Today I'll be counting down the ten greatest matches of probably the most controversial figure in wrestling today, CM Punk.
In light of Punk's impending, long-awaited UFC debut, I thought I'd reminisce about the greatest matches in the career of this extraordinary talent. Whether he returns to the ring at some point or not, and regardless of his degree of success in MMA, he has undoubtedly cemented a legacy as one of the most fascinating and unconventional top wrestling stars of the last twenty years. Here now are the ten best matches in the remarkable roller coaster career of CM Punk.
10. John Morrison vs. CM Punk - ECW TV 9.4.07
In 2007 Punk was a member of WWE's third brand, the revived (and horribly watered down) ECW. Punk was handpicked by Paul Heyman to be the show's hot new star, and despite tepid feedback from the head office, became a major cult favorite. After over a year of flirting with the ECW Championship and being passed over in favor of seemingly less appropriate candidates (Bobby Lashley anyone?), Punk would get his one last shot at then-Champion John Morrison (a great athlete but another odd choice to represent the "hardcore" brand). Their hand somewhat forced by Morrison's suspension for a Wellness Policy violation, WWE finally gave Punk his first taste of gold on a weekly ECW episode. After a fantastic back-and-forth match, Punk triumphed and began a short run with the ECW Title.
9. Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk - Joe vs. Punk II 10.16.04
Largely credited with putting both Punk and Joe on the Indy wrestling map, the second match of their much-heralded trilogy is widely considered to be the best. Punk and Joe went a full hour for the second time, wrestling to a draw, in a match that pulled out all the stops and earned the elusive "five-star" rating from the Wrestling Observer. I don't love it as much as others do, but it is quite an accomplishment from two of the best workers of the past decade.
8. CM Punk vs. Bryan Danielson - Reborn Stage One 4.23.04
This first-time matchup featured some really great mat work, plus the added intrigue of Punk's then-nemesis Ricky Steamboat as guest referee. Steamboat and Punk's animosity for each other came through beautifully and told a nice side story, while the superb wrestling between Punk and Danielson clearly illustrated both guys were destined for big things.
7. John Cena vs. CM Punk - RAW 2.25.13
Cena and Punk seem to be tailor-made to wrestle each other. The hero vs. the anti-hero. These two delivered four bona fide classic matches from 2011-2013, and this RAW match to determine the #1 Contender at WrestleMania XXIX surpassed everything on that PPV (by a country mile). If there was any doubt Punk deserved to be added to the Rock-Cena rematch, this bout should've removed it. One of the best RAW matches of all-time, and easily the early-2013 Match of the Half-Year.
6. Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk - SummerSlam 8.23.09
This thrilling ladder match felt like the first time WWE really got behind Punk as a top-tier star, and while initially that push didn't last long, this match proved without a doubt that Punk belonged in a headlining role. The chemistry of Elitist Heel Punk vs. Flawed Hero Hardy was undeniable, as Punk was able to exploit Jeff's real-life drug issues to draw some major crowd heat, resulting in the best feud of 2009. After 20+ minutes of some excellent and pretty brutal ladder spots, Punk regained the World Title and seemed poised to finally crash through the glass ceiling (sadly that wouldn't happen for two more years).
5. AJ Styles vs. CM Punk - At Our Best 3.13.04
Not unlike the Punk-Danielson match a month later, this bout told two stories - one of pure athletic competition between Punk and ROH Pure Champion AJ Styles, and one of disdain between Punk and wrestling legend Ricky Steamboat, who also refereed this match. The added wrinkle of ROH Pure rules (a 20-count outside the ring, no punches to the face, and only three rope breaks per wrestler to escape a submission hold) made this match a real treat to watch. Between this excellent match and the Samoa Joe-Jay Briscoe Steel Cage bloodbath, At Our Best is one of ROH's best-ever events.
4. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho - WrestleMania XXVIII 4.1.12
Here's a match that never got its due. Almost unanimously wrestling fans tout the Undertaker-Triple H Hell in a Cell bout as the best match of WrestleMania XXVIII, and in some cases the best match of 2012. I find both of these claims utterly absurd (hey, Bret Hart would agree with me). Yes the Cell match is good, but it's nowhere near the awesome WWE Title bout between Punk and Jericho. This was a spectacular contest, with some nice drama at the outset (Punk would lose the Title if he got disqualified, so Jericho repeatedly taunted him about his family issues hoping to provoke a DQ), escalating into spectacular counter-wrestling and multiple finishers into reversals into finishers. Were it not for the huge Rock-Cena money match, this easily should've main evented this show.
3. CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar - SummerSlam 8.18.13
2013's SummerSlam featured two Match of the Year candidates, one of which was billed "The Best vs. The Beast." This No-DQ bout told the story of Punk's scrappy ability to stay one step ahead of his massive opponent, as he pulled out every weapon available and utilized his superior speed. This amazing match was brilliantly worked out and is thus far Brock's best match of his current run. After 25 minutes of incredible action, Punk fell victim one too many times to Paul Heyman's ringside distractions and was pinned after an F5.
2. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan - Over the Limit 5.20.12
I said Punk-Jericho was the best match from 'Mania 28. However the best match of 2012 was this forgotten gem - Punk vs. Bryan for the WWE Title. These two were given a nice cushy 25-minute slot, and man did they deliver. Spectacular mat wrestling, counterholds, submissions galore, false finishes; everything you could ever want in a great wrestling match. This is the closest WWE has ever come to emulating the groundbreaking work these two routinely produced in Ring of Honor. Punk and Bryan would face each other twice more on PPV that year, but this was the standout of the bunch. A stunning display of classic pro wrestling.
1. John Cena vs. CM Punk - Money in the Bank 7.17.11
Could #1 have been any other match? Punk's shocking hometown victory over John Cena leading to him "leaving WWE with the Title" is the one bout he'll be most rememered for. This was the climax of the WWE's Summer of Punk angle, following the infamous "Pipe Bomb" promo. After months of lackluster angles and PPVs, Punk's new "disgruntled employee" persona galvanized the fanbase and led to this now legendary PPV and match. From the white-hot Chicago crowd to the brilliant surrounding angle (which was then horribly botched in every way possible but that's another discussion), to the epic 34-minute running time, this match was a career-defining moment for CM Punk. It's also quite possible that John Cena became Punk's greatest rival, as they would have three more epic MOTY contenders over the next two years. This is one of the best matches of the current decade.
And there you have it. My ten favorite CM Punk matches. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the Comments section below!