#13 Jan. 3, 2011: Takes control of The Nexus
Under the preening Englishman Wade Barrett, the NXT season one rookies — collectively known as The Nexus — were a brawling goon squad whose predominant occupation was to terrorize the old guard of WWE into a subversive reverence of their collective abilities. However, the group soon became tired of Barrett’s magnanimous style of leadership and ousted him in favor of Punk, who, through several grisly “initiation” processes, transformed the crew into his personal cult-like mercenaries. Granted, it was not as extreme a case of Kool-Aid drinking as the first time Punk amassed a series of followers (we’re getting to that), but with the fearsome foursome of David Otunga, Michael McGillicutty, Husky Harris and Mason Ryan backing him up, it was certainly the most formidable squadron Punk has had at his disposal.
#12 SummerSlam 2011: Defeats John Cena to unify the two WWE Championships
Unsurprisingly, The Second City Saint’s ascension to the WWE Championship was shrouded in controversy in the weeks both leading up to and after he won the title at Money in the Bank 2011. Only two weeks after Punk captured the supreme prize and sauntered out the door of WWE with the title firmly in hand as his WWE contract expired, the vacant title eventually made its way back into the hands of John Cena. This, of course, was when Punk decided to make his grand return, leaving the WWE Universe with not one but two WWE Champions going into the summer classic.
With WWE COO Triple H donning the referee’s stripes, The Voice of the Voiceless defeated Cena to unify the two championships. The victory was short-lived, though, as Kevin Nash burst forth from the crowd and planted Punk with a Jackknife Powerbomb, opening the door for Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank contract on the powerless Punk. It would be a few months before The Second City Saint would win the championship again, but don’t worry: We’re getting to that.
#11 Retains the WWE Championship in the 2012 Elimination Chamber
Not perhaps Punk’s most well-remembered moment, but easily one of his toughest physical tests, The Second City Saint proved his fortitude as WWE Champion in the 2012 Raw Elimination Chamber when he defended the WWE Title against five ravenous competitors — Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth and The Miz — looking to knock him off his lofty perch. Against all odds, The Voice of the Voiceless prevailed within the confines of the torturous chamber, last defeating The Miz to retain his championship and ensure that he would, for the first time in his career, head to WrestleMania as the WWE Champion.
#10 March 12, 2010: Menaces Rey Mysterio on SmackDown
Let’s just call it what it is: CM Punk can, when he wants to, be an evil, evil man. He can also be pretty terrifying when it comes to small children, as this instance from March 2010 famously illustrates. Interrupting the birthday celebration for Rey Mysterio’s daughter Aalyah, The Straight Edge Savior sauntered down to the ring, challenged Mysterio, threatened his family and delivered not one but two creepy serenades of “Happy Birthday” to “Princess” Aalyah. While there’s nothing to go on here in the way of in-ring competition, the party-crashing incident remains a lasting testament to The Second City Saint’s ruthlessness in the face of an opponent and one of his signature moments as a WWE Superstar. Frankly, the footage speaks for itself. Just take a look; the more we watch it the more chills we get.
#9 Jan. 19, 2009: Defeats William Regal for the Intercontinental Championship
The significance of a championship win is often marked by the man a Superstar beats for the title. Punk’s WWE Title wins against John Cena and Alberto Del Rio will always be remembered because of Cena’s dominance in the squared circle, as well as the storied, in-ring lineage of The Mexican Aristocrat’s family tree. But Punk’s inaugural Intercontinental Championship victory against William Regal carries a special significance. Not only is Regal’s in-ring history the stuff of sports-entertainment legend, but also his rebound after health issues nearly forced him to retire cemented him as one of the toughest “old pros” to ever lace up his boots.
But as anyone who knows CM Punk can attest: show him tough and he’ll match you blow for blow. To wit: His gritty victory over Regal for the Intercontinental Title showed the kind of determination and proficiency that has marked the title for the entirety of its history.
#8 Forms The Straight Edge Society
Show of hands, WWE Universe: Who saw this coming? Recalling his earlier, ramshackle sermons on the independent scene, Punk’s long-awaited coming-out party under the WWE umbrella came when he decided to take his straight edge philosophy and transform it into a weapon of mass instruction. Punk plucked members of the WWE Universe at random, cleansing them of their wicked ways by shaving their heads and initiating them into his own personal congregation, The Straight Edge Society.
United by their commitment to a clean and (they claimed) superior lifestyle, The SES was Punk’s early-career speechifying writ large, a stadium-scale campaign of salvation led by a man completely convinced of his own grandeur. And, well, um … it worked. The impact of The SES was undeniable: Not only did The Straight Edge Savior expand his stable to include two WWE Superstars and a Diva (Luke Gallows, Joseph Mercury and Serena), but his tactics also proved so inflammatory that he nearly incited the WWE Universe to riot on numerous occasions. Shockingly, nearly instigating mass anarchy is still not Punk’s most famous use of a microphone (and we’re definitely getting to that), but still, not bad for a tattooed upstart from Chicago, right?
The SES ultimately folded in on itself, but should you ever, even now, feel the compulsion to place your hands to the screen in reverence whenever Punk appears, we’re sure he won’t mind. That was kind of the idea all along.
#7 Survivor Series 2011: Defeats Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Title
They don’t come much sweeter than CM Punk’s triumph at Survivor Series 2011, where he reclaimed the WWE Title from the opulent clutches of Alberto Del Rio in a punishing, emotional championship match under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. In front of the passionate New York crowd (and following a tearful introduction by Punk’s personal ring announcer for the evening, WWE Hall of Famer Howard Finkel), Punk wrenched The Essence of Excellence into the Anaconda Vise and squeezed until Del Rio cried uncle, cementing his status as WWE’s premier competitor for the second time in four months and roaring to the heavens in elation when the official passed him back the title.
All this would have been exciting enough, really. But what truly made this victory was Punk’s win tasted, if possible, even sweeter for the WWE Universe itself. Punk’s first WWE Title victory could have been written off as a last, Herculean gasp before his foray into the unknown, a man seizing his chance because of the statement it would make (more on that later). This win smacked of retribution and vindication; that same hero coming to reclaim his rightful title from the man who stole it from him. It was more than earned. It felt righteous. And the celebration was a fitting one. Punk’s victory leap into the crowd recalled his defiant exit at Money in the Bank, with one key difference: He was there to stay as champion this time. For one shining moment, CM Punk was the people’s champion, and the WWE Universe could take solace in the fact he wasn’t going anywhere.
#6 June 30, 2008: Cashes in Money in the Bank on Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship
It can be tough for a Superstar like CM Punk to make it to the upper echelon of WWE. Considered undersized and too counter-culture for the Land of the Giant Entertainers, competitors like The Second City Saint can often go overlooked or worse, written off as too small or too much of an “indie darling” to hold their own in a WWE ring. But sometimes things go a certain way, and a Superstar goes from underdog to the mountaintop in a matter of minutes. Sometimes it takes a little help along the way — a Money in the Bank contract in hand and a vulnerable Edge lying prone in the ring — and sometimes even then, there’s that fleeting thought that the impossible might not come to pass. And then it does, and CM Punk hoists the WWE Championship, and you get that feeling of affirmation in the pit of your stomach that tells you a blue-chipper has finally achieved what he was always meant to
#5 WrestleMania XXVIII: Retains the WWE Championship against Chris Jericho
Emotions were running high when CM Punk stepped into the Miami moonlight for WrestleMania XXVIII, and not just because of his cerebral rivalry against Chris Jericho, who had spent the two months since his return attempting to slander Punk and violate his straight edge lifestyle. In a culmination of the chain of events set off by the “pipe bomb” in summer 2011 — and yes, we’re getting there, too — it was The Second City Saint’s first trip to The Show of Shows as the WWE Champion. In one of the night’s most hotly anticipated contests, Punk and Jericho put on a wrestling clinic, taking the match down to the wire before Punk ultimately retained the championship the same way he had won it: by trapping The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla in the Anaconda Vise. And as millions of fans joined in the chorus of The Voice of the Voiceless, the realization that The Second City Saint’s 10-month journey to The Grandest Stage of Them All had come full-circle. He had arrived, and left, as the WWE Champion. Victory and vindication were his.
#4 WWE Over the Limit 2012: Defeats Daniel Bryan in a “dream match”
CM Punk and Daniel Bryan were, perhaps, two of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of independent wrestling, amassing a cult following and worldwide recognition for their abilities before they ever signed with WWE. They even had a bit of history coming up together (we actually covered it a bit), but by and large, it was a consensus among hardcore wrestling fans that, due to their unconventional skill sets and body types, Punk vs. Bryan for the WWE Championship would be the one dream main event that was destined to remain a dream.
Well, as it turns out, stranger things have happened: Bryan laid down a challenge for Punk’s title after losing his own World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII, and The Second City Saint obliged. The two indie darlings grappled in an instant classic at WWE Over the Limit 2012 in what was arguably the most anticipated match of the year at the time. The contest was a back-to-basics, technical clinic between two intricate masters of the mat, with the crowd oscillating furiously between which Superstar it should support (all together now: “DAAAN-IEL-BRYYY-AN/C-M-PUNK!!!!”). The match came down, literally, to a matter of seconds, when Punk tapped to Bryan’s then–“Yes!” Lock a mere instant after he’d rolled up his opponent to score an out-of-nowhere pin over the “American Dragon.” The dream is real, WWE Universe, and CM Punk was left sitting pretty when the bell tolled.
#3 Wins Money in the Bank (and then wins it again)
Winning a Money in the Bank Match is not only one of the toughest tests a Superstar can achieve because of the nature of the match itself, but it’s also one of the biggest indicators that a competitor is about to break from the pack. To retrieve the coveted briefcase from a mix of stout veterans and hungry up-and-comers takes a certain kind of fortitude. Given his modest beginnings, the WWE Universe was shocked when CM Punk was the one to snatch the championship contract at WrestleMania XXIV, which later led to his World Heavyweight Championship win over Edge some months later. Given that Money in the Bank was a relatively new concept back then, it’s safe to say that The Second City Saint had done quite enough to cement himself as a top-tier Superstar.
And then, of course, he won it again. The next year, at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, Punk outlasted yet another crop of Superstars to make history by winning a second Money in the Bank contract and, later, a second World Title as a result. That’s a feat, by the way, which has never been replicated.
#2 June 27, 2011: The “Pipe Bomb”
Ever have one of those moments where your cup runneth over and you just start unloading on anyone and everyone who has ever disrespected, overlooked, underestimated and ignored you? Ever feel like burning the bridge won’t suffice and instead you want to blow it up, vacuum up the ashes and then blow up the dustbuster? Ever feel like airing dirty laundry because hey, why not at this point? In that case, you and CM Punk certainly have a lot in common. The only difference is your outburst probably won’t A) occur on live television, B) make headlines the world over and C) inarguably change the course of WWE for more than a year and open the door for every underdog who was told he couldn’t make it. Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. We can’t all be CM Punk, and The Second City Saint’s scorched-earth manifesto is just another testament to that. Still, it doesn’t quite match what he did next …
#1 Money in the Bank 2011: Wins the WWE Championship and leaves through the crowd as his contract expires
A few weeks ago, John Cena told The Second City Saint that the night Punk made the most noise was the night he had his mic turned off during the “pipe bomb.” Well, with all due respect to Mr. Cena, we’re on the bandwagon of the events that immediately followed: When Punk defeated The Champ in his hometown of Chicago. He fulfilled his own prophecy and won the WWE Championship from Cena before thwarting an attempt of a Money in the Bank cash-in by Alberto Del Rio with a well-timed kick to the head. He then absconded with the supreme prize through the throngs of the Windy City faithful, though not before blowing WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon a devilish kiss goodbye. We’d say that’d be the night he made the most noise. Or maybe that was us screaming at the TV. We honestly can’t be sure. Enjoy the home video, folks.