Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer and not of our website.
I should lead with the fact that this is a CM Punk article disguised as an All Out preview.
Now, I would never not do my duty to you, my beautiful readers, and neglect to preview the matches. But this show, and this past month of wrestling entirely, has been all about Punk’s return: a historic one and one the people wanted. Daniel Bryan’s return was great, but he never fully left. He was on TV, around wrestling, and was openly campaigning for the opportunity to come back. Edge’s return after 9 years was an incredible moment, but just like he moved on to other things, so did the fans.
The fans never moved on from Punk and who knows if they ever would. Seven years gone and WWE crowds still chanted his name, especially in Chicago.
There are other things happening on this All Out card but they all very clearly take a backseat to Punk’s return. His shadow looms large over the rest of the card and AEW smartly booked around that. The only real storyline that is (probably?) paying off here is the neverending MJF/Chris Jericho storyline. Some of the other matches certainly have interest and while most of them will be good,there isn’t anything that is truly a must watch.
AEW continues to be a company that know who they are and what their fans want to see. And that., folks, is beautiful.
CM Punk vs. Darby Allin (with Sting)
On Friday, August 20th, I was as happy as I have been in a long time. I watched Punk return with one of my best friends who is also my best wrestling friend. We sat outside with a few sweaty bottles of Miller High Life and were just genuinely excited. The boys were buzzing. We kicked around some ideas about what we thought would happen and none of them were close. Nothing we brought up even came close to happening because what happened was simple and pure. CM Punk came back and was happy.
Happiness is a weird thing in wrestling. In a world of manufactured moments and emotions, pure happiness is elusive. We see satisfaction, anger and triumph. We are conditioned to expect those story beats and feel those emotions. But to see pure joy in a man so authentically happy was moving. Punk had to leave the thing he loved the most for nearly a decade, but it was actually longer than that.
Like he said in his promo, he hadn’t been a pro wrestler since he left Ring of Honor. The emotional toll it takes to be away from something you love so much for so long is equal parts staggering and devastating. We could see the waves of emotion wash over him; the emotions of a man that could not believe he was finally reconnected with the thing he loves.
Punk connects with the audience in a way that so few wrestlers do. The typical wrestler does so by being a larger than life caricature. Punk connects by being just the opposite. He connects on a different level because we know and share his experiences. We know what it’s like to have the love of something taken from you and to have your passion bled out. We know how much a bad job can impact the rest of your life.
He went through a trauma so deep that it took him seven years to heal enough to even entertain doing it again. Seven years! Really, think about that and about having to work through that trauma and grieve the loss of love while thousands and thousands of people just want you to come back on their TVs. The sense of obligation to the people vs. the obligation to himself is an unimaginable struggle.
Happiness and fulfillment can be frustratingly elusive. Most of us spend our entire lives chasing something that isn’t always, or even often, attainable. It’s why we cycle through jobs, relationships, hobbies, whatever. We are always searching and always grasping for something that feels just out of reach. That is exactly why we feel it so profoundly when we recognize it in others. It resonates with the very deepest parts of ourselves because of how badly we want it. Seeing someone else find it fills the rest of us with the hope that we can, too. The calm that washes over us if we do find it is one heck of a drug and one hell of a feeling to chase after.
CM Punk is back.
Women's Casino Battle Royale for a future title shot
In the past, AEW has used these matches as a way to rocket someone to the top of the card. Nyla Rose, Hangman Page and Jungle Boy have all won in the past and all of their careers are significantly better for it. Matches like this are an opportunity to make a star. Here are four women to watch out for:
- Jade Cargill: She looks like a star, talks like a star, and is presented like one. I'm not sure if she’s ready in the ring, but her ceiling as a performer does not exist.
- Thunder Rosa: She is one of the best things going in women’s wrestling with a great theme and great in-ring work. She has everything. Plu, Punk is right: being billed from "the graveyards of Tijuana" is just cool as hell.
- Tay Conti: Whew, does she work SNUG or what? There’s so much talent here and she’s already getting herself over. I like her a lot and think she’s going to be a star.
- Hikaru Shida: She hasn’t really been around Dynamite since dropping the title a few months ago. She carried everyone she worked with to a good/great match and deserves more than being an afterthought.
Rosa makes all the sense in the world to win. She has the combination of name recognition and a built in program with Britt Baker already lined up. She climbs the ladder on Sunday.
Paul Wight vs. QT Marshall (w/ Aaron Solo and Nick Comoroto)
I say this with all the respect in the world for Paul Wight, a legend in this business and everyone involved with this match, but who gives a sh*t? Big chokeslam, 1-2-3, let’s keep it moving.
Chris Jericho vs. MJF: If Jericho loses, he will retire from in-ring competition
The Labours of Jericho made for some pretty good TV. Seeing Nick Gage doing like 80% of his normal act on cable television is still something I don’t believe happened. Juventud Guerrera coming back was dope as hell. Those things were good, but this feud has been going on for over a year and I’m just ready for it to be done. The Blood & Guts match was great and individual moments of this feud have really popped, but how much juice is really left to squeeze after 12+ months of interactions? They have said it all, have done it all, and it’s time to move on.
If this was a few months ago, I would say there is no way this is the end of Jericho in the ring. He was too important to the fabric of AEW. He provided the initial credibility they needed to establish themselves. They don’t need that anymore. They have made new stars and with the additions of Punk, Daniel Bryan, and whoever else is coming, there just might not be time for Jericho at or around the top of the card.
I have gone back and forth on this. Jericho is on the record saying when he retires, there wouldn’t be much pomp and circumstance. Most of the greats go out on their back and that’s when Uncle Chris does in Chicago.
Jon Moxley vs. Satoshi Kojima
The opening of the "Forbidden Door" has been largely disappointing. While it has been cool seeing wrestlers pop up in other places here and there, it has been more of a vehicle for Kenny Omega to collect titles as opposed to a fundamental change in the landscape of wrestling. He went to Impact and wrestled Rich Swann and Sami Callahan which, sure, that’s kind of neat. But if The Good Brothers are the only thing to consistently walk through a Forbidden Door, is it even open?
Moxley is doing what he always does to get a match over, but this isn’t a pay-per-view caliber match. Kojima is a bonafide legend, but once the tease of Hiroshi Tanahashi got everyone far too horny for the Ace of The Universe, nothing was ever going to live up to expectations. And hey, maybe that still happens. AEW has earned our trust enough that we can watch things play out a bit before we react and judge. The long term goal of this probably is one or two cross-promotional mega-matches, but we just aren’t quite there yet. The beat still needs to build. Mox wins this slugfest.
TNT Champion Miro vs. Eddie Kingston title match
If I hadn't spent almost my entire word count on Punk, this match would get a whole bunch of words and heart emojis. In another life, under another name, Miro was massively over. He got himself massively over multiple times. Even when he was getting huge reactions, he was never as good as he is now. Gone are the video games and the guy just having a good time. He’s been replaced with a man who is on a mission from god. He will forgive you and will absolve you, but first, he’s going to hurt you. Imagine having this guy on your roster and putting him into a cuckold angle?.
Eddie Kingston is so good, but this isn’t about him. The only way Miro should be dropping the TNT title is if he’s moving on to the heavyweight title. It’s only a matter of time before The Redeemer comes for us all.
AEW Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks vs. Lucha Brothers in a steel cage match for the titles
This is going to be an absolute ripper of a match and should probably close the show. These guys have insane chemistry and are all on the top of their games. Rey Fenix continues to be the most consistently spectacular performer in the company. Penta El Zero Miedo, when motivated, is as good as it gets. And the Bucks? Well, this is the best they have been since AEW started. These are two great tastes that go great together, so what happens when you add a steel cage to the equation? Baby, you get fireworks.
The brothers Buck have been sensational with the belts, but I am not sure they need them for their gimmick to work. They have always carried themselves like they are the best and quite frankly, they have been one of the best tag teams in the world for the better part of a decade. Which is all to say that the Lucha Brothers can use the titles so much more. This is the only title change happening on Sunday, but it’s the one that’s most needed.
AEW Women's Champion Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. (w/ Rebel and Jamie Hayter) vs. Kris Statlander title match
If you’re looking for a whole bunch of effusive praise for Baker, read anything I have ever written about her. It all still stands. Through August 20th, she was the biggest star in the company and it’s through no fault of her own that she’s now only second biggest. Yet, here I am, once again, asking for her to get more TV time. It’s not that hard. If The Elite warrant multiple entrances and segments, surely the top non-Punk star deserves the same amount of time? Surely? Surely!
I’m slightly concerned about this match considering both can be prone to bouts of sloppiness. Baker's match against Red Velvet wasn’t great and all of her best matches are with people who are better workers than she is (Shida, Rosa, etc.). Statlander, for all of her many, many talents, is still kind of green. She’s only four or so years into her career which is scary considering how outrageously talented she already is. It’s only a matter of time before she has a title. Unfortunately for her, now is not that time. That’s because, as always, the Doctor is in. D-M-D.
AEW World Champion Kenny Omega (w/ Don Callis) vs. Christian Cage
The on-screen Callis character is legitimately one of the best things in all of wrestling: a perfect example of what a good heel manager can do. He never fully runs down Omega's opponents. Sure, he’s poking at them, but he’s always putting them over, but he’s never totally running them down. He’s always saying how talented they are, how bright their future is and so on. It makes them feel like actual threats and makes Omega look stronger when he beats them. Since he has had the title, most of his opponents have left the feud stronger than when they started it. Look at Jungle Boy. He was over before, but during his run at the top, he was getting absolutely nuclear crowd reactions. Donny C was a huge part of that.
If Jericho brought legitimacy and the more casual wrestling fan to AEW, Omega brought the people who were looking for some real ass wrestling. When he was in Japan, his matches became must-see events. Yes, he was blessed with generationally talented opponents, but he was always up to the task because of his own other worldly wrestling talent. The eyeballs that were on him in Japan followed him to AEW. His matches don’t feel quite as special now that they are a more regular occurrence, but that doesn’t make them any less great (exploding barbed wire deathmatch notwithstanding).
There are bigger names in store for Kenny Omega than Christian Cage. With all the talent coming in and all the potential dream matches that could be set up, it would feel like a bit of a letdown to drop the title this weekend. Omega vs. Daniel Bryan for the big boy strap will just mean so much more than if it were just a regular old match. Plus, there’s still a story to tell. Kenny’s fall needs to be long and dramatic and this doesn't feel like the place for a title change. Omega retains.