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MJF vs. CM Punk is the Feud That Can Elevate AEW to a New Level

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MJF vs. CM Punk is the Feud That Can Elevate AEW to a New Level

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

AEW All Out’s main event on Sunday night featuring CM Punk and Jon Moxley got the promotion back on track with an unexpected twist:

The return of MJF and more importantly, the long-awaited standoff between MJF and CM Punk.

CM Punk predictably got the win in Chicago after a very unpredictable (and polarizing) path back to the AEW World Championship in the wake of his injury and amid the MJF-Tony Khan standoff.

AEW masterfully wrapped it all up in the closing moments of the event. A Hollywood-level promo explained everything before and after the big reveal and return.

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MJF MAKES HIS RETURN TO @AEW 🚨pic.twitter.com/EiJf4CiR5K

In short, the obviously-MJF figure who won the Casino Ladder match earlier that same night storywise was even in the match because of behind-the-scenes bartering with Tony Khan himself.

In the “leaked” voicemail, Khan promised to pay his disgruntled superstar a lump sum, put him in that high-stakes match and most important of all: He agreed not to force MJF to sign an extension.

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That’s the most important storytelling aspect that might get passed over on first glance. Amid rumors of a serious real-life gap between MJF and the promotion, he hasn’t been seen since early June after cutting a reality-blending promo on Khan and leaving.

Astute fans, of course, easily picked up on the parallels between MJF’s situation and CM Punk’s past woes in places like WWE. Punk’s ill-timed injury that derailed this feud and the likely “Summer of Punk 2.0” put MJF in this weird purgatory where AEW didn’t want to just up and use him in anything else.

But if AEW was going to attempt to re-capture the stunning momentum of the obvious main-event scene between the two, it needed to do so with a bang.

Sunday night was that, in emphatic fashion. There was no hand-waving MJF’s presence in the ladder match as just pro wrestling things, which respects the fans. Even better, it’s clear what MJF has described as “the bidding war of 2024” will still very much take center stage in this feud now that Khan has agreed not to force a contract extension.

Meaning, where AEW’s main-event scene goes from here might be the most captivating thing in pro wrestling today. There’s no better pairing of mic workers and storytellers, for one. And two, we’ve got MJF working with Stokely Hathaway, which if nothing else, could perhaps give Wardlow something interesting to do after MJF’s real-world drama appeared to derail his push.

And if there’s one thing AEW has been very, very good at so far, it’s those long-term storylines. The plight and rise of the homegrown “Hangman” Adam Page remains the top example. This new saga about to unfold takes a veteran Punk who sees a younger version of himself in MJF and lets it simmer. And the challenger for the title, while a pillar of AEW itself, is only 26 years old and an actual generational free agent in the industry. Rest assured WWE would trip over itself to add him—any promotion would at any cost. And just remember, nothing’s impossible after Cody Rhodes went back.

None of this is to say the journey here was perfect. The strange injury angle a few weeks ago where Punk lost to Moxley in a matter of seconds remains an odd decision. Punk came back a week later and had a weird pick-me-up interaction.

Narrative-wise, it was impossible to imagine Punk would lose again, especially in Chicago. The match was fine, with Moxley impressively getting his own chants in Punk’s hometown, of all places and times. We’re also going to have to talk about the fact both Moxley and then MJF got chants there, which could always eventually be cause for Punk to be the one who works the heel role if fans side with MJF’s plight against the machine itself.

But more importantly, AEW ducked that mentioned narrative issue and avoided cliche things like MJF simply interfering in the main event itself.

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The result is a very critical course correction for AEW at the most important of times with WWE suddenly on the rise with Triple H head of creative.

Just like at the start of the summer when this feud was clearly the play, AEW has a potentially all-timer of a feud on its hands given the performers and depth of the storyline potential.

In a way, the name of the event—All Out—is perfectly fitting. AEW course-corrected with the groundwork laid here for Punk-MJF and it doubles as a chance to elevate the company to previously unseen heights.

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.

The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.

The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.

Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.

The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.

But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.

Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.

“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”

It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.

Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.

The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”

“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”

The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.

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“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”

He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.

“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”

The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.

“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.

Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.

“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.

Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.

Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.

The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.

The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.

Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.

“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.

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The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.

Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”

Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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