Few men have been able to have high profile matches with as many varied talents as CM Punk has. From John Cena to Colt Cabana. From Samoa Joe to The Undertaker, and even the late great Eddie Guerrero.
CM Punk has stared across the ropes at some of the best talent the world of professional wrestling has seen in the last decade.
The past two years he has taken his professional wrestling personality to a new level. In doing so he has, and I believe many will agree with me, made himself one of the most iconic WWE performers of the modern era.
Fans of the future will look back and see Punk as one of the WWE’s greatest personalities of this time period. The same way we now look back on the 1980s and superstars like Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, and their contemporaries. Punk has cemented his name in WWE history forever.
It was not easy though, the young straight edge aspiring pro wrestler spent years working his ass off on the independent scene. Even after he made his debut in WWE’s revamped version of ECW he still spent the first three years thinking he could be released at any time.
CM Punk, real name Phil Brooks, did persevere through an up-and-down career and in that time has worked some of the best angles and matches I can ever recall seeing.
In the fifth edition of the Pro Wrestling Countdown we will be looking at ten of his greatest matches in celebration of a career not yet complete.
CM PUNK VS. JOHN MORRISON (ECW, SEPTEMBER 2007)
Punk has gone on record saying his matches with John Morrison were quote: “dog shit.” However, he did admit he was very proud of the final match in the series. The match was the blow off match and it occurred abruptly on ECW in order to get the ECW World Championship onto CM Punk. It was hyped up as Punk’s last chance to win the ECW Championship.
The “Second City Saint” had already been in the WWE for over a year when he faced John Morrison on this night and made some pretty big waves in the WWE. The biggest probably being getting a larger ovation than both D-Generation X and the Hardy Boyz at his pay-per-view debut, the 2006 Survivor Series.
It took CM Punk awhile to adapt his wrestling to a more, as it is called, “WWE style.” I’ve discussed this before, but sometimes two men enter a ring and just have chemistry with one another that is out of this world, but other times the two men/women will have to wrestle one countless times to develop any chemistry in the ring.
This is the earliest CM Punk match from the WWE that I have to talk about in this edition of the Countdown, and I think it is a glimpse of him really starting to polish his work into something that allowed him to better fit among the WWE’s style.
Between these two young up and coming talents they had a really exciting television match that went un-watched by many.
CM Punk probably still felt largely out of place in the WWE in 2007, but this match is a small example of what he would go on to accomplish.
The ECW World Championship would be the first of many championships that CM Punk would go no to win in his WWE career. Punk raised the title into the air as the thunderous ECW crowd practiced chanting his name.
10. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO (EXTREME RULES 2012)
Here we have one dream feud that really did not translate well to television. These two men should have had amazing promo duels and some really heated physical exchanges, but for whatever reason many of their encounters felt underwhelming.
Looking back, I had my hopes too high. Jericho and Punk worked their asses off to have matches that lived up to fans expectations. However, most some of their matches just did not click. They were good, but something felt like it was missing. Their chemistry seemed off, but their match at Extreme Rules I think is the exception to this sobering fact.
With a bit of an assist from a stipulation, Jericho and Punk put on a barn burning expose of brutality.
The Chicago Street Fight featured some really unique use of weaponry and some classic Jericho showboating as he tried his hardest to expose Punk as a fraud.
After using every thing in his index Jericho decide to add insult to the injury and finish Punk off with his own move, the Go To Sleep. As often happens, this did not pay off as Punk countered into the true version of the Go To Sleep and chalked up another victory as WWE Champion.
While Jericho and Punk did not seem to have the best chemistry in the ring they both still managed, due to their excellent proficiency, to pull off fun entertaining matches.
Neither man are known for being the most naturally athletic performers, but they managed to work around that really well by having this brawl be the blow-off to their story.
Jericho was the first man that truly legitimized Punk’s now historic reign as WWE Champion.
Later in 2013 Jericho and Punk would have a notable match on Monday Night Raw and a match, again in Chicago, at WWE Payback. Both of which were much better than what they produced in this 2012 rivalry.
9. CM PUNK VS. COLT CABANA (PUNK: THE FINAL CHAPTER)
There are few performers who ooze more entertainment than Chris Jericho and The Rock.
In his final match as a member of the Ring of Honor roster, CM Punk wrestled his best friend, Colt Cabana, to celebrate all he had accomplished in ROH. Punk, who had been a pivotal performer on the roster had a WWE contract waiting for him since May of 2005 and this was his goodbye to the company that established him as one of the greatest talents on the independent wrestling scene.
A teary eyed Punk made his way down to the ring as the fans chanted his name to wrestle one last match. A Two out of Three Falls match. The two Illinois natives obeyed the Code of Honor and shook hands and even hugged before their final match.
The former ROH Tag Team champions began the contest with a few back and forth wrist locks and some campy comedy bits that felt appropriate amidst the celebration.
The jokes and campy segments would typically work against a matches ranking, but here it fits so well. This was not a part of tense or pivotal engaging storyline. It was a farewell to a friend and performer who had worked his ass off to better the company.
Punk yells at Cabana to “be serious” and Cabana responded by stomping on the toes of the “Second City Saint.” Punk responded by hitting the Colt .45 and gaining the first pin fall of the contest.
CM Punk takes control from there and began to wear down his best friend. Cabana hit a sickening lariat and gets a quick three count before Punk could even realize what happened.
The two stared one another down as they realized they were one fall away from officially closing the book on Punk’s time in the Ring of Honor. Both guys really turned up the action and put all their effort into making the final fall feel emphatic.
To the shock of all the Chicago fans, Cabana defeated his best friend with a roll up, ending his ROH career with a defeat. Punk and Cabana hug it out in the center of the ring once more as the devote fans chant Punk’s name.
The locker room emptied and the performers take a knee to Punk, but Punk refused to have anyone kneel to him. Punk thanked the fans and the crowd gave him one final “CM Punk” chant to close his last independent show.
Almost a year later, CM Punk would make his WWE television debut on ECW.
8. CM PUNK VS. DOLPH ZIGGLER (WWE RAW, NOVEMBER 2011)
This match took place just 24 hours after CM Punk began what would go on to be his 434 day reign as the WWE Champion.
Punk and Ziggler have had many matches, including one for the WWE Championship at the 2012 Royal Rumble, but their match on Raw in November of 2011 was really just about the best television match I’ve seen Punk in. Emphasis on “just about.”
In the opening moments Ziggler and Punk started the pace slow with basic submission holds and running the ropes around each other with both men teasing big moves. After existing the ring to consult Vickie Guerrero and regain his composure Ziggler reentered the ring and take control of the contest.
The United States Champion remained in control through the first commercial break continuing to wear down Punk.
“The Best in the World,” as the Hersey, Pennsylvania crowd chanted, came back and managed a flurry of offense of “The Showoff” and just like that the control of the contest shifted. No longer being the aggressorZiggler began to resort to unhanded tactics to try and steal a victory over the WWE Champion.
Ziggler, who often states that he steals the show, stole the momentum back and remained in control for a majority of the rest of the match.
With blood dripping from his mouth Punk reversed Ziggler’s Fame Asser into the Go To Sleep for his first victory as the reigning WWE Champion. It would be the first of many more victories to come in the next 14 months.
Ziggler and Punk were blessed with a hot crowd and given a healthy amount of time to display their ring proficiency. This is one of my personal favorite matches from Punk.
7. CM PUNK VS. THE UNDERTAKER (WRESTLEMANIA XXIX)
Their matches in the past have been decent, but were never very memorable. My opinion is, that Punk gave Undertaker his greatest WrestleMania match outside of the two classics at WrestleMania 25 and 26. Whatever your opinion is you have to give it up to Punk for creating a reason to care about WrestleMania 29.
Not bad for two men reported to have been working very hurt going into this year’s “Show of Shows.”
While I would have preferred the story leading into the match to not have revolved around the real life death of Paul Bearer, it did turn out to be a fitting tribute to his legacy.
Flanked by his close associate, Paul Heyman, CM Punk made his way into MetLife Stadium in possession of The Undertaker’s urn. It was Undertaker’s intentions to take it back.
Many believed that his 20th WrestleMania match could have and/or should have been his last.
With the match we were given, and his matches with the Shield on Monday Night Raw and Smackdown, I think he showed he still has a few bumps left in him.
Undertaker and Punk had the match everyone wanted them to have.
Long two counts, top rope suicide dives, near count-outs, referee bumps, and multiple finishing maneuvers back-and-forth. It didn’t break much new ground in terms of originality, but Punk highlighted everything that is good about an Undertaker match.
Undertaker may be 48 years old, but even with all the surgeries and wear and tear on his body the man can still pop the biggest wrestling crowd of the year like no one else can.
The match ended with Undertaker coming out victorious in his unprecedented 21st WrestleMania appearance with a Tombstone Piledriver.
CM Punk can take solace in knowing that, even though this may not have been the match he wanted to have at WrestleMania, he still gave the fans the absolute best match he could. This has already become one of my favorite Undertaker matches from his vast catalog.
6. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA (WWE RAW, FEBRUARY 2013)
It is just damn near impossible to deny that CM Punk has not had some of the best matches of his career in the last few years of his WWE career and this is another example of that.
John Cena has had many iconic rivalries as the face of the WWE. Edge, Randy Orton, Triple H, The Rock, and Shawn Michaels all number among those who have had iconic matches with the 13-time World Champion.
However, most recently, John Cena has had a long and winding, on-again-off-again, rivalry with CM Punk. Punk and Cena were considered by many as the top draws in the WWE.
While all of that is good, what really made their rivalries special was that few men in the WWE locker room can tell a story in the ring better than Cena and Punk. They both get criticism for this or that, but for my money there is no two men better on the WWE roster. They both took so much pride in delivering to the fans an exemplary show.
This match was CM Punk’s last opportunity to walk into WrestleMania and be in the WWE Championship match. Cena, the Royal Rumble winner, put up his guaranteed WrestleMania match to prove to himself and to the fans that he could beat “The Best in the World.”
Through their unforgiving cavalcade of finishing maneuvers Punk and Cena managed to put the best Monday Night Raw match I have seen in years. Even the dreaded Bret Hart-like piledriver could not put John Cena away for a three count. John Cena even did a hurricanrana for crying out loud.
Cena was finally able to shake the monkey from his back and pin the man who had eluded defeat for so long.
These two always manage to have fantastic match with one another. This display is among their very best.
5. CM PUNK VS. REY MYSTERIO (EXTREME RULES 2010)
I’ve seen all of the matches between these two, and all of them are uniquely great in their own way, but I don’t think any were as entertaining as their match at Extreme Rules in 2010.
At this time Punk was fully drenched in his crazed straight edge philanthropic gimmick. While Punk’s Straight Edge Society never really took off, his Charles Manson like cult leader gimmick is one of my all time favorites. This match occurred in the waning days of the Straight Edge Society, Punk’s cult-like stable. If CM Punk lost this match he was to have his head shaved.
For a majority of this match Punk remained in control of Mysterio using his size and his followers, Luke Gallows and Serena, to his advantage. The “Straight Edge Savior” even used a submission maneuver invented by Gory Guerrero, father of Eddie Guerrero, on the much smaller Rey.
Punk and Mysterio are both well documented for often paying homage to Eddie Guerrero and even CM Punk wrestled him a few times on the independent scene.
This to me, was a very subtle tribute from two men who had immense respect for “Latino Heat.”
Every chance, the veteran, Mysterio had to gain control of the match his efforts were trumped by the sadistic and almost reckless offense of Punk. It all played perfectly into the story of CM Punk wanting to “save” Mysterio.
Serena and Gallows’s involvement cost them eventually as the official caught the duo aiding their leader and were thrown out from the ringside area. Punk, distracted by the loss of his insurance policy, allowed the “Ultimate Underdog” to finally take control of the match.
After the departure of the S.E.S. the submission holds stopped. It was the ninth inning and both men went all in with every big move they had in their hat. After several near falls a masked man appeared from under the ring and slide a chair into the ring. The official saw the chair and removed it, but while he was attending to that the masked man attacked the prone Rey Mysterio before disappearing under the ring.
Punk, and his maniacal smile, slide Mysterio back into the ring for his victory after a GTS. Punk and Mysterio stole the show that night in Baltimore, and finally got some time to work after a disappointingly lacking WrestleMania match the month prior.
The “Straight Edge Masai” moniker is one of my favorite gimmicks of the past decade and it really was the catalyst for Punk’s slow accent into true main event status. This match was one of the highlights of this era of Punk’s career.
4. CM PUNK VS. SAMOA JOE (JOE VS. PUNK II)
Before Samoa Joe went on an 18 month undefeated streak in TNA and before CM Punk became the longest reigning WWE Champion in 25 years, both these men were making waves in the fledgling wrestling promotion; Ring of Honor.
Punk and Joe wrestled an hour long epic.
I have to say that the first 20 minutes of the contest moved a tad too slow, and had a few cliche moments that made me cringe. I can’t fault them though. They had 60 minutes to fill. That is seriously the only nit-pick I had with this match.
This showed off the more technical-mat based style of Punk’s arsenal aside from the brawler we’ve come to know in the WWE.
Covering a play-by-play of this for the Countdown would be ridiculous, but if you’ve never watched Punk or Joe’s matches on the independent scene you should really look this up. Both men utilize some really interesting, and painful looking, submission holds as well as using moves they seemingly stopped preforming once they reached WWE and TNA respectively.
This, for me, is the equivalent of looking back fondly at an old high school year book. They may not have been as polished in the ring, but the young stars had the same amount, if not more, drive to produce an entertaining match for the fans.
Over 45 minutes into the match, with the fans chatting “R-O-H” over the rustling of their boots hitting the canvas, Punk and Samoa Joe continued to throw every punch, kick, jab, lock, and hold they had left in them to try and finish as the victor.
Punk looked longingly at the ROH World Championship after the 60 minute time limit had expired and once again neither man had been able to best the other.
A year later Samoa Joe would begin to make a bigger name for himself in TNA while also putting the company on the map with the rest of its iconic X-Division.
While Joe was experiencing success in TNA, CM Punk would be gearing up for a long battle up the food chain in the WWE. A food chain he is now near the top of.
3. CM PUNK VS. JEFF HARDY (SUMMERSLAM 2009)
This time in Punk’s WWE career was really when he showed his ability to get a reaction from the crowd. Punk had been a babyface for the first three years of his WWE run and he had very nearly reached a road block. In 2009 we finally got a glimpse of the wonderful thing’s CM Punk could do with a microphone as a heel.
Who better to be the first person to take on the smug self-righteously straight edge superstar than the often controversial Jeff Hardy?
The action here is awesome. Hardy plays up his recklessness which is a metaphor for his lifestyle, and Punk is the more conservative fighter which is a parallel to his real conservative lifestyle which excludes alcohol and drugs.
While this is not the perfect match I think the “Straight Edge Superstar” gave Hardy the best match of his career and a proper sendoff befitting of the “Charismatic Enigma.”
After a Swanton Bomb that could rival his legendary dives from WrestleMania 2000 and X-Seven, Jeff Hardy just couldn’t muster the strength to keep going.
Standing atop the ladder together one last time Punk quite literally kicked Hardy of the top of his perch and out of the WWE.
Punk and Hardy had several noteworthy matches on pay-per-view and WWE Smackdown!, but this was Hardy’s swan song. It was also their most inspired match, and gave Hardy a befitting ending and Punk, an appropriate beginning.
2. CM PUNK VS. DANIEL BRYAN (OVER THE LIMIT 2012)
I would like to first say that I know I probably could have filled half of this entire Countdown with matches between Punk and Bryan, but I am picking this match in favor of all the others.
I often make fun of this match for being the Internet fan’s wet dream match in the WWE, but they have a point. This match was probably my personal match of the year from 2012.
As the commentary team touched on in the opening moments, the story of these two performers is really incredible. Two guys who used to wrestle in gymnasiums in front of no more than 300 people managed, through constant motivation and perseverance, to climb to the top of the biggest wrestling company in the world.
The opening moments featured back-and-forth action between the two former Indy darlings highlighted by the dueling “lets go Bryan” “CM Punk” chants from the Raleigh, North Carolina crowd.
After delivering several kicks to his thighs, Punk began to work over the legs of his challenger. The WWE Champion latched in several leg-centered submission based holds Bryan, who is more typically the man you’d expect to see grounding his opponent.
Bryan found an opening and created some separation between himself and Punk, and got his first steady offense of the match. Bryan continued to sell his leg injury brilliantly as the match progressed and gave Punk something to center his offense on, which is A+ ring psychology, kids.
Somewhere William Regal was smiling.
Punk and Bryan continued to trade control of the match with Punk working on Bryan’s legs and Bryan working on the torso/ribs of the champion.
A frustrated Bryan was unable to get a three count and began to kick Punk. Punk caught his leg and locked in a figure four leg lock. The two competitors then proceed to slap one another in the face repeatedly in what was one of the most hilarious spots of the match.
CM Punk and Daniel Bryan once used to represent everything that the “WWE Style” was not, but over the years they have modified their styles to truly exemplify it. Punk and Bryan understand how to craft a smart, well paced, entertaining match. What more does a professional wrestling fan need?
Near the end both Punk and Bryan were barely unable to stand and were still trying to take the other out. Punk hits the knee lift in the corner and goes for the bulldog, but Bryan turns him around into the Yes Lock. With his injured ribs Punk could not make it to the bottom rope, but Punk manages to turn Bryan over to barely get a three count.
This was just a treat for all the WWE fans who watched both Punk and Bryan start from the very bottom, and struggle to get over in the WWE. They both made it, despite their “indy stink,” and now no one can deny their talent and skill. This is one of the best WWE Championship matches in years. Seek it out if you’ve missed it.
1. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA (MONEY IN THE BANK 2011)
“I’m tired of this. I’m tired of you. I’m just tired. So ladies and gentlemen of the WWE Universe, Vince, John, Sunday night, say goodbye to the WWE Title, say goodbye to John Cena, and say goodbye to CM Punk! I’ll go be the best in the world somewhere else.” – CM Punk, WWE Raw July 11th 2011.
This has to be one of the most historically prominent WWE championship matches to ever take place in the WWE outside of their premiere event, WrestleMania.
I think most would agree that if CM Punk’s promo on Monday Night Raw was his career defining moment than this will be the match that defines his career.
At Money in the Bank the Chicago made Punk returned to his hometown to have one final match as a member of the WWE roster. This match was against the WWE Champion, John Cena. Cena, the wholesome company staple versus CM Punk, the former king of independent wrestling.
Punk entered his old stomping grounds to one of the most resonating ovations of his career and sat in the middle of the ring waiting for the WWE Champion as his fellow Chicago natives chanted the name of their hometown hero- “CM Punk.”
The champion started the pace of the match slow locking in basic submission holds as both men attempted to feel out their opponent. “The Voice of the Voiceless” CM Punk gained some ground as the match progressed and both men began to jockey for the momentum. The fans responded as the match swung between Punk and Cena with cheers and boos respectably.
Punk went for a cross body on Cena, and it appeared that Cena’s knee was tweaked on the landing. The pain in the Cenation leaders leg still did not equal the pressure Cena felt as Punk began to gain more control of the match. If John Cena could not retain his title, Vince McMahon’s title, the WWE’s title, he was to be fired by the Chairman of the WWE himself.
The control of the match once again shifted to the center as both men entered the desperation state of trying to finish one another with their signature maneuvers.
The Attitude Adjustment. The Go to Sleep. The STF. The Anaconda Vice. Neither man could finish the other.
CM Punk and John Cena were locked in a crippling stale mate in the Allstate Arena.
The catalyst which broke the stale mate was Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis. Determined to keep the WWE Championship in the WWE, McMahon was going to ensure that Cena remained WWE Champion. The proud Cena refused to take an unfair victory and knocked-out out the Vice President of Talent Relations before the bell could be sounded.
This distraction gave Punk and opening for on more Go to Sleep and a three count, finally, for the victory. The crowd exploded.
John Cena, Mr. McMahon, John Laurinaitus, and even the Money in the Bank winner, Alberto Del Rio could not deny CM Punk.
The new WWE Champion made off like a bandit through the sea of his hometown fans, but not before he blew a goodbye kiss to Vince McMahon and the WWE. The importance and significance of this match speaks for itself as dose the quality of the work both men did in the ring.