AEW‘s recent creative struggles have now made their way to the main event scene, where a face returning champion in CM Punk is set to wrestle a fellow face in Jon Moxley. During Punk’s absence, Tony Khan had the opportunity to build a monster heel interim World Champion. Instead, the head booker took the safest route possible, having The Death Rider beat Hiroshi Tanahashi at the AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door pay-per-view. Now, as All Out looms, fans will have to make a difficult choice: cheer for the interim champ in Moxley, who’s defended the title vigorously as a fighting champion, or root for a returning Punk, who never lost the World Championship in the first place.
Usually, it’d be as simple as turning one of the two heel. However, that doesn’t seem like a viable way forward for AEW in this case. Punk is their most bankable wrestler besides Chris Jericho, and it’s not even all that close. He moves the ratings needle in a way that very few professional wrestlers can in this day and age. Fans would almost certainly turn on the company if the choice were made to send The Best In The World to the dark side. Turning Moxley doesn’t seem wise either, given his immense popularity and how over the Blackpool Combat Club is. If Khan decided to make Jon the heel of this program, suddenly BCC would be viewed as a rebel faction, which doesn’t vibe with their lengthy war with JAS, the biggest heel stable in the company.
What stinks is that Moxley turning heel would make sense (and be awesome) from a storytelling perspective and in a vacuum where the Blackpool Combat Club doesn’t exist. His motivations would be simple: “I’ve been holding this place down and representing this company on two continents, yet the second Punk returns, I’m chopped liver.” Moxley’s version of that promo would likely involve more blood and violence, but the flip would at least be rational and relatable. Those are two critical components of any excellent heel turn.
Will AEW Keep Moxley And Punk Face For All Out?
Luckily for AEW, it has a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card for this match. All Out is set to take place in Chicago, and there’s not a wrestler on this planet who would get cheered over Punk in the Windy City. Moxley will enter the NOW Arena as the heel just because he’s wrestling the Second City Saint.
While that’s fine for those in attendance at All Out, fans at home will still be left sitting on the fence, uncompelled to cheer for either man based on anything besides their taste. There are plenty of dated wrestling tropes that AEW has mercifully ignored over the last three years. Good guys vs. bad guys is a formula that has existed since humans first began telling stories, though, and there’s a good reason for that. Face against face doesn’t create much drama, and that’s a reality that Tony Khan and Co. will need to contend with as AEW builds towards its most crucial pay-per-view of the year.