AEW and its fans rode an emotional roller coaster this past weekend. Between the fairly stellar All Out PPV and its frankly upsetting aftermath, there was a ton of news to unpack, both good and bad, for the company and the fans.
I guess we should start by addressing the irrationally angry elephant in the room. And look, I'm saying this as a longtime fan of CM Punk - he's lucky to still have a job after all this, if indeed he does still have a job. For a man who prides himself on being a locker room leader to retaliate against an opponent vaguely "going into business for himself," by explicitly going into business for himself, is frankly embarrassing. Regardless what happened between Punk and Colt Cabana - and the dissolvement of their friendship was obviously very bitter - Hangman Page's promo back in May barely referenced that situation (specifically the rumor that Punk used his clout to get Colt fired from AEW), and 95% of the audience watching probably had no idea that's what he was referencing. What Punk should've done, again as a supposed locker room leader, was address the situation with Page (and Tony Khan if necessary) in private. Instead Punk waited till after Page did a clean job for him (in and of itself a form of making amends) and only after he'd spent three months on the shelf, decided to fire back with a promo very clearly designed to make Page look bad. A shovel-to-the-face obvious burial is not just desserts for a thickly veiled dig.
But Punk wasn't done. At the post-All Out media scrum he went out of his way to bring up the subject again, immediately steering the conversation toward a Colt Cabana tirade and throwing both Page and the Young Bucks violently under the bus for allegedly starting the aforementioned rumor. For several minutes he verbally trashed his coworkers and their EVP status, thus making the company look stupid for giving Matt and Nick executive roles. Meanwhile Tony Khan sat next to him mostly silent, rather than making a genuine effort to change topics. Key among Punk's comments was "If anyone has a problem with me, come talk to me." Well, that's precisely what Matt, Nick and Kenny Omega attempted to do immediately after Punk's scrum appearance, and then all hell broke loose.
It's not yet clear who started the physicality, but it's been confirmed that Punk punched Matt, and Punk's friend Ace Steel threw a chair at Nick's face and bit Kenny. Word is there could be legal action taken, and it seems unfathomable that the two sides will ever be able to work together after this.
Again, I say this as a big CM Punk fan: if anyone gets shown the door over this fiasco, it damn sure shouldn't be Matt or Nick or Kenny or Page. What Punk did verbally was completely unprofessional, not to mention flagrantly hypocritical. As for what unfolded physically, it's in dispute who was the instigator. But the latter incident doesn't happen without the former. If Punk was still so livid three months after Page's promo that he felt compelled to bring it up again, all he had to say was "For reasons I do not understand, apparently there are some within this locker room who have a major issue with me and inappropriately aired their grievances in public. I hope we can clear this up." That's all he needed to say about it. He'd have taken the high road and carried himself like a veteran and a champion, setting an example for the younger talent, and maybe the two sides could've hashed everything out privately. Instead he turned the presser into another episode of the infamous Cabana podcast.
In his mind I'm sure he thinks he's some kind of mid-90s Bret Hart, rallying against the 2022 version of a locker room-controlling Kliq. Sorry Punk, you're the Shawn Michaels in this situation. You're coming off as a self-serving backstage cancer, and as much as I'd hate to see your AEW run cut short, if I'm Tony Khan and it's a hardline choice between keeping Kenny, Adam, Nick and Matt or keeping you, I'm picking The Elite.
Alright, now that unpleasantness is out of the way, let's talk All Out.
This was another fantastic PPV overall, a tad bloated with too many matches to be sure, but boasting no fewer than four ****+ bouts, some new champions crowned, and of course a long-awaited return.
After four(!) pre-show bouts, of which Eddie Kingston-Tomohiro Ishii was the undisputed highlight (though I sure enjoyed that car wreck of a mixed tag to open the show), the main PPV began in earnest with the Casino Ladder Match.
Considering the amount of incredible talent in this match it has to be considered a mild disappointment. There were some good high spots and nice interactions between all the players, but it never reached the level of spectacle it should have with all those daredevils involved. The booking of the finish, unique though it was, also proved confounding and fell into the category of "bullshit finish" when it didn't need to. As the seven participants awaited the addition of the "Joker," a squad of masked men stormed the ring, tossed everyone out of it, and one of them (revealed to be Stokely Hathaway) set up a ladder and retrieved the big poker chip, so the Joker himself could saunter down to the ring (wearing a mask to hide his identity) and simply accept the chip to win the match. This of course begs the question, why doesn't every ladder match end with one guy's friends clearing the ring and retrieving the prize for him? What should've happened here is for the masked guys to beat everyone up, clearing a path for the Joker to enter the match, set up the ladder himself, and climb it to get the chip. Then at least it's an official participant getting the win. Anyway, this match had very good action but was ultimately more of an angle. ***
Boy did things pick up in the second slot though. The Trios Championship culminated in The Elite facing former friend Hangman Page and his buddies The Dark Order, in a blazing six-man bout. Full of action and drama between the characters, this was everything we all expected it to be, and in the same league as the legendary Bucks vs. Omega/Page bout from 2020. After some breathtaking nearfalls, John Silver held Omega for Page to hit his Buckshot Lariat, but Omega ducked at the last instant and Page leveled Silver by mistake. Omega covered Silver while Matt Jackson dove in Page's way, for the three count and the titles. A stellar, show-stealing tournament final that furthers the Elite-Page story. ****1/2
Next up, in a very unenviable position, was Jade Cargill vs. Athena for the TBS Title. At four minutes, this wasn't going to steal anything, but it was a nicely worked little bout, and one of Jade's better showings to date. Jade sported a She-Hulk costume, complete with green body paint. Athena put up a good fight, but in the end Jade's dominance won out again. Where Jade goes from here I'm not sure, but she continues to improve. **1/2
The second trios match was in the fourth slot, as Wardlow and FTR had a strong outing against Jay Lethal and Motor City Machine Guns. Dax Harwood's daughter accompanied him on the entrance ramp and would make another appearance later. The two veteran tag teams supplied plenty of fast-paced, crisp action, while Wardlow got to showcase his power, hitting Lethal with an F-10 and later turning him inside out with a lariat before finishing the match with four powerbombs. Post-match, Samoa Joe made his return, Dax's daughter ran down, broke Sonjay Dutt's pencil, and the good guys knocked him out while the daughter pinned him. Cute little moment. The match was ***1/2
Probably the most disappointing match was the Ricky Starks-Powerhouse Hobbs contest, which only went five minutes and never got time to develop into a real fight. Hobbs dominated the match, the story being that Ricky was having neck issues, and crushed him with a spinebuster to get the decisive win. I have no problem with Hobbs being pushed hard, but I expected more from Starks here. Maybe we'll get a proper rematch. *1/2
The most shocking hit of the night was the Tag Team Title match, as Swerve In Our Glory faced the apparently MEGA-over Acclaimed. Holy jeez did this crowd love Max and Anthony. The match started off a little shaky, with a few miscues here and there, but over the next twenty-plus minutes developed into a pretty stunning tag team war in front of a molten crowd. The story of the match became Anthony Bowens' injured knee, which was SIOG's main target and also figured into some of Bowens' offense. He played the babyface in peril to perfection and the crowd (and I) really thought The Acclaimed were going to get it done here. Alas, after some very convincing nearfalls, SIOG hit a doomsday double stomp to retain. This can't be the last we see of this rivalry though; the company would be insane not to give The Acclaimed a title run. ****1/4
Once again the women had to follow a white-hot match, but the four participants vying for the Interim AEW Women's Title were up to the challenge. Britt Baker, Toni Storm, Hikaru Shida and a very popular Jamie Hayter delivered an action-packed match, with numerous spots featuring each woman hitting the next with a big move and leading to either a nearfall or a quadruple down. Midway through the match Britt dragged Shida up to the entranceway and hit a curb stomp, taking her out of the match for several minutes. Britt and Jamie worked together for most of the match until Jamie had Shida beaten with a lariat and Britt pulled the referee out of the ring. Jamie was livid, while Britt continued her opportunism. Toni hit Jamie with her short piledriver but Britt tossed Toni out of the ring and tried to steal the pin. Hayter kicked out, but Toni hit both heels with DDTs and covered Hayter to win the title. Really fun match that crowned a new face of the division while escalating the impending Baker-Hayter breakup. Shida looked great too. ***3/4
The second match-turned-angle of the night was next, as a not-cleared Christian Cage made short work of Jungle Boy after Luchasaurus destroyed his former partner with a chokeslam on the pyro grid and another through a table. Aubrey Edwards asked JB if he still wanted to start the match and he said yes, and Christian hit a spear and the Killswitch for the quick win. A disappointing segment for a match that would've been quite good, but sadly Christian simply wasn't able to go. Still the eventual Jungle Boy-Luchasaurus match should be a helluva spectacle, as should the inevitable JB-Cage rematch. NR
The final stretch of the PPV boasted nary a misstep, starting with an old-school mat wrestling bout between Bryan Danielson and Chris Jericho. The audience was a bit subdued for this, partly from exhaustion, partly due to the cerebral nature of the match, but bouts like this always draw me in. They got 23 minutes and filled it to the brim with grappling, submissions and strikes. Jericho got some close calls with the Walls of Jericho and later an excruciating Liontamer, while Danielson snared the LeBell Lock on more than one occasion and also broke out Cattle Mutilation. Danielson did a go-behind, and with Jericho blocking Aubrey Edwards' view, Jericho hit a low blow followed by a Judas Effect for the stolen win. This will of course play into the Jericho-Daniel Garcia story, but I also wouldn't be surprised if we got a Danielson-Jericho rematch at Grand Slam. ****1/4
The penultimate match was the third and final trios contest of the night, as House of Black faced Miro, Darby Allin and Sting. Miro dominated the early parts of the match, reluctant to tag in either of his partners, but House of Black eventually got control and worked over Darby. Darby finally got the hot tag to Sting, who ran wild before facing off with Malakai Black. As the other four men fought outside Black went for his spin kick but Sting cut him off with black mist to the face. Darby then tied him up in the Last Supper cradle for the pinfall. Post-match (and off-camera), Black apparently blew the crowd a goodbye kiss, leading to speculation that he's either leaving the company or taking a hiatus. I sure hope it's the latter. This match was a lot of fun. ***3/4
Finally we got the big-fight Jon Moxley-CM Punk rematch, in front of a rabid Chicago crowd whose allegiance was shockingly pretty split once the match got going (not that I blame them - Moxley's been on fire lately). This was a fantastic, gritty, old-school FIGHT. Punk went right after Mox at the start, hitting a spin kick followed by the GTS to tease an exact opposite of their first bout. But Mox kicked out and rolled out of the ring. The two fought into the crowd and then back toward the ring, where Mox rammed Punk into the ring post, busting Punk open. From there Mox did what Mox does - inflict rugged punishment. Mox went after Punk's injured foot, but Punk came back after kicking Mox shoulder-first into the ring post. Punk attacked Mox's arm and locked in the Anaconda Vise, but Mox escaped. Punk went for his Macho Man elbow but Mox countered into a choke and transitioned into the Bulldog Choke. After numerous finisher attempts Mox hit the Death Rider for a close nearfall, and Punk countered another Bulldog Choke into a GTS. But Punk collapsed, Mox bounced off the ropes and fell on Punk's back, unconscious. Punk powered Mox up for another GTS for the title win and the place went crazy. As Punk celebrated though, the music stopped and a mysterious voicemail played over the PA, Tony Khan's voice offering a huge sum of money for someone to appear at All Out. The Joker appeared on the screen and removed his mask to reveal MJF. MJF came out to the entrance ramp and motioned that he was going to win the title. Fantastic main event with a great show-closing angle. This may have been Punk's best AEW match to date. ****1/2
So yeah, All Out was a loaded four-hour show that could've used a few trims, but it still offered four great matches and a few other very good ones, plus lots of memorable moments. Hard to complain about that. Unfortunately Punk's post-show antics overshadowed the whole proceeding and made the night about him and his petty squabbles instead of about the company's success. Side note: How pissed must MJF be that his big return as the hottest heel in the world has become an afterthought? That sucks. I really hope he and the others can work out their shit, but if not, as much as I hate to say it, Punk's gonna have to go. AEW never had this kind of high-profile backstage turmoil before he showed up. If he can't make amends and be a team player, he shouldn't be on the team.
Best Match: I'm torn between the Trios match and the main event, but I think the aftermath souring me on the main event makes my decision for me. The Elite vs. Page & The Dark Order by a hair.
Worst Match: Starks vs. Hobbs - I hope they get the chance to have a proper showdown.
What I'd Change: Eleven matches on a four-hour show is a lot. If Starks vs. Hobbs wasn't going to get time anyway I'd have probably moved that to the pre-show just to trim the main card down.
Most Disappointing Match: Starks vs. Hobbs
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Tag Title match nearly stealing the show
Overall Rating: 9/10 - Another overall excellent PPV from AEW
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