It has been a long time since CM Punk last appeared in WWE—at 2014's Royal Rumble pay-per-view. However, as made apparent by audible chants of his name on the most recent edition of SmackDown Live, he has not been forgotten by fans.
For almost eight years, Punk thrilled the WWE Universe with his unique offense inside the ring and his unconventional antics on the microphone. Surely he wasn't expected to succeed upon starting out on the relaunched ECW brand in 2006, but he quickly became a household name and captured the ECW Championship a year later.
The pinnacle of his tenure on ECW came when he shocked the world by winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania XXIV before cashing in the contract to clinch the World Heavyweight Championship in an all-time great Raw moment a couple of months later.
Unfortunately for Punk, it was all downhill from there. Punk was forced to share the spotlight with the likes of John Cena, Batista, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels, causing his title reign to suffer significantly.
The fashion in which he lost the belt at Unforgiven 2008 wasn't exactly ideal—he was stripped of the strap following a backstage ambush from Randy Orton—but at least he was able to rebound soon after by aligning with Kofi Kingston and chasing the Intercontinental Championship.
Going into 2009, Punk continued to climb the ladder to the top of WWE (both figuratively and literally) and made history at WrestleMania XXV by reigning supreme in the Money in the Bank Ladder match for a second time. His heel turn and subsequent SmackDown stint that summer established him as a main event player and further showed his range as a performer.
Punk's program with Jeff Hardy in particular helped put him on the map along with his string of matches against The Undertaker that fall. The Straight Edge Society, a group consisting of Punk, Luke Gallows, Serena and Joey Mercury, was also an underrated highlight from his WWE run that doesn't get talked about enough.
Despite The Second City Saint making the most of everything he was a part of, it isn't difficult to see why he was on the verge of quitting the company in 2011. He lost far more matches than he won and was constantly overlooked in favor of John Cena, The Miz and Randy Orton, among others.
Once Punk began to bleed his real-life frustrations into the worked world of WWE, that was when he was recognized by fans as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, breathing new life into the stale product.
His WWE Championship clashes with John Cena in the summer of 2011 are among the most unforgettable outings in WWE history and also led to groundbreaking promos from Punk on a weekly basis. He was responsible for bringing back realism to Raw and giving fans a reason to tune in every Monday, especially following his epic WWE title win at Money in the Bank.
Despite suffering several unnecessary losses that fall, Punk's popularity skyrocketed, leading him to his yearlong reign with the top title. At what was arguably the peak of his time in WWE, Punk contested classics with Cena, Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan and did more to make that championship mean something than anyone else in the past decade.
Punk's lengthy run as WWE champ came to an end at Royal Rumble 2013, but he was far from done with leaving his mark on the industry. He went on to have a handful of stellar matchups during the remainder of his time with the company, further cementing him as one of the most consistent performers in WWE.
In 2013 alone, Punk pushed The Rock to his limit, nearly snapped The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania and went toe-to-toe with Brock Lesnar in a brutal No Holds Barred match. While he was never able to reclaim the WWE Championship, his work with The Wyatt Family and The Shield elevated both factions ahead of his abrupt departure in early 2014.
It was apparent that Punk's passion for pro wrestling had fizzled out by the time he decided to walk away from the business and that his heart was no longer in it, but he still managed to produce some solid matches on the way out.
He deserved to go out on a better note than he did (there wasn't much glory in getting eliminated by Kane in the Royal Rumble), but the situation surrounding his exit was such that he wasn't left with many alternative options, and thus he once again created change without even being there for WrestleMania XXX.
At the age of 40, Punk has plenty of time to make a comeback to the squared circle if he so wishes. But regardless of whether he steps inside a WWE ring again, he will be forever remembered for the many amazing memories he provided fans with, as well as the few less-than-stellar moments that occurred along the way.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.