KC in the Afternoon

KC in the Afternoon

His past is filled with checkered moments, but love him or hate him, CM Punk is back in the WWE.

This past Saturday was a night of shocks and surprises at WWE Survivor Series: Wargames. The in-ring action alone was a spectacle of destruction and mayhem, with both the men’s and women’s Wargames matches delivering in spades. But the moment that had everyone’s jaws on the floor came at the very end of the night, when CM Punk made his shocking return to WWE! With the Straight Edge Superstar back in the big leagues, let’s take a look at CM Punk’s biggest moments in WWE.

To wrestling fans around the world, the idea of CM Punk returning to the premier wrestling company after his abrupt departure nearly 10 years ago seemed impossible. Punk’s relationship with WWE over the past decade has been tumultuous to say the least, with many speculating that we would never see the controversial performer inside a WWE ring ever again.

But in the post-show press conference, WWE’s Chief Content Officer Triple H expressed excitement for Punk’s return, assuaging critics’ concerns that there was still bad blood between the two parties. “Everybody grows. Everybody changes,” Triple H said. “I’m a different person, he’s a different person, this is a different company. We’re all on the same even starting ground.”

Coming from Triple H, a longtime rival of CM Punk both in the ring and behind the scenes, that’s a major vote of confidence for the returning superstar. However, some still remain skeptical of this new signing. Punk is reported to be notoriously hard to work with – a reputation that has followed him from his first WWE run and, more recently, his two year stint in All Elite Wrestling (AEW).

Love CM Punk or hate him (and there’s plenty of reason for either extremes), nobody can deny CM Punk’s historic impact on WWE and the wrestling landscape as a whole. As outspoken and opinionated as he is talented, Punk has never been one to shy away from expressing himself, for better or worse.

I started watching wrestling when Punk was just starting his WWE tenure, and I was instantly a fan of his. In my opinion he had the most unique look of any performer at the time. He wasn’t the biggest or buffest guy in the company, but he carried himself with confidence and spoke with unmatched conviction, which resonated greatly with 12 year old KC.

While some wrestling fans may have soured on him over the years, I still leapt out of my seat when Cult Of Personality rang through the Allstate Arena on Saturday. So to celebrate his polarizing WWE return, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at all of CM Punk’s biggest, most controversial matches, promos and moments in WWE.

  • CM Punk's WWE Debut

     

    When Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was revived in 2006 under a new coat of WWE paint, it was clear to everyone with eyes that CM Punk was a perfect fit for the land of extreme. His punk rock aesthetic and no-nonsense promo style was like a breath of fresh air in a business that was, at the time, dominated by large muscle heads who mistook volume for talent on the mic.

    Punk’s in-ring debut only solidified the idea that he would flourish in the company’s third brand. His decisive victory over ECW veteran Justin Credible showcased Punk’s immense in-ring acumen, and laid the groundwork for what would become an incomparable career.

  • Back-To-Back Money In The Bank Winner

    CM Punk wins the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania XXIV

    CM Punk takes advantage of the situation in order to win the Money in the Bank Briefcase at WrestleMania 24.

     

    For the most part, winning a Money In The Bank match is as good as gold in WWE. The MITB contract ensures the winner a guaranteed championship match at literally anytime over the following year. With such high stakes literally hanging in the balance, many wrestlers do battle atop of ladders every year for the distinction.

    At WrestleMania 24, CM Punk beat six other competitors in a hellacious ladder match to become Mr. Money In The Bank. It was a moment that many thought wouldn’t happen. Money In The Bank has long been seen as a sign that WWE has confidence in that performer, and sees them as long-term main event level talent. As good as Punk was, it was hard to believe that WWE higher ups would have that much faith in him.

    As unlikely as Punk’s win was to many people, I don’t think anyone thought it would happen TWICE. But at WrestleMania 25 the following year, Punk recaptured lightning in a bottle and secured the MITB briefcase for an unprecedented 2nd year in a row.

  • Punk Cashes In

     

    The first of Punk’s Money In The Bank wins paid dividends for the Straight Edge Superstar in the summer of 2008. After a brutal beatdown at the hands of Batista, then World Heavyweight Champion Edge was laid out in a near-lifeless heap right in the middle of the ring.

    This gave Punk the perfect chance to cash in his guaranteed title match against the ultimate opportunist, securing the win with a quick and perfectly executed GTS. This win granted CM Punk his very first of what would be many world championship reigns over the course of his WWE career. Then there’s his 2nd cash in…

  • Punk Cashes In AGAIN

     

    You’d have been hard pressed to find a WWE fan who didn’t love it when CM Punk cashed in on Edge. After all, Edge was one of the most hated bad guys in the company at the time, and this moment felt like comeuppance for the Rated R Superstar after years of weaseling his way to championship gold.

    But when Punk cashed in on Jeff Hardy, a perennial favorite amongst the WWE Universe, in similar fashion the year after, fans were considerably less stoked. Known as the Charismatic Enigma, Jeff Hardy is one of the most endearing underdogs in wrestling history. Fans were clamoring for Hardy to win the Big Gold belt for years, and after a brutal ladder match against then-champion Edge, Hardy had finally achieved his dream. Just to have it snatched away just minutes later by Punk.

    This moment began to reveal shades of gray in the CM Punk ethos. In the weeks that followed the new champion argued that he was going to cash in right after that ladder match regardless of who won it. This sentiment, while understandable, wasn’t enough to assuage the disappointed fans who wanted to see Jeff get his time in the sun.

    Hardy and Punk would go on to trade wins over each other that summer, culminating in Punk’s first foray into full-blown villainy during his WWE tenure. This came in the form of…

  • The Straight Edge Society

     

    You’ve probably noticed me refer to Punk as the Straight Edge Superstar a few times now. For those unfamiliar with the term, to be straight edge means to live a lifestyle free from alcohol, tobacco, or drugs of any kind. It’s a lifestyle Punk adopted in early adolescence and maintains to this day. And for a while his straight edge methodology was portrayed in a positive light for his onscreen persona.

    But coming off the heels of a vicious feud with Jeff Hardy, Punk took on a more preachy and holier-than-thou approach to his drug-free message. Punk’s promos began to feel more like sermons, fueled by an extreme god complex and disdain for fans he felt were beneath him due to their perceived vices.

    This iteration of CM Punk reached total cult leader status when he began recruiting people who wanted to follow his straight edge ways. As part of their initiation, every new member was required to shave their head and pledge complete fealty to Punk in a ceremony that was equal parts uncomfortable and captivating.

    The Straight Edge Society, while relatively short-lived, provided Punk’s character with some much-needed edge (pun intended), and injected new life into the once beloved babyface.

  • The Pipebomb Promo

     

    This is perhaps the defining moment of CM Punk’s entire wrestling career. In a worked shoot style promo where real life frustrations and grievances were aired out, CM Punk went on a legendary tirade against WWE in what’s now known as the Pipebomb promo.

    In the summer of 2011, it was revealed that CM Punk’s WWE contract was coming to an end. At that time it was believed that Punk had no intentions to re-sign with the company due to his exhaustion with the company’s corporate structure. The uncertainty around his potential exit from the company was brought to the forefront of a storyline between Punk and then WWE Champion John Cena.

    With a live mic and seven minutes to vent, CM Punk sat cross-legged on the Raw stage and proceeded to deliver one of the most fiery and intense promos of all time. Fans in attendance and viewers at home couldn’t believe what they were seeing. This was a level of backstage drama seeping into the onscreen product not seen since the infamous Montreal Screwjob in 1997.

    Punk’s Pipebomb promo broke nearly every unspoken rule of WWE etiquette, such as calling out competing wrestling companies and invoking controversial former WWE stars like Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman by name. Before his mic was unceremoniously cut off, Punk managed to express one last final thought that the company would be in better hands after long-time WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s death.

    This promo shook the wrestling world to its very foundations, and for many it cemented Punk’s status as the Voice of the Voiceless, as well as one of the all time greatest mic workers and storytellers in wrestling history.

  • Punk Wins the WWE Championship

     

    Weeks after his infamous Pipebomb promo, Punk’s WWE contract status was still up in the air heading into his WWE Championship match at Money in the Bank. The controversial superstar had all the momentum in the world heading into the Allstate Arena that night. As a Chicago native, Punk had the home field advantage against the defending champion John Cena.

    The match was an intense back-and-forth between the two talented performers, and is still cited by many as one of the best matches from both men. But in the end, CM Punk defied the odds and defeated Cena to claim his first ever WWE Championship. With a dejected Vince McMahon looking on, Punk blew the Chairman a kiss goodbye and exited the arena with the company’s top championship in tow.

    As the story goes, Punk went into Money in the Bank still with every intention of leaving the company, and only decided to re-sign halfway through the event. As far as the fans were concerned, however, he was still set to make his final farewell that night, which made his victory that much more shocking.

  • WrestleMania: Punk vs. Phenom

     

    After losing the WWE Championship in January of 2013, CM Punk was looking for another way to make an impact at that year’s WrestleMania event. And what better way to do so than to end the Undertaker’s legendary undefeated WrestleMania streak?

    At the time, Taker had an unholy 20-0 record under his belt at the biggest show of the year. The Deadman had spent two decades vanquishing every challenger bold enough to step up to him on the grand stage of WrestleMania.

    But CM Punk was not one to be deterred from a challenge. In the build up to the show, Punk engaged in intense mind games with Undertaker. After the real life death of Taker’s longtime manager and friend Paul Bearer, Punk went to dark places in order to taunt the Phenom.

    Punk rubbed salt in the wound on the final Raw before ‘Mania when he ambushed Undertaker with his legendary urn, sprinkling ashes on him as a way to mock Taker’s fallen friend. It was a brazen show of disrespect that few had ever witnessed. But for Punk, it was a Monday.

    Ultimately these mind games would prove to be futile when Undertaker beat CM Punk at WrestleMania, pushing his record to an unprecedented 21-0 in arguably the best match of the whole night.

  • The Return

     

    In January of 2014, Punk sent shockwaves through the entire wrestling world after walking out of the company immediately following his elimination from the 2014 Royal Rumble match. He was immediately taken off all future event programs and hardly mentioned on WWE programming in the wake of his abrupt departure. While some still suspected this was all part of a story similar to his Pipebomb in 2011, it soon became clear that this was very real.

    It was an unfortunate and unceremonious end to a one-of-a-kind career, and left many Punk fans (myself included) disappointed in how both parties handled things. Punk is certainly no angel, but after a public tell-all on the Art of Wrestling Podcast in which Punk aired a LOT of dirty laundry, it was hard not to place at least some of the blame on WWE as well.

    Regardless of who was right or who was wrong, the vitriol with which Punk spoke about WWE here and in the years following had many convinced that he was done with wrestling as a whole. So when Punk officially signed with WWE’s rival company AEW in 2021, fans rejoiced as it seemed his love of wrestling had been rekindled. But as far as a potential return to WWE, many saw that as a total pipe dream.

    That all changed at Survivor Series: WarGames.

    In the final moments of the show, with many attendants still in the process of exiting the arena, the signature static blared over the loud speakers, followed by the unmistakable opening riff of Cult of Personality. Seconds later, Punk once again crossed the threshold of the WWE stage for the first time in nearly a decade, greeted by a thunderous ovation from the Chicago crowd in the arena where he won his first WWE Championship.

  • Future of CM Punk

    I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how much CM Punk’s WWE return changes literally everything about the months and years ahead. Who will the outspoken performer set his sights on for WrestleMania? Where does he stand on some of the current crop of WWE superstars? Time will tell, but for now the only thing I know for sure is that I feel 12 years old again. Welcome back, Punk!

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