CM Punk's recent two-month absence from the WWE likely had Punk diehards digging up his archives and this steel cage match on the Aug. 28, 2009 episode of WWE SmackDown would have been a wise choice to relive.
The contrast between Punk's and Hardy's personas made for an electric feud.
The self-righteous sober villain clashed with the fallible hero who had issues with drug use in the past. Punk taunted Hardy about his violations of the Wellness Policy and talked about how much better he was than Hardy.
He mocked him in both words and deeds, once mocking Hardy by dressing up as him.
The two traded the world title several times in a series of fantastic matches.
Punk cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Hardy just as he survived and won a ladder match against Edge. Hardy would gain the belt back from Punk at Night of Champions 2009 and Punk would snatch it from him again at that year's SummerSlam.
Their last battle was held inside a cage and the loser would have to leave the WWE. It wasn't as great as their previous classics, but it provided a dramatic end to their story together.
Just days after their hard-hitting TLC match at SummerSlam, the two met to end their feud in definitive fashion.
Before Hardy could even make it to the cage, Punk attacked him. He rammed his head into the steel cage and suplexed him on the outside. Punk tried to ride this early advantage to an easy win as he tried to leave the cage several times.
Hardy thwarted him each time out and the crowd squealed and howled in support of the Charismatic Enigma.
It was a match swollen with emotion, the hatred between foes throbbing on screen. Despite being beat up and drained from their SummerSlam bout, Hardy and Punk appeared willing to do anything to force the other out of WWE.
Hardy nailed a Swanton bomb, but was only able to get a two-count. There were near-falls aplenty, but the strength of the match was in the drama created by the escape attempts.
At one point, Punk had pulled his upper half out of the cage door, but Hardy clamped onto his legs. With his fingers grasping desperately at the ring steps, Punk screamed "I'm out!" Only half of him was out, though, and their fight continued.
Hardy later tried an escape of his own and had most of his body dangling over the top of the cage, but Punk held onto his leg, yanked his hair and dragged him back in by his head. He then landed a thunderous superplex on Hardy.
Even after that powerful move, it always felt like Hardy was just a moment away from getting his revenge on Punk, putting that pompous jerk in his place and winning back the world title. However, this was not a night where the good guy won; it was a night where injustice continued on as a helpless crowd watched on.
The two men battled atop the steel cage. Punk jabbed his thumbs into Hardy's eye, slammed his head against the cage and pushed him back into the ring. Punk then dropped to the floor and crumpled on the mat outside, chuckling to himself.
He had both kept his championship and expelled his enemy.
Hardy would go on to eventually be a major player in TNA and Punk's star continued to rise with WWE, as he eventually became one of the longest reigning WWE champs in history.
Punk and Hardy's feud was the unforgettable kind, the rare combination of rivals who significantly elevate each other while crackling with chemistry.
With Brock Lesnar and Punk beginning a feud, one has to wonder can Lesnar play Punk's foil in the same way that Hardy was in '09? Can those two have as much chemistry and spark together as Punk and Hardy had?
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