Almost nine years ago, the professional wrestling World witnessed a “where were you when it happened?” moment. All it took was CM Punk, a microphone and years of him feeling disrespected. It brought out one of the most incredible, passion filled promos the wrestling industry has ever seen.
June 27th, 2011, WWE was spun on its axis with a five minute, fourteen second diatribe on WWE RAW that is still seen to this day as one of the greatest promos of all time. You could feel the energy in CM Punk’s voice as the crowd was eating every spoken word on this memorable close to a Monday night RAW. He spoke some incredible truths during his passion filled promo.
At the time of the promo, CM Punk was one of the best overall wrestlers in the World. He walked into the WWE as one of the most heralded signings from the independent scene, having been a Ring Of Honor World Heavyweight Champion, and two-time Tag Team Champion. At a time where men like Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson and Christopher Daniels were core players in the promotion, Punk was their equal, if not better. He had a moxie on the mic that was his spotlight stealing trait and trump card. Simply put, there wasn’t a person on the Independent scene who was CM Punk’s equal on the mic.
Paul Heyman stood up for Punk when he signed with the WWE. Punk was sent to OVW where Heyman grew a tremendous amount of appreciation for him. When Vince McMahon was looking to reincarnate ECW, Heyman wanted Punk to be his top guy. He saw gold with Punk’s ability to tell stories in the ring and on the mic. Punk’s confidence in himself was seen by some as a little standoffish. Yet Heyman knew that he had a star on his hands, even if the WWE didn’t see it yet. So what events led to CM Punk’s pipe bomb?
He was a three-time WWE World Heavyweight champ, which was considered the secondary World title in the promotion. Two of those title wins were Money In The Bank cash-ins. His title reigns were a combined 160 days, which would be almost three times LESS than his one reign as WWE Champion. It felt like Punk was being given these titles to appease him, only to give the belt and honor back to the likes of Chris Jericho and The Undertaker. Men who the WWE had larger faith in running with the metaphorical “company’s golden ball”, than a man who truly earned a longer run at the top. In spite of Punk’s popularity with the fans, The WWE wasn’t fully satisfied with him due to his “lack of a physique” and his confrontational presence. Punk would question WWE creative only because he knew what his capabilities in the ring and on the microphone were. So he continued to challenge the status quo of World Wrestling Entertainment’s hierarchy.
Punk had felt disrespected from day one. Performing at the highest of levels in the WWE and feeling like he couldn’t break through the proverbial “glass ceiling” that very few performers before him shattered. One important detail that may have held Punk back was his physique and stature. He did not fit the stereotypical mold of what a ‘larger than life’ WWE performer looked like. Punk was smaller in stature, yet mighty with a microphone in his hand. He would play to his strengths throughout his career. Punk parlayed that into what we saw as an overachiever that changed the way a champion would be looked at moving forward. The path that he paved for scintillating talents such as Daniel Bryan and Adam Cole to become World Champions is what made CM Punk in my eyes, a trailblazer in the wrestling industry.
We were used to seeing icons like The Rock and Steve Austin who became talents that were synonymous with the WWE. Yet, they were also thought of as bigger names than World Wrestling Entertainment as an entity. It would be one of Punk’s biggest goals in the promotion that a minuscule percentage of performers had achieved. A very lofty one at that which he never quite reached, but he indeed made a large timestamp in the footnotes of WWE history when his wrestling career had ended.
CM Punk’s promo was the most incredible piece of work at the time I’ve ever heard. It also came a time when I had stopped pro wrestling altogether. My disassociation with it had nothing to do with the entertainment it had always provided me. I was in a different place in my life for almost three years, which left me to step away from paying attention to one of my biggest passions.
Driving into work the following day after Punk’s pipebomb, a National radio host Colin Cowherd had a segment on the WWE and played this sensational promo in its entirety. My eyes had been opened wide with amazement and joy. I immediately called my brother who was a big fan during the Attitude Era. I told him with jubilation that I heard “the best promo of all time” on the radio. When we hung up from our conversation, he went to YouTube and watched Punk’s masterpiece. About an hour later, he texted me back “I’m watching wrestling again, WOW!” We both were in agreement that there was something special about CM Punk. This led me to go back into the archives and watch his older work. Within a matter of days, I would stumble upon a similar promo from the “Pipebomb” master.
Flashback to June 18, 2005. Nearly six years to the day of his WWE pipebomb, CM Punk would stun the wrestling world, defeating Austin Aries in a thrilling bout to win the Ring Of Honor World Championship. The shocking part was Punk had been rumored to have already signed his contract with the WWE. Punk now had possession of the ROH World title, Punk would hop on the microphone and do what he does best: stir the pot with a brilliant soliloquy.
“In the hands of any normal man in the back, this is just a microphone. If you put it in the hands of a dangerous man like myself, it becomes a pipebomb.”
Later on in the promo, Punk would fool all of the wrestling fans and turn heel – proclaiming that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was that he never existed. Punk would indeed claim to be the devil himself after being put over as a superhero by hall of fame legend Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat one year prior. The sheer brilliance and calculated structure of his promo was masterful. Punk was a true student of professional wrestling. He has the intelligence to build up a babyface presence, tell compelling stories, and flip the switch to an incredible heel character – which made his Ring Of Honor promo a masterpiece that stands the test of time.
Fast forward to one month after his WWE pipebomb, Money In The Bank on July 17th, 2011. CM Punk would take on John Cena in the main event for the WWE World Championship. The build up from his pipebomb to this moment was stupendous. Punk would proceed to use his way with words to hype up this match as must see television. Punk’s contract was set to expire the night of the MITB pay per view, adding more intrigue to an already much anticipated main event. Let alone, his opponent was John Cena. One of the most polarizing figures in the WWE, you knew that pure magic was about to unfold on this night.
The bout also happened to be in Chicago, Illinois. The hometown of the challenger on this night: CM Punk. The response of the crowd on this faithful night was electric, a partisan crowd on behalf of Punk. A true to form hometown hero vs corporate villain contest that exceeded the expectations of everyone tuned in. What transpired was a back and forth contest that would set the wrestling World ablaze with a buzz we hadn’t seen or heard in years.
Punk would walk out on this night as the WWE Champion in the first WWE 5 star match, according to the Wrestling Observer, since 1997. The storyline was he hadn’t signed a new WWE contract and was walking out of the company with the WWE title in tow. The rest of his story over the next couple of years was magical. It translated to a 434 day run as WWE Champion, one of the longest title reigns over the last 25 years in the company. CM Punk, during that time, became the most popular star in professional wrestling.
This was due to his tenacious, pitbull like attitude that fans like myself adored. CM Punk was a man who was the voice for the voiceless. From the time of his run ending in 2013 to present day, the business has evolved. We are accepting of champions that don’t look like a Marvel Superhero. Fans look at characters that can elicit emotion out of our soul, tell compelling stories and exude a confidence that is needed to be a company’s flag bearer. CM Punk checked every box.
Punk’s pipebomb led to amazing accomplishments. Not just for him, but for some of his deserving peers in the wrestling business. He spoke highly of himself, but also for some of the under utilized performers in the company. A man like Daniel Bryan would’ve been looked at as an afterthought by the WWE after he was fired back in 2010. One of the best in ring technicians you’ll ever find in pro wrestling, Bryan was considered to be “too small” by the WWE’s standards. He was hired because he had in ring talent, yet would’ve been stuck in the lower card if it wasn’t for the fans and his “Yes movement”. CM Punk spoke up for men like Daniel Bryan, Zack Ryder (Matt Cardona) and Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley). Punk would wrestle Ambrose in FCW when he was WWE champ in 2012.
After a hotly contested match, Punk would grab the microphone and praise him. Saying that “Ambrose has the balls to step and take his position in the company in the future.” Furthermore he said “He hoped that he (Ambrose) would have the same set of nuts in 5 years to come down to FCW and wrestle someone he saw that was worth wrestling.” To elevate another young talent in the industry was of importance to CM Punk. That speaks waves about his character. It’s a big reason why Punk took the stage on June 27th, 2011 to air his grievances with the WWE and change the landscape of what a main event caliber performer looks like.
Nine years later, that mission has been accomplished. Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) is a former WWE Champion and now the AEW World Heavyweight Champion. Guys like Adam Cole, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor have been top guys in WWE and NXT as well. Those three men would’ve been lost in the mid card realms back in Punk’s era due to them being 6′ tall or less and weighing 200 pounds or fewer. Thanks to a change in the culture of pro wrestling, they were given their well deserving chance to main event major cards and have been successful in the industry. CM Punk helped pave the way for what we see on wrestling shows all across the World today.
Punk has always had a way with words. The most amazing part of his character is how it was an extension of who Punk is as a human being. He had the formula which creates mega stars in the world of pro wrestling. Playing himself on screen, with the proverbial volume switch turned up to the absolute max. You see this with performers today such as Becky Lynch, Jon Moxley, and Cody Rhodes, and it helps us connect with them on another level. Punk’s love for the business and the organic nature in which he carried himself is what made him so compelling each and every time he was in the ring or on our televisions.
When I met CM Punk at Starrcast in August of 2019, I was incredibly nervous. I sat in line for over 2 hours to get a photo and meet the man who rejuvenated my passion for pro wrestling. Shaking his hand, I thanked him and told him a very brief story. One in which I used his story as a way of motivation to go from a person on the downs of bankruptcy to a business owner today. His exact words were,
“Congratulations, but I don’t deserve any of the credit, Jesse. You did the work and you should be proud of yourself.”
I indeed was proud. However, I feel that some folks use other people and success stories to fuel us to make our own magic. To write our own story and the confidence that CM Punk exuded in his pro wrestling career was something that I admired. It gave me a purpose to use my own voice as a way to pursue my dreams and reach personal and professional heights I never imagined.
Pro wrestling can be used as a healthy outlet to tell stories that resonate with us. This article is my thank you to CM Punk for bringing the fire to my life and leading me back to my love for professional wrestling. His story is one that will be entrenched in my brain forever.