CM Punk, The WWE Title, & Being The Best In The World: He Exorcises His Demons

He Exorcises His Demons
Credit: WWE

Ever since CM Punk first bounced back from losing the WWE Championship by defeating Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series and getting everyone’s attention, he’s battled tremendous odds. His successful title defences clobbering past former champion Del Rio and The Miz gained him an enemy in authority figure Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis in the lead up to the Royal Rumble. Even despite the machinations of Laurinaitis as a special guest referee, or facing five other men in an Elimination Chamber, Punk continued to define himself as the ‘Best In The World’.

And then, ‘The Best In The World At Everything He Does’ returned. Chris Jericho claimed that Punk was trying to replicate him, and took that personally, attacking the champion both physically and emotionally in the build up to WrestleMania. With accusations that Punk’s family were suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, calling Punk an illegitimate bastard, Jericho tried everything to get under Punk’s skin. Despite this, Punk retained the WWE Title at WrestleMania, but then Jericho’s worst act, smashing a liquor bottle over the ‘Straight Edge Superstar’. Afterwards, a raw CM Punk bared his soul, admitting that he “smelled like his father”.

But to Jericho’s chagrin, Punk refused to be broken; instead, Punk no longer cared about being ‘The Best In The World’, he only cared about kicking Jericho’s ass. After his impassioned speech, Punk was interrupted by Mark Henry, who had defeated the champion by count-out the previous week.

Monday Night Raw (9th April 2012)

WWE Championship Match

CM Punk (C) vs. Mark Henry

To Henry’s surprise, Punk instantly attacks him with strikes, but Henry knocks him to the outside. Within seconds, Punk grabs a television monitor and hits the challenger, getting disqualified.

Winner Via Disqualification – Mark Henry

Currently 142 Day Title Reign and Eight Title Defences

CM Punk vs Mark Henry
Credit: WWE

As Punk prepares to attack with the monitor, out comes Jericho. With help from Henry, he ends up covering Punk with several cans of beer, proclaiming “Come on Punk, drink it in”. Cemented with a Codebreaker, Jericho celebrated with the title in hand, as Punk lay among the alcohol. Later in the night, Mark Henry revealed in an interview with Josh Matthews that Raw GM Laurinaitis had granted him a rematch for the following week, in a No Count-Out and No Disqualification match. With a hot London crowd cheering on CM Punk, the championship match surprisingly kicked off the show.

Monday Night Raw (16th April 2012)

No Count Out & No Disqualification Match for the WWE Championship

CM Punk (C) vs. Mark Henry

No DQ, No Count Out
Credit: WWE

There’s an early feeling out period as Punk keeps some distance, trying some roundhouse kicks, but Henry quickly throws him into the corner for a few shots. Punk rolls away and goes back to the kicks, looking to chop down the mountain, only to run into a vicious Spinebuster. Punk uses his pace to lull Henry out of the ring and hit a huge Suicide Dive to wipe out the ‘World’s Strongest Man’. Unfortunately, every time Punk starts to get some headway, Henry can throw him into the turnbuckle or choke him against the apron. In desperation, Punk runs along the apron and hits a Flying Bulldog onto Henry, but now he has to try and get Henry into the ring, and that’s the difficulty for the champion.

Punk jumps off the apron, but the challenger catches him and swings him head first into the apron. Henry returns to the ring and completely has his way with Punk, choking and stomping on the champion. Punk, with the hangman drop to Henry, staggers to get a chair. Chair shots to the chest of Henry only results in a two count. He goes for another attempt, but Henry cuts him off, and now the challenger has the chair, placing it in the corner. Punk hits a frenzied attack of chops and forearms to cut Henry off, only for a massive Clothesline to wipe him out. Punk counters a Bearhug attempt by Henry with elbow strikes to the head and a DDT, but Mark Henry refuses to stay down.

Punk climbs up to the top turnbuckle and attempts a flying Crossbody, but Henry catches him. Punk counters over the shoulder and hits a Roundhouse Kick to stagger the challenger. Punk hits the Shining Wizard to the corner but Henry throws off the attempted Bulldog. With the force of a train, Henry rushes towards Punk, but he moves out of the way and Henry hits the chair headfirst. The challenger is down, Punk takes the char and climbs to the top. With a Chair-assisted Elbow Drop, Punk covers, one, two, three, and retains.

Winner Via Pinfall – CM Punk

Currently 149 Day Title Reign and Nine Title Defences

CM Punk Defeats Mark Henry
Credit: WWE

Considering there was only four weeks between WrestleMania XXVIII and Extreme Rules, it’s actually impressive how well WWE put together a short three week program that helped build Punk as a resilient and fighting champion. It reminded me slightly of the original brand split during 2002-04, where you’d have alternating brand PPVs and you could end up seeing Kurt Angle defend the WWE Championship in an Iron Man match against Brock Lesnar on an episode of SmackDown. This was a good Raw title match, with Punk’s victory quickly cut off by Jericho on the TitanTron, announcing that he’s been granted a title shot at Extreme Rules in a Chicago Street Fight, to the delight of the champion.

You tell me I get to kick your ass in Chicago, in front of my friends, my father, my sister?

An unrepentant Jericho then shows a clip of Punk supposedly walking in and out of a British pub (that had real ale on sale), accusing Punk of being drunk, and on the road to alcoholism. The following week on the final Raw before Extreme Rules, Jericho defeated Kofi Kingston before revealing that he’s bought Punk a present, which Punk later shows to be a basket of liquor. Jericho approaches Raw GM Laurinaitis informing him that Punk has been drinking, prompting an in-ring sobriety test for a seemingly drunk champion. With Jericho, two police officers, and Laurinaitis’ assistant Theodore Long in attendance, Punk fails to recite the alphabet backwards or walk a straight line. Before having to hand over the title, Punk requests one last chance, where he struts up and down the line reciting the alphabet with ease and knocks Jericho on his rear end.

WWE Extreme Rules 2012 (29th April 2012)

Chicago Street Fight for the WWE Championship

CM Punk (C) vs. Chris Jericho

Extreme Rules 2012
Credit: WWE

Before the match, Punk informs Matt Striker in an interview that Jericho referred to his father’s demons, but Punk exorcises his demons every time he sets foot in the ring. This war takes place in Punk’s home town, prompting an eruption when he comes out, and in a moment that helps enforce the seriousness of this fight, both men are dressed in street fight clothes with taped up fists. Punk’s shirt even has ‘Poison Free’ and ‘Drug Free’ included, giving his sister in the front row a hug before the match. This has a big match feel as the crowd chants for Punk during the introductions, a moment after the bell to breathe it in.

Instantly both men run into one another, throwing forearms and elbows, with Punk stomping Jericho out to the floor and throwing several chairs into the ring. With Jericho returned to the ring, Punk grabs a kendo stick and unloads his anger on his opponent. An Irish Whip and attempted wing sends the challenger on the run until Punk catches him with a Clothesline. Punk motions to his sister after a kendo shot, and then sets up a chair in the corner. A smarmy Jericho runs to referee Mike Chioda and then gives an eye poke to Punk. Now, Jericho has the kendo stick, and gladly goes on the attack.

On the outside, Punk gets Irish Whipped into the timekeeper’s area, with Jericho unloading a series of right hands. Back in the ring, Jericho removes a turnbuckle pad and hits Punk with it, who responds with chops, but a running Shining Wizard hits a different corner, hobbling the champion. Jericho rips off the barricade in front of Punk’s sister, and proceeds to attack Punk right in front of her, until she slaps the taste out of his mouth. As Jericho goes to grab her, a furious Punk wipes him out, and he’s apoplectic.

CM Punk’s Sister
Credit: WWE

Punk clears both announce tables and sends Jericho through the cover of one of them, breaking it in half. Jericho thankfully escapes a Piledriver attempt and hits Punk with both a television monitor and half the table cover. Jericho tries a pinfall inside the ring but only gets a two count, prompting Jericho to go for a chinlock that Punk reverses with a back suplex. Punk tries a Springboard Clothesline, but he slips, and Jericho covers well with several kendo shots, pointing at Punk’s sister to antagonise him. Punk almost steals it with an Inside Cradle, but Jericho instantly cuts him off. Jericho heads under the ring and emerges with a beer, pouring it over the brutalized Punk.

As the crowd chants his name, Punk hits the Shining Wizard in the corner and follows up with a Running Bulldog, low blowing Jericho with the kendo stick and motioning for the GTS. Jericho slips out and tries for the Walls of Jericho, but Punk escapes. Hobbling up top, Punk gets crotched by Jericho, who attempts a Superplex. Punk powers back, chopping Jericho down and hitting a massive Flying Elbow Drop, one, two, th-Jericho kicks out. Jericho escapes a second GTS attempt and hits a Bulldog, before going for the Lionsault. Punk catches him and attempts another GTS, but Jericho escapes again and throws Punk into the steel chair. With a roll-up, one, two, Punk just kicks out, and both men are exhausted.

As champion and challenger struggle to their feet, Jericho hits a Codebreaker, but doesn’t cover. Instead, he goes for the Walls of Jericho and locks it in. In the middle of the ring, Punk has nowhere to go. He’s scrambling for the ropes, but Jericho drops it down further. Punk finally gets to the rope, but Jericho doesn’t have to let go. Punk scrambles under the ring and grabs a fire extinguisher, spraying it in Jericho’s face, blinding the challenger. As the crowd emphatically chants “CM Punk”, the namesake smacks Jericho in the stomach with the extinguisher, and a Roundhouse Kick drops him onto the Spanish Announce Table.

CM Punk vs Chris Jericho
Credit: WWE

With the crowd willing him on, Punk climbs up top and flies through the air with a colossal Flying Elbow Drop that sends he and Jericho crashing through the announce table. As “CM Punk” rings around the arena, Punk drags Jericho in, covers, one, two, thre-Jericho somehow kicks out. With an Anaconda Vice locked in, Jericho scrambles and grabs a kendo stick, whacking Punk across the head to escape, with Punk rolling away in pain. Punk cuts Jericho off with the chair, but Jericho cleverly uses the chair for a Codebreaker, cover, and just as Chioda’s hand nearly hits the mat a third time, somehow Punk kicks out.

Jericho cries out for Punk to stay down, and cockily goes for the GTS, but Punk counters, slingshots Jericho into the exposed turnbuckle from earlier and hits his own emphatic Go To Sleep, covers, one, two, three, Punk has done it.

Winner Via Pinfall – CM Punk

Currently 162 Day Title Reign and Ten Title Defences

CM Punk Celebrates
Credit: WWE

With a molten atmosphere that just fueled an already volatile match, this was definitely Punk’s best match of his title reign so far, combining character work with emotion and violence. Punk was the perfect hero, defending his families honour against an unrepentant heel like Jericho. The pacing of the match was intoxicating, utilising the weapons akin to a third act battle, building up slowly with the kendo stick and chairs until it reached a crescendo. The finish encompassed the entire feud perfectly, with Jericho’s own hubris and arrogance costing him against an unflinching, unbowed, unbeaten WWE Champion. With this cathartic victory, Punk became the longest reigning WWE Champion since Triple-H’s 210-day reign in 2008, at a time when he felt like the biggest babyface on the roster.

The following night on Raw, it was announced that there would be a Beat The Clock Challenge to determine the next challenger. The Miz defeated Santino Marella in 4 minutes and 18 seconds, which neither Jericho nor Big Show could beat in their match, but Randy Orton did by two seconds against Jack Swagger. Orton’s time of 4:16 was too short for Kane or Great Khali to match, which left former World Champion Daniel Bryan or…Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler to try. After just 2:20 it was official, Daniel Bryan was the new challenger for Punk’s WWE Championship, a choice that Punk was excited to face at WWE Over The Limit.

A week later, Punk took pleasure in antagonising an old foe in Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis, who had announced the previous week he would face John Cena at Over The Limit (yes…really). After referring to Laurinaitis as a joke, stupid, ugly, friendless, oh, and a giant toolbox, Punk was rewarded with a main event match against the handicap team of Bryan and Lord Tensai. The following week did have a tag match with Santino Marella and Punk against Cody Rhodes and Bryan, but unfortunately, the majority of Raw during this time focused on Cena and Laurinaitis.

WWE Over The Limit 2012 (20th May 2012)

WWE Championship Match

CM Punk (C) vs. Daniel Bryan

Over The Limit 2012
Credit: WWE

Punk enters this match slightly injured after Bryan orchestrated an attack from Kane with a steel chair a few days previously. There’s a significant feeling of anticipation from the crowd as the bell rings. Both men smile as they challenge each other to a series of kicks to start things off. Punk begins to focus his attack on Bryan’s left knee, wrapping it in the corner and stomping it, cutting off Bryan with a kick to the same knee. Bryan returns with uppercuts and kicks of his own, but that left knee and thigh is already starting to bother him. Punk sets up a Bow and Arrow Lock and then hits a vicious Curb Stomp, getting a two count.

A baseball slide is avoided by Bryan and he sends Punk into the security barrier, followed up with an Inverted Suplex onto the barrier and a dropkick. Bryan hits a Missile Dropkick off the top rope, which gets him a two count and leaves both men with their own vulnerabilities between Bryan’s left leg and Punk’s midsection. Bryan tries to exacerbate Punk’s injured midsection with an Abdominal Stretch, before hitting Punk with a series of elbows and knee drops. Punk tries to get a Figure Four Leglock but Bryan counters with an Inside Cradle before hitting a running knee to Punk’s midsection again. A mischievous Bryan locks the legs and pulls back Punk’s face, before pulling back Punk’s arms for a painful looking Surfboard. Pulling him down further, he locks him in face to face with a Modified Dragon Sleeper.

Bryan Bow and Arrow Sleeper
Credit: WWE

Some desperate elbows helps Punk escape, and he throws hard forearms to ground Bryan, and then drags himself to safety. Bryan hits several running Knee Drops to the kidneys and back of Punk, who avoids the third attempt with a picturesque Fisherman’s Suplex for a two count. A stomp to Bryan’s left knee and chops from an exhausted Punk, paired with duelling chants of “CM Punk” and “Daniel Bryan”, reflects the back and forth battle between both warriors. A Butterfly Suplex from Bryan and he climbs up top, hitting a huge Diving Headbutt, one, two, Punk kicks out, and Bryan goes back on the offense in a match that is flying by.

Punk and Bryan both go for Crossbodies that end up leaving them both down, though Punk is slightly worse off. They exchange a series of forearms and Punk hits a Leg Lariat and Swinging Neckbreaker, but he’s slow to take advantage. Bryan cuts off the Shining Wizard in the corner, but Punk gets a Powerslam for two. Punk’s suplex is reversed, but Punk drops Bryan to the outside. He follows up with a huge Suicide Dive to wipe out the challenger. A Springboard Clothesline is reversed Bryan with a dropkick to the sternum, but the champion kicks out at two.

Bryan feels the momentum on his side, and starts battering Punk’s chest with kicks. The champion hits a Dragon Screw and a Figure Four Leglock, and both men are slapping each other as Bryan cries out in agony before dragging himself to the bottom rope to escape. Punk claims he “has until five”, a lovely easter egg from Bryan’s days in Ring of Honor. Bryan hits a Sunset Flip for a two count. Punk hits a La Magistral Roll Up for another two count. Bryan hits a Roundhouse to the face of Punk, but he takes too long to cover and Punk kicks out. And as both men breathe heavily, the crowd begins to chant “This Is Awesome”. Bryan removes his left kneepad and tries taking Punk up top but gets crotched as Punk hits a massive Springboard Clothesline and covers, one, two, th-Bryan somehow kicks out.

Bryan In The Corner
Credit: WWE

Both men are on their knees exchanging forearms and headbutts, refusing to back down. Punk goes for his own pinning attempt, and Bryan tries reversing into the Yes Lock. A desperate Punk slingshots Bryan over the rope, who skins the cat and walks into an emphatic Roundhouse Kick from the champion. Punk covers, one, two, and Bryan puts his foot on the bottom rope, with a very tired Punk just removing the leg for another pinfall, this time Bryan kicks out. Punk hits a Scoop Slam and forces himself up top, salutes, and hits a massive Elbow Drop, but he’s in too much pain to cover straight away, giving Bryan enough time to kick out at two.

A vicious Bryan starts throwing knees into the ribs and gut of Punk, psyching himself up with Yes chants for a running dropkick. He misses, giving Punk the opportunity to hit a Shining Wizard in the corner. Punk goes for the Bulldog, but Bryan transitions into the Yes Lock. In the middle of the ring, Punk barely rolls back. Bryan’s shoulders touch the mat and the referee counts one, two, three. A second later, Punk taps, but it doesn’t matter, the match has already been called in his favor.

Winner Via Pinfall – CM Punk

Currently 183 Day Title Reign and Eleven Title Defences

The Yes Lock
Credit: WWE

That was a special match. The importance of this match cannot be understated, as while there had previously been times where both men had been champion of their respective brand, this was two independent icons battling for WWE’s biggest title. The pressure was massive for both men to prove the hype was worth it, and they accomplished it with absolute ease. The familiarity both men had gained over the years from one another allowed a crisp interplay, building on their natural chemistry to create an absolute masterclass in technical brilliance. With Bryan proving himself an unquestionable equal to Punk, they somehow still left enough to warrant a second match, especially with a finish that kept both men strong. An absolute beauty of a match, and one that just added to Punk’s glittering CV as champion so far. In fact, the only negative I could think of is that it didn’t main event the show, but it certainly stole the entire event with ease.

After that excellent match, it feels an appropriate point to leave this article on, but don’t worry, this won’t be the last we see of Daniel Bryan challenging CM Punk…

BigBadaBruce

Ever since a Friday evening when Cartoon Network transitioned into TNT and an episode of Monday Night Nitro, Sam has spent the last two decades plus watching wrestling. WCW, WWE, ECW, Ring of Honor, FWA, NWA:TNA, AEW and many more, wrestling has been a mainstay of his writing career. Previously contributed to the anthology book 'Women Love Wrestling', with all profits going to women's charities around the world: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Love-Wrestling-anthology-wrestling/dp/1654164941

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