One of the most highly anticipated WWE Home Video releases in recent years, CM Punk: Best in the World comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 9 in the U.S. and October 29 in the U.K.
This is the first WWE release devoted to Punk, who assured fans that he had creative control over the project and that it would not be your typical WWE documentary.
Running 109 minutes, this is easily one of the best WWE documentaries ever, if not the best. Off the top of my head, only The Rise and Fall of ECW and Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart (which is more of a sit-down interview than a traditional documentary) are up there in terms of how engaging and honest they are.
In general, it's just completely different from most WWE documentaries. Punk's backyard and independent wrestling days are covered extensively with footage from IWA Mid-South and Ring of Honor.
The graphics, music (Punk made sure that artists he likes such as The Bouncing Souls would be featured instead of "crappy bands like Switchfoot"), and editing are much different from what WWE usually comes up with.
One thing that makes this documentary unique that's not directly related to Punk is that it provides a much more detailed look at WWE's talent development and creative processes than anything they've put out in the past.
In one segment that I found especially revealing, SmackDown head writer Michael Hayes gives a legitimately compelling argument for why wrestlers favored by Paul Heyman have historically been stigmatized by the company.
Back to Punk...
Other than his interview with GQ Magazine last year, I've always felt that fans have never really gotten a good look at the real CM Punk and what makes him tick. This DVD goes a long way in changing that.
Everything from his family life, to how he defines family, to his loyalty to his friends, to what drives him to succeed, to what IWA Mid-South and Ring of Honor meant to him, all of his difficulties in WWE; it's all here. In addition, the chronological narrative is broken up by fun human interest interludes about his tour bus, tattoos, his love of comic books, and more) at the end of each chapter.
There are a million little things that make this great, and it would take forever to go over them all. One that stuck out to me was, for whatever reason, how they handled Punk's infamous "pipe bomb" promo in Las Vegas last year. The whole promo is included uninterrupted, and with WWE choosing to rate the set TV-14, Punk calling John Laurinaitis a "douchebag" is uncensored.
In addition, the audio has been remixed for surround sound, revealing a lot more subtle crowd reactions not audible in the original stereo broadcast. There are lots of previously hard to hear ohs! and oohs!, as well as a surprisingly big pop for Punk's reference to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
I could go on forever, but the key to what makes it all work is that, while this may sound like a cliche, they've truly captured the essence of CM Punk in this documentary.
The Special Features:
Note: The DVD version was provided for review. The Blu-Ray release also includes CM Punk's match with Rey Mysterio from Armageddon 2008 and another hour or so of sit-down interviews and deleted scenes along the lines of what's on the first disc of the DVD set. On the Blu-Ray set, all extras are in HD except for the pre-2008 matches.
In addition to the documentary, the DVD includes 37 minutes of deleted scenes/interviews and two discs of matches.
The deleted scenes are excellent, though I can see how they would've disrupted the flow of the documentary. Others feel like major omissions, namely:
- The story of Punk's skull fracture in 2002.
- The fallout from the December to Dismember pay-per-view in 2006, leading to Paul Heyman being demoted from ECW head writer
- An incredibly compelling four-minute take with Lars Frederiksen discussing a conversation he had with Punk last Summer that Joey Mercury alludes to during the documentary. When Punk asked if he should re-sign with WWE, Lars told him a story about calling Johnny Ramone that inspired Punk to stick around. I can't do it justice, but it's the most compelling deleted interview on a WWE DVD since Gary Hart talking about the famous plane crash he survived in the special features of "The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling"
As for the matches, I'll give some quick thoughts on them, but overall, as far as the selection goes, I have no real complaints. Yeah, I'd like to see Punk's WWE Title win over Alberto Del Rio at Madison Square Garden on here, especially since it hasn't been released on Blu-Ray. That's a minor issue, though, and what got released is just about a perfect cross-section of his best and most important matches in WWE.
- Brent Albright vs. CM Punk (OVW 3/1/06 - Heavyweight Title Tournament Final) This is fun. One of the weaker matches on the set, but well worth watching. Even with Punk wearing his awful "guyliner."
- CM Punk vs. Justin Credible (ECW 8/1/06 - Punk's WWE TV debut) This goes about as perfectly as you could hope for, as Punk makes a strong showing in front of 2000 rabid hardcore fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
- CM Punk vs. John Morrison (ECW 9/4/07 - Punk wins ECW Title) After having disappointing matches due to being handcuffed by time constraints on three pay-per-view events in a row, they knock it out of the park here.
- Chris Jericho vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. John Morrison vs. Carlito vs. CM Punk vs. MVP vs. Mr. Kennedy (Wrestlemania 24 3/30/08 - Punk wins Money in the Bank for the first time) The usual fun train wreck. Not the best Money in the Bank match, but definitely the better of the two Punk won and worthy of inclusion.
- CM Punk & Kofi Kingston vs. Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase (Raw 10/27/08 - Punk & Kingston win World Tag Team Titles) Very good match with a nice crowd-pleasing surprise finish.
- CM Punk vs William Regal (Raw 1/19/09 - Punk wins Intercontinental Title in a No Disqualification Match in Chicago) They had been having several good TV matches but this is the best of the lot, a short but incredibly hard-hitting match. In front of a hot hometown crowd and draped in the Flag of Chicago, Punk completes the WWE "Triple Crown." In the process, he also broke Kevin Nash's record as Diesel for the shortest amount of time between the first and third titles. Punk came in at 203 days, beating Nash's 227 days, though Nash had been in WWE for less time before winning the titles.
- Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk (SummerSlam 8/23/09 - Punk wins World Title for the third time in a TLC match) Their feud didn't officially end until a loser leaves WWE cage match on SmackDown later that week, but it really climaxed here. Headlining SummerSlam and closing the show, they had a wild match that helped further cement Punk as a legitimate main-eventer.)
- Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk (Over the Limit 5/23/10 - Mysterio Joins the Straight Edge Society vs. Punk’s Hair) They've always have great chemistry together, and put on another great match here. Probably their best effort together.
- John Cena vs. CM Punk (Money in the Bank 7/17/11 - Punk wins WWE Title for the first time in Chicago) If you haven't seen this then I pity you. Possibly the greatest WWE pay-per-view event ever ends with one of the best matches in company history, boosted by the most passionate crowd in WWE's modern era.
- CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania 28 4/1/12 - Disqualification/Title Change rule is waived, Punk's first title match at a WrestleMania) With the crowd deflated by the emotional roller coaster that was The Undertaker vs Triple H, the heat was disappointing for most of the match. Still, Punk made his first main-event level WrestleMania match count. They had better chemistry during Jericho's previous run but this absolutely belongs here.
- CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (Over the Limit 5/20/12) It's just a really awesome WWE title match. They have amazing chemistry and deliver a classic old-school world title-style match the likes of which was, aside from Bret Hart's peak, never really featured in WWE.
If you're a CM Punk fan, then of course you're buying this. If you're a fan of modern WWE in general, then this is highly recommended. If you like finding out what makes wrestlers tick, then you'll really enjoy this.
In addition, home theater enthusiasts will appreciate the Blu-Ray version much more than most WWE Home Video releases. Thanks to WWE going high definition 18 months into Punk's run, this a rare WWE compilation where almost all of the bonus matches are in HD.
Overall, an excellent release, one of WWE's very best. Highest recommendation.
David Bixenspan is the Team Leader of Bleacher Report's pro wrestling section. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix. His archive of past podcasts with various pro wrestling personalities, including CM Punk, is available at DavidBix.com.