SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
C.M. Punk’s AEW Debut: HIT
Off memory, this is probably the first time an AEW TV show has ever opened with an in-ring promo. I personally don’t mind WWE’s long-running format of doing this, but AEW fans probably do, so Tony Khan reserving this for big moments works just fine. Very smart to put Punk’s return on first as well, because this crowd would not have relented chanting for him otherwise, and that wouldn’t have been fair.
Punk’s entrance alone was a spectacle. This crowd wouldn’t have booed him even if he came out with a bloodied Darby Allin. I’m happy he retained Cult of Personality as his theme song, and you could see the elation on his face while he was soaking up the cheers. The announcers mostly sat back and let the entrance play out, which is smart because no one except Jim Ross in his prime could have had a fitting call for this return.
Punk’s entrance took so long that Excalibur had to cut to a break before his promo. Interesting that he explicitly emphasized that the break would only be 90 seconds long. Curious to see how that pays off in the minute-by-minute viewership.
The first part of Punk’s promo involved gratitude in coming back and some reflection on his past. His digs at WWE were smartly delivered. I usually hate it when ex-WWE guys over-emphasize how glad they are to be out of WWE and in AEW in their debut promo, but this was different. Punk was able to do it in a way that didn’t make AEW sound minor league. He made WWE sound completely irrelevant as a pro-wrestling company, which very few people manage to do. If AEW talent has to take digs at WWE, I’d rather they follow this strategy.
The second part of Punk’s promo was a little weird to me. He said he wants to “work” with the young guys, which is wording I wouldn’t have used outside of a podcast. He also said he has some “scores to settle,” which I’m looking forward to follow-up on.
When Punk shifted his attention to Darby Allin, he challenged him to a match at All Out. The reason for his challenge? “I want to help you.” I am not sure what to make of that, but it sounds patronizing on the surface. Nonetheless, I’ll reserve judgment until the coming weeks. There is a non-trivial portion of the AEW audience who isn’t as familiar with Punk as we are, so starting next week he’d better start outlining an agenda beyond just “you’re young, so I want to work with you. I think you can learn from me.”
Ending with an ice cream bar announcement was a sweet nod to fans from 2011, and newer fans would probably just perceive it as a babyface promoting “merchandise” other than just t-shirts.
Christian Cage and Jurassic Express Promo: MISS
Christian is a serviceable but sup-par mouthpiece for Jurassic Express until Jungle Boy improves his promo skills. Tonight, he barely even addressed Jurassic Express’s CURRENT opponents, Private Party, and largely focussed on the Elite. What made it worse was his reference to the Bucks “using their EVP status” to hire friends, which is not what I want to hear in a kayfabe promo. His comments on Omega were largely the same thing he told Don Callis on Dynamite two nights ago, so nothing spectacular there either. A waste of a promo.
Jurassic Express vs. Private Party: HIT
AEW’s television shows are usually so packed with content (or so scarce on AEW Dark news) that I almost forgot there is a tag-team tournament going on.
The match itself was athletic and entertaining, as you would expect from these two teams. Jungle Boy is a star on the rise, Luchasaurus has a great hot tag, and Private Party have a great future ahead of them. The Young Bucks watching from the entrance ramp got me to care more about the result. However, this was by no means a perfect match. For example, there was a shooting star press that missed Luchasaurus by so much that the announcers spent quite a bit of time covering for it afterward, including by saying something like “you know how even a grazing shot at high-velocity can hurt.”
Omega and Callis Promo: MISS
Nothing of substance was mentioned here. Pretty ordinary promo to build the main event of an AEW Pay Per View. Omega had an odd choice of words when he said “I’m going to retire you for another seven years,” which implies Christian will still be back. Why not just vow to retire him permanently if retiring him is your objective?
Cargill vs. Hogan: HIT
This was a squash match and deserved to be one. Good to see Jade Cargill in the ring on television.
Mark Henry had to leave at the beginning of the match to interview the main eventers. They literally played this out on commentary. I would not have done this. It devalues the importance of the current match, even if, in a meta sense, we all know it’s just going to be a squash. If he really has to leave early, he would have been better off quietly leaving the desk. Alternatively, why not just give him a microphone and put a camera on him while he’s sitting at the announce table. It’s not like he is physically present with the wrestlers during the interview anyway.
Moxley and Garcia Interview: MISS
Looks like Mark Henry interviewing both main-eventers is going to be a recurring, unique feature of Rampage. I like this formula, but I hope he doesn’t have to skip commentary on the second match of the show every week to do this. As I mentioned above, they can work around it to keep him at the announce desk.
Garcia listed off victories on a YouTube show which only a fraction of the television audience watches, and 2.0 yell too much. Moxley was Moxley, and he seems to have more of a 1997 Steve Austin vibe going, which I like, but the onset feels a bit too sudden. I’m also not really convinced that this much anger and a death threat is worth in a “feud” like this.
Moxley vs. Garcia: MISS
The was short, and deservedly so. AEW has done precious little to explain who Daniel Garcia or 2.0 are. While this would be a “hit” for a regular squash match in the middle of the show or on Dark, this didn’t deserve to be a television main event. In retrospect, ending with the tag team tournament match would have been better.
Post-Match Brawl: MISS
I guess Tony Khan figured he couldn’t end with a glorified squash match, so we had ourselves a brawl involving Sting and Darby. While it was entertaining to see Sting and Darby get physical, AEW really needs to reserve post-match brawls for feuds that deserve it.
Jim Ross replaced Chris Jericho tonight, probably to have a legendary voice on call for Punk’s return. JR is far from what he was 20 years ago, but this was one of his better days. Excalibur very “empty calories” to me, but he’s a serviceable lead announcer and probably the best we have on North American television in 2021. Taz is basically a babyface-leaning color commentator unless Team Taz is wrestling, and Mark Henry is still learning. His best mic work was when he was serious, so maybe he would shine in situations where he has to condemn heels. I really wish he’d show some personality during his backstage interviews, such as asking tough questions to heels, instead acting like a neutral arbiter. In any case, he will only get a chance to grow if the commentary table is less populated, and these AEW television shows weren’t so crammed with content.
By the way, according to Excalibur, Chris Jericho was “taking some time to collect his thoughts” and “he’ll be back next week.”
Overall show: HIT
A good, but not flawless show. If it wasn’t for C.M. Punk, this week’s Rampage would have been pretty ordinary. Not only did AEW deliver Punk, but we also got a high-action tag match and Jade Cargill actually wrestling on television.