CM Punk won the AEW Championship at All Out, AEW's most recent (excellent) pay-per-view, but he's conspicuously absent from AEW Dynamite. On the Sept. 7 episode of Dynamite, company President Tony Khan announced that the AEW Championship had been vacated, along with the Trios Championships, but no explanation why was given.
There are two reasons. First, after All Out, a real-life backstage brawl erupted between CM Punk on one side and "The Young Bucks" Matt and Nick Jackson, plus Kenny Omega, on the other. Everyone involved in the melee was suspended, Sports Illustrated was the first to report. Unfortunately, almost everyone involved was a champion of some kind, which is why both the AEW and Trios Championships were vacated.
The second, equally unfortunate reason is that CM Punk reportedly tore his triceps in the All Out main event match against Jon Moxley. Suspended or not, Punk is estimated to miss up to 8 months of ring time, according to the Wrestling Observer. AEW has yet to acknowledge Punk's injury.
Explosive comments Punk made during AEW All Out's post-show press conference precipitated a real-life backstage fight involving Punk, Omega and the Young Bucks.
Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, lashed out in a profanity-rich tirade at "Hangman" Adam Page, Matt and Nick Jackson, and Scott "Colt Cabana" Colton. Criticising The Young Bucks, who are both active performers and executive vice presidents of AEW, Punk described them as "irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs" who "couldn't fucking manage a Target."
The affair turned violent after the media scrum. According to several wrestling publications, a fight broke out between CM Punk and AEW producer Ace Steel on one side and, on the other, the Jacksons and AEW EVP Kenny Omega.
A tournament featuring Jon Moxley, Hangman Page, Chris Jericho, Bryan Danielson, Darby Allin and Sammy Guevara was devised to crown a new AEW Championship: Moxley and Danielson will wrestle in the finals on next week's Dynamite.
AEW was contacted for comment but did not respond. Here's what you need to know.
What happened between CM Punk and Colt Cabana?
CM Punk and Scott "Colt Cabana" Colton were famously good friends for many years. Cabana has had a long career as an independent wrestler, most notably performing for Ring of Honor before being signed to AEW, and pioneered industry podcasts with his Art of Wrestling podcast series.
The most popular episode of the Art of Wrestling podcast featured CM Punk, back in 2014. In it, Punk detailed his controversial exit from WWE, including health concerns that he claimed WWE's medical staff didn't properly address. WWE ringside physician Chris Amman sued Punk and Cabana for defamation, a case he ultimately lost.
But that was only the beginning of legal proceedings for Punk. Cabana sued Punk for $1.2 million, alleging that Punk reneged on a pledge to cover Cabana's legal fees for the Amman case. Punk countersued, and the issue was settled out of court a year later.
Little has been said by Punk or Cabana about their falling out, though it was a topic of discussion among wrestling fans when Punk made his debut in AEW last September. When it was reported that AEW founder Tony Khan was planning on not renewing Cabana's contract, speculation abounded that Punk had something to do with it. CM Punk strongly denied those accusations.
Cabana has since been moved to Ring of Honor, a wrestling promotion Khan purchased earlier in the year.
What does Hangman Page have to do with it?
CM Punk defeated "Hangman" Adam Page to win the AEW Championship at Double or Nothing back in May. In the buildup to their pay-per-view clash, Punk and Page had many storyline confrontations. Punk took exception to comments Page made in one segment.
"You talk a big game about worker's rights, well you've shown the exact opposite since you've gotten here," Page said, seemingly a reference to Colt Cabana's potentially being let go due to Punk. Page and Cabana were in the same Dark Order faction on TV, and are presumably friends in real life. Page also said in the promo that the moments where the camera isn't on make a champion, and that he wants to protect AEW from Punk.
As always in pro wrestling, the line between reality and fiction isn't clear. It's also not clear precisely what comment Punk took issue with.
Following his win against Page at Double or Nothing, Punk sustained a foot injury that took him out of action for over 2 months. During that time, Jon Moxley won the Interim AEW Championship, setting up a future clash with Punk. But when Punk returned on the Aug. 19 episode of Dynamite, the first person he spoke about wasn't Moxley -- it was Hangman Page.
Punk called Hangman Page to the ring in an apparently unscripted bit, then called him a coward for not taking the challenge up. "The apology must be as loud and as public as the disrespect," Punk said. "And if anybody else has a problem with the champion, I suggest you come on down."
Punk's comments were dissected by wrestling fans and media, but had mostly blown over by the time of All Out on Sunday. Then came the media scrum after the event.
What did CM Punk say after All Out?
AEW always holds press conferences after its pay-per-views, with founder and president Tony Khan taking questions from media alongside top stars. Punk and Khan opened All Out's post-show scrum, and Punk quickly addressed the lingering tensions.
He first spoke about Cabana, going over their litigious history, before taking aim at Matt and Nick Jackson, and potentially Kenny Omega. Punk claimed that AEW's EVPs misled the media by claiming he was involved with Cabana's rumored contract lapsing. "They spread lies and bullshit ... that I got somebody fired when I have fuck all to do with him."
Punk then spoke of Page's comments in their pre-Double or Nothing promo in May, saying the fact that he had to make the statement was embarrassing. "What did I ever do, in this world, to deserve an empty-headed fucking dumb fuck like Hangman Adam Page to go out on national television and fucking go into business for himself?"
Punk said that Page jeopardized the first $1 million house AEW ever drew -- referring to the ticket sales from Double or Nothing -- and said it was a "disgrace."
"We're far beyond apologies," Punk said, adding that he gave Page but "it did not get handled and you saw what I had to do." he said in reference to the way he called out Page in his return promo.
Punk also responded to Page's statements in a recent Inside The Ropes interview, wherein Page said he doesn't feel like he needs to take advice from veteran wrestlers. "Our locker room, for all the wisdom and brilliance it has, isn't worth shit when you have an empty-headed idiot who's never done anything in the business, do public interviews and say, 'I don't really take advice.' Who the fuck do you think you are?"
Page and Cabana were the only people Punk explicitly named. Matt and Nick Jackson were referred to only as "EVPs."
"If you're an EVP, you don't try to middle your top babyface and try to get your niche audience on the internet to hate him for some made-up, bullshit rumor," Punk said. "It really pisses me off... I'm trying to fucking make money, sell tickets, fill arenas and these stupid guys think they're in Reseda."
Reseda, California a neighborhood in California that's home to Pro Wrestling Guerilla, a promotion that frequently featured The Young Bucks.
"I will still walk up and down this hallway and say, 'if you have a fucking problem with me, take it up with me. Let's fucking go.'"
What happened after the media scrum?
We don't have an official account of what occured backstage following Punk's comments. The Wrestling Observer and Fightful, two reliable pro wrestling outlets, have both reported on a scuffle that ensued between CM Punk, his trainer and AEW producer Christopher "Ace Steel" Guy, Kenny Omega and Matt and Nick Jackson. AEW coach Pat Buck and wrestlers Brandon Cutler, Michael Nakazawa and Christopher Daniels were reportedly also involved in breaking the fight up.
Punk is reported to have taken a swing at Matt Jackson, and Nick Jackson reportedly sustained a blow to the eye after Steel threw a chair at him. Steel is also said to have gotten in a melee with Kenny Omega, who's also an EVP, reportedly biting him in the brawl. Accounts differ on who started the fight. Some claim it was Punk and Steel, others say it was Omega and The Young Bucks. Steel's wife was also reportedly in the room.
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated reported that Kenny Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson, Pat Buck, Brandon Cutler, Michael Nakazawa and Christopher Daniels were all suspended. CM Punk and Ace Steel's punishment is to be determined following the completion of an internal investigation, according to the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer.
It all puts AEW founder Tony Khan in a very awkward position. In the past few weeks, news broke that Eddie Kingston was suspended for two weeks for a backstage confrontation with Sammy Guevara. Following a disagreement, Kingston palm-shoved Guevara in the face, which earned him the suspension.
Khan now has to deal with a much bigger altercation involving stars more integral to AEW. Punk is the company's top star, and Omega and The Young Bucks are featured stars and executives. Punk on Sunday become the AEW Champion, and Omega and The Young Bucks won the AEW Trios Championship titles.