I’ll lift one up for you. I’ll see that and lift you both up.
During a call to investors a few weeks ago, WWE CEO Vince McMahon was asked about the competition between his promotion and the two-year-old newcomer All Elite Wrestling, and if, as at the end of the 90s, it will be the tide that will lift all boats. He blew that notion up and practically tried to blow up AEW as a competition.
But the competition between the two big wrestling brands has never been more serious, nor has any wrestling competition dates back 22 years.
On Friday night, AEW released CM Punk, one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars from 2010 to 2014, out of a seven-year retirement. In doing so, he set a record crowd of 15,316, selling the United Center in Chicago four minutes after tickets went on sale to the general public. He also set his record for single event merchandise sales over $ 200,000. Preliminary figures from the top ten TV markets showed ratings were up 57% from Rampage’s debut a week earlier.
Punk’s appearance in his hometown sparked one of the most amazing reactions from audiences to a professional wrestler in US history. The reaction has been likened to Montreal’s reaction to Hulk Hogan in 2002 shortly after returning to WWE, or the reaction to Triple H at Madison Square Garden a few months earlier upon his return from a ripped quad.
Although Punk (real name Phil Brooks) was not announced, the secret was not well kept. Buzz started to develop when AEW rushed to book a major arena a few weeks in advance in Punk’s hometown and called the show The First Dance. Everything about the promotion was done on purpose, mirroring how the Chicago Bulls brought Michael Jordan back from retirement, and as the crowd went punk-mad, announcer Jim Ross even used the term “Jordanesque” to describe him. .
Punk’s first AEW game, scheduled for the All Out event on September 5 at the NOW Center in suburban Chicago against Darby Allin, led to a huge increase in the level of interest in the company. The show sold out instantly, before fans even knew Punk was going to be there. Once Punk’s appearance was confirmed, the show’s aftermarket exploded. As of Saturday afternoon, there were only four aftermarket tickets under $ 367, making it the highest price to compete in an aftermarket pro wrestling event in history.
The night after Punk’s debut at the United Center, WWE drew over 45,000 fans to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for SummerSlam, the promotion’s biggest event of the summer.
This show saw the return of Becky Lynch, the most popular wrestler in company history, and Brock Lesnar, one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling of the past two decades. As with Punk, the two showed up out of the blue.
Lynch, who left in April 2020 due to pregnancy, had been training for a comeback that was slated for the fall. It appears her fight was rushed because of Sasha Banks, the predicted opponent of Smackdown Women’s Champion Bianca Belair, having a medical issue that the company has tried to keep undercover.
Banks and Belair had missed scheduled matches the previous weekend with rumors that Banks had an issue that would prevent him from attending SummerSlam. However, WWE continued to advertise the match on Raw on Monday and on Smackdown on Friday.
They made no mention at the start of the show that the match was not taking place. They even played the video package right before the supposed championship game. Then it was announced that Banks was not there, prompting many boos from the audience.
WWE sent Carmella, another woman on the Smackdown roster, to face Belair for the Championship, a far lesser match than Banks vs. Belair, which was a rematch of the main event on Day 1 of WrestleMania.
Then Lynch’s music played. Lynch came out and won the championship from Belair in 26 seconds. His gain was almost acquired; Lynch to fail on his return would have been a huge promotional hiccup. Still, seeing Lynch as a surprise calmed the crowd with the idea that they had seen both a special moment and a surprise championship change.
After Roman Reigns defeated John Cena to retain the Universal title in the main event, Lesnar’s music played and he stepped into the ring to face Reigns. Reigns stepped back. Lesnar was a heel of much of his 2011-2020 run, managed by Paul Heyman in one of the classic wrestler / speaker pairs in modern professional wrestling. Lesnar, 44, left WWE when his contract expired after WrestleMania 2020.
Even before this weekend, Lesnar vs. Reigns had been the subject of much discussion as the future headliner of WrestleMania, although it is not clear when this inevitable matchup will take place. WWE has major shows scheduled: Crown Jewel in October in Saudi Arabia, Survivor Series in November in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, and WrestleMania next year at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The start of the match was likely WWE’s opposite to AEW’s Punk debut the night before, even though McMahon claims that AEW is not a competition for WWE.
AEW is expected to debut with a number of former major WWE names, including Bryan Danielson (formerly known as Daniel Bryan). Danielson was once WWE’s most popular wrestler, and he’s also almost universally regarded as one of the best in-ring performers of the modern generation.
The result of the “non-competition” between WWE and AEW has been the most interesting time for professional wrestling for over two decades. AEW’s Friday crowd was the second largest non-WWE crowd for an American show since 1999. Its September 22 show at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium will be the biggest since 1999, the year that marked the end of the real competition between WWF and WCW which has reached the peak of the popularity of American professional wrestling since the 1950s.
A sign of this new era in wrestling arrived during the week of August 2, as WWE’s Monday Raw show was # 2 in weekly ratings and AEW’s Dynamite show. Wednesday was No. 4. It was the first week that two different professional wrestling shows were among the top four since 1999. The feat is even more impressive considering it occurred during the Olympics.
Raw has often doubled AEW in the 18-49 demo, but for this week the gap has been narrowed to 0.51 for Raw with 657,000 in the key demo, to 0.46 and 593,000 for AEW Dynamite.
While AEW’s numbers were down for the past two weeks, Punk’s return is expected to be a major boost, only WWE has shown increases in recent weeks with the returns of Cena and Bill Goldberg.
However, older talents including Goldberg, 54, Cena, 44, Lesnar, and even Punk, 42, provide a short-term solution that only works in conjunction with creating new stars. While WWE has a huge start-up advantage, the winner of the contest will likely be the company that is most successful in creating new, younger stars.
As we saw this weekend, however, the winners are the fans, who receive big surprises as both sides battle for audience share.
More wrestling coverage:
• Becky Lynch and Brock Lesnar Return as Roman Reigns Shines at WWE SummerSlam
• Former WWE Superstar CM Punk Debuts With AEW
• Roman Reigns always aims to be an inspiration, even after turning on his heel
• Bobby Lashley on the “SummerSlam” match against Goldberg: “I am looking forward to this challenge”