maybe after a few months, the Elite would come around and sit down at the table. Instead, he refused to accept what he couldn’t control. He couldn’t allow the situation to rest on anyone else’s terms other than his own.
His return match against Samoa Joe and Bullet Club Gold could have been a distinct and focused preview of his Second Coming. Instead, it was background noise after his show-opening comments about “counterfeit Bucks.” The rekindling of his feud with Samoa Joe should have been the type of smark lore-based feud that made the MJF/Punk feud so special. Instead, it was background fodder, both on-screen and off. Punk spent his time on screen building a concurrent feud with Ricky Starks. And off-screen, Punk chose to cut a heel promo against Hangman Page rather than address Samoa Joe, who had just blindsided him and cost him a Trios Title match moments before.
Punk’s work felt unfocused because his focus was on the Elite. Instead of being happy with all he had, he chose to let what he didn’t have drive him. We never got an ending to the Ricky Starks feud. The teased second chapter of his rivalry with MJF never came. Jay White, Bryan Danielson, and Kenny Omega top the list of AEW match-ups that never happened.
Funnily enough, Punk’s end didn’t even come due to the Elite. It came after a fight with Jack Perry backstage at Wembley, minutes before Punk’s final match for the company against Samoa Joe. The fight stemmed from an incident where, partially due to a misunderstanding, Punk nixed a spot where Perry would use real glass as a way to get written off of television for a week. After all, this would have been on Collision. Punk got his way, and weeks later, Perry gave him a receipt of sorts on the All Out Zero Hour.
— Rasslin' (@RasslinClips) August 27, 2023
Punk could have easily let this go. Jack Perry taking a dig during a match on the Zero Hour could have gone on without incident, written off as an adrenaline-fueled kid saying something stupid. But just like his pride wouldn’t let the issue with The Elite die, his ego wouldn’t let some guy in a prelim match get away with talking shit about him.
CM Punk’s incessant need to get to the top by doing things his way is what made Punk so great. Much like Walter White, it made CM Punk an incredibly compelling personality. But much like Walter White, it’s that same need to do things his way that cost him in the end. Punk couldn’t control the Elite. Punk couldn’t control Jack Perry. He couldn’t control the fire. And in the end, that fire destroyed him.
Powered by RedCircle