By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Is this what you always wanted?
Is this what we always wanted?
As fans of a business that is widely known to be at its best whenever very few people know what’s real or not, has the modern era of professional wrestling fandom become too obsessed with any and everything but what actually happens between the bells?
I’m tired. It’s been a week since AEW’s All Out ended and a press conference began. Since that fateful early-morning hour, the discourse regarding Tony Khan, CM Punk, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Ace Steel hasn’t stopped. And I’m tired.
I’m tired of the dribs and drabs of information that trickles out every now and then. I’m tired of the takes. I’m tired of reading why one media personality throws all the blame on CM Punk, while another blames the company’s EVPs – and then another blames Khan. I’m tired of reading indignant fans who land on either side of the aisle. I’m tired of the conspiracy theories. I’m tired of the perpetual know-it-all attitudes that already existed in pro wrestling fandom and commentary, but have now reached new heights.
I’m just tired.
I’m tired because of the rhetoric surrounding exposure and how misguided that rhetoric is. None of what happened at the press conference outed anybody or anything as anyone or anything we already didn’t know.
I don’t think AEW was exposed as a company in crisis; I think AEW is in the middle of handling its first true growing pains test that was bound to happen when you had an owner who signed as many big personalities as he did, as quickly as he did.
I don’t think CM Punk was exposed as a personality too sensitive and too bombastic to exist in the wrestling business anymore; I think CM Punk has always shown a propensity for chips on shoulders and I don’t think his reaction at the press conference or after the press conference in the locker room should surprise anyone, considering the things we already knew about him.
I don’t think Tony Khan was exposed as a spineless boss who allows wrestlers to walk all over him; I think Tony Khan, for all his faults, might even be one of the first people to tell you that he’s new to this thing, he’s still learning the ropes, and his relationships with the talent have been widely accepted through the few years his company has been in existence anyway.
I don’t think The Elite were exposed as thin-skinned dividers who have a blind spot with favoritism and don’t care much about the entire roster as much as they do their immediate friends; I think, for better or worse, The Elite have come this far by nurturing their close relationships and keeping the core of their brand’s success predicated on a familial undertone, even if that means some people feel excluded.
These people can’t be exposed as being these things if we already knew they were these things. The notion that the events of last weekend led to earth-shattering revelations is silly. The insistence on drawing lines and taking sides and offering up free advice to everyone involved with the fervor of five super-kicks and 10 Go-To-Sleeps is even sillier. You don’t know what AEW should do. I don’t know what AEW should do. You weren’t there. I wasn’t there. Chances are, neither of us will ever know, beat for beat, the proceedings of what went down.
Such is why the only thing that All Out’s press conference debacle left exposed was … well … us.
All Out was a pretty good pay-per-view and AEW has some pretty good wrestlers. MJF returned. The tag-team title match was a somewhat unexpected gem of an encounter. Sunday might have been the last time we see Malakai Black anywhere near a wrestling ring for quite a while. Toni Storm got her flowers in the form of the AEW Women’s Title, even if that was half-shrouded in controversy. All Out was a fine show that capped off a really good weekend of wrestling.
But the distance between the slugfest Gunther and Sheamus had one day prior felt more like it happened decades ago by the time we woke up Monday morning. The second CM Punk took the microphone, all hell broke loose and that specific blend of dramatics proved to be catnip for so many of us, me included. I refreshed Twitter every 90 seconds from the time I woke up Monday until the time I fell asleep. I was enamored with all of it, forming personal opinions with each speculative rumor that made its way out. Like so many others, my obsession with the thing was insatiable.
But then, it wouldn’t end. There was allegedly a door kicked in. A wife was allegedly watching a dog. There was an alleged chair allegedly thrown. There was an alleged wrestler that looked allegedly beat up. There were alleged neutral sources who will now apparently be asked to testify in some manner on some stage as though a president is up for impeachment.
The fun with the drama ended for me when, one by one, more and more people began to illustrate indignation toward multiple aspects of the performance. Nobody was safe. Tweets were fired off, think pieces were constructed. There was questioning Tony Khan’s ability to be a boss. There was the observation that the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega didn’t have the ability to be professional as EVPs. And then, of course, there was CM Punk – and all of everything that goes along with CM Punk.
Does nobody remember a year ago? Yeah, I realize it seems further away now than it ever has, but you’d have to look long and hard to find someone who wasn’t in awe of CM Punk returning to wrestling at the time. More so, everyone thought it was The Thing that could put AEW over the top, and for those who believe that company has single-handedly saved wrestling, this was supposed to be the moment that served as proof this stuff could thrive in the mainstream without the watch of Vince McMahon.
It was a perfect marriage. The guy with the DIY attitude came to the company that was founded on those very principles. The majority of Punk’s fanbase in WWE had already migrated over to AEW anyway – or at least so it seemed – and this was the missing piece of the puzzle. He was brash, emotional, authentic and gladly stayed in possession of that perpetual chip I mentioned earlier. You couldn’t find a better wrestling marriage and everyone in every corner of the wrestling landscape seemed to agree.
But now that Punk actually displayed that brash emotion and authenticity – and also reacted to the chip that’s been weighing him down recently … well, I don’t know about your timeline, but mine is filled with people who once appeared thrilled at Punk-A-Mania, but now argue he should be fired. And it feels hypocritical, not for the obvious reasons, but for the reasons that are tied to how perfectly correct so many people think they are in this.
And it’s not that I’m here to question if they are, indeed, correct. Maybe he should be fired. I don’t know. But when the wrestling community gets consistently lambasted for being fickle, situations like these tend to prove why the reputation is earned. We went from, “Oh, this is fun, it’s like tabloid shit,” to, “How dare [insert name] act like this and how dare [insert name] not respond like [insert response].”
Who do you think you are? And why do you think you have the answers? And why must you judge others for their opinions on this when, in fact, nobody has nearly the amount of information they think they have, and certainly not enough to draw any reasonable conclusion? It’s one thing to want to watch how it unfolds; it’s another to do things like take shots at the media for the ways they’re handing it or take shots at other wrestling fans because maybe they have a loyalty to one side.
Ah, loyalty. Wrestling fandom isn’t designed to have it. And, as a result, we don’t. Stories are crafted and performances are made strictly in an effort to sway our loyalty as fans. That’s what the heel turn is for. It’s entertaining and it speaks to the conflict inherent in human nature. They play us like puppets because we want to be played like puppets. That’s pro wrestling.
But when the lights go out and the arenas are empty, fandom switches from being part of the entertaining equation to something very personal, something that shows who we are as people. That’s what this mess has done – it’s inspired our worst instincts and highlighted how ignorantly correct we all think we are. We shouldn’t be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to these people because these people are strangers and these situations can be spoken to by only a handful of people.
Mistakes were made. Bridges have to be rebuilt. Hurt feelings need to be reconciled. But that’s it. That’s about as far as anyone on the outside should go. How that’s done and when that’s done has nothing to do with anyone else other than those involved. For the sake of wrestling, I would hope we all agree that everyone is made whole in the end. Maybe Punk has to go, but maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he can work with the Bucks and maybe he can share a Pepsi with Hangman Page someday. Whichever side of that equation comes to fruition, I’m OK with it because I am of the belief that those people are the best qualified to make those decisions.
For the longest time, there was only a tiny subset of wrestling fans who had access to the type of backstage information so many of us have now, but even then, it wasn’t nearly as ferocious as it turns out to be these days. But we, as fans, always wanted more. We felt we needed to know every machination of every company. Who was being a diva, who was a good person, why decisions were made, what plans were for future stories.
Well, now we’ve got it. Now, we know those things. Is it everything we ever wanted? Because without having access to those very details when it comes to this very situation, CM Punk and The Elite brawling backstage would only be the stuff of legend years down the line when the A&E specials are taped. Instead, our feelings for these people, characters or not, are complicated by real life strife that would have been best dealt with in house. At the end of the day, is the information tradeoff worth it?
I don’t know the answer to that question. All I know at this point is that I’m tired.
And rest doesn’t appear to be coming soon.