CM Punk: 10 Career-Defining Moments
I have recently decided to start a series of articles that will focus on the career-defining moments of individual wrestlers.
For every main-event star that has made their mark in the wrestling business, there are moments that, when you look back, define the directions that their career has taken.
I am talking about moments like the iconic "Austin 3:16" promo or Shawn Michaels kicking Marty Jannetty through the "Barber Shop" window, turning points in the respective careers of two icons.
The first article focused on the career of the Miz and his rise from reality-TV reject to WWE champion.
In my second article, I took a chronological journey through the career of our current United States champion, Dolph Ziggler.
The third and latest article in the series will document the wrestling career of one of the WWE's top talents and the most-talked-about wrestler of 2011, CM Punk.
Punk's rise to the top has been meteoric in recent months and when you consider his independent background, it is even more astonishing how far he has come.
Here are 10 moments that defined his career along the way.
1. Wins IWA:Mid-South Heavyweight Title and Works with Eddie Guerrero: 2000-2003
CM Punk first came to the forefront of the independent wrestling scene while working for IWA: Mid South, a company that also included AJ Styles and Colt Cabana.
Punk quickly rose through the ranks and became the IWA Heavyweight Champion. This led to a series of matches with the legendary Eddie Guerrero.
"Latino Heat" had been released from the WWE after a drunk driving incident and spent some time on the independents while attempting to overcome his personal demons.
Guerrero worked some high-profile matches with a young CM Punk that gave the "Straight Edge Superstar" nationwide recognition.
Punk spent three years in IWA, also working with Rey Mysterio, and eventually it was his series of matches with best friend Colt Cabana that saw the "Second City Saints" signed by ROH.
Guerrero put Punk over in a big way in the early days and made Phil Brooks a hot commodity on the independent scene.
2. Five-Star Match with Samoa Joe in Ring of Honor: 2004
Punk quickly became a big star in ROH winning the Heavyweight title on several occasions.
The reputation that he formed for himself in America's third wrestling company eventually brought him to the attention of Vince McMahon and let to signing with WWE.
If you could pick one moment or match that really defined CM Punk's career with ROH, it would be the second instalment of his series with Samoa Joe.
This let the wrestling world know that he had the potential to be a future main event star and cemented his reputation as one of the world's best workers.
Joe and Punk wrestled to a 60 minute time limit draw that harked back to the epic "broadway" matches of old between legends such as Ric Flair, Harley Race and Rickie Steamboat.
Legendary wrestling journalist, Dave Meltzer, gave the match a five-star rating in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
To put this high accolade into context, the previous five-star match to take place in America was the first ever Hell in a Cell match between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker.
3. Defeats John Morrison to Win the ECW Championship: 2007
CM Punk entered the WWE in 2006 as a fan favourite who claimed his only addiction was competition.
He started to use the "Straight Edge" gimmick that would serve him so well as a heel but it was seriously toned down.
It was clear from the beginning that Punk had a cult following among the hardcore fans who loudly cheered him during his PPV debut on Team DX.
Punk's career on ECW consisted mainly of innocuous storylines but he came very close to competing with Chris Benoit for the ECW title at Vengeance 2007.
The tragic circumstances surrounding Benoit's death meant that Punk was never able to compete against one of his idols.
It would not take long for him to win his first singles championship in the WWE, however, as he finally became ECW Champion defeating John Morrison.
It was a "Last Chance" match and the crowd reaction shows how over Punk was as a babyface in his early WWE career.
It also led to the now-famous backstage incident with John Cena that Punk brought up in a recent promo outlining why he had an issue with Cena.
4. Wins Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 24: 2008
The Money in the Bank ladder match has always been an effective way of elevating younger superstars to a main event pedestal. Edge can trace his first world title victory back to the Money in the Bank briefcase, and never once has the contract been cashed in unsuccessfully.
CM Punk had come so close to winning the match exactly a year earlier but was pushed off the ladder by Mr Kennedy.
in 2008, at WrestleMania 24, it was CM Punk's turn to set his sights on the main event scene.
In a spot-filled match that brought the Orlando crowd to the edge of their seats, the Chicago native overcame seven other superstars to retrieve the briefcase.
Fan reaction shows that he was by far the most popular choice to win the match and from this point on, the only way was up for CM Punk.
5. Cashes in MITB Contract on Edge to Become World Heavyweight Champion: 2008
In a moment given the Slammy Award for "Shocker of the Year", CM Punk announced his arrival on Raw by cashing in his contract on a helpless Edge.
The "Rated R Superstar" had been badly beaten down by Batista and Punk took advantage to win his first World Heavyweight Championship.
It was the culmination of a dream for the young athlete from Chicago who had grown up watching the great World Champions of yesteryear.
Punk's first World title reign was short-lived but memorable as he worked with the likes of JBL before Randy Orton punted him in the skull at Unforgiven 2008.
As a result Punk was unable to compete in the Championship Scramble match and was forced to relinquish the title.
He was crucially never defeated for the title and this was not the last time the World Heavyweight Championship would feature in Punk's career..
6. Wins Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 25: 2009
CM Punk was in danger of being relegated back to the mid card after his solitary World title reign of 2008 and could have been lost in the shuffle.
He did become the fastest ever Grand Slam champion in WWE history when he defeated William Regal for the IC title but it seemed his main event push had stalled.
Until that is, Punk became the first man in history to win consecutive Money in the Bank ladder matches.
He was still a babyface at this point and little did the fans know that this triumph would lay the foundations for Punk's transition into one of the most hated heels in the company.
It would lead to a huge rise to prominence as he would go on to feud with two of the WWE's faces at the time, Jeff Hardy and the Undertaker.
7. Turns Heel and Ends Jeff Hardy's Career: 2009
The feud between Jeff Hardy and CM Punk could have written itself.
Both men were supremely talented young athletes that had all the tools needed to reach the pinnacle of the wrestling business.
What Hardy lacked in mic skills, he made up for with a natural charisma and an almost unique connection with the fans that led to an unbelievable popularity.
But the similarities ended there and while Punk lived a sensible lifestyle based on the beliefs of "Straight Edge", Jeff Hardy was a famous party animal whose personal demons with drugs and alcohol had been a major stumbling block in his career.
Vince McMahon had given Hardy second and third chances to atone for his mistakes and it was a poignant moment when he won his first World title.
But when CM Punk cashed in his MITB contract on a weakened champion who had just competed in a brutal ladder match with Edge, the fans were outraged and Punk's heel turn was complete.
The feud between Hardy and Punk over the World Heavyweight title made SmackDown watchable for much of 2009 and will go down as one of the greatest rivalries of the PG era.
Punk's "Straight Edge" principles became more extreme and elitist and he began to talk down to the crowd for poisoning themselves on a nightly basis.
Ironically Punk was right to label Hardy as a poor role model and when it was revealed that the "Charismatic Enigma" had been arrested for cocaine possession, one more match between the two was scheduled for the World Heavyweight title.
They had already competed in a TLC match and in their final bout Hardy put his career on the line inside a Steel Cage.
By this stage the fans hated Punk almost as much as they loved Jeff and after an emotional match that saw Hardy leave the company, the first ever "Straight Edge" World Heavyweight was poised to become the top star on the blue brand.
8. Forms Straight Edge Society: 2009
After a feud with the Undertaker, Punk would eventually lose his World Heavyweight title and after competing in a Fatal Four Way match at Bragging Rights, he would be out of the title picture for almost a year.
But Punk found a way to keep himself relevant and continue to be one of the stars of the show after forming the "Straight Edge Society."
This was a cult group that Punk formed to enhance his gimmick of aversion to drugs and alcohol.
Along with Luke Gallows and Serena, CM Punk would often steal the show with highly entertaining segments which included shaving the heads of members of the audience.
He started to work with Rey Mysterio, with the SES at his side, and the two went on to produce some of the best PPV matches of 2010 including the best pure wrestling bout at WrestleMania 26.
It was during his period as a hated heel with a sinister demeanour and a messianic beard that CM Punk really began to excel on the mic and show the world that he was one of wrestling's premier talkers.
The SES defined a large chunk of Punk's career when the company seemingly had no huge plans for him but he pushed himself to the forefront of their thinking through his own considerable talents as a performer.
9. Cuts a Worked Shoot Promo That Shocks the World: 2011
CM Punk recently set the wrestling world ablaze with a series of scorching promos that pushed the envelope and became a trending topic worldwide.
Punk documented his reasons for his impending departure and did it in his usual controversial fashion.
The one that initially caused such a storm came after Punk earned the right to face John Cena for the WWE Championship.
He grasped all of Vince McMahon's brass rings and said all the things that are not usually allowed to see the light of day on WWE TV.
He mentioned Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman and Hulk Hogan and ripped into a number of highly respected WWE employees including Vince McMahon himself, Triple H, Stephanie, John Cena and the Rock.
Punk helped to bring wrestling back to a mainstream audience by speaking his mind and delivering a worked shoot that Steve Austin described on Twitter as "scorching hot promo...delivery, content and attitude...one of the best promos I've ever seen."
High praise indeed coming from one of the best promo men of all time!
The main element of this promo that captivated so much interest was the debate about whether it was real or fake.
The moment that his mic was cut off caused a stir among wrestling fans and personalities who wondered whether Punk had gone rogue and completely departed from the script.
It was this moment that set in motion a turn of events that would turn the WWE upside down.
10. Defeats John Cena and Leaves with the WWE Championship: 2011
CM Punk was kayfabe suspended after his controversial shoot promo but John Cena begged Vince McMahon to reinstate him in order to maintain the credibility of the WWE title.
Punk still maintained that he was going to leave the company after the Money in the Bank PPV 2011 and refused to consider a lucrative long-term contract.
Punk was preparing to take part in one of the most highly-anticipated pay-per-view events in recent history in front of a partisan hometown crowd in Chicago, Illinois.
The reception for both men was resounding with the screaming Chicago natives making their feelings for John Cena very clear with posters such as "If Punk loses we riot!"
But this match was more than CM Punk versus John Cena.
It was the rebel rising up against the establishment that had struggled to hold him down for so many years.
It was the corporate champion pitted against the maverick who had threatened to leave with company with its prize asset.
It harked back to the "Attitude Era" when the working-class hero, Stone Cold Steve Austin, had fought the corrupt billionaire, Vince McMahon.
But above all it was a battle between the so-called smart wrestling fans in the corner of Punk and the younger generation that screamed for Cena.
The rivalry transcended the tensions of the PG era and it was billed as an all-time classic.
It did not disappoint as both men went all out to produce a match that will truly stand the test of time.
It was dripping with drama and tension, near falls and unsuccessful finishers and there was even an attempt to reenact the "Montreal Screwjob" of 1997.
Punk was finally able to pin Cena to an almighty roar from the crowd and the iconic image of the "Second City Saint" blowing a kiss to VKM as he departed through the throng of adoring fans will never be forgotten.
CM Punk had made the WWE Championship mean something again and his position in the company would never be questioned again.
The rise of CM Punk is only just beginning and the rumours are that he is in line for a huge push that will include a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 28.
He is currently feuding with Alberto Del Rio who has failed to set the world alight as champion and it remains to be seen whether Punk will win the premier title back this Sunday at Survivor Series.
Whatever happens, it is clear that CM Punk has a long and successful career ahead of him and, to many, he represents the future of the business.
The next article in this series will deal with the long and winding career path of R-Truth.
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