AEW President Tony Khan has discussed in-depth just what it took to persuade CM Punk to end his wrestling hiatus and join the company.
Rumours began swirling in the summer of 2021 that former WWE Champion CM Punk could be on his way to AEW, seven years after he walked away from WWE after a much-publicised fallout.
AEW then announced the second-ever edition of Rampage would emanate from Punk’s hometown of Chicago, and with anticipation reaching fever pitch, the show sold out in minutes. Those in attendance were not disappointed as Punk appeared to a raucous reception before declaring himself to be All Elite.
Tony Khan spoke exclusively to Inside The Ropes’ Kenny McIntosh for issue 17 of the Inside The Ropes magazine. During the chat, Khan went into detail about CM Punk joining AEW and revealed when the two men first made contact:
“Well, we had to run a great business, keep it running, and really prove to ‘The Best in the World’ that this is a viable entity. I had a really good meeting with him Boxing Day 2018. We had a good chat and he seemed like a really, really high integrity person—I liked him a lot immediately. But he also was very open and honest with me and said that he wouldn’t feel comfortable coming back and being a guinea pig for a start-up company. He wanted to follow us and see how it went, but he was interested.”
“It then went into 2019 and we made history with the launch of AEW and had a very successful debut show with Double Or Nothing, where Jon Moxley made his debut and it was a huge pay-per-view audience and a great live audience in Las Vegas—it was a very special night in the history of this company.”
“Then, of course, we went through the summer and built towards the launch of Dynamite in October of 2019. Then as we were really getting as hot as we had ever been at that point, we had done maybe our best pay-per-view to that point, Revolution ’20, a couple of weeks later, the global pandemic shut down the world and the nature of wrestling tours really changed.”
With wrestling tours and the world shutting down due to the pandemic, Tony Khan kept building his relationship with Punk, and discussed the excitement he felt when Punk let it be known he was a fan of Dynamite and a fan of many of the stars of AEW:
“I stayed in touch with CM Punk. I was really fortunate to build a friendship with him during the pandemic, talking with him on the phone, texting, and just staying in touch. The more we talked, the more it became clear that he really liked AEW. He liked watching it and he liked Dynamite and a lot of the young wrestlers that he was watching.”
“He eventually tweeted a list of young wrestlers he was watching and that he wanted to get in the ring and wrestle against. That list is now kind of canon and has been memorialised, but at the time that just got me really excited. I’m thinking, “Man, CM Punk watches Dynamite, he’s into the show and he likes a lot of our wrestlers.” It gave me a lot of hope that he would want to come to AEW and join us.”
“Then, as we had some light at the end of the tunnel and I was planning to return on the road and schedule arenas to go back and continue touring for AEW across all the great cities again, he wanted to be a part of it. It felt amazing to be able to make something happen that meant so much to wrestling fans all over the world. That was what The First Dance was all about.”