Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling
This weekend, CM Punk will return to Las Vegas, the city where he cut the infamous pipe bomb. That makes this trip a full-circle moment of sorts as he challenges Adam Page for the AEW World Championship in the main event of Double or Nothing.
The iconic speech makes Sin City a fitting destination for the straight edge star’s first world title match since 2013. Even more, the bright lights and decadence provide a perfect backdrop for a showdown with AEW’s first homegrown champion.
Pitting the biggest established star that Tony Khan has signed to date against the company’s top developed babyface makes this a noteworthy match straight away. However, there’s also a great story brewing underneath all of the conventional wrestling tropes that some viewers may have missed.
Hangman’s Desperate Need to Prove Himself
This feud has been incredibly compelling because both competitors’ paths to this confrontation have been so drastically different. Punk has performed on the biggest stage in the industry against living legends. Meanwhile, Hangman set his sights on the AEW World Championship upon the company’s inception and went on a two-year journey to attain it.
Many fans may see Hangman’s recent brash outburst as uncharacteristically mean and the first signs of an upcoming heel turn. However, it’s merely the next step in his character progression after everything he has gone through to achieve his goal and remain on top.
Of course, Page of all people would take offense to The Second City Saint thinking he could just climb up the rankings in under a year and become champion. The Virginia native had to try, fail and go through a rut to regain his confidence before he was ready to beat Kenny Omega. In his mind, Punk hasn’t earned the right to take this opportunity away from him or the many other men who have been with AEW since day one.
Even more, he sees everything that he isn’t in his new challenger, and his insecurities are causing him to overcompensate. One would have to imagine that Page has heard since All Out that the newest crop of signees was destined to raise the company’s top prize.
Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole are considered bigger stars and have the accolades to back it up. As champion, Hangman has faced them both and become increasingly aggressive with each successful title defense. Nevertheless, some fans are waiting for him to drop the title to a more recognizable name like Punk.
The 43-year-old truly is the last obstacle in Page’s way as he seeks to prove that he is the face of AEW. When Page said he “would be defending All Elite Wrestling from” CM Punk, it felt like he meant that he wanted to preserve the pathway he took to get to the top of the mountain. He wants his home to remain an alternative for success stories like him.
Let’s face it: Punk’s track record and undeniable star power guarantee that he could go just about anywhere and become a champion. AEW is special to Hangman because it’s the first promotion that embraced him in this role, and he wants to protect that.
More importantly, the 30-year-old wants to illustrate that he is still the future of the company and his opponent is just a nostalgia act. So, he doesn’t just want to beat him. No, Page wants to embarrass Punk to prove a point to anyone who still doubts him.
That may be hard for the legendary Chicagoan to understand because he has already experienced the highest of the highs. It’s not personal to him but for Hangman, this is everything he has worked for since 2019. His prior defenses have proved he is willing to do whatever it takes to retain.
The Devil You Know
Punk also has a history of being opportunistic and self-aggrandizing. After all, these traits were the hallmarks of some of his best heel work with Ring of Honor and WWE.
Hangman sees his current jovial behavior as a facade because he built his career on self-serving tendencies. To put this in perspective, there’s a reason why MJF looked up to him and even mimicked some of his early work. To that end, Page has to see the similarities between the two of them, and that’s probably why he doesn’t trust Punk.
The self-proclaimed Paul Heyman guy isn’t exactly innocent here either. He knows he’s getting under his Double or Nothing opponent’s skin and keeps passive-aggressively twisting the knife when they interact. There are a few subtle hints that he knows exactly what he’s doing, like the smirk plastered on his face every time Page overreacts.
In their last face-to-face segment on Dynamite, Hangman completely lost control of his emotions, and that’s what Punk wants. It makes it so much easier for his adversary to succumb to his own hubris and make a mistake, which the challenger will capitalize on.
To be honest, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if the straight edge wrestler cheats to defeat him. The current build would lead us all to believe that everyone’s favorite millennial cowboy is going too far. However, it seems like his insecurities are making him an easy target for Punk’s mind games.
Frankly, it would be a mistake to turn such a beloved babyface after all the work AEW invested in him, but it seems like only a matter of time before The Second City Saint reverts to his old ways.
Yes, one could argue that he’s way too popular to garner boos at the moment. Nevertheless, the way he turned the crowd in Long Island shows that he can masterfully flip the switch when the time comes.
It seems much safer to bet on Punk delving into his past personas to defeat Page and become AEW world champion ahead of Forbidden Door. If he doesn’t, he could plant the seeds for a future turn. Given what we know about him, it seems inevitable.