This is part 3 of a multi-part series on CM Punk. You can find part 4 here.
We began our journey with a voice, a tale of CM Punk as he decreed himself ‘The Best In The World’, discussing the trials he battled through in order to win the WWE Championship back from the man who stole his title, Alberto Del Rio. Last time, Punk vanquished Del Rio in a rematch, survived against the odds at TLC, and fought back the machinations of Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and Interim General Manager John Laurinaitis.
Growing into his role as WWE Champion and a locker room leader for talents such as Mick Foley, Zack Ryder and Daniel Bryan, ‘The Straight Edge Superstar’ entered his 71st day as champion defending against a Dolph Ziggler who’d earned (with a little help from Laurinaitis) several victories over Punk. Welcome to the Royal Rumble, where Punk was facing Ziggler, his manager Vickie Guerrero, and the guest referee…John Laurinaitis.
Royal Rumble (29th January 2012)
WWE Championship Match
CM Punk (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler w/ Vickie Guerrero
Prior to the match, Laurinaitis announces that he will be on the outside, calling down a referee, and makes a big show of sending Guerrero to the back. Michael Cole refers to the fact Vickie Guerrero was supposed to be banned from ringside, a stipulation they surprisingly kept intact. Punk is trying to end the match quickly with sunset flips and an attempted Anaconda Vice, but when Punk climbs up top he gets caught and lands badly on his neck. Ziggler controls the match with a neckbreaker and multiple elbow drops, before a sleeperhold and gorgeous dropkick gains him a two count.
Ziggler’s Fameasser attempt is reversed into a Sit-Out Powerbomb, with Punk getting a close two count. Punk gets some momentum with a leg lariat, neckbreaker and the Shining Wizard/Bulldog combo, calling for the GTS, but Ziggler escapes. A vicious roundhouse kick to Ziggler’s skull wipes the challenger out, but Ziggler kicks out just before the three count. A huge elbow drop from the top rope by the champion, is followed by the pin and a nearfall. Punk attempts the GTS, but Ziggler pushes him and the referee gets wiped out.
The referee rolls out of the ring and Laurinaitis checks in on him, completely missing the action as Punk locks in the Anaconda Vice, forcing Ziggler to tap. A roll-up attempt by Ziggler gets reversed by a frustrated Punk, as he goes into his own roll-up for the pin. The four-count is missed by Laurinaitis yet again, leaving Punk furious. As Punk and Laurinaitis argue, Ziggler tries to take advantage, but Punk hits the GTS on Ziggler. However, Ziggler’s legs hit Laurinaitis in the head on the outside. Enraged, Laurinaitis refuses to count. Now, CM Punk is properly pissed off.
As Punk goes for another GTS, Ziggler reverses it into a Fameasser and the referee is up. Ziggler covers, one, two, th- Punk just kicks out. Ziggler tries to take advantage, but Punk gets a slingshot and hits another GTS, finally getting the pinfall victory as Laurinaitis slides in to count the three with the referee.
Winner Via Pinfall – CM Punk
Currently 71 Day Title Reign and Four Title Defences.
Here, we see an emphatic victory for the champion in a match that was more focused on the tension between Punk and Laurinaitis, as opposed to Ziggler, whose strong booking in the build-up was slightly negated here. With four occasions that Punk had the match won, Ziggler’s closest moment was the Fameasser before the end, but by then, the moment was lost. Despite this, Punk with a solid title defence in the best non-Rumble match of the night.
The Rumble itself featured a solid final two, former WWE Champion Sheamus and the newly returned favourite Chris Jericho battling out for several minutes in a back-and forth finish. To the surprise of many, a perfectly timed Brogue Kick eliminated Jericho and propelled Sheamus to the main event of WrestleMania. The question was, would he challenge World Champion Daniel Bryan, or the ‘Best In The World’?
The next night set the stage for the next PPV, Elimination Chamber, as Interim General Manager John Laurinaitis announced that Punk was defending his title in the Chamber against Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, R-Truth and the Rumble runner-up, Chris Jericho. In response, Punk himself came out to begin a rendition of “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye” with the crowd, giddy at Laurinaitis’ performance review by COO Triple-H later that night. Swiftly joined by both Bryan and Sheamus, the crowd were hyped by the announcement that they would see Champion against Champion, Punk versus Bryan, with Sheamus mentioning he could challenge for either one at WrestleMania.
In a statement that will likely elicit responses of “well, duh”, the match between Punk and Bryan is a bit of a forgotten gem, Bryan’s vicious attack and control of Punk’s left arm selling Bryan as his equal, while Punk’s tenacious fightback showed his fighting spirit. The smooth interplay and chemistry between these two crowd favourites was engrossing to watch, but they cleverly left out major moves like the GTS, LaBell Lock and the Anaconda Vice, hinting at them instead, leaving material for future matches. The biggest story instead was the surprise appearance of Jericho, attacking Bryan and Punk to end the match (Bryan won by disqualification). A Codebreaker left Punk down as Jericho glared at the WWE Champion, leaving Punk, the crowd, and the announcer in shock.
The following week on February 6th (13 days before the Elimination Chamber), Chris Jericho strode down to the ring, proclaiming that “the end of the world has arrived”. He was here to end all the liars, the plagiarists, the charlatans. His return has made everyone obsolete as they are nothing more than cheap copies of Chris Jericho, wannabes on the roster and in the crowd. Whether it’s The Miz scowling in a suit whilst talking slowly, Kofi Kingston busting out new high flying moves, R-Truth’s use of “What’s Up?” (referencing “Shut the hell up”), or Dolph Ziggler walking to the ring with a famous wife as his valet, Jericho had done it all first. And the worst culprit is CM Punk, because Jericho is the true “Best In The World at what I do”.
Unsurprisingly a great promo from Jericho, as he builds a case for his motivations and turns the fans against him, tying in the promos leading up to his debut with his recent actions. Punk quickly responded by entering the ring, holding the microphone up, then dropping it and just holding up the WWE Championship in answer to Jericho. With that, Punk turned and exited the ring, even allowing Jericho time for a free shot, as if goading his opponent in.
Instead, a flustered and angry Jericho was left seething at Punk’s lack of response. The WWE Champion, meanwhile, knew that the only answer he needed was the title. In the main event that night, a Six Pack Challenge was won by Jericho, earning the final entry at the Elimination Chamber. In an antagonist moment, Jericho sat in the ring with the championship, aping and mocking Punk.
The final episode prior to Elimination Chamber features an opening segment with all six participants debating why they will win the match, with R-Truth unsurprisingly stealing it with his madness. However, despite Kofi admitting he’s being treated an afterthought, R-Truth suggesting he will drink Granny’s Spider Soup to win (seriously), and a confident outburst from Miz and Ziggler, the main focus is undoubtedly between Punk and Jericho, standing face to face at the end of the debate.
Elimination Chamber (19th February 2012)
Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship
CM Punk (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler w/ Vickie Guerrero vs. Kofi Kingston vs. R-Truth vs. The Miz vs. Chris Jericho
Elimination Chamber kicks off with Chris Jericho, The Miz, R-Truth, and Dolph Ziggler entering the pods, with R-Truth awaiting the champion in the ring. To the surprise of nobody, Punk elicits a hell of a reaction, his clean shaven face slightly weird to see. Punk makes a point of going to all five challengers, holding his title aloft and declaring himself “Best In The World”. This is the fourteenth iteration of the Elimination Chamber, previously only three competitors (Triple-H, John Cena and Edge) had successfully defended a championship in the Chamber, while Jericho had previously won the World Championship at the 2010 Elimination Chamber event. It was enough for Punk to have history against him, but as the first entrant, all the odds were against him.
Kofi kicks off the excitement of Elimination Chamber as he jumps over the top rope and lands on the outside, impressing Punk with his agility. An exchange of roll-ups and pin attempts are unsuccessful, and Punk tries to suplex Kofi to the outside, but gets unceremoniously dropped knee and hip first on the steel grating. Punk reverses a slingshot with his own and sends Kofi face first into Jericho’s pod, before hitting Kofi with a suplex on the steel. First to enter from a Pod is Dolph Ziggler, who quickly goes on the attack, grinding Punk’s face into the chains and using the Fireman’s Carry to bring Punk down onto the steel. Ziggler shows off by climbing up the chains and doing ab pull-ups, before hitting a diving leg drop for a two count on the inside.
All three men are feeling the aftereffects of the Chamber already, with Kofi and Punk both walking sorely as they double team Ziggler. Punk and Kofi both springboard off opposite ropes, but collide in midair as Ziggler moves out of the way. Everyone’s down on the mat as the timer counts down. The second entrant from the Pods is R-Truth, who hip tosses Ziggler over the ropes and onto the steel grate in a wince-inducing landing. A scissors kick on Ziggler gets R-Truth a two count only, but R-Truth gets caught on the top rope with a running Shining Wizard and superplex by Punk for a close two count. As Punk gains control fo the ring, he hits a massive flying elbow drop on R-Truth to get the three count.
Eliminated: R-Truth by CM Punk.
Ziggler tries to catch Punk off-guard with an O’Connor Roll, while Punk reverses into his own. Kofi brings a Trouble In Paradise out from nowhere, and the champion is down. But instead of taking advantage, Kofi and Ziggler fight over it and by the time Kofi gets the cover, Punk kicks out at two. A furious Kofi springboards onto the wall, then jumps off and hits Ziggler with a Tornado Spike DDT. Ziggler is out, and with all three men down, The Miz gets released as the fifth competitor.
Punk is thrown into the ringpost shoulder first, and Kofi is thrown into an empty pod. Ziggler is launched onto the steel yet again, with Miz taking advantage. Miz’s attempt with the Skull Crushing Finale is reversed by Punk into a pin, but Miz kicks out. Miz hits a Spike DDT to cut Punk’s momentum off, as Jericho looks in from his pod.
A Snap Power Slam from Punk for a two count on Miz, as Punk locks in the Anaconda Vice to tap him out. At this point, Jericho enters the ring and Punk lets go, with all his focus on Jericho. Both men exchange attacks, with Punk reversing a Walls of Jericho attempt, and Jericho escapes the GTS, pulling the Bulldog/Lionsault combo for a two count only. Ziggler’s attempt to pin Jericho ends in Jericho hitting the Codebreaker and pinning Ziggler.
Eliminated: Dolph Ziggler by Chris Jericho.
Jericho resumes his attack on Punk, but Punk slingshots Jericho out of the ring and throws him into multiple pods. Jericho escapes and briefly hides in a pod. Punk’s attempt to get Jericho out leads to Jericho trapping Punk’s left shoulder and neck in the sliding door, possibly injuring the champion. Kofi hits a painful-looking SOS to Jericho on the steel grate, and Miz tries to sneak a pin, with a two count only.
The Miz refuses to give up as referee Jack Doan checks on him. Miz attacks with a vicious onslaught, but Kofi battling back. Punk hits a folding Powerbomb to Miz off the second rope, one, two, Miz kicks out, and both men stand up to Kofi flying off the top of the pod with a Crossbody. The Miz barely gets his shoulder up in time. Suddenly, Kofi turns into a Walls of Jericho and has to tap.
Eliminated: Kofi Kingston by Chris Jericho.
Three men are left, but Jericho refuses to let go of Kofi, eventually throwing him to the outside and against the chains. Kofi gets thrown out of the Chamber, and as Jericho gloats, he turns into right into Punk’s roundhouse kick, sending Jericho out into a cameraman. The referees can’t get a response from Jericho, and the doctor runs to check on him. With no response, the doctor makes the call that Jericho cannot continue.
Eliminated: Chris Jericho by Knockout.
As the doctor continues to check on Jericho, The Miz attacks Punk, only to receive a kick to the head for the two count. Punk, with his patented Shining Wizard in the corner, gets him another two count on Miz. Punk’s attempted springboard clothesline gets reversed into a Skull Crushing Finale, covers, one, two, th-Punk just kicks out. It’s a tremendous nearfall as a desperate Miz continues his attack with punches in the corner. Miz misses an attack into the corner and Punk hits the GTS, one, two, three, Punk retains.
Winner Via Pinfall – CM Punk
Currently 92 Day Title Reign and Five Title Defences.
Punk with an excellent title defence, lasting over thirty-two minutes as he went coast-to-coast, eliminating three men to survive the Chamber. All six men added to this match, Miz demonstrating a rare viciousness, Ziggler’s selling emphasising the physicality of the Chamber, Kingston’s high flying and R-Truth’s smooth agility, and of course, Jericho.
As the veteran of the match, Jericho’s timing and storytelling is as great as ever, and the decision to have him removed from the match in such a manner was a clever move, as it eliminated him in a protective manner whilst giving him a legitimate gripe. The moments between Punk and Jericho hinted at how good a match between the two could be. The only negative may be, why did this match open the event and a lacklustre Ambulance match with Kane and John Cena main evented. Either way, we now have six weeks to WrestleMania.
The next night on Raw was main evented by a Ten Man #1 Contendership Battle Royale, with the winner going on to challenge CM Punk for the WWE Championship. The ten men involved, in elimination order, are The Great Khali, The Miz, Wade Barrett, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, Santino Marella, Cody Rhodes, The Big Show, and eventual winner, Chris Jericho. The victory by Jericho was unsurprising, but was definitely the right choice, as Punk and Jericho are brilliant in the ring and on the microphone. Punk even spent the Battle Royale on commentary, ‘commentator’s jacket’ over his T-Shirt, briefs and ever present championship.
The following week opened with Punk taking on Daniel Bryan in a non-title match in a rematch from the previous week’s SmackDown. The match was restarted twice by Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis and SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long, ending in a double pin, only to be interrupted first by his WrestleMania opponent.
Jericho admitted that Punk is a favourite of his, but he’s not as good as him. Jericho is ‘The Best At Everything He Does’, and yet he never had to proclaim it like Punk. The challenger cites his history of travelling all over the world, learning his trade, and stealing shows. He’s a dying breed that, unlike ‘the maverick’ Punk, never concerned himself with backstage politics.
“You’re a Chris Jericho wannabe”.
Punk admits that Jericho is very good, but what angers Punk, is that he never attempted to copy Jericho. Jericho didn’t invent being the best, it was Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart that did. Jericho has beaten them all, classic reigns, moments, WrestleMania moments.
“I am the best at everything I do”.
Punk disagrees, and asks Jericho who is he really trying to prove? CM Punk, the fans, or himself, as Punk says he is the best with confidence, whereas Jericho says it with jealousy, because the truth is:
“You are not The Man like I am”.
“You say you’re the best at everything you do? I’m just the best wrestler in the world”.
“I’m here, swimming with sharks, while you’re out there dancing with stars”.
A furious Jericho tells Punk that all that time, he was thinking of Punk ripping him off. He came back to defeat CM Punk at WrestleMania, and prove he truly is the best. Punk retorts that all Jericho had to do, was say that, and Punk would have said yes. But when Punk wins at WrestleMania, it won’t be the end of the world… just the end of Jericho’s world.
And just like that, the rivalry between Punk and Jericho intensified. It was now a real case of professional pride, the determination for either man to cement their legacy as the best on the biggest wrestling stage of the year, WrestleMania. The match between Bryan and Punk was unfortunately inconsequential, basically window dressing for the ongoing feuds between GM Long and GM Laurinaitis, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan, and Punk against Jericho, who attacked Punk after the match was thrown out.
This seems a perfect place to leave it, as next time we return to witness the professional rivalry gradually become personal.