Last Wednesday night, on AEW Dynamite, Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF) scored the biggest victory of his career when he defeated CM Punk in the main event of the show. It was Punk’s very first loss in AEW so far, in his own hometown of Chicago no less. While the happenstance was somewhat controversial, there’s no doubt it’s a huge feather in the cap of one Maxwell Jacob Friedman. While the simple act of beating Punk in his hometown will do wonders for MJF, it doesn’t hurt either that it was easily one of the best matches in Dynamite’s short history. Furthermore, MJF vs CM Punk was a perfect example of what American wrestling can and should look like in the year 2022, or at least as close as we’ve seen in a long time.
MJF vs CM Punk – Almost Perfect
Drawing Off Histories
CM Punk has had many classic matches in his career, and one thing most of them have in common is that they aren’t short. Unlike many of the independent wrestlers coming up in the late ’90s and early 2000s, CM Punk was never incredibly athletic or physically impressive. His cardio was always impressive to be sure, but his true strength was always his storytelling abilities. Punk’s best matches are the long ones that have been built up over weeks or even months of time. The reason for this is that Punk has an uncanny understanding of pro wrestling psychology. The longer the match, the more it allows Punk to draw from past stories and ideas to enhance the match, and this match was a perfect example of just that.
Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the match really takes its time to let itself breathe. The first half of the match feels like something ripped right out of the ’70s and ’80s, watching a hometown hero beat a hated villain from pillar to post, and the crowd sure was hot for it. After about 20 or so minutes, however, the match changes itself entirely, with Punk hitting a sudden spike rana that changed not only the momentum of the match but the structure of it as well. It was equal parts retro, and modern.
There were layers to the callbacks in MJF vs CM Punk, too. Some were personal, such as the choke-out spot from Raven vs Punk and the Pepsi Plunge, but some were simply love letters to old pro wrestling itself. The teeter-totter spot and many of the bumps MJF took were very Harley Race-esque, and Punk’s expert selling screamed of Bret Hart.
A Special Environment
It goes without saying, but the Chicago crowd made the match feel just that much more special. Any crowd can be hot for a hometown hero, but when Punk goes to Chicago, it’s an entirely different ballgame. This match could have happened anywhere, and it would’ve still been good, but it would never feel quite so special. You also couldn’t have asked for better performers. Punk’s selling of both his arm and leg were believable yet incredibly dire, and MJF’s execution of every move looked vicious and aggressive. The crowd’s emotion was palpable as they watched MJF systematically pick CM Punk apart, literally limb by limb, until by the end, even when on the offensive there was doubt over whether Punk really had a chance of winning.
Both the false finish and the actual finish of the match were absolutely perfect. MJF and Bryce Remsburg both deserve all the credit in the world for how they played it to the completely engaged crowd. MJF’s panic after dropping the tape he used to choke Punk right at Bryce’s feet, and Remsburg’s dawning realization were both perfectly physically acted in a way that the whole crowd could understand and react to. The actual finish was somehow even better, with Wardlow passing the Dynamite Diamond Ring to Maxwell off-camera, allowing MJF to knock Punk out for the win. It’s a simple finish, and very easy to do poorly, but all three men did it to perfection.
Smart, Open-Ended Booking
The false finish did a beautiful job of creating an aura of doubt around the finish. After giving MJF a false finish to protect him, surely they’ll give Punk the win in his hometown, won’t they? A wonderful red herring to fool the viewer into thinking they know the finish of the match. The finish itself is clever in its own right as well, being conclusive enough to boost MJF’s stock, but open-ended enough to leave things open for a rematch, whether at Revolution or somewhere further down the road. It also creates the opportunity for some interesting scenarios, such as a cage match, or Punk finding a team of his own to watch his back.
Alternatively, they could sit on the rematch and do it in another year’s time. Say MJF dethrones “Hangman” Adam Page sometime later this year and becomes the AEW World Champion. A rematch between him and CM Punk could be a perfect story for an MJF world title run, possibly even as the story that ends it. Time will tell, but there are numerous, very intriguing directions in which this story could go, all of which should be satisfying.
The only thing that crippled this match, was the build. The promos and segments in the last couple of months that have led us here haven’t necessarily been bad, but there’s definitely a distinct lack of variety amongst them. For about two months or more, CM Punk or MJF would come out on Dynamite, usually the former, and call the other out. The other would then come out, and the two would cut promos on each other which were usually very good if a little repetitive after a while. After a while, Punk would eventually challenge MJF to the ring, MJF would feign like he was going to, then turn at the last minute and run away, occasionally making Punk fight one or two of his henchmen. This worked for maybe a couple of weeks, but after a few months of it, it starts to get really old.
It would have been nice if the buildup featured some different kinds of segments, such as vignettes of each man talking trash on the other and hyping the match, or even sit-down interviews, alone or together. It would’ve helped keep things feeling a little fresher in a feud that took a long time to even have its first match. As is, it was hard to stay entirely invested in the feud near the end. It wasn’t terrible, but the buildup to the match definitely left something to be desired.
MJF vs CM Punk – In Conclusion
As a match, MJF vs CM Punk is a match that every wrestler and wrestling fan in the world should watch. Minus the build, it is the benchmark for what modern American wrestling should be like. A beautiful blending of old school and modern, a perfect example of what’s capable when drawing from the well of pro wrestling history, and a great learning experience in how to get people to wanna watch pro wrestling in 2022.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world. As well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TNT and AEW Dark: Elevation (Monday nights) and AEW: Dark (Tuesday nights) at 7 PM ET on YouTube. AEW Rampage airs on TNT at 10 PM EST every Friday night.