2013 was certainly an odd year for CM Punk; gone were his from-the-heart bitter ravings, as well as the flurry of momentum that catapulted him into stardom in 2011. This year, Punk was both a heavily-cheered heel, and hasty babyface that warred with Paul Heyman’s goons.
In spite of the odd use of him throughout the year, Punk’s quality of work didn’t decline. In fact, “The Second City Saint” had some of the greatest matches of his career in 2013.
Any Punk fan that felt their man had a sliver of hope of retaining his long-held WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble would’ve been insane to think Punk was regaining it here. Still, heroic Rock against antagonistic Punk is a good dynamic, and even though Rock was clearly ailing with cardio issues as the match went on, it was still highly enjoyable.
There were some slow spots with the chinlocks to compensate for Rock being gassed (as Bob Holly said, no workout prepares you for the rigors of the ring). Rock’s win wasn’t clean, as Punk had him pinned after a ref bump, so to complainers, at least Punk got an out. It also led to a true classic, which will appear much later in this list.
9. CM PUNK VS. DEAN AMBROSE (WWE Monday Night Raw, December 9)
From the latter portion of the year, where Punk and Bryan were placed into meandering feuds with The Shield and The Wyatt Family while Big Show and John Cena worked out their mileage with The Authority. For a TV viewer, hard to find fault with Punk working with the likes of Ambrose, whose unhinged tics mesh well with skilled opponents.
The match was a stepping stone toward Punk’s three-on-one handicap match against the entire Shield at TLC, but they were allotted nearly 20 minutes, so the expected fun match developed. The main story was Ambrose, after injuring Punk’s rubs, telling his Shield-mates he could do it without their help, and cast them out. Punk’s GTS finished moments later.
8. CM PUNK/DANIEL BRYAN/THE USOS/CODY RHODES/GOLDUST VS. THE SHIELD/THE WYATT FAMILY (WWE Monday Night Raw, November 18)
This one was covered in my Daniel Bryan Top Ten, so I’ll give essentially the same write-up, as it covered the bases of both Punk and Bryan. This twelve-man fracas the week before Survivor Series proved the depth of WWE’s roster with a tremendous blend of science, brawling, and WWE-style heat-garnering spread over 26 minutes.
Bryan and Punk were in the midst of their sidetrack feud with The Wyatts (which produced a number of solid TV matches with Bryan against Luke Harper and Erick Rowan). As expected, the match degenerated into a frenetic brawl, with Bryan, Punk, and Rhodes laying out the Shield in succession, culminating in Punk pinning Dean Ambrose with the GTS.
7. CM PUNK VS. THE ROCK (WWE Royal Rumble, January 27)
A sore spot for many, but you can’t argue the company’s cynicism; they’ll always take the easier money than build whatever uncertain vision of tomorrow that groups of fans have. A good match was needed to pay off Punk’s ill-fitting, ham-handed heel turn, especially if his 434-day WWE Championship reign was going to end. It did a good-enough job (literally).
What could have been the best spot of the match, a GTS-Rock Bottom reversal sequence on the announce desk, failed as the table gave way. The dual ending, with Punk “winning” after lights out interference from The Shield, only to have Vince’s music hit, felt like a classic PPV ending, which is better than the usual dullness of today. And yeah, Rock won, of course.
6. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO (WWE Monday Night Raw, February 4)
Eight days after dropping the WWE Title to The Rock at the Rumble, Punk had to rebuild himself a bit headed into the lame duck rematch three weeks later. Enter the freshly returned Jericho, who is seemingly incapable of a bad match (despite what his own books will claim), and has no problem laying down for anyone.
What made this match even better were the nuclear fan reactions. Aside from Brock Lesnar mauling The Miz earlier in the night, the Atlanta crowd was oddly subdued. Both men got hero’s welcomes, and they repaid the love with their usual brilliance. The final reversal sequence had Punk barely escaping the Walls, and ending with the GTS. Just great stuff.
5. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO (WWE Payback, June 16)
An odd match for Punk to return on, following a two-month, post-WrestleMania hiatus. On the one hand, Payback took place in Chicago, so you’d want the native son out to to throw gas on an already fiery crowd. On the other, he and Jericho had no reason to feud, other than Jericho unearthing the “Best in the World” challenge once more.
Still, who can complain about these two? Even better was that the match was unfettered by the “your dad was a drunk” nonsense from the previous year. The finish, with Punk GTS’ing Jericho into the corner, and catching him on the rebound with another dose of knee, was a nice touch. Punk would then embark on a face turn, paired up with another part-timer.
4. CM PUNK VS. THE UNDERTAKER (WWE WrestleMania XXIX, April 7)
Let’s get this out in the open, and just say that the build was incredibly stupid. William Moody, the man behind Paul Bearer, dies, so Punk uses the death to get at Bearer’s most famous charge, the Undertaker. That same Undertaker who once encased Bearer in a concrete block. Hey, nobody said wrestling HAD to be consistent. In fact, it rarely is.
As for the match, it was the best of the show, an average WrestleMania all in all. It was foolish to think Punk would break the streak (especially if Trips couldn’t do it in three tries), but the story was fun, with Punk’s mockery getting Undertaker’s brand of hellish comeuppance. The image of ‘Taker sitting up in the Anaconda Vice is an indelible one.
3. CM PUNK VS. DANIEL BRYAN VS. RANDY ORTON VS. ROB VAN DAM VS. CHRISTIAN VS. SHEAMUS (WWE Money in the Bank, July 14)
Already covered this as well in the Bryan piece, but I’ll modify some of the narrative. Dubbed the “All Star Money in the Bank Ladder Match”, six prior World titleholders went out in Philadelphia, and stole the show in the evening finale. You usually can’t go wrong with nearly a half hour of breathtaking spots and flawless action, no matter who ends up winning.
Van Dam made his grand return at the show, and hit his usual spots, including the ladder Five Star on Christian. Sheamus messed up his leg pretty bad, heaped on top of a very negative crowd reaction for him. Punk’s takeaway was Heyman turning on him, because there’s no way Paul E. Dangerously can exist as a babyface. Hey, it led to this match coming up.
2. CM PUNK VS. BROCK LESNAR (WWE SummerSlam, August 18)
After Lesnar and Cena strung together a hellaciously-fun match at Extreme Rules the previous year, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion competed in three dull matches with Triple H. By the time he and Punk were placed into this match, some of Brock’s box-office magic had faded, and count me among the group that didn’t know if he had another epic in him.
1. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA (WWE Monday Night Raw, February 25)
If a Cena hater was forced to write an epitaph for Cena that HAD to be positive, a phrase to use would be, “CM Punk’s Greatest Opponent.” From the time their true feud began in the summer of 2011, Punk and Cena have given each other each man’s best matches. A shot at The Rock at WrestleMania was at stake. The result wasn’t in doubt, but it didn’t matter.
It ended up being perhaps the greatest match in Raw history, depending on how you feel about Cena’s London match with Shawn Michaels. The near-fall sequences had even jaded fans believing Punk would unthinkably win. Cena proved to be more than a five-move wonder, busting out the hands-free rana, and capped off this epic encounter.