Leak Me A River

By: Matthew Barnes

In the wake of AEW’s phenomenally successful All In pay-per-view, the week’s news has been dominated by reports of backstage skirmishes involving CM.

The bulk of these reports cover an incident backstage involving Jack Perry, right before Punk stepped out for his Wembley opener against Samoa Joe. As the week has worn on, these reports have expanded to include Punk’s fury at inept travel planning on behalf of AEW, Punk and Miro having words, and Tony Khan having monitors shoved onto him during the melee. There’s also been reports that Joe had to convince Punk to even go out for their match, that Punk exploded with rage at Tony Khan over various issues, and that Jack Perry, and subsequently CM Punk, were told to leave Wembley and were suspended in short order.

Moving back slightly further, there had been reports recently that Punk had words with Perry at a Collision taping over his use of real glass on the show, and various reports of talent turning up for duties and being sent home, ostensibly due to Punk. This has been enthusiastically reported in some quarters as CM Punk’s ego running wild, him viewing Collision as “his show”, and an aggressive approach to setting boundaries that he doesn’t have the authority to set.

The question is, however – how the hell do we know all of this?

Blaming the so-called dirtsheets is a massive oversimplification (though blame lays there too). The reality is that the AEW locker room leaks like a sieve. Nothing is sacred, and everything of (vested) interest gets leaked to the wrestling news sites within hours of an incident taking place.

The eagerly reported narrative is that Punk is to blame/is the common denominator/there’s no smoke without fire. But again, should we know all of this?

In WWE, things are much different. Very little news leaks compared to AEW, particularly when it comes to internal incidents. When Bray Wyatt left a Smackdown taping earlier this year, all the wrestling media could do was speculate on the cause. Everybody got it wrong; sadly, Bray was seriously ill.

With the exception of a few reliable sources, very little information leaks. We may get tidbits of surprise returns/long term planning, but disputes and chaos, inevitable in any competitive environment, only become widely and fully known months – or even years – after an incident takes place.

These AEW leaks are non-stop, and clearly have an agenda. Whilst reports claim “Punk’s camp told us XYZ…”, this is patently untrue, as Punk has said little or nothing about any incident involving him, and these so-called reports from sources are always filled with holes that cast doubt and, in fact, support the counter narrative that Punk was the instigator.

The intensity of the airing of AEW’s dirty laundry is beyond ridiculous, and puts Tony Khan in a horrendous position. Firstly, it makes him look inept for not handling issues sooner. Secondly, it requires awkward responses in interviews, in which Tony tries to be truthful whilst being extremely mindful of the legal consequences of a word out of place. Third, it demands that he take action, in the form of suspensions, for issues that are, in all honesty, fairly standard in any sporting locker room.

If proof were needed of where these reports are leaking from, the exhibits are there for all to see, be it Jack Perry using real glass in his Wembley PRE-SHOW match, then mocking Punk directly to camera, or Hangman Page going into business for himself on a promo with Punk, or The Elite outright mocking Punk in their first match back on Dynamite after their suspension for the backstage confrontation with Punk last year.

But this isn’t a burial of The Young Bucks, nor an endorsement of Punk. It cannot be said with certainty that the leaks are coming directly from The Bucks or their immediate inner sphere, in the same way that it cannot be said without question that Punk’s ego isn’t a major cause of the issues being reported.

No, this is an indictment of the fact that we know anything of these issues at all.

Without wrestlers/agents/hangers-on leaking stories, without the likes of Miro taking jabs via social media, and without outright mockery/to camera taunting over issues backstage, we would be clueless. Jack Perry would use real glass, Punk would shake his head and maybe get into it with him, the situation would be handled by both men being told to leave the stadium as directed by their boss, and both could go back to work on their respective shows without anybody knowing that tension exists.

Instead, we get a media circus surrounding the whole incident, far overshadowing the huge achievement of a company selling over 80,000 tickets just four years into its programming. It has made everybody involved look unprofessional, and makes the company look a mess, when in reality none of this needs to be the case.

AEW’s biggest problem isn’t feuding talent, backstage politics or ineffective leadership: it is the close proximity of various parties within the group to major wrestling media outlets, and their willingness to leak information for their own benefit. This is what Tony Khan needs to get a handle on.

It’s easier said than done, but this needs to be addressed with a firm hand, and right now. Backstage leaks need to be what is getting investigated, not locker room skirmishes and politics. Track down the leaks, address them and plug the holes. Issue suspensions, fines or dismissals to those at the root of these betrayals of confidence, however senior they are on the roster or in the corporate structure. Make an example of them and make the company as watertight as possible. It’s difficult, but it’s doable.

Nobody in their right mind would say that CM Punk is wrong for telling young talent not to use real glass. Nobody in their right mind would say that Perry’s onscreen response was in any way appropriate. Yet both are being used against Punk – and, far more importantly, against the company.

If talent and backstage staff/agents/EVPs can’t get along, and the issues cannot be resolved, the mechanisms exist to separate them across three separate weekly shows. It’s not rocket science, and many claim that making Collision “Punk’s show” was done precisely for this reason.

But, again, how would we know even that were it not for these god-damned leaks? Short answer: we wouldn’t.

The thing is, the business has undoubtedly evolved, and writers know that and need their “sources” to stay relevant and sell copy or advertising. Fans consume the product in a much different way than they did twenty years ago, with the ageing fan base looking far more at the mechanics of work rate, storytelling and backstage happenings/plans/talent acquisition and release rumours.

That’s all fine, and to be expected if a grown-up fanbase is to remain in-tune with the business. What’s neither needed nor expected is for backstage tensions to be exposed to the world, not least with a clearly one-sided view of events. Everybody suffers in the long run, fans included.

But because of this constant stream of leaks, we are now in a position where CM Punk may not be available to work on a card in his hottest market, Chicago, at a major PPV in All Out, which has had very little build due to the phenomenon that was All In. Punk not being on the card would lead to a furious response on Sunday, and a very long night for AEW and some of the talent viewed as being at the heart of these leaks.

Seriously, who does this benefit?

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