This is the first installment of a series chronicling the third decade of WrestleMania, from 2004-2013.
5 years after his famous departure from WWE, CM Punk is still one of the most talked about, chanted about, and revered superstars of the last 2 decades. His unique style, and in-your-face personality resonated with the WWE Universe, and the legacy he has left is unchallenged. Just like in other sports, ultimately you will be judged by how your perform in the big games. In the WWE, no game is bigger than the “Grandest Stage of Them All,” WrestleMania. Punk, compared to some other top performers, has a relatively short resume at WM with only 7 appearances. What holds up is the level of performers he faced, and how he rose to the occasion when it mattered most. Let’s see how the “Best in the World” stacked up at WrestleMania…..
A Gangster’s Debut
CM Punk made his first WrestleMania appearance in 2006, and it wasn’t even in a match! During John Cena’s Chicago-style gangster entrance, Punk portrayed one the henchmen scoping out the arena before Cena himself made his way out. In fact, I just watched this event a few weeks ago, long before I decided to focus a piece on CM Punk, and did not remember he was part of this entrance. It was cool “Easter egg” moment for me to say the least. Punk would make his “official” WM debut the following year, and for the next 3 shows he would make a name for himself going after a prized piece of luggage……
WrestleMania 23-25: Mr. Money in the Bank
One of the most fun aspects of WrestleMania during this mid 2000s was the inception of the “Money in the Bank” Ladder match. From 2005-2010 it was a featured attraction during WrestleMania, and setting up new stories for the year to come, rather than the usual big “blowoff.” Personally, I miss having the MITB match during WM. I am not a fan of gimmick PPVs, and I always felt this was a way to catapult a new star to prominence on the biggest stage. This is exactly what happened with CM Punk. At his first WM in 2007, Punk would be unsuccessful vying for the briefcase, with Mr. Kennedy(?!) being the triumphant one that night. This was merely a hiccup for Punk, as he would participate in the next 2 MITB matches at WrestleMania, being victorious in both! This made him the only 2-time briefcase winner in WWE history. Now I would love to sit here an analyze his performances on these shows, but the MITB match is usually such a train wreck. It’s hard to focus on an individual, let alone how they fought in the match. The thing you can takeaway from these matches is simple. The WWE had a load of confidence in CM Punk early in his career. Winning the briefcase, for the most part, was like having a rocket strapped to your back as you moved up the card. It is only in recent years that it hasn’t guaranteed a World Championship victory for its owner. In fact, we haven’t seen a successful cash-in for a male wrestler in nearly 3 years. Punk would make the most of his briefcase wins, successfully cashing-in on Edge and Jeff Hardy, respectively. He would finally get a single match at WM in 2010, facing off against a high flying legend….
WrestleMania 26: Straight Edge vs. The Mask
By 2010, CM Punk was in full on heel mode, giving sermons on his substance-free lifestyle, and converting random audience members to his cult, shaving their heads as a sign of loyalty. He would form the “Straight Edge Society” with Luke Gallows and Serena Deeb, with one of their first feuds being with Lucha legend Rey Mysterio. Mysterio had taken Punk out in the Elimination Chamber match that February, and also prevented him from qualifying for the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 26. Punk would respond by interrupting the birthday celebration for Rey’s 9 year old daughter on Smackdown, prompted Mysterio to challenge Punk at the “Show of Shows.” A stipulation was included that if Mysterio lost, he must pledge his allegiance to Punk and join the “Straight Edge Society.” The 2 would have a fun undercard match that night in Arizona. It was a short contest, with Rey coming away with the win. They would continue to feud over the next few months, culminating with Punk getting his head shaved in their final bout. Their match at WM26 is by no means a memorable one, but it set the tone for Punk’s WM career, as he would continue to face Hall of Fame-caliber talent in the years to come.
WrestleMania 27: Staring Down The Viper
As 2011 rolled around, CM Punk had become the leader of a new group of allies, The New Nexus. At the Royal Rumble, Punk cost Randy Orton his WWE Championship opportunity against the Miz. It was revenge for an incident more than 2 years prior, when Orton punted Punk at the Unforgiven PPV, incapacitating him and forcing him to vacate his World title. The 2 would continue to clash, leading up to a match at WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta. It was a 15 minute, hard hitting affair, with Punk focusing his attack on Orton’s injured knee. Punk would meet his demise at the hands of the Viper, and his signature maneuver. He launched himself off the ropes towards his opponent, and Orton countered with a devastating RKO to score the pin. What stood out to me about this match was the timing of it all. Even though Punk had been a world champion, this match cemented him as a “made” guy in WWE. A featured match against a talent like Orton is nothing to sneeze at. Only a few months later, we would see the infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo on Raw, kickstarting Punk’s reign at the top of the company for the remainder of his run. By the end of that year he would be WWE Champion, a title he would hold for 434 days. He would have the opportunity to defend that championship at the next WrestleMania….
WrestleMania 28: The Best in the World
As we rolled toward WrestleMania 28 in 2012, CM Punk was at the pinnacle of his WWE career. He was one of the top babyfaces in the promotion, and was in the midst of one of the longest title reigns in history. Chris Jericho would be his latest adversary to try and dethrone the king. Jericho had become bitter that the current WWE superstars were just cheap imitations of him. Especially CM Punk, who had deemed himself “The Best in the World,” a moniker Jericho had used previously in WWE. This was a main event match, that was unfortunately not the main event. That honor went to the Rock vs. John Cena for obvious reasons. This is tremendous match that lived up to the build that it would decide who truly was the best. It had great back and forth action, including a ton of submission attempts and reversals. Punk would eventually get Jericho to submit to the Anaconda Vice, giving him his only one-on-one victory at WrestleMania. It was a shining moment for an already impressive resume, but it still stings that this was the closest he got to a WM main event. I suggest you go back and watch this match. There is still something special about seeing a performer compete at the top of his game.
WrestleMania 29: His Shot at “The Streak”
Punk would lose his WWE Championship to the Rock at Royal Rumble ’13, as well as the subsequent rematch the following month. Returning to a more heel-like persona, Punk would set his sights on the Undertaker heading into WrestleMania 29. His mission was to “take something away from the fans”, as he felt they cost him his championship. That “something” would be the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania. Punk would use the death of the Undertaker’s former manager, Paul Bearer, as fuel to continuously disrespect the Dead Man. They would clash at MetLife Stadium, and ultimately steal the show at an otherwise ho-hum event. This match will always hold a special place in my heart, as I attended this WrestleMania in NJ. Punk’s entrance was top notch, and included a live performance from Living Colour. He was a classic, obnoxious heel, using the Undertaker’s famed urn as a prop, throwing it in the air to mock his opponent, and piss on the grave of his friend. I hadn’t watched this match since seeing it live, so it was fun to relive it. The match itself was excellent, as Punk held his own against the Phenom in a losing effort. Looking back, this is really the Undertaker’s last great match at WrestleMania, as the “Streak” would shockingly come to an end the next year at the hands of Brock Lesnar. In the events to follow, his performances never reached the level that this match had. I came away from that night thinking I would never see the Undertaker perform again in person, and 6 years later I’ve been right so far. It would also mark the last time I would see CM Punk, as he would abruptly leave WWE the following year.
Nobody will even be able to forget CM Punk. Even its gotten a bit old, you can still here is name being chanted throughout arenas every now and then. Does he have the greatest WrestleMania resume? Of course not. The sample size is small, and with a record of 3-4, and only 1 singles match victory, you can’t make much of an argument. What you can vouch for is the quality of his opponents, especially in those singles matches. All of them are guaranteed Hall of Famers, and arguably some of the greatest to ever lace them up. You are only as good as your competition, and it says a lot to the talent of Punk that he was pitted against these names on wrestlings biggest show. If you are a fan of his, I recommend going back and watching CM Punk perform in these matches. There is a constant theme woven throughout those contests. CM Punk belonged, and he belonged under the bright lights of WrestleMania.