This is part 1 of a multi-part series on CM Punk you can find part 2 here
It began with one man, sitting down on the entrance ramp, pissed off at the world and unrepentant about it. In his hands was a microphone, a simple creation that became synonymous with an attempted revolution. You may remember, whether when watching live, rewatching clips on YouTube, or seeing for the first time years down the line, the moment you realized this was something special. Whether it was a namedrop or the growing quiet of the audience in attendance, there came a moment when it clicked, and you understood you were watching history in the making.
“John Cena, while you lay there, hopefully as uncomfortable as you possibly can be, I want you to listen to me. I want you to digest this because before I leave in 3 weeks with your WWE Championship, I have a lot of things I want to get off my chest.
I don’t have you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I do like you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back. I hate this idea that you’re the best. Because you’re not. I’m the best.
I’m the best in the world.
There’s one thing you’re better at than I am, and that’s kissing Vince McMahon’s ass. You’re as good as kissing Vince’s ass as Hulk Hogan was. I don’t know if you’re as good as Dwayne though. He’s a pretty good ass kisser. Always was and still is. Whoops, I’m breaking the fourth wall!
I am the best wrestler in the world.
I’ve been the best ever since day one when I walked into this company. And I’ve been vilified and hated since that day, because Paul Heyman saw something in me that nobody else wanted to admit. That’s right, I’m a Paul Heyman guy. You know who else was a Paul Heyman guy? Brock Lesnar. And he split, just like I’m splitting. But the biggest difference between me and Brock is I’m going to leave with the WWE Championship.
I’ve grabbed so many of Vincent K. McMahon’s brass rings that it’s finally on me that they’re just that, they’re completely imaginary. The only thing that’s real is me, and the fact that day in and day out, for almost six years, I have proved to everybody that I am the best, on this microphone, in that ring, even in commentary! Nobody can touch me!
And yet, no matter how many times I prove it, I’m not on your lovely little collector cups. I’m not on the cover of the program. I’m barely promoted. I don’t get to be on movies. I’m certainly not on any crappy show on the USA Network. I’m not on the poster of WrestleMania. I’m not on the signature that’s produced at the start of the show. I’m not on Conan O’Brien. I’m not on Jimmy Fallon. But the fact of the matter is, I should be.
And trust me, this isn’t sour grapes. But the fact that Dwayne is in the main event at WrestleMania next year and I’m not makes me sick!
Oh hey, let me get something straight. Those of you who are cheering me right now, you are just as big a part of me leaving as anything else. Because you’re the ones who are sipping on those collector cups right now. You’re the ones that buy those programs that my face isn’t on the cover of. And then at five in the morning at the airport, you try to shove it in my face so you can get an autograph and try to sell it on eBay because you’re too lazy to go get a real job.
I’m leaving with the WWE Championship on July 17th. And hell, who knows, maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe, I’ll go back to Ring of Honor. Hey Colt Cabana, how you doing?
The reason I’m leaving is you people. Because after I’m gone, you’re still going to pour money into this company. I’m just a spoke on the wheel. The wheel is going to keep turning and I understand that. Vince McMahon is going to make money despite himself. He’s a millionaire who should be a billionaire. You know why he’s not a billionaire?
Because he surrounds himself with glad-handed, nonsensical, douchebag yes men, like John Laurinaitis, who’s going to tell him everything he wants to hear, and I’d like to think that maybe company will be better after Vince McMahon is dead. But the fact is, it’s going to be taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family.
Let me tell you a personal story about Vince McMahon, alright? We do this whole bully campaign…”
An unforgettable promo that suddenly elevated Punk into the hottest thing in wrestling, and is sometimes even referred to as the moment that brought many lapsed fans back to WWE. This built to Money In The Bank, where the beloved underdog walked into a cauldron of magma heat, as an intense and vocal crowd dared to dream. In a match that featured some of both Cena and Punk’s best work, despite the machinations of a desperate Vince McMahon and the attempted intervention of a Money In The Bank briefcase wielding Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk escaped with the championship into the night. WWE Champion and the hottest talent in the company, CM Punk seemed primed for great importance.
Instead, history reveals that the newly christened Summer of Punk would gradually dwindle as Punk’s return all built up to the return of Kevin Nash, a convoluted storyline about errant text messages, and a midcard feud that encompassed The Miz, R-Truth, and authority figure Triple-H. During this time, the WWE Championship was battled over by Cena and Del Rio, barring a brief inclusion from Punk to take the loss in a Triple Threat Hell In A Cell match. Between August and November of that year, Punk’s Pipe Bomb began to feel like that of a false dawn, a brief and errant hope for an audience favourite.
It may seem strange to begin a series about CM Punk’s record breaking run as WWE Champion by reminiscing about his infamous speech and his struggles prior to winning the championship, but Punk’s story is one that requires great context. His WWE career is primarily remembered for three things: The Pipe Bomb, the victory at Money In The Bank, and the title reign, with all three feeling vitally interconnected. The Pipe Bomb preceded the title victory, and the victory laid the groundwork for his title reign. What feels bemusing in retrospect, is the realization that such a huge victory over John Cena ends up almost negated by the booking that followed, and the title reign that he went on to enjoy could have been amplified by that famous night in Chicago, Illinois.
But the other reason to begin with the Pipe Bomb is because of the fact that many elements of the infamous promo will gain prominence during his title reign. During this series, we will follow Punk’s journey as he regains the championship and embarks on a title reign that would become the sixth longest in WWE history, and the longest since Hulk Hogan’s initial title reign of 1,474 days in 1984. We will witness the highs, discuss the lows, and reminisce the joys along the way, see whether the title reign still holds up, and try to determine whether Punk was right when he declared himself ‘The Best In The World’.
Winning The Championship
At Vengeance 2011, CM Punk teamed with Triple-H in a losing effort to the villainous team of The Miz and R-Truth. The following night on Monday Night Raw (with CM Punk actually featured on the opening package twice, so at least his Pipe Bomb impacted in one way), WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio’s proclamation that nobody is worthy of challenging him antagonized Punk enough to bring him out. With the crowd chanting in support, Punk gleefully reminds Del Rio that not only had Punk recently defeated him, but he never received his rematch for the championship.
Del Rio’s response is unsurprising, mentioning that Punk lost the previous night and is at the back of the queue. As the crowd cheers for Punk, who also offers to just “put you to sleep anyway”, out comes the Interim General Manager, Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and charismatic vacuum John Laurinaitis to interrupt. Punk’s brief aside that Laurinaitis should move his microphone underneath his mouth did make me smile as he intentionally antagonises the EVP of Talent Relations. Laurinaitis’ declaration that he will announce Punk against Del Rio for the title at Survivor Series leaves Punk shocked, and instantly suspicious of the catch.
The catch is that Punk has to say he respects Laurinaitis, which prompts a sequence of false respect and insults from an increasingly angered Punk. The Interim GM responds that he will decide the following week on 31st October. However, Laurinaitis books Punk against the World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry in a non-title match, with the proviso that if Punk wins, he gets his title shot. Despite Punk’s best efforts, Del Rio and his lackey Ricardo Rodriguez’s intentional attack on Henry in front of the referee seemingly cost Punk’s chances of a title shot.
However, later that night, Laurinaitis informed Punk that he will get the title shot… if Del Rio agrees to it. One Anaconda Vice later, and Punk had his title shot at Survivor Series. One thing that’s noticeable in the build-up, is that every time ‘Cult of Personality’ hits, the crowd is instantly behind Punk, chanting his name and willing him on to victory. The comparison between the lacklustre, one-dimensional character of Del Rio and the crowd favourite Punk is astronomical, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ is full of charisma and fury that gets the crowd massively invested each time. Despite the haphazard booking over the previous few months, Punk has a natural superstar aura that the crowd love and won’t let die.
During the Raw episodes prior to Survivor Series, Punk declared his intentions to make the WWE Championship interesting again, and his appearances interrupting Del Rio or Michael Cole are lightning strikes, sparking life into these flat segments. But prior to the PPV, Del Rio had started to gain back his momentum, attacking Punk several times and targeting his left shoulder, trying to weaken the ‘Straight Edge Superstar’. After the attacks from Kevin Nash, R-Truth, and The Miz, having his title stolen by Del Rio cashing in, being hit with lead pipes, his losses to Triple-H, and months of frustration, Punk entered Survivor Series determined to finally get back the WWE Championship he believes he never should have lost.
Survivor Series (20th November 2011)
WWE Championship Match
Alberto Del Rio (C) vs. CM Punk
The editing in the promo package is slightly strange, as it completely eliminates the Mark Henry match and the John Laurinaitis ultimatums, making it seem like Punk just attacked Del Rio with the Anaconda Vice. Weird decision, but the fans don’t care as they are already chanting Punk’s name before the match. A surprise appearance by Howard Finkel to introduce Punk is quite heartwarming as he gets a good reaction from the audience, chanting his name as ‘The Fink’ gets teary eyed. The cheers for Punk are huge as they are unquestionably behind the challenger, leaving Del Rio already flustered and frustrated.
A slow start to begin with, before Punk tried to lock in the Anaconda Vice while Del Rio scrambled out of the ring. Punk’s early offense gets cut off and some cheap shots from Rodriguez frustrates the challenger, whose left arm is the continued focus of Del Rio’s onslaught. Del Rio’s momentum backfires as Punk ducks an attack and the champion lands back first on the outside, with Rodriguez panicking as the referee counts. Del Rio tries getting back control and runs straight into a Big Boot that gets the crowd reacting, starting up another chant.
After an exchange of strikes, Punk gains momentum. With a leg lariat and clothesline that quickens the pace, a Neckbreaker results in a two count. Punk’s jumping knee into the corner transitions into a Bulldog, and another two count, with a Springboard Clothesline getting a third two count. Punk attempts a GTS but Del Rio escapes with a Backstabber and another two count. Punk reverses into a Roll-Up, and both men start to feel tired. An enziguri in the corner gives way to the closest nearfall yet by Del Rio, and Rodriguez is pleading with Del Rio to finish off the challenger.
Del Rio tries going up top but gets headbutted off, and the crowd stands in excitement as Punk motions for the Diving Elbow, but Punk gets crotched on the turnbuckle. Punk, with a second opportunity and a lovely Diving Elbow, gets both a close two count and a chorus “Randy Savage” chants. The Go To Sleep attempt is reversed, a Cross Armbreaker avoided, but Del Rio follows up with the second attempt. With his injured left arm being torn assunder, Punk is screaming in agony as he flails his legs wildly for escape, finally grasping the bottom rope.
A frustrated Del Rio runs at Punk who tries to catch him with the GTS. Del Rio pushes Punk and he Big Boots Rodriguez off the apron as Del Rio tries to take advantage with a Roll-Up. Punk just kicks out to the cheers of the crowd, and hits a side kick and covers. The champ lifts the left arm just in time, and Punk locks in the Anaconda Vice. Del Rio claws at the eyes of Punk, but the challenger won’t let go, and Del Rio has no choice, he taps out.
Winner Via Submission and New WWE Champion – CM Punk
A bit of a slow start hits a much quicker pace after the fall outside, with the crowd seemingly waiting for a moment to react to and become invested. Once that initial Big Boot occurs, the crowd are hooked and start reacting to the match in support of Punk. The tale of the match is a technical focus, with Del Rio relying on his patented Cross Armbreaker as usual, while Punk played both a short term plan and a fallback option. The fallback option is to stick to his normal moveset and build up towards the GTS, which he never actually hits due to Del Rio’s preparation. Punk’s short term plan was to take advantage of any time Del Rio’s guard drops and lock in the Anaconda Vice, which fails in the early moments, but eventually earns him the victory.
The decision to make Punk champion seems surprising considering all the work WWE put into making Del Rio seem a big deal, defeating their figurehead John Cena and making references to his ‘destiny’, being champion for a long time. However, it could be an example of course correction, a realisation that the mistakes made after Punk’s Pipe Bomb and return as WWE Champion, meant they had failed to take advantage of Punk’s momentum and popularity. In the Raw episodes leading up to Survivor Series, it quickly becomes apparent what a big deal Punk is, and how much the fans desire to see him succeed.
The joy on Punk’s face as he jumps in amongst the crowd and celebrates, the cheers and hugs from fans as he holds the title in his arms has an element of purity to it. While his jumping into the crowd after Money In The Bank was akin to running into the night to escape the clutches of both Mr McMahon and Del Rio, this crowd jump seemed spontaneous, a response to the support and a cathartic release from the mess of the previous months. Though the title victory may be seen as the beginning of our journey through Punk’s reign as WWE Champion, it actually serves two purposes, being both a beginning and an end. If Punk’s role as a beloved ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ began with the Pipe Bomb, it wasn’t Money In The Bank that cemented that role, but instead his defeat of Del Rio, allowing him the opportunity to be a proper main event champion. Now it’s a case of whether he can transition from just a voice, to the ‘Best In The World’.
Tune in next time, as CM Punk’s reign as WWE Champion begins with an old foe, and a new enemy, all attempting to climb to the top of the ladder…