While CM Punk has had plenty of great moments in the WWE both as a heel and a face, there is no question that his biggest contributions to the company have come as an anti-establishment bad guy with a massive chip on his shoulder.
Punk reached elite status when he turned face during the summer of 2011, but fans felt that he eventually grew stale in that role. That ultimately facilitated another heel turn on the 1,000th episode of Raw, and it has allowed Punk to become the unquestioned top heel in WWE.
Punk's evolution over the course of his WWE career has been evident, particularly when it comes to how he has changed as a heel. Punk went from a cult leader who focused on his straight-edge lifestyle to a loner looking to break through the glass ceiling to the best wrestler in the world. During that evolution, Punk has done a lot of things that fans won't soon forget.
Some of those moments have taken place in recent weeks and months, while others happened early in his initial heel turn in 2009. The fact of the matter is that, love him or hate him, Punk has been a fixture in the WWE for the past several years and he will continue to be one moving forward. He has proven capable of playing every role imaginable, but he is definitely at his best as a heel.
Here are the top seven heel moments thus far in CM Punk's WWE career.
The feud that unquestionably pushed CM Punk over the top initially was his rivalry with Jeff Hardy back in 2009. Punk cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Hardy while they were both faces, but Hardy's popularity garnered Punk a heel reaction. That allowed Punk to change his personality and demeanor, and it ultimately led to him becoming a full-on heel.
It was a perfect feud because Punk was able to embrace his straight-edge lifestyle while bashing Hardy for his past substance abused problems. On the surface, that should have actually made Punk the face, but he was so good at making himself seem superior to Hardy and everyone else that the fans couldn't stand him.
After a fairly lengthy rivalry, Punk eliminated Hardy from the WWE as he defeated him in a loser leaves WWE match. The following week on SmackDown, Hardy's music played and the fans went crazy. It appeared as though Hardy would be entering the ring, but it was actually Punk dressed in Hardy's attire—face paint and all.
This was probably the first signature heel moment in Punk's WWE career. Hardy was at his most popular during that time frame, and the fact that Punk deceived the fans made them shower him with a chorus of boos. Punk went on to cut a promo in which he talked about Hardy's transgressions and essentially rubbed salt into the fans' wounds.
Punk had definitely cut some good promos prior to that, but it's fair to say that this particular one put him on the map as a major player.
One of the scariest things to happen on WWE programming in recent memory was Jerry "The King" Lawler suffering a near-fatal heart attack a couple months ago. Lawler was engaged in a feud with Punk at the time and had actually faced him in a tag team match earlier in the night. Once such a traumatic, real-life experience happened to Lawler, though, most figured the rivalry was over.
Lawler returned to commentary last week to great fanfare, but his emotional comeback was spoiled by Punk. The WWE champion interrupted Lawler as he was about to take his rightful spot at the announce table, and he mocked the fact that Lawler nearly died. Punk called Lawler a zombie and he even said that the heart attack was Lawler's own fault for having the gall to step into the ring with the best wrestler in the world.
The WWE doesn't often bring real-life issues to light on television, but Punk has made a habit of doing it over the years. It was a fixture during the Attitude Era and it's something that most fans like to see, so Punk has made sure to bring some realism back to the product. At the same time, there were a lot of people who were offended by the fact that Punk mocked a man who had just suffered a heart attack.
The hallmark of a great heel is the ability to get fans legitimately angry, and Punk managed to do that with this stunt. It wasn't easy to transform Punk from one of the most beloved faces in the WWE to the most-hated heel, but it's safe to say that Punk's criticisms of Lawler put him over the top.
Some might call it cheap heat, but I call it brilliant execution of heel tactics that had a decidedly old-school feel to it.
Most people view CM Punk's foray into Nexus as a low point in his WWE career, and it's tough to argue with that. The Nexus angle seemed to set Punk back, especially after he had so much success as the leader of the Straight Edge Society. When Punk hit Cena with a GTS following an attack at the hands of Nexus and put on the Nexus armband, it was a defining moment in Punk's career.
At that point, Nexus had gotten stale and it was in need of something new. Punk eventually usurped control of the group from Wade Barrett and made it his own. Punk's tenure at the helm of Nexus didn't last long, but it wasn't his fault. People simply didn't care about the likes of David Otunga, Husky Harris, Michael McGillicutty and Mason Ryan.
When Punk first announced that he would join Nexus, however, it piqued the interest of many. Punk had been out of commission for a while with an injury and was filling in on commentary. He was great in that role and some thought that it might even lead to him turning face when he got back in the ring, but Punk swerved everyone when he became a part of Nexus.
It's unfortunate that things didn't work out because Punk is great as a stable leader, but he just couldn't do everything on his own. On the bright side, he did have a solid feud with Randy Orton as the leader of Nexus and it ultimately helped him transition to the biggest swoon of his career in the summer of 2011.
When Punk retires, I doubt many fans will wax poetic about his time in Nexus, but it served a purpose in his career and solidified him as a ruthless heel.
After beating John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank in 2011, CM Punk embarked on the most fruitful run of his WWE career. He quickly became the No. 2 man in the company behind Cena and his merchandise sales absolutely exploded. Punk would drop the title to Alberto Del Rio, but he recaptured it at Survivor Series in 2011 and has been in possession of it ever since.
That title reign made Punk one of the most popular WWE stars of the past decade, but the company decided to risk that by having him turn heel on the 1,000th episode of Raw. Punk defended his WWE Championship in a match against John Cena as Cena had captured the Money in the Bank contract a week earlier. Cena's title bid was foiled, though, when Big Show interfered and caused Punk to lose via disqualification.
Punk retained the title and walked away as Big Show beat down Cena. The Rock, who had announced earlier in the night that he would face the WWE champion at Royal Rumble, ran down to make the save, but he bumped into Punk in the process. This prompted Punk to get back into the ring and lay out The Rock. He put an exclamation point on the evening by nailing The Rock with a thunderous GTS.
Not only was this a shocking moment, but it put the wheels in motion for Punk's eventual heel turn. Punk maintained that he wasn't turning his back on the WWE Universe, but his actions begged to differ. Punk eventually turned heel officially when he joined forces with Paul Heyman, but fans will always remember the very root of his character change.
Now, with Royal Rumble quickly approaching, Punk has a golden opportunity to add another moment to this list as he figures to face The Rock provided he can retain at TLC.
CM Punk has been many different shades of heel during his WWE career, but most would agree that he was at his most despicable as leader of the Straight Edge Society. Punk essentially portrayed a Charles Manson-esque cult leader who wanted to "save" others with his crooked ideals. He was able to recruit Luke Gallows, Serena and eventually Joey Mercury into his group. He had his eye on a higher-profile superstar as well.
Heading into WrestleMania XXVI back in 2010, Punk was feuding with Rey Mysterio. He made it personal on an episode of SmackDown, as Mysterio was leading the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday for his nine-year-old daughter. Mysterio was in the ring with his daughter, son and wife, but Punk and his Straight Edge Society crashed the party.
Punk proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to Mysterio's daughter himself in a sick, sadistic way. This caused her to cower behind her parents and cry.
Punk wasn't done there, as he addressed each of Mysterio's family members. He told them how he would decimate Mysterio to the point that they would be crying. This led to Punk challenging Mysterio to a match at 'Mania with the stipulation that if Mysterio lost, he would be forced to join the Straight Edge Society.
Mysterio ultimately won that match, but it doesn't take away from Punk's promo. There really haven't been that many dastardly heels over the best decade or so, but Punk put himself in the conversation as one of the best with that promo alone. The execution of it was actually quite simplistic, but Punk did everything he needed to do in order to make the fans hate him.
It's a shame that the Straight Edge Society ended so abruptly since we could have seen more promos like that one, but Punk fans will always hold it in high regard.
As a huge fan of the Royal Rumble match, I'm partial to anything that happens during that particular pay-per-view. With that in mind, one of my personal favorite Punk moments took place at the 2010 Royal Rumble.
Punk entered the match third, but he did something that nobody had ever done before and nobody has done since. After eliminating both Dolph Ziggler and Evan Bourne, Punk began cutting a promo about how he intended to win the match and "save" everyone else in it.
This was during Punk's time as the leader of the Straight Edge Society, so his character was very much about pushing his straight-edge lifestyle onto others. Punk would then eliminate JTG and await more opponents while continuing to spew his ignorance. He eventually took out Beth Phoenix after she eliminated The Great Khali, and he then deceived Zack Ryder by telling him that he saw great potential.
The first third of the Rumble match went on this way until Triple H entered. He would eliminate Punk and end his run of dominance, but it remains one of the most unique and entertaining things to ever happen in the Royal Rumble. It certainly allowed Punk to get plenty of exposure, but I wish it would have lasted longer because Punk wouldn't have had any issue thinking of things to say.
Although the Royal Rumble sermon didn't exactly launch Punk to superstardom, it did make many fans more aware of what Punk could eventually become. It became apparent that he was the total package and he did ultimately put all his skills together. The Royal Rumble was undoubtedly Punk's signature moment as the leader of the Straight Edge Society.
Punk's current heel character is much different than it was back in 2010, but I'll always have a soft spot for some of the great promos he cut during the Straight Edge Society gimmick, and this was chief among them.
Hulk Hogan had his body slam of Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had the submission match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 and CM Punk will always be remembered for the pipe-bomb promo he cut on the June 27, 2011 edition of Raw.
Following his interference in a tables match between John Cena and R-Truth, Punk walked to the top of the ramp while wearing a Stone Cold shirt, sat down Indian style and proceeded to cut one of the greatest promos in WWE history. Punk had already announced that his contract was up and that he would be leaving the WWE in three weeks, but he was the No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship and was set to face Cena at Money in the Bank.
Punk discussed the reasoning behind why he was leaving the company. He brought up many different subjects, including the incompetence of Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H.
He also discussed the fact that he was never promoted by the company in any way. He even made reference to Ring of Honor and waved to his best friend Colt Cabana. Punk essentially broke all the rules that have been generally accepted for years when it comes to cutting promos.
The promo seemed so real that many fans believed that it was totally legitimate. In reality, it was a worked shoot in which Punk was allowed to basically speak his mind, but the WWE brass was well aware of what he would be doing. Punk's honesty eventually got the fans behind him and it led to him beating Cena for the WWE Championship in his hometown of Chicago.
Punk didn't leave the WWE as he returned soon after and became one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE. While the pipe-bomb promo has been an albatross for Punk to some degree since some fans compare everything he does to the greatness of that one moment, it most definitely changed his career for the better.