Wednesday’s episode of AEW Dynamite may have been the most anticipated since the company’s first live show back in October of 2019, if not ever. That anticipation was the upshot of the company signing and debuting CM Punk in exhilarating fashion just five days prior. Punk, who has been out of wrestling for seven years but still is enough of a star to bring grown men to tears, has the potential to bring a whole new set of fans to AEW. Many of those newcomers likely tuned in on Wednesday night, but they did not get a very entertaining introduction to what AEW has to offer.
The show started off alright. If there’s one feature that encapsulates the differences between AEW and WWE, it’s that Orange Cassidy is treated like a serious, main event-level talent. The Freshly Squeezed One’s gimmick, that he doesn’t care about anything going on in wrestling, is unique enough to carry even a match against a very washed Matt Hardy. Cassidy’s “Where Is My Mind?” intro and hands-in-pocket style all work to show how engaged the AEW crowds can be with even the dumbest parts of the show. It didn’t hurt that Hardy got busted open; blood always makes pro wrestling seem more real.
That surprisingly delightful match was followed by a bunch of just-fine segments. There was a Chris Jericho promo that continued his endless feud with MJF, the company’s most insufferable bad guy. Following that, the Lucha Bros. beat the Varsity Blonds in an entertaining yet unspectacular semi-final of the ongoing tag team tournament. The tag team division is in a good place right now, as it often is in AEW, so that was good on its own. The women’s division, on the other hand, continues to flounder, and the one women’s match on Wednesday’s show—between Jamie Hayter and Red Velvet—was a narrative success but stilted and awkward in the ring.
The biggest disappointment of the night was actually CM Punk himself. That’s not to say that his interview segment in the coveted 9:00 p.m. slot was bad, but it just felt so familiar. His debut on Friday felt like someone had plugged an electrical current into the dumbest parts of my brain, and it ruled. On Wednesday, he instead came out for a hum-drum interview with Tony Schiavone.
There was a charming moment when Punk said he couldn’t hear the questions being asked because the crowd was so loud, which shows yet again that he knows exactly how to work pro wrestling to his advantage, but nothing in his promo—save for a brief tease of Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson’s eventual debut—will stick in anyone’s mind. It felt off to have Punk joking around with Schiavone like he was on a mid-June Monday Night Raw episode, and whatever intensity he brought on Friday was lost somewhere between Chicago and Milwaukee.
After that, both the show and the crowd lost steam, and the way the card was set up didn’t help. Despite having two of the company’s biggest stars in the next match—former champion Jon Moxley and Punk’s upcoming All Out opponent Darby Allin, with Sting at ringside to boot—the trios match that followed the interview segment was a wet fart. It was long, boring, and weirdly one-sided for the villainous Wingmen, who have no business in the ring with those aforementioned stars and also Eddie Kingston.
A thoroughly unbearable promo followed that, with AEW champion Kenny Omega and Christian Cage going back and forth with the same exact insults they’ve had throughout their feud. At this point, fatigue was setting in—not a great thing for a two-hour show—and the final two matches were such a low point that it sucked out all of the energy that Punk’s Dynamite debut might have injected.
The closing segment was just dreadful. An almost completely silent crowd just sat there and watched Malakai Black, supposedly one of the scariest wrestlers in the company, squash Arn Anderson’s son then run away from a guy who no one cares about. Brutal stuff to close the show with, and the crowd was clearly not sure what they were supposed to be getting out of it.
CM Punk’s debut last Friday wasn’t just a perfect bit of professional wrestling, it was legitimately landscape-shifting. But his arrival won’t mean much to AEW if the company can’t competently build an entertaining show around him. They couldn’t even be bothered to feature their biggest star, Cody Rhodes, in some way, and it would have been way more fun to see Allin in a spotlight match rather than as part of a messy tag-team bout. Maybe AEW made some new Orange Cassidy fans on Wednesday, or maybe the “Oh hey, remember him?” factor with Jericho, Moxley, and Wight was enough to suck in lapsed WWE fans. There are lot of cool AEW wrestlers capable of putting together thrilling matches and promos, but the company highlighted almost none of them.