Hi folks! With AEW Double or Nothing done and dusted, it’s time to look at the future for CM Punk. Who are the next wrestlers in line to challenge for the AEW World Championship? During the Double or Nothing media scrum, CM Punk mentioned possibly wrestling Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, and New Japan’s Kazuchika Okada or Hiroshi Tanahashi at Forbidden Door.
This answer means I’m not including them on the list, and instead will share alternative talent who I would either like to see, or are most likely to receive future opportunities. Please let us know who you would like to see wrestle CM punk for the title in the comments below. I listed entries in no particular order.
#1. Adam Cole
Jon Moxley is technically the #1 contender, but being tied up with the Blackpool Combat Club against the Jericho Appreciation Society means he isn’t available for a program with CM Punk. Adam Cole is, though, having just become the first man to win the Owen Hart Cup. Despite twice failing to overcome Hangman Adam Page, he’s the only guy in the power rankings who makes sense to be Punk’s first title defense.
With The Undisputed Elite on Adam Cole’s side, they could create a level of jeopardy, but CM Punk will need to find allies (like Darby Allin & Sting) to avoid being overrun by the numbers game. Even in defeat, Cole will prove his worth as one of AEW’s best against Punk, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this match with a predictable outcome happens in the next month. Bay bay!
#2. Frankie Kazarian & Sammy Guevara
I include both of them in the same entry because they just lost a stipulated TNT Championship match, which stops them from challenging Scorpio Sky while he holds it. Where do they go from there? Simple. They get in CM Punk’s face. The champ has a lot of respect for Kazarian, but I’ll assume he feels not too thrilled about Sammy Guevara’s double act with Tay Conti. I think it would make for an interesting dynamic, even more so with the promos, although I’m unsure if Punk would want to face them in a triple threat.
They could either get singles matches, or have to face each other to see who will get the opportunity. And no, this isn’t just about them having nothing to challenge for. In 2022, Guevara currently has a 10-2 record, while Kazarian sits on 11-2. This is dangerously close to breaking in to the top five. We have to wait for this week’s rankings to come out, but #5 Tony Nese is on 10-1, so all it would take is a few wins to get them in to title contention. If CM Punk wants fresh matchups, they could push these guys in the short term.
#3. Jeff Hardy
This story writes itself. Jeff Hardy fought CM Punk for the World title back in WWE, before being sidelined with two herniated discs in his lower back and suffering from restless legs syndrome. While he was out, a drunk/high Jeff was filmed talking crap about CM Punk and his straight edge lifestyle. I’d love to see an extended program behind this, but Jeff’s physical limitations make it unlikely.
What is more so is a onetime deal where Punk carries Hardy to a respectable match. It would be a way of putting any friction in the past (assuming they already did so in person), along with giving fans something I’m sure they’d love to see. People will pay to see this, although I don’t think it would be on PPV. If it happens, expect it to be a Dynamite main event. Jeff Hardy is currently on a 7-0 winning streak, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
#4. Keith Lee, Ricky Starks, Powerhouse Hobbs or Jungle Boy
The tag team division is rich with choice, and these guys have the records to back up World Championship opportunities. Keith Lee, Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs have strong singles records in 2022. While Jungle Boy has only won one singles match this year, he has 78 victories in his AEW career, which remains the record for most wins by anyone in the company’s history. While Punk has mentioned Hobbs a few times, I would enjoy seeing him face either Keith Lee or Jungle Boy more, just because the matches will be more entertaining.
Keith Lee is a monster and it would help Punks reign to beat him, but we can’t say the same for Lance Archer, or Samoa Joe, because they’ve recently taken singles match losses. Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk is a dream ROH rematch, but doing this right after losing to Adam Cole at Double or Nothing? I hope not. Build up Joe in ROH, stick the World title on him, and then we can enjoy a (non-title) champion vs. champion match down the road. As for Jungle Boy, he’s one of the pillars in AEW, and CM Punk’s already beaten two of them (in MJF & Allin), so it would be another he can check off the list.
The most predictable entry on this list is Wardlow, and for good reason. AEW has done a sufficient job of building him up, and it might not be long until he goes after the World Championship. However, while many fans would love to see it, I’m not one of those people. Why? Well, I don’t think he’s ready for that. He’s getting reactions, but this was during a program with MJF. Does Wardlow have what it takes to keep getting over without MJF carrying him? This is the deciding factor.
It’s all good being the guy who wants to beat up MJF, but can he get over as the next big thing? Will his name continue to grow in popularity? Can he do what Goldberg did in WCW and become a freak of nature which pulls in the casual viewer to witness his destruction? You can’t do that if he’s facing CM Punk in 2-3 month’s time. Wardlow cannot afford to lose his first World Championship match, and Punk’s holding the title for a while. So I’m fully expecting Wardlow to move on to another feud, or to go after the TNT Championship as a consolation prize. The last time he fought for the TNT title, MJF screwed him out of it, so the chances are it won’t happen again.
Something, or someone, has to keep Wardlow away from the World title scene until the fans are on their hands and knees (grossly exaggerating) begging Tony Khan to give him the opportunity. Only when the fans are eager do you pull the proverbial trigger on Wardlow’s monster push. If you have him losing to CM Punk in a few months, kiss goodbye to that aura you’ve tried so hard to build. There will come a time after Wardlow has been World Champion, where he’ll lose and be brought back in to the pack. But by then it won’t matter… because he’s a household name who can now help to get others over.
6. Chris Jericho
This is a money match. While it’s likely to take a long time until we see this, Jericho vs. Punk could main event any AEW PPV. The popularity of their combined names would be a draw, and their fruitful history is enough to pick up where they left off. The promos would be great, and while we know Jericho is unlikely to dethrone Punk, it would almost feel like AEW was robbing the fans by not allowing this to happen in the next year.
The only negative is it putting the focus on AEW’s oldest stars, but they can easily include the Jericho Appreciation Society and Punk’s friends to highlight the younger faces. During the media scrum, Jericho talked about losing weight and getting in better shape. He ended his comments by congratulating Punk on his World Championship victory. So he has already planted seeds for a renewed rivalry, and I’m sure it would be one which is fondly remembered.
7. Kenny Omega
The match I’m most looking forward to seeing is the “Best In The World” versus the “Best Bout Machine”. Much like Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson, I’m positive that fans thought they would never see this dream encounter. A healthy Omega would take Punk to his limit, and that’s what he came back to wrestling for. He wants to prove that he can still hang with the best, and Omega is very high on the list.
The difference with other challengers is that a healthy Omega is a believable threat. He could take the title off Punk and it wouldn’t be an upset, because he is a proven commodity. Omega will go above and beyond to win, even if it means The Elite or Don Callis getting involved. No, Omega wouldn’t beat Punk clean, but that’s what the best heels do, right? He could take the title from Punk, and then lose it back to him at the next PPV. Omega’s probably the only guy AEW can do this with, just because he’s All Elite Wrestling from the beginning. He could say he’s taking back the World title for the good of AEW (seeing as Hangman Page couldn’t stop it) and keep that story thread alive.
There are many ways they could go with this, which makes it an interesting rivalry. In the end, Omega wouldn’t need to earn his way to that spot upon his return, because Punk wouldn’t mind handing him the opportunity just so he can knee the smirk off his face. I wouldn’t say either of them are universally loved or hated, but it is for sure to be an instant classic series of matches.
While a minority of fans may find it cheap to put the title on CM Punk, I believe it is the best business decision. He sells merchandise, and having a Summer of Punk III is the right time to take the numbers to another level. CM Punk as the AEW World Champion has no limits. The main events are his, and there’s nobody keeping him down.
Yeah, he may feel that he wasted time in the other place, but he has a second chance to show what he could have done back then. But he can’t do this alone, and it’s on the AEW roster to step up and assist him in making it another year of growth for the company. The spotlight on the World Championship is bigger than ever before, and I’d like to know who you, the AEW fans, think about this era of the company.
Who do you think deserves to stand across the ring in the spotlight? Should AEW focus more on the young, homegrown talent? Do we really need a Chris Jericho or Jeff Hardy nostalgia match? Is Wardlow ready for the big time? Or perhaps you think CM Punk isn’t the right guy to be champion? Please share your thoughts on the upcoming “Summer Of Punk” in the comments. As always, thank you very much for reading!
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