wrestling / Columns

Thoughts On CM Punk’s AEW Firing & Tony Khan’s Collision Appearance

September 5, 2023 | Posted by Lee Sanders
CM Punk AEW Rampage, Bryan Danielson Image Credit: AEW

Less than a week after CM Punk and Jungle Boy Jack Perry were placed on suspension for an altercation that occurred at last weekend’s AEW All In, AEW President and CEO Tony Khan has terminated the contract of Phil Brooks (CM Punk) with cause. Shockwaves have trickled throughout the wrestling community. Punk’s firing even overshadowed Starrcast as it quickly turned from a happy affair to a quiet, shocked, and somber tone. Many talents at Starrcast were not allowed to give any more interviews after the news broke on Saturday. To fire someone with cause is AEW’s way of saying they are confident from a legality standpoint that they were within their right to terminate. AEW is confident that even if Punk were to try and sue, AEW has covered all their bases of any loopholes and that CM Punk was clearly in violation of his contract.

I cannot stress to you the number of emails and posts I received leading up to the news as some thought I was being a CM Punk hater for saying it was time for him to leave AEW. Many of these people that saw the thumbnail of my Wednesday webcast show, didn’t even bother to actually listen. Had they taken the time to listen, they would’ve seen I have Punk in the intro of my show. They would’ve heard me talk about how I met Punk years ago in Chicago at the Pro Wrestling Tees store for a meet & greet. It was my first time being back home in Chicago in over thirty years. That’s how much of a fan I’ve always been of his work. In my heart I felt Punk and Khan, two polar opposite personalities, could no longer work together and that it was time to mutually part ways. It was obvious the way they approach the wrestling business is far apart. I expected Tony Khan to make an exit contract that would’ve seen Punk not able to wrestle for any promotion for a year or more. In exchange, Punk would have to leave a certain amount of money on the table he could no longer claim. CM Punk was fired instead as the wrestling community is divided.

Image Credit: AEW

As for Jungle Boy Jack Perry and his role? Perry has been suspended indefinitely per Tony Khan when asked about Perry’s status during the All Out media scrum. Regarding CM Punk, on the one hand you look at this move and you come to the conclusion that Tony Khan had to set an example. The level of disrespect that was shown to him at last year’s All Out media scrum, I felt back then went unchecked. Yes, the man was disciplined while he was out rehabbing an injury. However, there was never a defining moment reported of Khan and Punk — employer and employee — really clearing the air behind closed doors, just the two of them. The altercation with The Elite was one of a few altercations Punk had in the locker room. Yes, Phil Brooks was in the right to feel exactly how he felt during that All Out scrum, but that was the wrong time and place to air out such grievances. From the moment he verbally insulted The Elite, he became their public enemy number one. Sure, Punk may have had the experience and was an established mega star, but he did not have an EVP title. This was something Tony Khan himself clarified in an interview several months back.

Something CM Punk said in that infamous media scrum has always stuck in the back of my head. He talked about how he’s trying to run a business. His name and his face are his business; it’s his brand. The moment he realized the type of environment he was in with AEW felt a bit chaotic and he questioned the authority placed in charge, why not be a true leader and lead by example on how things should be? Conduct things in the most peaceful and respectful way possible that doesn’t come off like a hostile takeover? I would like to believe Punk did try to operate this way, but kept coming across deaf ears. Furthermore, it doesn’t help when the owner of the company wants to hug it out with so many people and be friends with so many on the roster. We now are learning that (according to some) Punk was to have a meeting with Khan and the Elite to settle their issues right before All In: London but The Elite canceled it at the very last minute. This likely added to the frustration for Punk after arriving in London, where he did not have an escort to take him to his hotel and Wembley Stadium, was part of an underline explosion waiting to happen. Jack Perry was nothing more than the tipping point.

Tony Khan speaks about a disciplinary counsel he spoke with for guidance. I was not even aware such a counsel existed. How long has this counsel been in place and where were they when Sammy Guevara had his altercations? What about Britt Baker’s alleged scuffles? What about Cash Wheeler and his alleged gun showcasing? I’ll do you one better: what will be the status of Jungle Boy going forward in AEW? Jungle Boy, based on all reports, is the one that instigated this after allegedly being told by multiple people his glass spot was a bad idea. AEW has a responsibility to Warner Media and its sponsors. Heaven forbid if Jungle Boy had a severe laceration to the point of amputation or a blood clot. One can argue that it appears there’s a lot of talent running around in AEW feeling as though they can do anything they please. It is Tony Khan’s job to tell them how things are going to be since he’s signing their checks. If you’re with me so far, it’s coming off a bit biased as certain folks are given a free pass based on how close a relationship they have with Tony Khan. Oh, and for the person in charge of AEW’s transportation for talents and management? They should be suspended or fired because this was a royal screwup. Imagine doing this to Sylvester Stallone or Taylor Swift, folks. That job is going to be done ASAP.

Image Credit: AEW

I’ve said it multiple times already, but I’ll say it again: CM Punk should’ve gone in another direction upon seeing the spot with Jungle Boy at All In. Punk should’ve focused on his match instead and afterwards, maybe the next day after the event, let Tony Khan know not to put Jack Perry on Collision if possible since the young man wants to be reckless. By the way, I am more than convinced in this game of chess, Jungle Boy (with help from some folks in the back) was successful in baiting Punk. My proof? How did Perry know the glass on that car was real? You may say during the walkthrough on the day of the event is when Jack Perry found out. Follow the trail in finding out who was responsible for supplying that vehicle. This is very well connected as far as who all was in on egging CM Punk. It’s within your right to say this is reaching, but stranger and crazier things have occurred. It’s something to consider.

We can agree though as the older veteran, Punk should’ve led by example and just taken care of his business. Now we are seeing the reports floating around that supposedly Punk was beginning to turn sour after The Elite inked new deals in AEW. It was in this moment that supposedly Punk came to the realization how toxic and chaotic the environment would continue to be and that he wasn’t happy in AEW anymore. Whether this is true or not is mere speculation. One thing is certain, all of this apparently is on video as with UK laws, the parties involved can obtain the video of this altercation and release it if they wish.

The official statement/press release that Tony Khan and AEW put out ahead of this weekend’s AEW Collision was fine. What was not fine was seeing the pre-produced video that opened up Collision where Khan talked about the difficult decision in firing Punk. Every time I see a Khan video package, I always wonder how many takes it took for him to get it right. I mention this because the footage of him addressing the live Chicago crowd before Collision is most disturbing. Khan is nervously standing up from a chair by the ramp, sitting down, stuttering, and acting nervous. The man is not coming off as a boss at all in this moment, as the crowd lets him hear it with their boos.

Mr. Khan talks about how in all his years of being a fan of pro wrestling and its inner circles, he never experienced anything like what he saw with Punk at All In. Allegedly, monitors fell on Khan during Punk’s scuffle with Perry. There was a speculated heated exchange between Punk and Khan and Khan talks about being in fear for his life. Naturally, Chicago booed him even more as you can hear a woman call him an expletive.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been to my fair share of wrestling events, did some wrestling briefly, befriended those that either were in the business or currently are in the business. In all my years, I’ve never feared for my life or safety. These words coming from the same man that said he grew up in Chicago? I was born and raised in Chicago during the height of the crack and gun violence epidemic. Chicago is still a tough city to this day, but if you can survive it then you can make it anywhere. I seriously doubt Tony Khan grew up in the Chicago I was born and raised in, because that is a real jungle. Talents getting into verbal and physical scuffles in wrestling is nothing new as it’s happened for decades. Much like with scuffles in an NFL locker room, it’s very common. For me, this felt like Tony Khan was trying to play the victim card for sympathy and that CM Punk was this rabid wolverine off his medicine, coming at everyone in sight! His attempt backfired tremendously as the Chicago crowd and the wrestling community online called bulls*t. Whether you take CM Punk’s side or not, you have to admit Punk is volatile and you know from history what to expect from the man if you test him.

Image Credit: AEW

Khan should’ve honestly stayed behind the press release and just let Kevin Kelly and the crew read the statement and go on with the show. But for some reason he had to get in front of the camera. Could it be a vanity thing? That’s for you to decide. One thing is for certain: the man is still struggling four years later to find his footing as a boss and owner of a wrestling promotion. I’ll give credit where it’s due though and commend him for not dragging this out for the next couple of months.

I always felt that CM Punk didn’t need AEW although the money is nice. For AEW, I always felt they didn’t need him as they had a solid roster at the time before securing him. Did CM Punk bring more eyeballs to the product? Yes, without a doubt. It’ll be interesting to see what the new viewership norm for Collision will be in a month or so. It’ll be even more interesting to see what happens on the next TV rights negotiation, as the whole existence of Collision was for CM Punk to be the selling point and draw. I legit know of friends, family, and colleagues that got back into wrestling because CM Punk came back. Some have already told me they are done with AEW. For some, seeing Cody Rhodes leave and now Punk, they have lost faith in the company. Others are taking a wait and see approach to see if Tony Khan can really start steering the ship around for the better. They look at this firing as a message that hopefully will wake AEW talent up and straighten up their act. Others think it will be business as usual as the worst is yet to come, believe it or not. For me, there are no winners here as everyone did wrong in this ordeal.

And if you’re a fan of CM Punk, you know he’s not done with pro wrestling just yet. Will he go back to WWE? WWE honestly does not need him, although it would be nice to see him lock up with some of the newer stars in the company. I’m hoping that he doesn’t go back, and instead pulls a Cody Rhodes and operates on the independents for anyone that wants his services. I would love to see him go to MLW, NWA, IMPACT, and NJPW. What about GCW you say? If they can afford him and that’s a big IF, then maybe them as well but it’s highly unlikely. His wife AJ Mendez just wrapped up her tenure with WOW – Women Of Wrestling as reports run rampant she’ll be returning to WWE. If she were to return and there’s any chance — and I mean a remote chance — of Punk returning to the company, it will be because AJ and Cody Rhodes will get the ball rolling.

Image Credit: AEW

Has CM Punk killed off his wrestling career? Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think so. But at the age of 44 going on 45, his window is growing smaller. His path to changing the current stigma on him starts now, and part of that process is understanding his role. At the end of the day, he is a talent working with someone else’s toys and playing in their sandbox. Combine that with the culture of today, and he has to learn how to adapt to these newer locker rooms like the one he experienced in AEW. If he wants to continue to be a man of principle, be outspoken, and fight whoever right there on the spot, he sadly won’t last long in this cancel culture climate.

And if you’re Tony Khan, you need to have a group meeting and put your entire roster on notice. Let them know that from this day going forward, there is zero tolerance for fighting in the workplace. If you fight, you’re fired; simple as that, since Tony Khan is concerned about his life and safety. In addition, no more running to the media and giving scoops. If you’re discovered to be a leak, you’re fired. It’s time to close off access to the Dave Meltzers and Bryan Alvarezes of the world, because they have done more harm than good in the integrity of unbiased reporting and journalism. They have not helped in this manner with the self-propaganda they’ve put out there in the last four years of AEW’s existence, and more particularly with CM Punk.

The sooner Tony Khan stops trying to be everybody’s friend and actually run his company like the great men he’s admired through the years, and tries to imitate, the sooner he’ll command and earn more respect. Which man will turn a corner for the better first? We shall see.

article topics :

AEW, CM Punk, Tony Khan, Lee Sanders