With roughly fifteen years of wrestling under his belt, CM Punk has competed in what seems to be an endless array of matches. Some of them important, some of them irrelevant, but all moving him towards the iconic status he has gained in recent years. Perhaps it’s best to look not just to the matches, but to the feuds behind them. Even this can be an intimidating task, considering the pedigree of Punk’s opponents both on the independent circuit and in the WWE. Some minor feuds hold some serious weight. Names like AJ Styles, Steve Corino, William Regal, and Rey Mysterio have all been left off this list, and that says something about the names who made it! While Punk has reached the highest points of professional wrestling, without these adversaries, he wouldn’t be “The Best in the World.”
VS. Colt Cabana
A feud not defined by animosity, but by friendship. It’s no secret that Colt Cabana is CM Punk’s best friend, but they’ve also had some great matches. As a friend of mine pointed out, the idea of two buddies trying to outdo each other is not only an uncommon sight in professional wrestling but an endearing concept to the crowd. Cabana has been a presence throughout all of the important moments in Punk’s career and vice-versa. Punk even left his home promotion of Ring Of Honor after a loss to Cabana. Though no longer competing together, Punk has kept their association alive, name dropping Cabana on worldwide television on numerous occasions. Punk/Cabana is where both of their careers truly began, and an association that enriches both of their careers to this very day.
VS. Chris Hero
Remember those specific matches that were important? A couple of them can be found here. In 2003, there were few independent wrestlers hotter than Chris Hero and CM Punk. In 2002, they had met in a match for the IWA-MS World Heavyweight Championship, lasting an impressive 55 minutes and literally tearing down the barn that IWA-MS had been running in. Through this feud, Punk began to perfect his “straight edge” gimmick, insulting the crowd on the basis that he was “better than you.” Hero and Punk took their feud all over the country, constantly escalating the intensity and match length. On February 7th, 2003, Punk and Hero would once again clash for the title. In a spectacular 2 out of 3 falls contest, Hero would defeat Punk for the belt after a grueling ninety minute match. Though Punk did not triumph in the bout, and the show purportedly drew less than 50 fans, video of the match circulated quickly and became one of the most celebrated moments of Punk’s early days. This series of matches, as brutal as they were beautiful, established Punk (and Hero for that matter) as true players to watch in the coming years.
While never a headliner in the larger companies, Raven stands as one of the most influential and revered stars in the eyes of hardcore wrestling fans. Another feud from Punk’s impressive 2003, the pairing was an obvious choice. A well known hero who had his share of substance abuse issues against the young heel who happened to believe in a strict code of clean living. Punk had an easy target. What made it truly special was not the matches, but what was happening behind the scenes. Punk, already establishing his reputation for great promos, was paired with a master of the mic. As some may remember, Raven made his name in ECW by speaking and NOT acting, allowing his minions to do his dirty work until the crowd demanded his presence in the ring. Punk credits Raven as one of the first veterans to take him under his wing (sorry, I had to). Along with their brutal matches, Punk also aligned with Raven in TNA during the same year. As they also held similarities in their personae, this worked as well. This feud, which eventually involved Tommy Dreamer as well, and his brief feud with Steve Corino gave Punk a legitimate claim as the successor to the ECW aesthetic. This would be of great importance a few years later.
VS. Samoa Joe
The inevitable came to fruition. The two most charismatic figures in ROH clashed for the title in 2004. Joe, the dominant monster and champion. Punk, the wily but brutal technician. In all honesty, there isn’t much to say here that isn’t said by the matches themselves. This feud not only established Punk and Joe as the top prospects in the wrestling world, but ROH as the place to be on the independent scene for years to come. It was the caliber of these two competitors that brought real prestige to ROH’s title. This conflict would come to its conclusion during the “Summer of Punk” in 2005, in a 4-way match in which neither competitor left with the title. This would not only be the last time the two competed against each other, but Punk’s last night with the ROH belt before leaving for the WWE. Joe himself would soon sign with TNA Wrestling where he remains to this day. Someday, maybe these two will clash again…anything can happen in professional wrestling.
VS. Jeff Hardy
In the summer of 2006, Punk made his debut on WWE’s ECW. For roughly 3 years, Punk was a fan favorite amongst the WWE Universe (yeah, I said it) and held numerous titles. He even held the World Heavyweight Title for an unremarkable run, which ended without Punk ever losing the title in competition. Though the crowd supported him, he never became “the guy”. The summer of 2009 would be the beginning of Punk’s rise to the top. Having won the Money in the Bank title shot at Wrestlemania XXIV, a still heroic Punk would cash in on a vulnerable Jeff Hardy to take the World Heavyweight Title at Night of Champions 2009. As the summer wore on, Punk would turn back to the darkside and begin antagonizing Jeff Hardy over his well documented drug problems…sound familiar? You see, what the WWE crowd did not yet know is that CM Punk was better than them. Don’t worry, he was sure to make that point clear.
Within months, Punk would be the hottest heel in the company. His promos grew more vicious and pointed as the feud wore on. According to Punk himself, this is also when he began to write nearly all of his own material. In his last match for the company, Hardy (who could have easily ridden his own popularity right into Wrestlemania) was defeated by Punk, establishing “The Second City Saint” as a true threat to the main eventers on the roster. Though Punk would lose the belt to The Undertaker shortly after Hardy’s departure, Punk was established. Regardless of personal opinions of Hardy and his problems, his last weeks with the company were an integral part of making CM Punk a top guy in the WWE and gave both Punk and the company new life.
VS. John Cena and The Establishment
As 2011 began, CM Punk was still the hottest heel in the WWE. In the early months of the year, Punk was used in a TV storyline with John Cena, and the crowds consistently went wild. Come Wrestlemania, this changed. Cena was to face The Miz at the biggest show of the year, and Punk was stuck with a hastily explained grudge match against Orton. Though Orton and Punk had a competent showing, the fans then and now cite the show as one of the greatest failures in Wrestlemania history. For months following the show, weekly programs grew stale. That would change. Whether it was planned all along, or a call made close to the day, the night for Punk to ascend had come.
On June 27th, 2011, CM Punk attacked WWE Champion John Cena and cut a promo claiming that the company had misused him and that he, and not the champion, was “The Best In The World.” Punk would go on to take the title from Cena in his home town of Chicago in July of that year. After the show, he appeared to leave the company with it. This was, of course, not the case and Punk would return not only as the hottest property in the business, but as a face for the same reasons he was once a heel. A rebel against the establishment of the WWE, as he had been a rebel in every environment he walked into. The voice of the voiceless. A perfect position for any wrestler, allowing the ability to change your colors on any given week without having to change your character. Punk, face and heel, is essentially the same man.
CM Punk has ridden this wave since the summer of 2011, taking some time on the side to antagonize The Undertaker on the way. Though that feud was also fantastic, it was an extension of the Punk establised in 2011. The Undertaker was, in this turn, the establishment. As his direct attacks on Cena have faded over the years, this feud continues against “The Authority” in the WWE, whomever that may be at the time. Its the genius of the character. Punk can now not only fight physical enemies, but the “mistakes” of his employers. CM Punk levels criticism at anything, and it becomes his current target. Sometimes this puts him with the crowd, sometimes against it. Regardless, he always has his contingent of fans that will support anything he does, even if he seems to be in the wrong. They’ll support him even if he isn’t there, even though there are reports of jealousy issues from “anonymous WWE employees.” For all we know, this feud is still going on right now.