CM Punk’s AEW debut looks set to be this Friday on AEW Rampage. Bryan Danielson also is rumoured to move to AEW, making his debut in a New York show in September. These will surely be the two biggest signings in the history of AEW. Adding star-power even greater than when Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley signed their contracts. CM Punk is the big AEW surprise debut that the AEW fans are clamouring for next.
But once the dust is settled and CM Punk and Bryan Danielson have slotted into the AEW roster, then what? Who else is left to be a big surprise debut in AEW?
Are there any big stars left to make their way to AEW? The way WWE has mismanaged it’s talent over the years. They had made sure that no-one can break through the glass ceiling into Cena/Rock territory of big stars.
CM Punk tried, and has been vilified and hated for it ever since. WWE do NOT want any big stars to up and leave them, and it’s hurting them, hard.
So, is there anyone left who can make a big as impact on AEW as a surprise debut as CM Punk or Bryan Danielson?
Next AEW surprise debut?
Whilst the casual WWE fan may not be familiar with Kazuchika Okada, international fans of wrestling are waiting patiently to hear the eventual “coin drop” in AEW.
Okada is one of, if not the, best wrestlers in the world, and one of the best Japanese wrestlers of all time. Some say the greatest in-ring performer of all time. Now, that may seem like high praise, but it is not unfounded. He has headlined Wrestlekingdom (NJPW’s version of Wrestlemania) six times.
He is a five time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, including it’s longest reign in history at 720 days. His matches are consistently among the highest rated on the likes of Cagematch and Profight.
His bouts against Kenny Omega over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship destroyed the Meltzer five star scale. In their quadrilogy of bouts, journalist Dave Meltzer awarded them 6, 6, 6 1/4 and 7 stars respectively, the first 7 star match in wrestling history.
Okada would be a massive signing for AEW, and one that looks ever so promising with the inclusion of other NJPW’s going through the “Forbidden Door”. Coined the NJPW legend Hiroshi Tanahashi, the “Forbidden Door” marks the portal between NJPW and AEW, and alliance that has since bloomed into a succesful working relationship.
With Tanahashi rumoured to be facing Jon Moxley at All Out, the likes of Yugi Nagata and KENTA have already made the jump from NJPW to AEW.
Okada’s natural opponent in AEW would be another match with old rival Kenny Omega. Their matches put NJPW on the map for many western fans. I know for me, personally, seeing the first of their four matches introduced me to Japanese wrestling.
A program with his old nemesis, once Omega has dropped the AEW Championship to “Hangman” Adam Page, would be huge for AEW, and could headline any of their events with ease.
Another name from New Japan Pro Wrestling. The English high-flyer recently returned from a serious neck injury to NJPW Strong. Ospreay had to relinguish his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, that he won by defeating Kota Ibushi at Sakura Genesis. This was due to a serious neck injury sustained in May 2021.
Ospreay is one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world, and one of the best British wrestlers of all time.
He has competed in Japan for many years, but has since moved to America to compete on NJPW Strong due to his neck injury. His return to NJPW was a surprise, and an AEW debut would be an even bigger one.
Ospreay, once fully healed, would be an exciting addition to the AEW roster. His versatility in the ring means he can work a wonderful match with almost anyone, so wherever Tony Khan decides to put him, he is likely to shine.
His “Kingpin” type character he was portraying in New Japan prior to his injury would do well in front of American audiences, and would be great against a strong babyface.
A feud with Adam Page for the AEW World Championship would be a great start, plus matches against the Lucha Brothers would provide some magical moments.
One of the most shocking releases from WWE this year was Bray Wyatt. The former cult leader, magic man, spooky ghost man and children’s TV host was let go by WWE last month in a shocking turn of events.
Wyatt was a main event talent, who had been the star of multiple Pay-Per-Views over the previous year as his devilish persona, “The Fiend”. The Fiend was a grotesque, supernatural monster who beat all that dare challenge him (Except for Goldberg or Randy Orton, for some reason).
Wyatt is a creative genius in wrestling, creating all of his own characters and writing his own material. He is a two time former World Champion in WWE, and was one of the biggest merchandise sellers in the whole company. He would be a huge addition to the AEW roster, but not as the supernatural monster we all know, in my opinion.
In my view, he should go back to being a more realistic character. His cult leader gimmick was rooted based in reality, and was amazing. This charismatic, smooth talking Louisiana swamp man charming his underlings to join his cult and do his bidding was wonderful storytelling.
There’s no reason something like this wouldn’t work in AEW. Obviously, not like the Dark Order was at first, that would just be rehashing things that they already did. But I trust in Bray Wyatt to come up with another great character and play it to perfection, as he always has.
While the Diva’s revolution came into fill swing after her retirement, one of the main driving forces behind the movement was AJ Lee. Her tweet to Stephanie McMahon was one of the catalyst behind the revolution, but her performances before this put her in the category of the top WWE Diva’s of all time.
AJ Lee made her debut in the original NXT game show, but her star shone so much brighter as a part of the main roster. She managed Daniel Bryan to a World Championship, was RAW GM and was involved in a love triangle with Bryan, CM Punk, Kane and John Cena. Her crazy character was a highlight of WWE at the time, and that was even before he record setting Diva’s title reign.
Until it was beaten by Nikki Bella, AJ Lee was the longest reigning Divas champion of all time. Her matches with Natalya were some of the best in years from the women, and her promo’s were some of the best in the company. She clearly took from her husband, CM Punk, when it came to reality and believability in her time on the microphone.
Despite 6 years outside the ring, she would be a welcome asset to AEW and would instantly be one of the main eventers in the company. Bouts with Dr Britt Baker, DMD and Thunder Rosa are huge opportunities to see women main even Dynamite once again. A surprise return to wrestling with AEW would be the shot in the arm the AEW women’s division needs.
AEW Surprise returns – what do you think?
What do you think of these AEW surprise returns?
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.