Sports

AEW’s handling of the CM Punk drama is a total mess

If anyone tuned in Wednesday night hoping for answers, or at least an explanation — they were sorely let down. An alleged backstage brawl following All Out in Chicago involving CM Punk, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks created a firestorm of rumors, reports, and wildly different accounts of what happened following Punk’s expletive-laden press conference after the show. Dynamite was a chance to cut through the rumors and clarify the process, instead Tony Khan and AEW made it so much more confusing.

Appearing on screen shortly following the show’s intro, Khan thanked fans, then, without explanation, announced that the AEW World Championship and AEW World Trios Championships had been vacated. No mention of the wrestlers, no explanation of what was going on — nothing.

“Hi, thank you for joining us tonight, and welcome to Wednesday night AEW Dynamite on TBS. Following All Out on pay per view this past Sunday night I’ve been forced to vacate the AEW World Championship, as well as the AEW World Trios Championship […]”

Handling the incident this poorly defies belief. With almost three days to prepare for this moment, Khan left the ball in the court of the same rumors and media reports that caused the backstage incident to eclipse any of the wrestling that took place on Sunday night. If anything, the vagueness of his words simply led more wrestling fans to look online to try and garner information on what took place, rather than clarifying a very bizarre situation.

What do we actually know about Sunday night? Still, almost nothing. It’s generally accepted at this point that a verbal altercation between the wrestlers escalated into a fight, with punches being exchanged, a chair allegedly thrown at Nick Jackson, and Omega was reportedly bitten by Punk’s trainer and long-time friend Ace Steel. However, we still don’t really know if anything took place. No video exists of the fight. Nobody who witnessed it has explained what they saw. Local police have refuted early reports that they were dispatched to NOW Arena. All we have are vague, dueling accounts of what took place, being filtered through various wrestling writers.

To their credit, those reporting on the incident have remained consistent that this was a very real altercation, and not a “work,” manufactured drama for the purpose of a wrestling story. However, trusted as writers’ sources may be, there remains a non-zero chance this is still an effort to pop ratings and create interest in the show — with these reports being used as a tool to achieve AEW’s goals.

Professional wrestling remains a business of subterfuge, and companies maintain all the power in their relationship with writers. Unlike major professional sports there are no mandates which require press access to athletes, seats in press conferences, or consistent credentialing processes for shows. If a wrestling company decides a writer is too much of a nuisance, they simply cut access — damaging the outlet’s ability to cover events, and hurting their bottom line. This power imbalance naturally leads to stories either being under-reported, or ignored all together out of fear of reprisal.

It’s for this reason the announcement by Khan was so critical. It was the first real opportunity to cut through the noise, make a statement on what occurred, and put the onus on AEW to choose to either divulge the truth, or lie to its fans. Instead that pressure is now back on writers, who can only report what they’ve heard, trust their sources, still not knowing fully if they’re getting an accurate account, or being used to further a story.

Khan’s announcement was so vague and hamfisted that it was utterly confusing. Consider for a moment you’re not a wrestling fan who refreshes Twitter looking for backstage reports, and who didn’t see the press conference following All Out. If you’re a casual viewer who only tunes in on Wednesdays to watch the show you were met with the CEO of the company announcing that the World Championship and Trios Championships had been stripped — with no mention of the wrestlers involved, and no explanation of why it was happening.

There have been suggestions that the reason for the vaguery is a due to a pending investigation into the incident, but this rings woefully hollow. Khan is an executive of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is co-owner of Fulham in the English Premier League — he, and everyone inside AEW know there are ways to address controversy, while still offering some explanation. Hell, how many times is the default response from teams “We are aware of the _____ against ____, and are currently gathering more information.”? It might as well be tattooed on the heads of every PR entity inside a team because it’s used so often. There were a thousand ways to better explain what was happening inside AEW, while also maintaining the integrity of the private investigation.

Here, I wrote my own on what Khan should have said — and it took five minutes:

“As some of you may have heard, following All Out in Chicago on Sunday night there are allegations of a locker room altercation between AEW World Champion CM Punk, and our newly crowned AEW World Trios Champions Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks. We take any incident involving our employees very seriously, and those involved have been suspended, pending the completion of a full investigation, which has already begun. We do not have a timeline on when this process will be complete, but are working as quickly as possible to bring this to a swift resolution.

Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, as the owner and CEO of All Elite Wrestling I cannot hold two of our most important championships in limbo while this process is taking place. As a result the AEW World Championship and the AEW World Trios Championship have been stripped from those involved. A tournament of champions will decide a new AEW World Champion, while two of our longest tenured trios teams, Death Triangle, and the Best Friends with Orange Cassidy will compete for the AEW World Trios Championship tonight.”

If this was the approach there are no questions today. The rumors are put to an end. On the outside chance this is all still a giant contrivance manufactured to win viewers, then the reputation that takes a hit isn’t that of reporters who are trying to learn the truth, but AEW itself for lying to its viewers. Instead the 24 hour news cycle will continue, and perhaps that’s the point of all this — to keep “Punk” trending for as many days as possible, and the drama leading every wrestling site around the world.

This all comes at the expense of fans, especially those who really don’t care about stupid, petty, workplace drama that escalated into a childish brawl between adults. This was an opportunity to speak candidly, and honestly to the very people AEW so often praise for being the driving force behind everything they do — and instead they were kept in the dark again. The booking to decide new champions made little sense, the decision to give a vague and pointless statement made no sense, and a night that was anticipated to finally clear things up, instead was a colossal letdown.

AEW dropped the ball spectacularly, and there’s no end in sight for this stupid drama.

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