When CM Punk was finally fired from All Elite Wrestling following yet another backstage incident, this time engaging in a physical altercation with Jack Perry and, according to some sources, threatening Tony Khan, it was a cathartic release. 

Punk had been a figure in AEW that was beyond polarizing, a character so larger than life, an entire industry of wrestling news media could be propped up based on rumors and reports of his backstage antics. Even as he spent time away from AEW, recovering from surgery after ALL OUT 2022 and serving a defacto suspension, Punk remained a constant target for speculation and palace intrigue into AEW. 

Following several other instances, Punk finally broke AEW, and Tony Khan was left with the only logical decision to make given the circumstances: fire CM Punk. 

Firing CM Punk was an extremely unusual choice given the history of pro wrestling, which has almost always followed the whims of its biggest stars. Khan fired his biggest star because he understood that he was doing long-term damage to his brand, even if losing Punk (and in turn, making him free to walk straight to his competition in WWE) was going to be a short-term loss for AEW. In most cases in wrestling history, the promoter always takes the short-term boost, typically believing that the long-term problem can be solved in time. 

While some pundits would claim that Punk’s firing exposed AEW as a minor-league company unable to handle a true “top” star, the real damage that Punk did to AEW was done almost entirely before he was fired. Punk took away AEW’s external innocence and optimism for a better wrestling future, and replaced it with the traditional divisiveness and drama that has become all too familiar for wrestling fans. 

When AEW first started, one of the most outstanding things about the company was the unification of the fanbase. Fans may have liked different things about the show, and they may have had different things that annoyed them about the product, but in general, AEW was viewed by its own fans as a positive place that respected wrestling fans and delivered an alternative product to what American fans have been used to seeing on major cable television. 

A part of this was that WWE served as a common enemy. This evil corporation had put a stranglehold on wrestling for decades while delivering an increasingly banal product that was insulting to many long-time fans. The hopes and dreams of AEW provided something different than WWE united fans who were willing to give AEW a shot, and that helped create a sense of optimism and pride within wrestling fans that this new and exciting product could work. 

When AEW first signed Punk, it was probably the most powerful sense of unity in company history. Here was a wrestler who had quit WWE and become a symbol of fan angst against a McMahon-led product, and while he was miserable in WWE, he had come back to wrestling through AEW and was back to deliver at the highest level. 

That period would come to an end as Punk, in his own peculiar way, set out to make enemies in the company. It became obvious to fans during his feud with Hangman Adam Page during the spring of 2022, and exploded in his crazed diatribe against Page, The Young Bucks and other members of the roster during the post-show press conference at ALL OUT, leading to a physical altercation with the Bucks and Kenny Omega that saw all parties suspended. 

By doing that, Punk had widened a rift in the unity AEW fans felt about the product.

By publicly declaring himself as an enemy of The Elite, he exploited a neo-conservative ideology that had existed since before the company started. Punk had become a proxy in the never-ending war some pundits (most notably Jim Cornette) had against The Young Bucks for doing too many flips and ruining the wrestling business. Punk, the company’s biggest star, had become a mascot for this viewpoint, and Punk’s continued provocations of The Elite (and, to be fair, The Elite had their share of snarky retorts) only inflamed those tensions.

Instead of WWE becoming the primary enemy for AEW fans, the enemy was internal.

You sided with either Punk and his camp or The Elite and his camp. Wrestlers who mostly just minded their own business would get sucked into being viewed as “Loyal to Punk” or “Loyal to The Elite” depending on who they interacted with both on and off the screen. The unity that AEW had had from the start was shattered, torn apart due to Punk’s actions and his public comments against leading members of the company. 

Things only got more dramatic when Collision debuted, with AEW and Khan implying that the show would basically be CM Punk’s primary domain. Fans would then compare the action on AEW Dynamite and AEW Collision and pick a side on which was better, despite the shows ultimately being very similar.

Instead of comparing them to RAW or SmackDown, the war AEW was involved in was a civil war within itself, and with it came the destruction of a lot of fan trust and faith in the company. 

Make no mistake about it–without Punk this was probably happening anyway. The honeymoon period in wrestling would never last forever, other non-Punk wrestlers would certainly be capable of rocking the boat, and the feelings that Punk exploited with his war against the Young Bucks were already there. 

Punk, being the biggest star in the company and being extraordinarily public about his dislike of The Elite though, blew up the issues until they put an untenable focus on them, away from the strengths of the product and instead on the backstage drama and whether or not everyone could co-exist in a professional atmosphere. 

AEW was always going to have to transition away from the honeymoon period, and some wrestlers were going to be publicly unhappy in the company, that is just the business. But Punk’s eruptions and ultimate dismissal from the company was probably the most extreme and dramatic transition that the company could undergo, and rebuilding the trust and unification within the AEW fanbase is going to take a very long time to rebuild because of it. 

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