After 434 days as WWE Champion, CM Punk's historic title run came to an end at the Royal Rumble as he was defeated by The Rock in controversial fashion. Although Punk is no longer at the pinnacle of the company, his reign deserves to be celebrated as it was the longest of the modern era and the fifth longest of all time.
A lot happened over the course of those 434 days as Punk went from one of the most beloved superstars in the WWE to one of the most hated. He also combated essentially every credible wrestler on the entire roster, so there are tons of great feuds and matches to look back on. When you add in the fact that Punk himself is a fantastic in-ring worker, there were bound to be some classic encounters.
Punk's run began at Survivor Series 2011 when he took the strap from Alberto Del Rio, and countless big contests took place from that point forward. Punk was a fighting champion to say the least as he took on all comers. He beat almost all of them, and while his tactics to do so were questionable at times, he constantly managed to escape with WWE Championship around his waist.
Here are the top 10 title matches from Punk's unbelievable reign as WWE Champion. Although he may no longer be in possession of the grandest prize in professional wrestling, I'm sure his future matches will be of a championship caliber as well.
One of CM Punk's first defenses as WWE Champion came at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in early 2012.
The odds were stacked against The Straight Edge Superstar as he had to fend off five hungry competitors within the confines of a demonic, steel structure. Punk's opponents in that match were Chris Jericho, Kofi Kingston, The Miz, R-Truth and Dolph Ziggler, and all of them stepped up to the plate to deliver a fine performance.
This wasn't exactly a star-studded Chamber match, but it was nice to see guys who aren't normally in the world title mix like Kofi and Truth get involved. The big performers in this contest were Punk and Jericho, as they accounted for all of the eliminations in the match. Jericho was never officially eliminated, but he fell out of the chamber, which led to him being unable to continue.
That left just Punk and The Miz, and Punk won the match with a GTS. Once Jericho was eliminated from the match, it was quite clear that Punk was going to retain, so there was some predictability involved. At the same time, there was plenty of action throughout and it was a very enjoyable match overall.
The chamber match often gets lost in the shuffle since Punk had so many great title bouts as champion, but it definitely deserves some special recognition.
CM Punk's final successful title defense before losing to The Rock at the Royal Rumble came on the Jan. 7 edition of Monday Night Raw. Punk was originally scheduled to face Ryback at TLC, but a knee injury prevented him from competing. Ryback was still entitled to a title match, though, and he ultimately got it on the first Raw of 2013. Despite the fact that the TLC PPV match never happened, the tables, ladders and chairs stipulation was still in place.
Ryback certainly has deficiencies as an in-ring worker, but those can be hidden in a hardcore setting. This was unquestionably Ryback's best showing in a singles match as he looked dominant for much of the bout and didn't seem out of place against a great technical wrestler like Punk.
Things reached a fever pitch in this match after Ryback put Punk through a table and began to scale the ladder. Just when Ryback was about to grab the WWE Championship, the lights went out.
When they came back on, The Shield attacked Ryback and pulled him off the ladder. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns then proceeded to put Ryback through a table and onto the steel steps. This allowed Punk to recover and slowly make his way up the ladder to pick up the victory.
This wasn't a scientific match by any means and the finish wasn't clean, but there was plenty of drama and it captivated me as a viewer.
The first singles pay-per-view match for CM Punk after winning the WWE Championship came at the Royal Rumble in 2012 as he faced Dolph Ziggler. The Show Off had gotten under Punk's skin for weeks leading up to the match, but he wasn't really viewed as a true threat to take the title since Punk had won it two months earlier. With that said, the presence of John Laurinaitis as a special guest referee increased the odds of Ziggler pulling off a monumental upset.
Laurinaitis spent most of the match outside the ring as an extra official, but he would come into play in the latter stages. The vast majority of the bout went off without a hitch and it featured plenty of great grappling from both men.
Punk and Ziggler manage to impress pretty much any time they step in the ring no matter who they face, so it should come as no surprise that they meshed well together. There was never much doubt that Punk would win, however.
Punk locked in the Anaconda Vise late in the match, but the official was knocked out and Laurinaitis was attending to him. Punk then rolled up Ziggler, but there was nobody present to make the count. He followed that up with a GTS, and it once again went ignored by Laurinaitis as he checked on the ref.
Punk finally hit another GTS to pick up the win once the official recovered. The match itself was very good, but Laurinaitis' presence was an annoyance that prevents it from being higher on the list.
The Shield became a huge part of the final couple months of CM Punk's title reign and they first made their presence felt at Survivor Series. Punk was charged with the unenviable task of defending his championship against both John Cena and Ryback in a triple threat match.
Even before The Shield got involved, I rated this match very highly as both Cena and Ryback took me by surprise in terms of how well they performed. Punk impressed as always, and all three men seemed to have good chemistry.
Ryback controlled the early portion of the match until Punk and Cena decided to team up against him. Despite their difference, Punk and Cena executed a double suplex that put Ryback through the announce table. This led to a period of time in which only Punk and Cena did battle.
Punk and Cena almost always impress, so there was a lot to like about that. Ryback was eventually able to recover and he once again began to dominate. He hit Punk with Shell Shocked, after which Punk rolled out of the ring, and then he did the same to Cena.
Before Ryback could pin Cena, though, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins hit the ring and beat down Ryback much to the shock of everyone. They triple powerbombed Ryback through the other announce table and put him out of commission.
This allowed Punk to roll back into the ring and pin Cena to retain. There was a lot of confusion in the aftermath of the match, but it was incredibly entertaining and it gave birth to one of the WWE's biggest current storylines.
Everyone always talks about the match between CM Punk and John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 and it's for good reason. That match may very well have been the best of their respective careers and it is one that fans won't soon forget.
Punk and Cena met in another singles match at Night of Champions 2012, and while it didn't come anywhere near their Money in the Bank encounter, it was a top-notch match that provided plenty of intrigue and excitement.
The Punk vs. Cena feud was rekindled on the 1,000th episode of Raw as Cena cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Punk. The match was ruined by Big Show as he attacked Cena, which resulted in Cena winning the bout, but not the title.
Punk then turned heel by taking out The Rock when he attempted to help Cena. The led to a triple threat between Punk, Cena and Big Show at SummerSlam, which Punk won yet again, so Cena received his final one-on-one shot against Punk at Night of Champions.
It was probably one of the most interesting matches of Punk's reign because there seemed to be a real possibility that Cena could win. The match went back and forth with plenty of false finishes and neither man was able to gain the upper hand.
The bout reached its conclusion when Cena executed a German suplex off the ropes for a three count. Cena was initially ruled the winner, but the decision was overturned as it was ruled that Punk and Cena both had their shoulders on the mat. Therefore, the match was a draw. The cheap finish took away from things a bit, but it was still a great contest.
There were some differing opinions about the quality of CM Punk's match against The Rock at the Royal Rumble, but there is no doubt that the contest that resulted in the end of Punk's 434-day reign deserves a spot on this list.
Although it didn't receive as much hype and build as the match between The Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII, this was unquestionably the most highly anticipated collision since WrestleMania, and I feel as though it lived up to expectations.
Punk and The Rock only had about three weeks to develop a fierce rivalry, but they did a great job and it spilled over to their match. It had a big-time feel and it almost felt like a WrestleMania match even though it took place at the Royal Rumble.
A lot of people complained over the course of Punk's title reign that he never main-evented shows, but he and The Rock managed to bump the Rumble match out of the main-event spot, and that certainly isn't easy to do. Punk didn't win the match, but he was featured in a more prominent position than Cena, who ended up winning the Rumble itself.
I felt like Punk obviously controlled the pace of the match since he is the full-time competitor, but The Rock didn't seem to be out of place. He struggled in terms of stamina at WrestleMania, but he appeared to be much better prepared this time around.
Many contend that The Rock looked gassed 10 minutes into the match against Punk, but I totally disagree and didn't see it that way at all. Punk initially won the bout due to interference from The Shield, but Vince McMahon restarted it and The Rock won to end Punk's historic reign.
There have been plenty of complaints about the match since it happened, but the fact that Punk won at first made him look strong and there is absolutely no shame in losing to The Rock.
My favorite feud of 2012 was easily the rivalry between CM Punk and Chris Jericho, which started after the Royal Rumble and ended at Extreme Rules. The initial premise of the feud was simply Jericho trying to prove that he was the best wrestler in the world.
Jericho has long called himself the best in the world at everything he does, but Punk took to calling himself the best, so that was explained as the reasoning behind Jericho's return to the company after well over a year away.
Jericho won a No. 1 contender's battle royal the night after Elimination Chamber to earn a shot at Punk's title at WrestleMania and it led to a fantastic match. Because Punk and Jericho are among the WWE's best in-ring workers over the past decade, a lot of fans had unrealistic expectations for the match.
Perhaps those expectations weren't quite met, but it was a strong bout nonetheless. The real issue was that Punk and Jericho had to share the spotlight with Triple H vs. The Undertaker and John Cena vs. The Rock, so it was difficult for them to steal the show.
In terms of a pure wrestling match, though, Punk and Jericho did deliver as they gave us a see-saw affair with tons of near falls and tense moments. Things reached a fever pitch late in the match when Y2J tried to lock in the Walls of Jericho.
Punk managed to reverse it; however, leading to an Anaconda Vise. Jericho couldn't break free of the hold, so he was forced to tap out. Perhaps Punk and Jericho didn't quite reach Match of the Year status, but I thoroughly enjoyed what they did on the grandest stage of them all.
Following the conclusion of CM Punk's feud with Chris Jericho, he became involved in a rivalry with Daniel Bryan. It was friendly at first, as they had known each other for a long time and came from similar backgrounds, but it developed into something much more personal.
Bryan had been mistreating his girlfriend, A.J., and that eventually led to A.J. trying to seduce Punk. Bryan was jealous and wanted A.J. to himself, though, so a love triangle developed and the feud between Punk and Bryan became heated.
They aimed to settle the score in a No Disqualification match at Money in the Bank, but an element was added with A.J. as the special guest referee. There was a lot of grappling early in the match, but the action eventually spilled outside and the match began to resemble a brawl.
When both men got back in the ring, A.J. was on the apron, but Bryan pushed Punk into her and she fell to the floor. That seemed to render her unable to continue, but she returned later in the match and sent the replacement referee away.
Things got interesting from there as weapons such as steel chairs and kendo sticks were introduced into the match. With both men incapacitated, A.J. put a chair in the middle of the ring and smirked as Punk and Bryan battled for it.
She toyed with both wrestlers for the remainder of the match and often seemed amused when one of them inflicted pain, but she became concerned when Punk belly-to-back suplexed Bryan through a table to pick up the win. I normally don't like the involvement of special guest referees, but A.J. helped this match more than she hurt it.
As good as their encounter at WrestleMania XXVIII was, CM Punk and Chris Jericho topped it when they faced off again at Extreme Rules. While Jericho still aimed to prove that he was a better wrestler than Punk, he brought up many of Punk's demons prior to Extreme Rules and made their rivalry a personal one.
He accused Punk's father of being an alcoholic, his sister of being a drug addict and his mother of birthing Punk out of wedlock. Jericho even went so far as to pour alcohol on Punk despite the fact that Punk is straight edge.
After that, Jericho said that it was Punk's destiny to drink, and although he thought that he had broken Punk's spirit, the WWE Champion never wavered heading into their match at Extreme Rules. This particular match was much harder hitting than their bout at WrestleMania as it was a Chicago Street Fight.
With the pay-per-view taking place in Punk's hometown of Chicago, the crowd was firmly behind him and Punk's family was even in the front row. Jericho taunted Punk's sister at one point and received a slap in the face for his troubles.
I particularly enjoyed this match because it featured a good mix of technical and hardcore wrestling. There was even some comedy involved as Jericho had Punk in the Walls of Jericho, only for Punk to spray a fire extinguisher in Jericho's face.
Jericho followed that up by breaking out of the Anaconda Vise with a kendo stick. Punk ultimately picked up the win by sending Jericho into an exposed turnbuckle and executing a GTS. Punk and Jericho gave it their all in the ring, and their psychology made this a highly enjoyable battle.
If you enjoy classic wrestling matches complete with technical mastery, then there is no question that you loved the encounter between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan at Over The Limit 2012.
Bryan initially earned his title shot by winning a Beat the Clock challenge, but his feud with Punk quickly developed. Much like Chris Jericho, Bryan wanted to prove that he was the better wrestler than Punk. That led to a back-and-forth match at Over The Limit in which Punk ultimately prevailed, but he was able to do so only by the skin of his teeth.
I consider Bryan and Punk to be the two best pure grapplers in the WWE currently, so all signs pointed to them tearing down the house. Punk and Bryan had faced each other so many times previously that they knew precisely what the other would do, and that is something that was played up heading into the match.
Every move seemed to have a counter and every pinfall attempt was kicked out of until the closing moments when Punk executed a roll up out of desperation.
Bryan had Punk in the Yes Lock, which is a move that few have been able to escape. Bryan even forced Sheamus to pass out from it at Extreme Rules, so Punk was in dire straits to say the least. Punk was able to reverse momentum; however, and it led to a pinning combination that earned Punk the victory.
Just after the referee's hand hit the mat for the count of three, though, Punk tapped out. Since the count had already been made, Punk got the win, but tapping out afterwards made Bryan look strong and ultimately led to more matches between them.
While this bout often gets overlooked because it didn't exactly have the hype machine behind it, I have no problem calling it the best of Punk's fruitful title reign.