My two favorite comic book characters are Spider-Man and Superman. I love them for different reasons, but the one thing they have in common is serious stubbornness. Peter Parker and Clark Kent cling to their ideals with the grip of a python, especially when it relates to holding on to their values, even when the world tells them how much easier it is to fight fire with fire. CM Punk, an avid comic book fan—and writer—no doubt knows this. Punk understands the babyfaces, the true good guys of the story, always want to vanquish the villas on their own terms while refusing to give in to their darker impulses.
And for a minute, that’s exactly what he tried to do with MJF.
This story, which started years ago before AEW was a twinkle in Tony Khan’s eye, is the wrestling equivalent to Kingdom Come. For those of you who don’t speak geek, Kingdom Come is the story of Superman coming out of retirement to deal with villains who are more aggressive, more arrogant, and more ruthless than even Lex Luthor on his worst day. The new breed of bad guy doesn’t revere Superman, or even respect him because they believe his time is over. Superman represents an old guard with more in common with the dodo than anything relevant to them. They taunt, poke, and prod the Man of Steel, even tempting him to break vows once deemed unbreakable. The new landscape causes Clark to question his purpose, methods, and even if he can still make a difference in a world gone even madder than the one he left behind all those years ago.
Punk’s promo on the most recent episode of Dynamite touched on that similar aspect of his own journey. Punk acknowledged his past transgressions, of which there are many, reflecting on the choices he made and lives and he affected after MJF’s vulnerable and heartfelt promo the week before. Maxwell Jacob Friedman, rightly or wrongly, blamed CM Punk quitting WWE in 2014 for turning a young Maxwell into the MJF we know today. This is at the core of everything MJF feels towards Punk today. It’s why he felt slighted when Punk didn’t shake his hand upon his arrival in AEW.
It’s why he was in his feelings when Punk didn’t put MJF’s name on his list of potential opponents in AEW. Ultimately, it’s why Max wants nothing more but to put Punk out to pasture. Imagine holding a grudge for eight years? That’s more than a chip on MJF’s shoulder; that’s a boulder the size of the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower).
Punk felt all of that. Punk isn’t the best guy but he wants to be a better man. And for several hundred seconds, he was. The tide change once MJF showed his true colors and set fire to Punk’s olive branch. A kick in the balls says it all, right? After leaving Punk with a crimson mask, MJF paraphrased a Punk promo from his younger days in ROH. It was a thing of beauty.
MJF may not realize he released the beast untamed. Punk, wavering between the man he used to be and the man he wants to be, is finally giving MJF what he thinks he wants. For Punk, Peter Parker and Clark Kent are fun to look up to but a lot harder to emulate. Becoming a monster to defeat a monster is a lot easier and, not for nothing, probably a lot more fun.
The only prediction I have for this match is pain. MJF and CM Punk will beat each other bloody in a dog collar match. The stipulation, which felt like a weird add-on several weeks ago, is now fitting based on the last two weeks of television. This is AEW’s best story in its short existence because it’s based in reality and so compelling. I knew MJF was a snake. We all knew that. And I bet CM Punk knew it as well. But didn’t we want to believe for a second there might be a good person underneath all that Burberry?
Yeah, well, there isn’t. And at AEW Revolution We find out whether or not MJF pays the price for mistaking Punk’s kindness for weakness.
Can CM Punk find his inner monster to defeat MJF? Or will MJF show the “old man” he’s the new devil in town?