AEW has done nicely for themselves since debuting two years ago, but there's no arguing that the arrival of CM Punk has brought the company to a whole new level and locked many new eyes on the product. Despite what Roman Reigns thinks, Punk has indeed "moved the needle" and is a genuine star in an industry that lives off of stars. And this Sunday on AEW: All Out, Punk will return to action in the ring for the first time in seven years when he faces one of AEW's brightest young stars, Darby Allin.
But let's look past Sunday and into the not t00 distant future and ask the question that made Bill Goldberg a star: "who's next?" AEW has a great roster (and it looks to be getting even better after Sunday…) and there are lots of guys there that we've never seen CM Punk face before… and some we have. So let's take a look at who would be fun to see Punk face next.
Let's start right at the top with the World Champion himself, Kenny Omega. This is a dream match that has never occurred in any other promotion, so there's the instant must-see factor of something new. Omega also happens to be the company's (and maybe all of wrestling's) biggest heel, while CM Punk's popularity is unapproachable. Having your biggest heel fight your biggest babyface, especially for the World title, makes all the sense in the world.
Now, should this happen next month is a different question entirely. Drawn out anticipation makes big money and if they can tease this eventual showdown to the point where fans are foaming at the mouth (and willing to pay big money) to see Punk not only get his hands on Omega but take the title from him, then AEW might have the biggest main event in wrestling right now to look forward to. And it sounds like CM Punk knows this, as this is what he told The New York Post this week, "I'm kind of approaching it like I'm quasi-new guy, but old head coming back into this thing. From an artistic storyline perspective, I can't go after Kenny [Omega] right way. He's the (world) champion. It wouldn't make any sense. I never wrestled in this organization."
Jungle Boy has been one of the biggest babyfaces in AEW since day one. His matches are always exciting and he has that Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat x-factor where fans just instinctually love him and there's not much anyone can do about it.
He's definitely a budding star with a bright future and CM Punk has noticed this. When asked on Twitter in February who he'd most like to work with, Jungle Boy was indeed on his list.
What's cool about a potential CM Punk/Jungle Boy match is that there doesn't really need to be that much build to it, if any at all. Babyfaces can square off and just put on a solid match that the fans respect and it benefits both men. Jungle Boy would especially get the rub here, maybe even more so by losing to Punk. If he gets very near-falls and takes Punk to the limit in a pure wrestling match, that would elevate him immediately in everyone's eyes.
Think of it like The Undertaker vs Jeff Hardy in 2002. After taking it to Taker and especially after Taker's show of respect to him after the match, Hardy was then a main event star and a future World Champion.
Let's get right to it: this is one where the match would be secondary to the program leading to it. Not that either man isn't a good wrestler or would work badly with the other. No, it's the idea of the wars on the mic these two could have with each other leading to a big match that would have fans glued to their TVs.
MJF is the best natural heel in a generation and CM Punk is one of the best talkers in recent wrestling history. Like with Omega above, matching a guy that everyone truly hates against someone they truly love makes perfect sense.
And the promos! Oh my, the promos…
I know, I know. "He's not in AEW!!!" He's not in AEW…yet. Again, that may change on Sunday night, but anyway…
Similar to MJF and Kenny Omega, Adam Cole is a heel capable of garnering nuclear heat from fans. He breaks down your favorites and he likes making them and you feel bad while doing it. He can be cocky, evil, and even obsessed. But he's always damn good.
Matching him with CM Punk is another dream match for fans, as seeing two guys who are masters at blurring the story with reality could really generate a rivalry that would be an instant attraction. The programs would be great, the matches would be great. Come on Tony Khan, write the man a check and let's make it happen! We want CM Punk vs Adam Cole (bay-bay!)
It's happening. We know it's happening. Will it be Sunday night (probably)? Or will it be next week or later?
The point is, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan to the kids) is AEW-bound and when he gets there, I'd be surprised if we don't see these old rivals cross paths once again on a new stage. They've battled in Ring of Honor and WWE over the course of nearly 20 years and there's lots of gas in the story there. Having two grizzled veterans with their history battle it out for a new audience would be pretty cool.
Jon Moxley has found a new gear since heading to AEW. He's established himself as a viable threat and the most steady main event star in the company, even having a run as World Champion.
CM Punk was always fond of Mox. Back when Punk was a star in WWE and Mox was making a name for himself (albeit a different name in Dean Ambrose) in developmental, Punk pitched WWE management on an idea for a team of young mercenary-bodyguards for himself that would eventually come to fruition as The Shield. Punk put three names out: Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Chris Hero. WWE obviously went forward with the idea, though they supplemented Roman Reigns for Hero.
Clearly CM Punk was on to something, as Mox is now a big star in the industry, and what better way to prove it than to challenge the man who initially saw something in him and to show him he was right with some good old fashioned violence?
What could really put this battle over and make it unique from the others is Mox's penchant for hardcore style bouts, something Punk doesn't shy away from with the right opponent. If at 42 years old, Punk has any bloodlust left or if he needs a match to show fans that he still has an edge, this could be perfect for that.
Before any of these hypothetical battles can happen, first CM Punk must cross the bridge in front of him and that bridge is named Darby Allin. Does CM Punk still have it? Can Darby Allin defeat a legend with the overwhelming support of a raucous Chicago crowd behind him?
Find out this Sunday night at AEW: All Out!