There's a cliche that claims a picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no place where that is more true than in professional wrestling. One picture can define a match, a night or even a career.
It takes the emotion and the atmosphere, places it in a time capsule and bottles it up for us and future generations to enjoy. It embeds itself in our brains and becomes a memory that will last until our very last day on Earth.
Picture Perfect is a series from WrestleEnigma.com. We take some of the many iconic photos in professional wrestling's vast history and analyze them—analyze the circumstances, the emotion and why they have become so special.
On July 17, 2011, inside Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, CM Punk's career changed forever. CM Punk's life changed forever.
The electricity filling the Allstate Arena was fed off expectation. It was fed off the unknown. The rebellious challenger and hometown hero (CM Punk) versus the company man who could do no wrong in WWE's eyes, but had no right in Chicago (John Cena).
Punk would try to dethrone the company's poster boy, and in the process take the WWE's championship of over 50 years with him when his contract expired at the stroke of midnight.
After an epic match of over 30 minutes—a match that earned a five-star star rating even from the harshest of critics such as Dave Meltzer—CM Punk won the WWE Championship. He collapsed in the center of the ring and smiled as he joyously hoisted the championship in the air.
Punk would escape an onslaught from Vince McMahon's last hope, Mr. Money in the Bank Alberto Del Rio, and begin to climb the barricade. With his hometown crowd in hysteria, he looked toward his soon-to-be former boss and blew him a kiss.
He blew Vince McMahon a kiss goodbye. He then ran through the crowd and out the arena's doors as the pay-per-view went off the air. In Vince's eyes, the symbol of a half-century of grandeur was gone. The crown jewel of his family company had vanished.
It was surreal. For many, it was a dream. CM Punk was the one blowing Vince McMahon a kiss, after McMahon was the one who wanted to kiss Punk goodbye for a long time.
You see, McMahon had never cared for Punk. As former WWE creative writer Dave Lagana put it, he "didn't get it." He wanted to release him on many occasions. Yet, he now was ironically begging for Punk's services.
Week after week, Vince and his various stooges would contact the head of their developmental territory—Paul Heyman. Text. Email. Call. They'd notify him that he needed to cut Punk loose. He wasn't going to amount to anything.
He wasn't what they were looking for.
But Heyman didn't listen. He saw something special in Punk, and he told them that. He told them that CM Punk could be a legitimate main eventer, a legitimate WWE champion. They laughed, just as many snarled when Punk stayed loyal to Heyman in the aftermath of a Brock Lesnar attack years later.
When Paul Heyman was appointed as the head writer for the resurrected ECW, his first choice to bring over to the new land of extreme was none other than CM Punk. Fitting, because Punk was a misfit in the mold of the men who made up the original ECW.
In ECW, Punk would thrive until Heyman's departure from the company. Afterwards, though, Punk seemed to be on the fringe of the unemployment line before Shawn Michaels came to his rescue. It would take Michaels to save Punk's career, and even then he'd suffer through start-and-stop pushes. Money in the Bank wins led to transitional world title reigns before his aimlessly floated back down to the midcard.
Vince McMahon was scheduled to appear on ECW for the first time in the start of a new storyline. He was going to rid ECW of it’s “Original” stars and make the way for a “New Breed.” The meeting quickly turned into another CM Punk bash fest. My role was to run the meeting but dare not speak out of turn on the veteran agents. This was how the previous months meetings had gone but this day was different. It was a new voice in the room that changed everything. 'Um, if you don’t like something the kid is doing, why don’t you work with him to fix it...instead of killing him.' That voice belonged to Shawn Michaels. -Dave Lagana
But CM Punk changed his fortunes on this sweltering summer night. He had finally found a home on the top of the WWE mountain. Knowing that, he'd sign a new contract with the WWE and became the longest-reigning WWE champion of the modern era with a 434-day reign.
In the opening, I said a picture could define a career. And although he's done some spectacular things before and after Money in the Bank 2011, I believe this picture will always define the career of CM Punk. It was the night that he proved all his doubters wrong, and the night that his ascension to the top was completed. It was the night that CM Punk truly solidified himself as the best in the world.