WWE: 10 Highlights of CM Punk's Career Thus Far
It was just about six years ago that CM Punk made his WWE debut, and it's safe to say that he's already made a tremendous impact on pro wrestling.
Though Punk has certainly had his ups and downs, he's accomplished more in six years than most wrestlers do in a lifetime, putting together a resume that many think already has him headed to the Hall of Fame.
It's only been over the last year or so that Punk has become one of the bona fide biggest stars in the business, but he's had a number of unforgettable moments that extend back more than half a decade to his time on ECW.
Although it's hard to pinpoint all the moments that define Punk's storied career, that's exactly what I'm going to try to do today.
Here are the top 10 highlights of the career of the current WWE Champion, CM Punk.
10. His WWE Debut on ECW (Aug. 1, 2006)
Without this, nothing else that CM Punk has done in the WWE would have been possible.
After the WWE ran several vignettes on ECW promoting Punk's debut, he made his first appearance on WWE programming on Aug. 1, 2006, against Justin Credible.
Punk was an instant hit in the Hammerstein Ballroom, a crowd that was familiar with Punk from his days on the independent wrestling scene.
It was clear from the very get-go that Punk was a great wrestler, but perhaps more importantly, he showed that "it factor" that seemingly made it inevitable that he'd one day become a star.
Punk picked up the victory over Credible in a short, yet very entertaining match in what would be the start of a lengthy winning streak that quickly established him as one of ECW's top stars.
Although this was only Punk's first appearance on WWE TV, it was clearly the start of something special.
9. Punk Wins the ECW Championship (September 2007)
The goal of every pro wrestler should be to win championships, and it didn't take CM Punk very long to win his first title in the WWE.
Not even a year after his ECW debut, Punk became embroiled in a lengthy rivalry with Johnny Nitro (who would soon change his name to John Morrison) over the ECW Championship.
Punk lost a few ECW title matches to Morrison before being given a "last chance" ECW Championship match on the Sept. 4, 2007, edition of ECW.
After spending well over two months chasing Morrison and the ECW title, Punk finally prevailed, nailing Morrison with the GTS to win his first ECW Championship and his first title in the WWE.
Just listen to the ECW crowd's reaction to what was Punk's defining moment up to that point in his career.
How over was he?
8. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan at Over the Limit 2012
CM Punk has had a boatload of fantastic matches throughout his career, especially over the last year or so.
But for me, he's had no better pure wrestling match than his bout with Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship at Over the Limit earlier this year.
Not many wrestling fans ever expected to see Punk and Bryan competing for the WWE's most prestigious title, but that's exactly what happened this June, and what resulted was one of the greatest matches of both men's careers.
Punk and Bryan showed some amazing chemistry in this match and delivered an instant classic that probably fell just short of a five-star rating.
Yeah, it was really that good.
Though Punk's victory here wasn't a monumental one, the match itself was. It remains the best match of Punk's current history-making WWE Championship reign.
7. Winning Money in the Bank (WrestleManias 24 and 25)
CM Punk has done something that no one else in WWE history has ever done: Win two Money in the Bank matches.
Oh yeah, he also won them back-to-back.
Not even two years after his main roster debut, Punk outlasted six other competitors to win the MITB match at WrestleMania in 24 in 2008. A year later at WrestleMania 25, Punk won the MITB match yet again.
If there was ever any doubt about the WWE's faith in Punk, the fact that the company was willing to have him win two straight MITB matches should have calmed those fears.
Even to this day, there's never been another two-time MITB winner. But Punk managed to win his barely two and a half years into his WWE career.
These two MITB wins were major accomplishments for Punk that would set the stage for some more career-defining moments for him down the road.
6. Punk Cashes in on Jeff Hardy, Begins Heel Turn (Extreme Rules, 2009)
Fortunately, I was there to witness this in person.
When the 2009 Extreme Rules pay-per-view came around, CM Punk was fresh off his second straight Money in the Bank win, and up until that point in his career, he had remained a babyface.
That all changed that very same night.
Punk beat Umaga in a Samoan Strap Match earlier in the show, but he wasn't done.
After Jeff Hardy beat Edge in a Ladder Match to win the World Heavyweight Championship, Punk's music hit, he made his way to the ring, nailed Hardy with not one but two Go to Sleeps and then pinned Hardy to end his World title reign after only a couple of minutes.
This, of course, would lead to Punk's first heel turn in the WWE and one of the best runs of his career.
Gradually, Punk evolved into a sadistic World Heavyweight Champion and became one of the top heels in all of the WWE.
5. Punk Cashes in on Edge to Win His First World Title (Raw, June 30, 2008)
On June 23, 2008, CM Punk was drafted to Raw as part of the WWE's annual draft.
A week later, he picked up the biggest victory of his career.
After an enraged Batista laid a brutal beatdown on World Heavyweight Champion Edge, Punk sprinted down to the ring and cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase that he had won at WrestleMania 24.
All it took was a GTS for Punk to put away a battered Edge and win the World Heavyweight Championship for his first World title (sorry, ECW) win of his career.
Up until this point, Punk had spent a big chunk of his career on the WWE's C-brand, ECW. But not even two years after his WWE debut, Punk was now the World Heavyweight Champion on the WWE's flagship show.
Easily the defining moment of what was a great start to Punk's career.
4. Punk Hits The Rock with a Clothesline and GTS on Raw 1000
In front of one of the biggest TV audiences in years, CM Punk made one of the biggest splashes of his career.
On Raw 1000, it was Punk vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship, but the match ended with a DQ finish when Big Show interfered and attacked Cena.
The Rock sprinted down to the ring and laid into Big Show while Punk just sat back and watched. That was until he quickly sprung up from the canvas, destroyed The Rock with a clothesline and then nailed him with a huge GTS.
It was one of the most controversial and talked about finishes to Monday Night Raw in quite some time.
Did Punk turn heel? What was his beef with The Rock? Why didn't he attack Big Show, too?
Even today, we still don't have all the answers to those questions. But regardless, Punk's assault on The Rock remains one of his career highlights because of when it happened (Raw 1000) and the fact that it'll probably lead to an epic match between the two at some point down the road.
3. CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy at SummerSlam in 2009
Remember when CM Punk cashed in on Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules in 2009?
Well, this is what it led to.
The best rivalry of 2009 came to a climax at SummerSlam when Punk challenged Hardy in a TLC Match for the World Heavyweight Championship.
As you might imagine, what resulted was pure awesomeness.
Punk and Hardy absolutely stole the show in what remains one of the best TLC matches in WWE history. It was 21-plus minutes of phenomenal action between two heated rivals at the peaks of their careers.
This match would have been one of Punk's top moments regardless of whether he won it or not, but it's an even more memorable one for Punk because he emerged victorious in the biggest match from what is arguably still the top feud of his career.
To this day, some fans still think that this SummerSlam bout against Hardy is the best match of Punk's career.
2. June 27, 2011: The Worked Shoot
On June 27, 2011, CM Punk cut one of the most memorable promos in pro wrestling history.
At the time, there was legitimate tension between Punk and the WWE over contract negotiations, and it was a turned into a storyline when Punk aired his grievances in an epic worked-shoot promo live on Raw.
Donning a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin T-shirt (symbolic much?), Punk sat at the top of the Raw entrance ramp and vented all of his frustrations about his position in the company.
It was one of those rare times when a wrestler blurs the line between what is scripted and what is real so much that the fans genuinely aren't sure if he lost his mind and went off script.
Of course, what Punk did was scripted. But that doesn't change the fact that his promo was one of the most jaw-dropping in history.
It helped turn Punk's career around and undoubtedly launched him into full-on superstardom, and there's no doubt that he wouldn't have become the star he is today had that promo never happened.
1. Beating John Cena and Leaving with the WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011
Not long after CM Punk cut that amazing promo, he headed to his hometown of Chicago to face John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank.
Prior to the match, Punk promised that he would beat Cena for the WWE title and then leave the company with the title in hand.
That's exactly what he did.
The atmosphere in Chicago was absolutely electric as the hometown hero Punk faced "The Champ" in one of the biggest matches in WWE history.
The match didn't disappoint, either.
When you combined the raucous Chicago crowd with some epic storytelling and fantastic wrestling from both Cena and Punk, what resulted was a five-star match that was the "Match of the Year" in 2011.
Punk and Cena battled it out for nearly 35 minutes here, and it was that 35 minutes that remains the No. 1 moment of Punk's incredible career.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!