One Year On: CM Punk vs MJF Was AEW’s Last Great Feud

AEW is in a rut. One year on from AEW Revolution 2022 where CM Punk fought MJF in an extreme Dog Collar Match, the weekly product has gone from completely unmissable to as tired and grumpy as CM Punk after All Out.

AEW Revolution 2022 was the end of a hot streak in AEW. Their honeymoon period was over and they now had to rely not just on star power but on storytelling – something WWE had built their entire company on. Fans grew tired of the weekly “look who we signed this week” and actually wanted some storyline to sink their teeth into – and Tony Khan duly ignore them.

This isn’t a shock. We’ve seen recently where he countered complained by citing Cagematch score for AEW Dynamite – a fan based metric where around 50 people out of the million who watch the show rate it on a scale of one to ten. It’s hardly a metric that anybody should take seriously when fighting criticism of your creative work, especially when ratings continue to go down week on week.

Now, these ratings drops should not be anything to worry about, as long as Khan has the humility to listen to the criticism and get some help booking the shows. It’s clear that he has too much on his plate, with Fulham, the Jaguars and Ring of Honor taking up time that could be spent on booking AEW. We saw how Vince McMahon struggled with running WWE and he only had that to focus on, so you can imagine the struggle finding the time Khan must have.

The current storylines in AEW are either non-existent, tired and boring or simply get abandoned week on week. The storyline carrying the show at the moment is Bryan Danielson vs MJF. A year ago, MJF vs CM Punk carried the show with an intriguing, personality driven storyline with incredible moments and surprise turns at every corner. It expanded MJF’s character while showing a new side of CM Punk, while also showcasing that he was back to his best.

Their promos are still regarded as one of the best ever. MJF’s monologue where he accounts his days being bullied in high school, being inspired to quit altogether when CM Punk walked out on the WWE, only to become a star simply to spite the man he once called his hero. The feud had layers to it and helped carry a show that featured a lacklustre Adam Cole vs Adam Page main event.

They had two matches in AEW – one on Dynamite and one at AEW Revolution – but the rivalry lasted for months. However, it lasted for months with fans tuning in each week to see how Punk would get one up on MJF or what outlandish thing MJF would say to his former hero. It was exciting TV and you didn’t want to miss a second.

AEW has not been like that for a year. After that, CM Punk went on to face Adam Page in a slightly lacklustre feud. After Double or Nothing, they began the build for Forbidden Door, which was mainly just “look how good this guy is, I want to wrestle him”. It worked due to the crossover nature of the show, but then it kept on, and on and on.

And this is where AEW is today. A year on from CM Punk vs MJF, there are no interesting storylines. Jon Moxley is facing Adam Page for the fourth time in a Texas Deathmatch. Given Moxley bleeds in every match he’s in, the dangerous nature of the match does appeal.

Off the back of the greatest match ever against Will Ospreay, Kenny Omega is stuck in a non-existent Trios division with the Young Bucks, wrestling Top Flight and some guy from ROH weekly for some reason. All three men are being wasted but Omega more so – he could be wrestling Bryan Danielson again, or trying to regain his AEW Championship, or finally getting a one-on-one bout with Orange Cassidy. He is one of the best wrestlers in the world and should be wrestling.

Wardlow has been missing for weeks off TV. Samoa Joe beat him already so should have no reason to fight him. Same with Ricky Starks vs Chris Jericho – what’s the point? Starks beat him already. It’s another example of Chris Jericho’s terrible booking which is bringing the show down (although Tony Khan is doing that himself).

I love AEW, but I cannot be bothered to tune in to watch “good” matches each week between top stars and ROH jobbers. The results are obvious, unexciting and pointless to watch. One of the key things that makes a fight exciting is unpredictability. There’s no point watch if you know Jon Moxley is going to beat Josh Woods, or Kenny Omega is taking on Preston Vance. You don’t waste your time getting invested because the result is, ironically, pre-determined in your mind.

CM Punk vs MJF brought entertainment, excitement and storylines that improved their characters and moved them forward. None of that can be seen in 2023. AEW is in trouble/

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