Signs slightly point to CM Punk’s time with WWE ending this July, after a remarkable nine-year run of employment that saw ‘The Second City Saint’ break ceiling after ceiling on the way up. Whether it’s the end or not, here’s a catalog of Punk’s greatest WWE hits.
20. CM PUNK VS. REY MYSTERIO (4/25/10)
Punk’s savior-ish locks were at stake against a Mysterio too heroic to swear off drugs and alcohol (that’s what the story claimed, probably inadvertently). Teetotaling Messiah Punk spared his hair for another month, thanks to interference from now-bald Joey Mercury, furthering the soon-to-be-doomed Straight Edge Society. Cultish Punk vs. Bray Wyatt would be mindbendingly fun.
19. CM PUNK VS. ALBERTO DEL RIO, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (11/20/11)
Knowing the pulse of the moment, Punk cued a tearfully-touched Howard Finkel to be his personal ring announcer before the Madison Square Garden faithful. Even though Michael Cole tried trampling the scene, there was no silencing Punk’s victory via Anaconda Vise, the equivalent of a corporate ‘my bad’ after the Summer of Punk went horribly awry.
18. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (4/29/12)
The depth of each man’s appreciation for wrestling history showed as both were plain-clothed for their highly-personal street fight, with Jericho presumably playing Tully Blanchard. Kendo stick shots and a fire extinguisher were the order of the day, as the particular nature of the feud even saw Punk’s sister smack Y2J. As usual, Jericho puts over the guy velcro’d to the rocket.
17. CM PUNK IN MONEY IN THE BANK (3/30/08)
Months after losing the ECW Championship to rudderless hanger-on Chavo Guerrero, Punk would be awarded his first of two golden-ticket briefcases in grand WrestleMania fashion. The agile antics of John Morrison and Shelton Benjamin put this on the high end of WWE’s ladder spectacles, which later culminated with Punk cashing in on a dazed-and-confused Edge.
16. CM PUNK VS. JOHN MORRISON, ECW CHAMPIONSHIP (9/1/07)
Among the few youthful WWE reinforcements that fit into the ECW motif, Punk and Morrison were given 20 minutes to tell an athletic tale, though the ending wasn’t in doubt, thanks to Morrison’s appearance on a pharmacy clients’ list. Morrison’s 30-day suspension was to drug-free Punk’s benefit, giving the cult darling his first piece of Stamford gold.
15. CM PUNK VS. ALBERTO DEL RIO AND THE MIZ, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (12/18/11)
The internet strikes back! TLC 2011 reads like fan-fiction in hindsight, on a night where Zack Ryder became US Champion, and Daniel Bryan cashed in to claim the other World title. Punk retained his to cap off this unlikely planetary alignment, besting Del Rio and Miz in a splendid TLC match sadly forgotten and buried in yesterday.
14. CM PUNK VS. DANIEL BRYAN, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (7/15/12)
Hard for these two to have a bad outing, even with the spotlight tilted at increasingly-unhinged referee AJ Lee, whose character has blissfully existed among ‘vague’ for much of the last few years. More an exercise in the referee’s sadistic desires, Punk and Bryan went to town in this No DQ match, which Punk ended with a back superplex through a table.
13. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (4/1/12)
After Jericho accused every Punk family member of some sort of illicit habit (stopping just shy of outing his childhood dog as a Soviet spy), Punk lit into Jericho at WrestleMania, toes barely behind the disqualification line. Driven by classic hate, Punk forced Jericho to submit to the Vise though, because money exists, the feud had to continue.
12. CM PUNK VS. CHRIS JERICHO (6/16/13)
Much like Jim Ross trottings-out in Sooner State venues (though he’s usually needlessly humbled), Punk and Chicago are a winning combo, thus Payback was ideal for his return from two months on the sidelines. With no sinister-fiend angle at play, the two internet faves engaged in simple one-upsmanship, their best match against each other. Two GTS’s would finish.
11. CM PUNK IN MONEY IN THE BANK (4/1/07)
Punk’s first footsteps into wrestling’s grandest stage were accompanied by those of seven other men, custom for late-aught upper midcarders whose lack of feuds were remedied by ladders and a briefcase. Punk ended up ‘runner-up’ in the breathtaking car-wreck, the last man to really challenge for the briefcase before Mr. Kennedy, eventual winner, harpooned him with a ladder.
10. CM PUNK VS. JEFF HARDY, WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP (8/23/09)
Hard to believe we’re coming up on five years since Hardy’s WWE exit, and subsequent arrest that would helped spelled the end of anyone less sui generis. Punk helped him pack his bags after this, Hardy’s penultimate WWE bout, a TLC match where Punk regained the gold. The focus immediately transitioned to a returning Undertaker, who throttled Punk right after.
9. CM PUNK VS. THE UNDERTAKER (4/7/13)
Speak of the (red) devil. One of Undertaker’s greatest streak matches, and his best not involving a Kliq-ie, the epic was barely even dented by the inessential inclusion of the late Paul Bearer. Punk’s ability to inject humor into serious proceedings (i.e. his horror at the zombie-sit-up, with Taker snared in the Vise) has enabled him to stand out from the pack.
8. CM PUNK IN MONEY IN THE BANK (7/14/13)
One of the best Money in the Bank matches to date was augmented by the ‘out’ that prevented Punk’s victory: Paul Heyman’s double-cross, which paved the highway to Brock Lesnar, and subsequent pit-stops a the rundown Rybaxel Strip Mall. Randy Orton’s victory was the centerpiece, leading only somewhat directly to the current Punk/Bryan-backer-led ‘Occupy Raw Street’.
7. CM PUNK VS. DOLPH ZIGGLER, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (11/21/11)
One night after beginning the second-fiddle stretch reign as WWE Champion, Punk was steered into a match with a hoisted Ziggler, earning much accolades at the time as one of the best free TV matches many had seen. Much better than their Royal Rumble 2012 match (which narrowly missed this list’s cut) and certainly worth searching out.
6. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP UNIFICATION (8/14/11)
The Summer of Punk suddenly blew up at drag-race speed, hitting the wall and shattering like Kevin Nash’s patella on squat number one. This match was a jewel among the salvage, even if the specter of Triple H’s ‘will he won’t he turn?’ hung wafting over the contest. A worthwhile sequel to greatness ahead on this chart.
5. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (9/16/12)
Punk’s heel turn was about as welcome as Cousin Eddie at the Griswold’s, but without the belly-laughs. It’s a broken record in Punk’s case for one to say, ‘the match was great in spite of the angle’, and this is one of the finer examples. Those who say Cena can’t wrestle, he held up his end here stronger than Punk’s best carry job could have done.
4. CM PUNK VS. DANIEL BRYAN, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (5/20/12)
Hefty consolation for the bass-ackward WrestleMania showing, Bryan was in good hands with Punk, who’d be determined to prove his friend’s worth to the willfully blind. Though it’d take a 2014 fan coup for that worth to begin to stick, the match was as rec-center-rock-solid a WWE Championship match as we’ve seen, even with the abrupt ending.
3. CM PUNK VS. BROCK LESNAR (8/18/13)
Lesnar’s greatest WWE showing took place nine years after he’d sworn the company off in favor of a blocking sled. A ratcheted-up remake of the Sting/Vader David vs. Goliath struggles of yore, Lesnar’s brute arrogance and Punk’s determined heroism were a potent brew, though we’re sadly robbed of a likely rematch. This one far exceeded expectations.
2. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA (2/25/13)
There wasn’t a chance WWE would deviate from its road toward Cena-Rock II, so Punk had little chance of going over with Cena’s title shot on the line. Still, 25 minutes to close out Raw is enough time for these two, especially without hindrance from a tacked-on angle, to pull off a classic. Behind only Cena/Shawn’s hour classic on the list of greatest Raw matches.
1. CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA, WWE CHAMPIONSHIP (7/17/11)
There could be no other. The scorching Chicago crowd with Colt Cabana (how ya doing?) and Punk’s family ringside, paying off three weeks of the firebrand’s most unwaveringly acidic speeches. The fact that Cena lost about as clean as he’ll ever lose only made the moment sweeter, Punk’s unquestionable apex as a WWE star, and possibly the best WWE match of this millennium.
Originally published January 31, 2014
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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