Celebrating CM Punk's 10 Greatest Moments as a WWE Superstar on 41st Birthday

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2019

Celebrating CM Punk's 10 Greatest Moments as a WWE Superstar on 41st Birthday

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    Robin Marchant/Getty Images

    It has been five years since CM Punk laced a pair of wrestling boots and did battle inside a WWE ring, but that does not stop fans from chanting his name, eager for the day the charismatic and compelling Voice of the Voiceless returns for one last match.

    Saturday, Punk celebrates his 41st birthday. And in celebration of one of wrestling's most controversial, popular and enduring stars, relive these 10 moments that helped to define his time in McMahonland and continue to fuel fans' desire for his return.

Honorable Mention: Stealing the Rumble

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Punk was in the midst of his Straight Edge Savior phase when he entered the 2010 Royal Rumble match. Less about eliminations, though he had plenty of them, his showing in the annual contest is most memorable for the devotion to his character.

    Grabbing a microphone and denouncing peer pressure, substance abuse and further establishing himself as better than everyone else, he left a lasting impression on the audience.

    Whether he was talking trash, eating a big clothesline from Beth Phoenix or dumping her over the top rope after a sickening Go To Sleep, Punk seized the spotlight and maximized his minutes.

    It was a sign of his brilliance in that era of his persona.

10. An Extreme Debut

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Weeks of vignettes introduced CM Punk to the ECW audience, but it was his debut on the August 1, 2006, episode, from the Hammerstein Ballroom that altered the course of wrestling history and started the Chicago native on a path toward sports-entertainment superstardom.

    On that night, Punk entered the historic venue to a thunderous ovation, proving he already had the people on his side. Years of hard work in Ring of Honor, MLW, FIP and other high-profile indy promotions had earned him the respect and adulation of the same fans tuning into ECW every week.

    To them, he was already an icon.

    He proceeded to tap out ECW original Justin Credible, announcing to the fanbase that not even a former world champion would stop him on his path to the top of the roster.

9. ECW Champion

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    Credit: WWE.com

    For three months, CM Punk chased John Morrison and the ECW Championship.

    For three months, he endured disappointing defeat after disappointing defeat.

    Despite being two of the more promising young stars on the WWE roster, the performers failed to deliver that one strong match reflecting their potential.

    That changed on September 4, 2007, when the Superstars met in the main event of the brand's weekly television show, a stellar match that sucked in the audience and kept them on the edges of their seats, hoping it would be the night the straight edge star emerged with the title and ascended to the top of the brand.

    Punk overcame a game Morrison, withstood an attempt at chicanery and put him away with the Go To Sleep to claim the gold.

    It was a significant moment in Punk's career, if only because it served as proof that WWE management was at least willing to entertain the idea of pushing someone who was the antithesis of the archetypal Superstar.

    There would be many, many frustrations to come for Punk, but were it not for that first championship run and the experience the Chicago native gained from it, he may not have developed into the generational star he became.

8. 2-Time WWE Champion

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    To say Punk never should have lost the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2011 would be an understatement the size of Vince McMahon's ego. He was done an enormous disservice, with his run as the hottest star in the industry cut off for the sake of a Triple H-Kevin Nash rivalry that was 10 years too late.

    Punk somehow managed to navigate the political landmines that had positioned themselves between him and the top spot in the company, and by November, his bulletproof popularity could not be denied. In New York's famed Madison Square Garden, he challenged Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Championship on the undercard of a Survivor Series pay-per-view headlined by The Rock's first match in seven years.

    The challenger overcame the concentrated, ruthless attack of Del Rio to tap him out with the Anaconda Vise and regain a title he never should have lost in the first place.

    The history, aura and energy in MSG made the win that much more meaningful, as did Punk's post-match celebration with the fans who ensured he would get another crack at being wrestling's top dog.

    Even if it was at the dismay of management.

7. 'Happy Birthday, Dear Aliyah!'

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Punk's rivalry with Rey Mysterio started with The Master of the 619 taking him out in the Elimination Chamber in February 2010, but it escalated tenfold on the March 12 episode of SmackDown, when the Straight Edge Savior did the unthinkable: targeted his rival's eight-year-old daughter.

    He creepily crooned happy birthday, intimidating the legendary luchador and his loved ones. There was no goodwill behind any of his words and no sense of sincerity. Punk made a very real, very public threat to Mysterio's loved ones, even if it were in an indirect manner.

    The performance was one that not only helped Punk to leap off the screen, connecting with the audience in a guttural manner, but it also added levity to the feud with Mysterio. No longer was this a dispute between two grown men over a loss; it was a blood feud between an honorable hero and his despicable foe.

    The segment fueled a WrestleMania showdown, a series of rematches and, ultimately, a Hair vs. Hair match that played right into Punk's character and the haircuts he had dealt to his followers upon the creation of The Straight Edge Society.

6. World Heavyweight Champion

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The June 30, 2008, episode of Raw kicked off with Batista unleashing an unholy ass-kicking on world heavyweight champion Edge, leaving the Rated R Superstar lying in the center of the ring following a punishing Batista Bomb.

    The beatdown opened the door for an opportunistic Punk to cash in his first Money in the Bank briefcase. He did, much to the delight of the unsuspecting fans in Oklahoma City, and pinned Edge to capture the first world title of his WWE career.

    The elation on Punk's face would be short-lived, though.

    The monumental moment should have been the start of a meteoric rise, but backstage politics, differences in philosophy between those with pull and an unsatisfying conclusion to the run resulted in a disappointing situation that only fueled the frustration Punk had felt in wrestling's biggest company from day one.

5. The Best vs. The Beast

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    Credit: WWE.com

    It was not easy to upstage Daniel Bryan in 2013, but Punk and Brock Lesnar did just that in one of the year's very best rivalries. A marquee bout on the SummerSlam card, their war was the result of Paul Heyman's shocking betrayal of Punk.

    Under No Holds Barred rules, Punk and Lesnar tore the house down in Los Angeles, keeping the fans on the edges of their seats with dramatic near-falls, engrossing high spots and near-falls that left their hearts racing.

    Punk absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment from Lesnar and was in position to win the match when Heyman's interference cost him the win.

    While Lesnar would go on to victory, Punk further established his excellence between the ropes while reminding fans that his disjointed booking and frustrating use at times would not adversely affect what he accomplished once the bell rang. 

4. 2-Time Money in the Bank Winner

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There was a time when Money in the Bank was used as a springboard for younger or underutilized stars to skyrocket up the ranks and into championship contention. For Edge and Rob Van Dam, wins in that ladder match catapulted them to the tippy top of the industry, netting them world titles and establishing them as main event stars.

    In 2008, at WrestleMania XXIV, Punk was tapped to follow in their footsteps as he won the Money in the Bank briefcase, defeating Mr. Kennedy, Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, John Morrison, MVP and Chris Jericho. He turned the championship opportunity he earned from that victory into his first world title reign.

    A year later, he limped into WrestleMania XXV, lacking the momentum he had a year earlier after a mismanaged world championship reign. What could have been inclusion in the Money in the Bank match for inclusion's sake was, instead, a do-over for management.

    Punk stunned the world, becoming the first man to win two Money in the Bank ladder matches.

    And he successfully cashed in on two separate occasions.

    Like his ECW Championship win, the opportunities presented to him in consecutive years on wrestling's grandest stage were reflective of some in management's belief that he could be a major star for a company that was still dependent upon aging vets and stale babyfaces.

3. A Phenom-enal Showcase

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Punk vs. Undertaker should have main-evented WrestleMania 29 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    Yes, Rock vs. Cena II was a blockbuster match, but it lacked the heat that the other marquee bout of the night had entering the biggest show of the year. Punk's vendetta with The Deadman was born of the disrespect he showed the recently deceased Paul Bearer. It was an intensely personal match that had the emotion behind it that the rematch of the previous year's main event did not.

    It was also a better contest.

    Punk wore down Taker, nearly beating him on more than one occasion in an effort to become the first Superstar to place a blemish on his win-loss record at The Showcase of the Immortals. He threw caution to the wind, soaring through the air and dropping an elbow on his opponent's chest, driving him through an announce table and putting his own surgically repaired knee at risk.

    He ultimately fell, like so many before him, to The Phenom.

    The match, one of his finest with the company, was one of the few bright spots of his last full year with the promotion and provided him with yet another WrestleMania moment he could hang his proverbial hat on.

2 Heroic Homecoming

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    Credit: WWE.com

    As influential as Punk's Pipe Bomb promo proved to be, the follow-up and big-money match with John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 in his hometown of Chicago was equally as significant.

    WWE had developed, deservedly so, a reputation for botching the payoffs to top stories by the time that particular PPV rolled around. As a result, there was understandable concern about WWE's willingness to do what was necessary and put Punk over Cena, thus paying off his incredible run.

    Uneasiness hung over Allstate Arena like a dark cloud, waiting to rain on the parades of fans expecting to see their hometown hero somehow jobbed out of the gold.

    That outcome never came.

    Instead, Punk overcame the presences of Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis, pinned Cena and escaped the iconic arena with the championship in tow.

    The red-hot audience, the classic match and the moments immediately following the decision, in which Punk escaped through the crowd and out the door with his newly won title, were executed to perfection. The win catapulted Punk into a new stratosphere.

    He became a cornerstone of the company and, more importantly, one of its faces. His role was enhanced exponentially, and the audience ate up all things Punk. And understandably so. He was cool, an anti-authority rebel who should have eclipsed Cena and become the undisputed face of the company. Should have, being the operative term.

    Punk never did and left the company within three years because of creative failures and a back injury that plagued him throughout 2013. Yet his friends, fans and family all have the magical moment of confirmation in Chicago to celebrate.

1. The Pipe Bomb

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There are moments in time that define entire eras of professional wrestling. On June 28, 2011, a frustrated Punk sat atop the Raw stage and addressed his impending departure from WWE. He ran down The Rock, poked at the McMahon family and Vince's "doofus son-in-law." He was relentless as he went in on lazy eBayers and fans he held just as responsible for his frustration with the company as anyone.

    It was no holds barred, the type of star-making word vomit that not only managed to draw casual fans to the product but also the wider media. Punk's railing against the system hit a nerve and had some believing they had just witnessed that era's "Austin 3:16" speech.

    ESPN, Jimmy Kimmel and other mainstream outlets picked up on the promo, and fans who had not watched wrestling in a decade returned to the show, eager to see how WWE would follow up on its star's new-found notoriety.

    Punk became the Voice of the Voiceless, and even if WWE's response to its new audience was not exactly what one would have hoped for, there is no denying the pop-cultural influence the promo had, the star it made and the blurred-lines approach to the storytelling McMahon and Co. have never truly embraced—even as competition thrives because of their willingness to do just that.

    That moment elevated Punk from a fantastic wrestler seeking a chance to become one of the faces of professional wrestling in an era desperately searching for someone besides John Cena to a household name.

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