Debating What Is the Best CM Punk Match of the Last Decade
A decade ago, CM Punk was the hottest star in professional wrestling and one of the faces of WWE. Two years later, he walked away from it all, disheartened with the company and the industry he had devoted his life to and in search of something to help rekindle his passion.
For seven years, he dabbled in acting, devoted his energy to mixed martial arts and wrote a few cool comics, all while wrestling fans longed for the return of The Straight Edge Superstar.
The introduction of All Elite Wrestling in 2019 piqued Punk's interest, and he struck a deal with the promotion to return to the business two years later.
Motivated by a roster of young stars and veteran performers he trusted, and an owner whose vision he believed in, Punk returned to the ring and built on his already incredible in-ring reputation with more emotionally fueled, unabashedly physical and sometimes violent battles.
In celebration of one of the most improbable returns in recent memory, and Punk's recent AEW world title victory, relive these five matches that have defined his last decade of in-ring action and find out which one ranks as his best in that span.
5. AEW Revolution vs. MJF (March 6, 2022)
For months, the feud between Punk and MJF dominated AEW, eclipsing all other rivalries produced by the company. It was so hot that it even relegated world champion "Hangman" Adam Page's feud with Adam Cole to the background.
The two rivals settled their intense feud in a violent Dog Collar match. The culmination of months of promos, brawls, sneak attacks and a tainted MJF victory in their first encounter, the match was everything fans had hoped for and more.
Punk overcame a crimson mask and a nasty superplex onto a pile of thumbtacks to silence MJF and score the win that put an end to their vendetta.
The match was one of the most anticipated in AEW history and it would have been easy for Punk and MJF to underdeliver and disappoint the fans. Instead, they ramped up the intensity and aggression, broke out the necessary weaponry and put an exclamation point on a fantastic rivalry with one of the best matches of either man's career.
Clearly, the best of Punk's AEW run to this point, with that initial MJF match on February 2 being the closest competition to that title.
4. WrestleMania 29 vs. The Undertaker (April 7, 2013)
Frustrated over his position on the WrestleMania 29 card, Punk rolled into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for a showdown with The Undertaker and proceeded to steal the show from the night's main event, which saw John Cena battle with The Rock for the second straight year.
On the run of his career, Punk showed up and showed out in a fantastic match that not only added another epic to his opponent's WrestleMania resume but also enhanced his own legacy in the process.
Still relatively fresh off knee surgery that sidelined him early in 2013, he showed no signs of ill effects, busting his ass to deliver a match that lived up to expectations but served as an announcement to the world that the main event spot that night should have belonged to him and The Deadman.
The dramatic bout saw Punk and his Hall of Fame opponent take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride that culminated with The Phenom using his opponent's own hubris against him and putting him away with the Tombstone piledriver.
Punk did not win the match, but he did not have to. The highest-profile WrestleMania appearance of his career, it was also his final dance on the grand stage. He saved the best for last, though, delivering a match that spotlighted his in-ring excellence and added another Match of the Year candidate to Undertaker's unprecedented run of 'Mania classics.
It may not have appeared on the card where it belonged, but the match was easily the most buzzed-about coming out of The Showcase of the Immortals and there is no better way to stick it to management, Cena or The Rock than by overshadowing that much-advertised rematch.
Punk did just that in what was his final appearance on the WrestleMania stage.
3. Over the Limit vs. Daniel Bryan (May 20, 2012)
Take two of the best and most influential wrestlers of their generation, book them against each other in a no-frills match for the WWE Championship, and the likelihood that something special happens is high.
That was the case in May 2012 at the Over the Limit PPV when Punk defended the top prize in the industry against Daniel Bryan in a dream match. With expectations high, the former Ring of Honor stars wowed the WWE Universe with an ultra-competitive contest that instantly became recognized as one of the company's best that year.
The intensely physical bout saw Punk forced to overcome a rib injury if he hoped to retain the title. An even contest culminated in controversial fashion when Punk shifted his weight, reversing the YES! Lock into a pinning combination.
The referee counted the fall while Punk tapped out a split-second later, giving the impression that Bryan had a claim to the world title, too.
It was a five-star classic that put wrestling at the forefront. Had it not been for the End of an Era match inside Hell in a Cell just over a month earlier at WrestleMania 28, it would have been no contest for that particular honor.
One of the great bouts in either man's WWE runs, this contest remains a hidden gem, stored somewhere behind the higher-profile, more advertised and hyped matches in their careers when it should be celebrated for just how extraordinarily great it is.
It is a testament to Punk's in-ring excellence over the last 10 years that it only slots in at No. 3 on this countdown.
2. Raw vs. John Cena (February 25, 2013)
If there is any match on this countdown that came from out of nowhere to be an all-timer, it is the February 25, 2013 showdown between Punk and John Cena to determine who would challenge The Rock in the main event of WrestleMania 29.
The two had produced classic matches in the past, such as their career-defining Money in the Bank 2011 bout. Still, even with their lineage of superb matches, no one saw the all-timer on a random episode of Monday Night Raw coming.
Punk and Cena built on their previous encounters, reversing and countering everything they threw at one another and keeping the fans guessing as to the outcome. And therein lies the greatness of what they accomplished as everyone knew Cena was heading to WrestleMania to get his win back against The Rock, but they were still sucked into the drama of what the Straight Edge competitor and his longtime rival were creating.
This sort of match is only doable with two virtuoso performers at the helm, and it immediately entered the discussion for the greatest in the long history of WWE's A-show.
Having matched move for move, it came down to Cena breaking out a wholly unexpected top-rope hurricanrana that stunned Punk, followed by one last Attitude Adjustment. Cena scored the win that night, but it was another not-so-subtle reminder of Punk's excellence between the ropes.
A fantastic match that would rank at the top of any other wrestler's list, it lands at No. 2, just behind another five-star encounter from Punk's legendary 2013.
1. SummerSlam 2013 vs. Brock Lesnar (August 18, 2013)
Punk's SummerSlam 2013 match against Brock Lesnar is one of the greatest WWE matches of the last decade and, arguably, one of the best in company history.
A modern take on the classic David vs. Goliath storyline, it featured the wily veteran Punk faced with the seemingly impossible task of slaying The Beast Incarnate and avenging a shocking betrayal at the hands of former friend Paul Heyman in the process.
Along the way, he would endure tremendous pain and punishment from a violent assault by Lesnar. As he had so many times over the course of his career, though, Punk took it in his stride and advanced.
He took everything the former WWE and UFC heavyweight champion threw at him and as the match entered its final throes, he found himself in a position to score an improbable win.
Until Heyman made his presence felt. As Punk directed his focus toward the man he once called a friend, it allowed Lesnar to recover from his opponent's sudden onslaught, hoist him on his shoulders and drive him into a steel chair with the F-5 for the win.
Both men understood the assignment but it was Punk who fueled the story of the match. He sold the beating for his opponent, knew exactly when to start the babyface comeback and generated sympathy through selling before exhibiting the right amount of intensity for his offensive onslaught.
Lesnar was great in what is, arguably, his best match since returning 10 years ago but it was Punk whose performance in the instant classic stands out as not only his best of the last decade, but one of the truly great babyface performances in WWE history.
If you haven't watched this match in a while, go back and do so. It is a modern masterpiece and peak WWE storytelling, all wrapped up in an appropriately physical battle.