July 17th is hands down my favorite day of the year, and no, it isn't my birthday or a national holiday (at least not to most people). Rather, I consider it to be CM Punk Day because it was on this day six years ago CM Punk defeated John Cena in a thrilling WWE Championship match at my favorite WWE pay-per-view of all-time: Money in the Bank 2011. I've re-watched the show at least a dozen times since then (I'm even doing so as I write this), and it never loses its luster to me and always brings back memories of that exciting time in WWE.
Mind you, that match didn't make me a fan of CM Punk, as I first considered him to be among my favorites around July 2010. Him completely taking WWE by storm the subsequent summer only solidified him as my favorite active wrestler at that point, and he remained at the top of that exclusive list until his abrupt departure from WWE in January 2014. One can argue WWE hasn't been the same without him, but he certainly left a gap on the roster and broke the mold for several of today's stars such as Seth Rollins, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens.
I'm well-aware that Punk isn't everyone's cup of tea, especially nowadays, but there is no denying that he was among the best wrestlers in WWE for as long as he was there. In the eight years he was on WWE's main roster, he contested countless classics, and in honor of CM Punk Day, I figured it was fitting that I run down my most beloved bouts of his. It's unknown when he will return to WWE, if ever, but I have faith he will resurface one day, even if it's for a Hall of Fame induction down the road.
7. CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy: World Heavyweight Championship TLC Match (SummerSlam 2009)
I noted earlier that I didn't become a full-fledged fan of CM Punk until July 2010. That's because he largely bored me as a babyface. I liked him at various points during his face run, especially when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase the first time, but he just didn't do much for me.... that was until, however, he gradually turned heel in the summer of 2009 and started to show his true colors. He and the ultra-popular Jeff Hardy were the perfect opponents because they were such polar opposites personality-wise, and their in-ring chemistry was off-the-charts, too.
After trading the World Heavyweight Championship back and forth, their feud culminated in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at SummerSlam 2009. Hardy chose the stipulation himself, so the ball was in his court because he had so much history in that type of extreme environment. Meanwhile, Punk had previously won two Money in the Bank Ladder matches, so he shouldn't have been underestimated, either. Ultimately, they did not disappoint in putting together a tremendous TLC match.
Hardy and Punk were remorseless with the chairs and the ladders and took pleasure in inflicting pain on each other throughout the bout. For the grand finale, Hardy performed a crazy Swanton Bomb on Punk from the top of a ladder through a commentary table, but it did more damage to Hardy than it did to Punk, allowing The Straight Edge Savior to reclaim the world title hanging high above the ring. Check out my SummerSlam Recall piece on this match from last August for more analysis.
6. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho: WWE Championship Street Fight (Extreme Rules 2012)
As soon as CM Punk starting calling himself "the best in the world" in the summer of 2011, you had to know it was merely a matter of time before Chris Jericho returned to take exception to that bold claim. Sure enough, he came back to the company at the onset of 2012 and quickly set his sights on Punk, leading to a WWE Championship clash at WrestleMania 28. It was a damn good match (that I've actually warmed up to in the years that have passed since then), but it was evident they could do better.
Plus, the stipulation in the 'Mania match where Jericho would have won the title if Punk was disqualified hindered it in my opinion more than it helped it. They needed to blow off their ruthless rivalry in a match with no disqualifications, so thankfully, Extreme Rules 2012 was right around the corner. There, they went to war in a Street Fight with the gold up for grabs. Before the bell even rang, I loved how they came to the ring wearing street clothes, which is how every Street Fight in wrestling should be fought.
Once the matchup got underway, they wasted no time in beating the holy hell out of each other and utilizing every weapon in sight, including a fire extinguisher in Punk's case. What made the match even more enjoyable was how the event emanated from Punk's hometown of Chicago, which has a reputation for being electric, and they rallied behind The Second City as he took the fight to Jericho. Y2J put forth a valiant effort but fell short after eating not one but two Go to Sleeps from Punk.
5. Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania 24)
I went in-depth with my love for this Money in the Bank Ladder match last year in my WrestleMania Recall series, so I'll keep my second recap of it fairly brief for the sake of this article. Whenever I'm ever asked what my favorite Money in the Bank Ladder match of all-time is, I'm constantly changing my answer, but this installment is way up on the list. Granted, I started watching wrestling full-time two weeks after it happened at WrestleMania 24, but seeing it enough times in the years that followed has made me fall in love with it.
Originally, it was scheduled to be an eight-man Money in the Bank Ladder match, but Jeff Hardy getting suspended weeks ahead of the event caused him to be removed (though not replaced). Not only would he have had a phenomenal performance in the matchup, it's been all but confirmed that he would have won it. So, who was next in line to emerge victorious instead? Then-United States Champion MVP? Chris Jericho? Perhaps Mr. Kennedy for a second straight year? CM Punk was easily the least-expected combatant to come out on top, and that's why his win was so sweet.
Punk already had experience with Money in the Bank from WrestleMania 23, so he knew exactly what he needed to do to secure the contract this time around. He had a strong showing in the match, but truth be hold, every participant shined at one point or another. Hell, even Matt Hardy returned from injury to cost his arch-rival MVP the briefcase! Shortly thereafter, Jericho and Punk traded blows at the top of the ladder, and Punk trapping Jericho's legs in the ladder was enough to earn him the title of Mr. Money in the Bank.
4. CM Punk vs. John Cena: WWE Championship No. 1 Contender's Match (Raw, February 25, 2013)
I honestly don't think John Cena and CM Punk had a single bad bout in the many years they did battle from 2009 to 2013. Every encounter of theirs was either good, great or amazing, and their last matchup ever on the February 25, 2013 edition of Raw fell into "amazing" territory. Some have said it was their best wrestled match, putting it above their Money in the Bank 2011 classic (spoiler alert: more on that later), but it didn't have the same story. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding affair that should have been saved for WrestleMania 29.
Speaking of which, it was almost as if WrestleMania came early because this was better than anything else we saw at that show a little over a month later. John Cena vs. The Rock II was putrid in my opinion, whereas Cena vs. Punk was the true 'Mania main event for everything it had to offer. Additionally, their feud was so legendary that it deserved to take place on the grandest stage of them all at least once, and this would have been the year to do it. If nothing else, this closed out their long-running rivalry on the highest of notes.
Punk and Cena were given a good chunk of time on this night and they more than made the most of it, pulling everything out of their respective arsenals in an effort to secure the sacred main event slot at WrestleMania 29 against Rock. In fact, at one point, Punk nailed Cena with a piledriver, which had been banned for years in WWE. It went to show just how desperate Punk was to get back his WWE title, but following a second Attitude Adjustment from Cena, his hopes of headlining The Show of Shows were dashed.
3. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan: WWE Championship Match (Over the Limit 2012)
A decade ago, it was virtually unfathomable that CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, two Ring of Honor alumni, would be fighting for the WWE Championship in a marquee match on a WWE pay-per-view. Alas, the former ROH World Champions amounted to immense success in WWE, taking different paths to the top. Punk truly cemented his spot as a main event player when he won the WWE title at Money in the Bank 2011, and on that same night, Bryan became Mr. Money in the Bank and later cashed in to capture the World Heavyweight Championship.
They contested a handful of matches early on in 2012, giving fans a sneak peek of what to expect when they inevitably engaged in a full-fledged feud. That finally became a reality that May when Bryan earned the right to contend for the championship at Over the Limit. Truth be told, the hype for their match was nearly nonexistent with the John Cena vs. John Laurinaitis main event receiving most of the focus instead. That might have been even better because no one was expecting them to produce the gem they did.
If you want to see a real mat classic, check this contest out. They were allowed to go out there for almost a half hour and tear the roof off the place with their remarkable chemistry. It was also a "middle finger" in a way to WWE for putting Cena vs. Laurinaitis and not them in the main event slot that night, which had been par for the course for Punk around that time. Their No Disqualification rematch at Money in the Bank was a blast as well, but I believe this match is slightly superior.
2. CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar: No Disqualification Match (SummerSlam 2013)
Personally, I was a fan of most of the matches CM Punk was having before he left the company in January 2014. Sure, it was apparent he wasn't the Punk of old, nor was he as motivated as he once was (though it's hard to blame him), but Punk is still damn great even when he isn't at his best. Admittedly, the feuds with The Shield and The Wyatt Family weren't too enthralling, but I was a major advocate of his rivalry with Brock Lesnar (as well as Paul Heyman) in the summer of 2013.
The build-up to the bout could have been better executed. Punk came back from his hiatus at Payback 2013, seemingly as a babyface, and soon after declared that he didn't need Heyman in his corner for his matches anymore. Coincidentally enough, Brock Lesnar resurfaced later that same night and laid out Punk, leading to speculation that Heyman had his original client attack him. Of course, that was proven to be true when Heyman betrayed Punk at Money in the Bank and then everything that followed promo-wise was incredible.
The match itself was such a treat because of their contrasting styles and Punk playing the ultimate underdog. This was before Lesnar's "Suplex City" montra was born, so this was a very competitive contest and Punk scored a bunch of offense over Lesnar. I thought the story was stellar with Punk nearly beating Lesnar before Heyman interfered, and while Punk got his hands on his former friend at long last, it cost him the victory. Similar to Punk vs. Hardy, I talked about this match quite a bit at the end of my SummerSlam Recall series last year, which you can read here.
1. CM Punk vs. John Cena: WWE Championship Match (Money in the Bank 2011)
If you know me well enough, then this top spot should have been a no-brainer. You would also know that because it's my favorite match of all-time, I like to talk about it every chance I get, especially on its anniversary of July 17th (i.e. today). Before 2016, 2011 was indeed my favorite year as a wrestling fan, and the Summer of Punk was a major reason why. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in WWE up to that point and even afterward; it had a special kind of aura about it that made you want to tune into Raw each week to find out what would happen next.
Needless to say, CM Punk vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank 2011 was one of the most anticipated matches in WWE in a long, long time. Punk became a superstar almost overnight when he cut that "pipebomb" promo on June 27th, and three weeks later, he entered his hometown of Chicago as a hero. The reaction he received gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and the video package that preceded it was so beautifully crafted and captured the story they were telling tremendously well.
For over a half hour, these two bought out the best in each other, and most importantly, no one had a clue what was going to happen. Sure, we all wanted Punk to walk out as the unemployed WWE Champion (did I mention his contract was set to expire at midnight on July 17th?), but knowing WWE's track record of dropping the ball when it matters most, it was unpredictable, to say the least. Thankfully, WWE did the right thing in having Punk emerge victorious in grandiose fashion and leave with the title, resulting in this being remembered as a five star wrestling classic.
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