Right now, everyone is attempting to assess a star rating to the CM Punk vs. Dominik Mysterio match from the WWE Houseshow last night at Madison Square Garden (12/26/2023). That’s what we’ve become as wrestling fans… How can we match the convoluted system of the Observer Boys’ 5-Star system that can sometimes go above 5 stars for their favorite wrestlers? No, that’s not how you should review the match by trying to micro-manage how you assess it with a star rating.
No, how you should assess the match is how CM Punk looks here in December 2023 versus ANY time during his All Elite Wrestling (AEW) tenure from August 2021 to August 2023. Many fans, including myself, began to question whether “Father Time” has caught up to CM Punk as he seemed slower and winded at times. While the promos CM Punk cut were always great in AEW, the hype never matched the in-ring performances. That’s why I thought while Punk was a draw in AEW, he could have been an even bigger draw in AEW if his matches were great.
But, it appears that I was wrong…
Just as I discussed yesterday in my Chris Jericho column, it’s likely that CM Punk also fell victim to the toxic AEW environment under Tony Khan. When CM Punk joined AEW during 2021, he was boasting about all of the “young talent” that he wanted to work with there. Yet, when he worked with said young talent, there was a lack of selling, many high risk maneuvers attempted, and just nothing that connected the moves with the crowd. CM Punk would try more high risk maneuvers himself just to keep up, yet those moves would begin feeding into his injuries.
The problem in CM Punk wasn’t CM Punk himself, though everybody slows down a tad as they get older. Just get me to play a game of full court basketball or clear the driveway full of snow, and I’m hurting for days in my 40s. But for my basketball analogy, I can enjoy the game more when I’m playing with guys my age who SLOW THE GAME DOWN, too, because all of us know we can’t run like deer and we each fear that we’ll feel the pain for the next few days. It’s when you play a game against a bunch of 20 year-olds who have endless energy and aren’t purposely slowing down that you feel the real pain during the game and then the days afterward. Punk was working against younger kids who couldn’t make a good working experience for everyone involved in a match.
For Pro Wrestling, you shouldn’t work excessively fast… How you make a wrestling promotion successful is by convincing FANS to attend shows or to watch in greater numbers on television. If your wrestlers CANNOT connect with fans at either the arena or viewing on a screen, then you as a promoter or booker have failed. Some of the best in-ring technicians, like a Chris Benoit, Dolph Ziggler, Dynamite Kid, or many other great athletes were forced to DO MORE inside the ring because the struggled to display personality, charisma, and great promo skills when not wrestling. The AEW roster is full of guys who are great athletes who can run all day, yet only a few of them understand psychology or how to connect with fans.
For the CM Punk vs. Dominik Mysterio match, I need to give major props to Dominik Mysterio. He is a LEGIT worker and at just 26 years old, he looks like a wrestling veteran who has done this for at least 10 years. Let’s just honestly call it now… He made CM Punk LOOK GOOD in his WWE return match, and that’s NOT said to slander CM Punk’s good name. Punk didn’t have many great dance partners in AEW is what I’m trying to say. Just watch Dominik during this MSG match… He is full of himself, constantly taunting the fans, and setting up distraction schemes to get Rhea Ripley involved to get the upper hand. Then, when he executes a move, it’s crisp and his opponent is fully prepared to receive it while giving space between moves to allow fans to soak it in.
CM Punk looked incredibly comfortable inside the ring with Dominik Mysterio, whereas he always felt out-of-place wrestling ANY talent on the AEW roster. THAT is why returning to the WWE made sense for 2023. It’s a different place with many highly trained younger wrestlers now around and is also filled with many highly trained veteran wrestlers, led by a now nurturing manager with Triple H who has evolved himself to better understand talent needs.
The WWE of 2023 is what CM Punk THOUGHT he was joining during August 2021 for AEW. And through that period of time, maybe it was true… But AEW has deteriorated since August of 2021, as several key talents have left the company (Cody, Jade, and Punk), the talent development hasn’t materialized, wrestlers are getting increasingly injured, and the fame of being a wrestling promoter has gone to Tony’s head to impair the quality of AEW shows.
There were good vibrations, initially, with CM Punk joining AEW… Then, he had to wrestle AEW speedsters who don’t know timing, how to connect with fans for each move, and psychology to weigh on the emotions of attending or viewing fans. You saw it immediately with his match with Darby Allin. While I think Darby is a better talent than many on the AEW roster, he goes way too fast as a performer and doesn’t take the time to let the fans soak it in… It’s funny, the actors from the recent movie The Iron Claw remarked how they were taught wrestling by Chavo Guerrero in that it wasn’t just executing moves, it was involving the fans before and after each move. You need to connect with the fans on every single move or give them a rhyme or reason why a particular move was being performed. Don’t just act like robots and hit moves in succession that are pre-planned before the match.
Watch Dominik work… Anytime he hits a move, he taunts either CM Punk or he taunts the crowd. Or, to really infuriate wrestling fans, he’ll do Eddie Guerrero taunts because he has a 20 year old storyline to play upon. That, or because he’s a heel, he’s constantly setting up schemes for CM Punk to fall into, particularly using his Rhea Ripley on the outside. The FACT is that Dominik could work this style and GET OVER even if he only had 1 move in his arsenal. For example, what if Dominik only did bodyslams? Every single move was a bodyslam… That would sound boring, but if Dom’s charisma, personality, heel antics, and taunts to wrestlers/fans came with it, he’d still get over. However, because Dom is so talented, he can perform many moves and really make matches look great. Dominik is a very talented performer that we’ll get to enjoy at the top of the business for the next 20 years to come.
At several points in the match, Dominik takes extra long to taunt fans for getting the better of CM Punk or he’ll apply a chinlock. Why is he doing that? It not only gets fans more involved, but allows CM Punk have a few moments of resting. Same thing goes with CM Punk, as he’s excessively selling Dominik’s offense so that Dom can taunt the fans to rest-up himself. Because both wrestlers were WORKING SMARTER and not having to work harder, they were FRESH for the entire match. Contrast this to AEW where the wrestlers sell nothing and try to “get in all of their sh**” within a short period of time. No, no, no…
LESS IS MORE is a concept that works in pro wrestling… You don’t have to kill yourself in that ring. If you have a full crowd attending your events, it means that the stuff you did BEFORE this event has sold them to WANT to attend this event. By just cutting promos, CM Punk probably added 5,000 additional paying wrestling fans to this MSG show, as WWE had to keep expanding the arena’s capacity to meet the ticket demand. On Dom’s side, he’s been a dastardly heel that people want to pay to see him get his arse kicked. You’ve already got the paying customers in the seats… You don’t have to work harder to get them by killing yourself in the ring. The easier method is to acknowledge their existence with psychology and taunts, and they’ll LOVE it more than a wrestler hitting 20 moves per minute.
In just 1 match, Dominik Mysterio PROVED why the WWE is superior to AEW by many, many miles and why that gap is growing. This is Dominik at age 26 in the revised WWE ecosystem and now with a more nurturing Triple H as his talent manager, he’s only going to grow significantly. That goes for EVERY wrestler in the WWE locker room who will be taught how to properly work and how to comfortably work without hurting each other. You don’t have to go through tables, hit 20 moves per minute, and think that restholds are a thing-of-the-past. Those are BAD HABITS installed by wrestlers influenced by the ECW style that was NEVER corrected on the Independent scene.
Thanks to working with Dominik Mysterio, CM Punk actually looks viable in the ring again even in his mid 40s… Thanks to the WWE environment that has improved through 2023, CM Punk can comfortably enjoy being a pro wrestler again.
LESS IS MORE… I dare you to count the number of moves in a regular AEW match versus CM Punk vs. Dominik Mysterio. This MSG match was incredibly over with the fans because Dominik was pre-occupied at being a heel by taunting Punk, taunting the fans, flashing his tributes to Eddie Guerrero, and creating schemes to fool Punk or get Rhea Ripley involved. On CM Punk’s end, he sold Dom’s offense incredibly well, played up sympathy for the fans, and would encourage them to cheer him on. It was a PERFECT babyface versus heel match, and the match was done so well that it made BOTH wrestlers look strong even if Dominik Mysterio lost the match. When you WORK PROPERLY, wins and losses don’t matter.
The theme I continue to push is how much WWE has changed from 2021 to 2023, and how much AEW has deteriorated from 2021 to 2023. They have literally switched places from those years. AEW was the “place to be” during 2021 because it appeared that Tony was more hands-off, wrestlers had more freedom, and the AEW roster was full of youth. Fast forward to 2023, and Tony meddles and micro-manages everything, wrestlers are abusing that freedom and doing too much in every match, and the AEW roster has suddenly become older. Meanwhile in the WWE, with Vince McMahon stepping back and Triple H now in charge, HHH with 10+ years of experience has finally figured out how to nuture and protect his talent from themselves while teaching wrestlers how to properly work. Meanwhile, that WWE roster is now full of younger talents who are about to rise up… Dom is only 26, folks, and there are others on the WWE roster and now on NXT who are ready to join him.
So yeah, that’s what I got out of the CM Punk vs. Dominik Mysterio match at MSG on 12/26/23. The match succeeded in what it needed to do:
• Gave CM Punk a strong return match, made him look good.
• Showed that Dominik Mysterio can hang with a veteran talent like CM Punk.
• Involved the MSG crowd throughout the match, gave them a great experience.
• Creates strong word-of-mouth not just for MSG attendees wanting to attend future MSG shows, but throughout online for attending WWE live events elsewhere.
Good, good, good, good vibrations… Do you see what a POSITIVE workplace can do for its employees? See what good training and management also does? AEW needs to take note or its ship will continue to sink in 2024.
And just like that, CM Punk is off and running in the WWE environment that will help him as a human being. 2024 is going to be great not just for CM Punk, but for Dominik Mysterio. This MSG match benefitted both guys and that’s the magic of pro wrestling.
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