This is part 4 of a multi-part series on CM Punk. You can find part 5 here.
We began in the latter months of 2011, as we remembered the trials that CM Punk had suffered, from his infamous ‘Pipe Bomb’ promo to losing the WWE Championship, having the ‘Summer of Punk’ derailed, and finally winning his title back from Alberto Del Rio. The second part covered the end of 2011, where Punk survived challenges from both Del Rio and The Miz whilst being victimised by Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis. In the last part, we witnessed Punk becoming a true leader, defeating Dolph Ziggler at the Royal Rumble and battling five others in the Elimination Chamber. But we also witnessed the beginning of a rivalry based on professional pride between the WWE Champion and the returning Chris Jericho. With both men determined to prove themselves as the ‘Best In The World’, the match was confirmed for WrestleMania.
We return four weeks away from WrestleMania on the 5th March episode of Raw, with CM Punk teaming up with Royal Rumble winner Sheamus to take on Chris Jericho and World Champion Daniel Bryan. It’ll surprise nobody to hear that this was booked by SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long, in charge of Raw for one night and having himself ‘a tag team match, playa’. After a solid tag match, Jericho gets the pinfall victory over Punk, giving him momentum on the way to WrestleMania. The following week, Punk was placed in a match with The Miz, with the proviso that if Miz wins, he’d be added to the WrestleMania card as a member of Team Laurinaitis. Punk eventually defeated Miz, but his celebration was short lived, as Jericho appeared on screen.
In an uncomfortable and fraught moment, Jericho attacked Punk being Straight Edge by revealing that Punk’s father was an alcoholic, a failure who let Punk down. Punk’s fear of becoming his father, surely inevitable considering alcoholism runs in Punk’s family, will be rock bottom for the champion. Jericho swears that he will drive Punk to finally drinking, after he takes the championship away, making Punk a pathetic drunk…just like his father. A very dark attack from Jericho that leaves Punk walking to the back shaken and silent. For 114 days as champion, Punk had been seen as angry, unrepentant, cocky, happy, but he had never been seen in this state: vulnerable.
Two weeks prior to WrestleMania, CM Punk entered the ring to respond to Jericho’s reveal. Punk admits it’s not that Jericho revealed it, but that he revealed it to the world, leaving Punk naked and vulnerable for the world to see. Punk says that everyone in this crowd probably knows someone who suffered with alcoholism, but he refuses to allow Jericho to use it as mind games. All Jericho has done is anger a possible monster that Punk might allow to exact revenge at WrestleMania.
“Don’t let your past nightmares cloud your future dreams”.
Punk reveals that his father has actually overcome his addictions, beaten his demons, and that despite it all, Punk is proud of his father. Just like his father overcame his obstacles, Punk will overcome his own obstacle, which is Chris Jericho and at WrestleMania, he’s going straight through him. Jericho suddenly appears on the TitanTron, apologising for crossing the line the previous week, and promises he will never mention Punk’s father again.
“However, your sister? That’s a whole different ball game.”
Jericho describes Punk’s sister is a drug addict, that she has committed acts to fulfiLl her needs. There is a pattern, and that just means it’s more inevitable that Punk will also become an addict. An angered Punk shouts “Jericho, you’re bullshit”, before walking away from the ring. A very raw and impassioned speech from Punk, his anger bubbling underneath as he opened himself up, showing the humanity and motivations in a usually brash individual. It also adds fury and hatred to the match, with Jericho’s cruel attacks possibly setting Punk off just enough for Jericho to take advantage.
The go-home Raw show featured Punk in a match with Christian, but beforehand, Jericho appeared on the TitanTron once again. Jericho claims he will defeat Punk at WrestleMania this Sunday, and he will also reveal Punk as a fraud. Having already revealed Punk’s father was an alcoholic, and Punk’s sister has a substance addiction, it turns out Punk’s mother…is normal with no vices, but his parents married after his birthday, making Punk the legal definition of a bastard. Christian tries to take advantage, but Punk ends up using Christian’s head as a battering ram on the announce table, vicious elbows, dropping Christian on the steel steps, and then refusing to release an Anaconda Vice, screaming “This is you, Jericho!”, with Christian having to be stretchered out afterwards.
WrestleMania XXVIII (1st April 2012)
WWE Championship Match
CM Punk (C) vs. Chris Jericho
Prior to the match, Laurinaitis informs Punk that if he gets himself disqualified, then he will lose the WWE Championship to Jericho, angering Punk even more. Despite my dislike of Laurinaitis, I can actually see the legitimacy in this comment, making sure that Punk has to beat Jericho through wrestling as opposed to trying to destroy his opponent. The promo package helps convey the vile hatred that developed between both men, and how personal the feud has gotten. An excellent clip of Punk declaring himself “The Best In The World” cuts to Jericho adding, “At What I Do”, showing the heart of the issues between them both. As the bell rings, a smile flickers on Punk’s face as can finally get his hands on the man who has attacked his family so viciously.
Punk very early on unleashes punches and kicks to a downed challenger, while Referee Scott Armstrong reminds him of the rules. Jericho unsurprisingly plays on this, slapping Punk multiple times to antagonise the champion, before Jericho cries out “Punk…how’s your father?” A bristling Punk tries to focus and hit an Elbow Drop, but Jericho rolls out, only for Punk to gleefully hit a flying clothesline. Jericho retorts with “how’s your sister?” and retreats to the ring as Punk grabs a chair and aims to swing, Jericho begging Punk to hit him. Punk calms down enough to drop the chair but leaves himself open for Jericho to take advantage with a Missile Dropkick and clotheslines, hitting a massive suplex to Punk off the apron to the floor with a resounding thud.
Jericho only gets a two count but follows up with elbow drops and backbreakers to the already damaged back, cutting off any attempt from Punk to battle back. Punk reverses a bulldog with a throw into the corner, and starts throwing clotheslines, hitting a Neckbreaker for a two count. Both men retreat to opposite corners, with Punk hitting a vintage Shining Wizard into the corner, but the follow-up Bulldog combo is reversed into an attempted Lionsault, Punk with the knees up but Jericho goes for the Walls of Jericho. Punk escapes and hits a Roundhouse Kick, one, two, Jericho kicks out.
Punk’s second attempt at the Flying Elbow Drop takes too long as Jericho gets knees up, and a Codebreaker to send Punk out of the ring. Jericho gets Punk into the ring and walks into the GTS, Punk crawls to cover, one, two, th-Jericho puts his foot on the bottom rope. Onslaught of kicks and a Scoop powerslam gets the frustrated Punk another two count, jockey between the two for a German Suplex ends with Jericho dropping Punk stomach first on the top rope and bouncing onto his back. Jericho with a follow-up Lionsault, one, two, Punk kicks out. Jericho goes up top but Punk cuts him off with chops and a headbutt, Punk goes a Top-Rope Hurricarana but Jericho cuts him off and locks in the Walls of Jericho in the middle of the ring. A desperate Punk drags himself to the bottom rope, Jericho surprised he hasn’t won.
Jericho back body dropped to the outside and Punk with a suicide dive wipes both men out. Jericho staggers against the ring post, and Punk with a sudden Shining Wizard to smack the back of Jericho’s head against the ring post. Both men into the ring at six, Punk with an attempted Springboard Clothesline but Jericho with the Codebreaker. One, two, th-Punk just gets his arm up. Two attempts at the GTS, elbows from Jericho to escape and he climbs up top, Punk cuts him off. Another GTS attempt, Punk shouting “Best In The World” but Jericho grabs the leg and locks in the Liontamer, transitions into the Walls of Jericho, and Punk is in agony.
The fans are on their feet, imploring Punk to the ropes, Jericho drags him back but that allows Punk to get the Small Package for the two count, Jericho gets his own two count from a Small Package, and then Punk locks in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolls Punk into a pinning predicament, two count only, but Punk won’t let go, Jericho tries with some knees and escapes. Jericho tries for the Walls of Jericho, Punk manoeuvres out of harm’s way and gets the Anaconda Vice again, this time out of reach of Jericho’s knees. It’s locked in, middle of the ring, and Jericho taps.
Winner Via Submission – CM Punk
Currently 134 Day Title Reign and Six Title Defences
A pretty good title defence that started slow but built up intricately, combining the emotionally volatile story with a hard hitting physicality and one-upmanship. The final act of the match was an even battle between two excellent wrestlers, and even though Punk hit the GTS during the match, the damage to his back meant he took too long to cover, and Jericho/s experience meant he could get to the bottom rope. This was a great touch as it showed how dangerous Punk’s GTS is and keeps it strong, while making Jericho look tough and intelligent by maximising his knowledge of the ring around him. After the match, Jericho kicked out at Punk in a moment that hinted there was more to come, but I’d say so far, this was Punk’s best match of this reign.
The next night on Raw featured the beginning of a new era, as John Laurinaitis was officially revealed as the General Manager of both Raw and Smackdown. In a move reminiscent of the old era, the WWE Champion interrupted and antagonised Laurinaitis by declaring that the fans and majority of the locker room view the new GM as “a giant toolbox”. In retaliation, Laurinaitis announced a WWE Championship match that night, with Punk defending against SmackDown’s Mark Henry.
Monday Night Raw (2nd April 2012)
WWE Championship Match
CM Punk (C) vs. Mark Henry
Punk is still feeling the after effects of last night’s match, whilst Henry is being rewarded for helping Laurinaitis defeat former SmackDown General Manager Teddy Long’s team the previous night. Punk starts off with using strikes to keep Henry at bay, to the strong support of the crowd. Unsurprisingly, one swat from the challenger puts Henry in control, targeting Punk’s damaged back with relish, proclaiming that he owns the champion. Large chants of “CM PUNK” as he tries battling back with elbows and an emphatic DDT for a two count. Any kick or strike is willed on by chants of “Yes!” as Punk lands a Running Knee and covers, one, two, Henry grabs the bottom rope.
Punk’s dive off the middle rope is caught by Henry and unceremoniously dumped into the corner by the ‘World’s Strongest Man’, who misses a huge Vader Bomb off the second rope. Punk tries following up with a Springboard Clothesline but Henry just wipes the champion out, every time Punk tries using his agility he gets swatted with ease. A huge crescendo of Roundhouse Kicks, strikes and chops finally knocks Henry down, and Punk with a massive Flying Elbow Drop, but Punk hurts himself in the process. Henry gets up first and Punk hits a Shining Wizard in the corner, a second and an attempted Bulldog has Henry throw Punk out of the ring. A battered Punk cannot get to the ring and the referee gets to ten.
Winner Via Count-Out – Mark Henry (Punk retains the championship)
Currently 135 Day Title Reign and Seven Title Defences
An angry Henry hits Punk with a painful World’s Greatest Slam on the outside, while Laurinaitis comes out to reveal there will be more title defences in Punk’s future. As Punk lays in agony, Chris Jericho appears and declares that he promised to be the reason that Punk would start drinking and pours a whiskey bottle all over the champion. As Jericho grabs a second bottle, he reminds everyone of how Punk’s father was an alcoholic, his sister an addict, his mother even worse, and smashes the second bottle over Punk’s head. Punk is unmoving as Jericho leaves and the medics begin checking on the champion.
The following week, a solemn Punk entered the ring, taking the microphone from Justin Roberts. Bending down in the ring, title laid in front of him, Punk breathes heavily, and speaks. “Straight Edge isn’t a concept everyone gets, I’ve heard it my entire life. It’s just one drink Punk, or just one cigarette, what’s the big deal?” Punk admits it wasn’t a choice made to be cool, in fact it made him the opposite for half his life, it was a choice he made because it was a way of life.
“But the reasons I am Straight Edge is something that I’ve always held close to the vest, it’s something that I’ve tried to keep private for a couple of reasons. The first one is, I really don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. Number two, who cares, who really cares why I’m Straight Edge?”
Punk admits he never wanted to make excuses, never wanted people to feel sorry for him, he decided he would make it to the top of the WWE, and if he did, it would be because he’s the best damn wrestler in the world, which prompts a chant of support from the support.
“Then along comes Chris Jericho.” Punk brings up how Jericho came back, tried getting in his head, tried attacking his privacy, making up lies of drug abuse about his little sister, badmouthing Punk’s mother. And when none of that worked? When Punk made Jericho tap out at WrestleMania?
“Chris Jericho takes it one step further. One step beyond. One step too far.” Punk talks about the whiskey bottle smashed over his head, the whiskey poured over him.
“And as I laid there, in and out of consciousness, struggling to regain some sense of knowing where I am…there was one thought in my head.”
“That thought was, I smelled exactly like my father did.”
Punk retreats to the ropes, seemingly swallowing back tears and anguish.
“That smell that punched me in the face every time my dad got home from work. Or every time he picked me up from Little League-”
Suddenly Chris Jericho appears on the TitanTron, asking if Punk is still hungover from his first drinking experience? Is Punk still tipsy, is he in the middle of his first ever bender? As Punk begins to disagree, Jericho tells him he needs to take the first step, admitting he has a problem, that the WWE Universe is seeing a loser in the ring. Jericho believes he forced Punk into being a drunk for the first time in his life, as Punk is on his knees in the ring, staring at the championship.
“Jericho, the only thing you broke last week is a bottle. You can’t break me. You can bring up all these things and all these memories, and all these emotions, yeah they come flooding back. But guess what your mistake is? Guess what your failure is? Not realising you just made the biggest mistake of your life, because this dark place you sent me to!?”
“I’m going to use it, and I’m going to channel it, and I’m gonna ball up my fists, and every single bad memory I have, and every single crummy emotion that forces through my veins, I’m gonna use against you. And I’m coming for you from this dark place, Jericho. Because this is longer about me being the BEST IN THE WORLD.”
“This is about me kicking your ass!”
The actual episode that featured this speech was followed within seconds by a title rematch between Punk and Henry, and normally I’d like to finish the show or episode that I’m on. But after that speech from Punk, where he bared his soul, admitted the dark emotions that Jericho’s attack unleashed, feels like a perfect place to end on. We had seen Punk previously demonstrate anger, disappointment, even vulnerability, but the rawness of this speech felt very different, unnerving to some degrees. Here, Punk was no longer promising to be champion and defend it. Instead, he was promising to exact revenge.
Next time, we will return on the road to Extreme Rules…