Tony Khan and CM Punk were waiting for the right time to come together.
Seven years after leaving WWE, CM Punk returned to wrestling on the debut episode of AEW Rampage. According to Tony Khan, though, the two have been talking for a really long time. The AEW Owner recently joined Wrestling Observer Radio and explained how once TNT extended their deal with AEW, it made the promotion seem like a much more stable and realistic option for Punk.
"We've been talking a really long time, and a few years ago, it just wasn't the right time," Khan said. "I think he wanted to see how this thing went. He wasn't ready to come back to wrestling, especially not for a startup company. Now we're long past the startup phase. It's been really successful. We signed a big TV extension and I think once we got the extension and it looked like we were going to be in place for a while, it probably made the company look a lot more like a stable option for CM Punk, honestly."
Khan says that they stayed in touch during the pandemic and because everything was shut down, it gave them extra time to talk. He then shared the story of how he and Punk met in Chicago a few years back and how the former WWE Superstar had been following AEW closely in the time since.
"He and I had gotten along," Khan began by saying. "We'd met up in person in Chicago a few years ago and it was super pleasant and I liked him a lot. Even if it wasn't the right fit, it was good to get to know him. Then I think, you know, he wasn't gonna be the guinea pig for this thing, and I understood that. He was really following it very closely, and we built a great business and a lot of great wrestlers came into this company. We had a great foundation at the beginning... Then we’ve added a lot of talent in year two, and now the company's really in a position where I think the interest is at an all-time high. But he and I, I think we were in a place where we really wanted to work together and he wanted to come in and come back and work with all these exciting young wrestlers and work with people he never had a chance to get in the ring with."
Although Punk wanted to get back involved with wrestling a while ago, the pandemic presented an interesting challenge and they both knew that he had to re-debut in front of a packed house.
Khan then said it was Punk's idea to run the United Center in Chicago and although All Out was already booked for the Now Arena, he checked the calendar and quickly turned Punk's idea into a reality. He said the following:
"Now there was, it wasn't just an eventual kind of thing, it was like hey, there's actual dates on the calendar we can circle. We're gonna go back on the road in July. At that point, with All Out coming up, it was, you know, I think the time made sense for everyone. He really had a great idea that he wanted to come back in the United Center. He asked about All Out and I told him, you know, we've had this great thing going with the Now Arena and the fans have been going to shows there for us for a while even before I started AEW. The Young Bucks and Cody had run a show there independently, that was, you know, a good show that I attended and did really well. Then we've done two All Outs. The first one was there and the second one was in Jacksonville because of the pandemic, but I had told Mr. Punk that we were going back there and I'd already done the deal. But I thought it was really interesting what he was saying about the United Center.
Then I looked at our calendar and we were booked for TV in Milwaukee and before that, we were doing Dynamite in Houston. I hadn't booked an arena for Rampage yet and I wasn't sure if we were going to do it live. That was kind of the date on the calendar and it was just a perfect date for a lot of reasons. The building was available and I got the United Center booked and called him back and I said I bought the building. He said, 'wow, that's amazing,' and then we were one step closer to getting this whole thing figured out."
With a time and place now set, it was time to start coming up with ideas for how to do the return. Khan spoke about his fondness for the Netflix series, The Last Dance, and how he wanted to mirror that and capture another indelible moment that marked the beginning of a new journey. He added this:
"So then we started to talk ideas, and I had watched The Last Dance a lot and I just thought what he had come up with, his idea to go to the United Center was so awesome. So then I mentioned The Last Dance. I thought it would be so cool that instead of documenting the end of this incredible indelible journey, we could capture something that would last forever again with this indelible memory that would be the beginning of a new journey, and that would be The First Dance, and he loved it.
Then we started to kick around ideas and, you know, he mentioned, this is just kind of reiterating what he and I have already talked about in the press conference, but we started to talk about -- then we actually had to come up with wrestling ideas. He had that great list he put out of people that he thought would be great opponents for him and, of course, one very prominent name on that list was Darby Allin. Darby Allin in the past year has gotten as hot as any wrestler we have. I just thought it would be really cool and it would make a lot of sense and I suggested it and he thought it was great."
Despite their high expectations, Khan believes The First Dance exceeded anything they imagined and provided a special moment for Punk, himself, and the company.
"Then the more we talked the more stuff just fell into place, and it ended up coming off and being a great moment for the company and was a great moment for me personally but I also think it was really for him personally. A great moment that I know has brought him a lot of happiness and, you know, having talked to him for over a week since then. He was looking forward to this for a long time but I think even for him it exceeded his high expectations," Khan said.
AEW All Out is scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 5, 2021. The show will see CM Punk return to the ring to face Darby Allin. Additionally, Kenny Omega defends his AEW Championship against Christian Cage. Fightful will have live coverage of the event next Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. PST.
If you use the quotes above, please credit the original source with a h/t and link back to Fightful for the transcription.