Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #87 – CM Punk

87. C.M. PUNK

Real NamePhil Brooks
AliasesCookie Monster; Chick Magnet; Chicago Made; Charles Montgomery; Charles Manson; Chases Men
Debuted1999
Titles HeldROH World; ROH Tag Team; OVW Heavyweight
Other Accomplishmentsmatch with Samoa Joe on 16th October 2004 received five-star rating from Dave Meltzer; dating Maria

CM Punk is the darling of the indies and one of the fastest rising stars in the WWE. Originally a backyard wrestler, Punk really decided that he wanted to wrestle for a living and attended Ace Steele’s Steel Domain in Chicago where he notably met his traveling partner, frequent opponent and tag partner Colt Cabana. Punk may be the last wrestling star to have taken the old school approach to rising in the business, going from training to small indies to ever larger territories, first IWA-MS and then ROH, and finally, OVW and WWE.

Punk’s early home promotion was IWA-MS where he notably feuded with Cabana, but really made his name wrestling long matches with Chris Hero including a 93-minute 2/3 falls match and a 56-minute TLC match. He also notably had great comedy matches with Delirious around the end of his tenure in IWA-MS and was a color commentator, showing his skill in all areas of the wrestling business, from comedy, to commentary, and, of course, in ring performance.

From IWA-MS, Punk found his way into Ring of Honor, the only indie that’s clearly a step up from Ian Rotten’s promotion. Here’s what I had to say in A Modest Response about Punk’s ROH tenure.

Let me set the scene for you: We’re in a packed Chicago Ring of Honor show. The fans are emotional. Punk is the hometown hero. Tears are flowing freely. You see, the man who carried Ring of Honor, who saved Ring of Honor, and who made them care, CM Punk was leaving for the WWE. He spurned TNA, TNA a national promotion, for Ring of Honor in its darkest hour. His music hit. The distinctive sound of fans beating the guard rails in time to his song began before the first beat of his song.

“Love your hate
Your faith lost.
You are now
One of us!”

But he didn’t emerge as the song continued. Where was Punk? Surely he wasn’t missing his goodbye.

We’re ahead of ourselves. First let’s go back to another emotional situation. ECW. ECW mattered to people.

ECW, in its original form, mattered to people. Emotionally, the fans had a lot invested in it. They had a fan base who they knew and they gave that fan base exactly what it wanted. People traveled from all over to go see an ECW show, to be a part of that atmosphere, to see ideas unfold that were groundbreaking. That’s the real ECW revolution.

Then, ECW closed. An involvement that that much time and energy is put into does not just go away. ECW fans began searching. There had to be something else worthwhile, worth throwing their support behind. Something worth caring about.

Along came Ring of Honor. As a small, regional indy fed, it always had a lot going for it. The best talent around nearly guaranteed a small four star match every show. A buzz began to grow.

Along came Raven. The ECW original was a main eventer their for years. He had spent time and been horribly misused in both WWE and WCW, so not only was he one of ECW’s most memorable, successful and over stars, he was also well know in the mainstream and maintained his rebel status. As much as anyone after ECW folded, he remained singly what ECW was about. His debut in Ring of Honor alone added to the buzz that was building, but it was nothing to the crescendo that was to follow.

So, Raven debuted in Ring of Honor. CM Punk was a young wrestler who was slowly making a name for himself, mostly through wrestling Colt Cabana and cutting great promos. Punk immediately hated Raven and began attacking him.

You see, Raven was a drunk and a drug user. CM Punk was and is straight edge. That means he doesn’t partake in any drugs or alcohol. Punk says that not doing drugs makes him better than Raven, better than the fans who cheered Raven, drank and used drugs recreationally.

Punk began a vicious assault on Raven every time Raven appeared. Raven, no stranger to these brawls, began antagonizing Punk. They had brutal match after brutal match as Punk appeared more and more desperate, even hanging Raven.

And then, broken down and crying, after another brutal war, Punk told Raven that he was just like his father. You see, his father drank. His father abused him. Punk couldn’t get revenge on his father, but he could be better than him, and he could make Raven pay.

If you were on the net back then and knew where to look, this started that revolutionary mumbling. This was classic ECW. A great story, passionately and logically told. And we couldn’t stop talking about it.

The feud continued, twisting and turning to include none other than longtime Raven enemy, Tommy Dreamer saving Raven after a brutal dog collar match at the first Death before Dishonor. The feud continued and finally ended. But CM Punk was a star and we cared about him, even though he was a heel. He was fantastic in the ring and on the mic. He suffered and lashed out. He was a human being we could understand, hate, love, and empathize with. It was only the beginning.

At this time CM Punk was being booked in TNA, as well. Due to his talent and charisma he was forcing his way up the card there, booked there in a program with Raven again. Ring of Honor’s dubious owner, Rob Feinstein was a pedophile and was caught. He almost immediately sold the promotion. TNA didn’t care.

TNA almost immediately pulled all of their talent from Ring of Honor. They were young and couldn’t afford the bad publicity. AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and others understood and left Ring of Honor. Absolutely everyone who worked for both companies chose TNA. Everyone, that is, but CM Punk. He had chosen the indies. Chosen to stay one of us.

So began the Reborn Era in Ring of Honor. An era where Samoa Joe, Homicide, and Punk were left to carry the promotion. As it turns out the era might as well have been called CM Punk Reborn.

As Ring of Honor ended the Feinstein era, Ricky Steamboat debuted and immediately clashed with CM Punk. The upstart, it seemed, was ready to try and destroy another legend. Punk was naturally becoming a face at this point, after all, he stayed. But this was Ricky Steamboat. The man who was in arguably the best match ever. A former NWA champion who could work as well as anyone to ever lace up the boots. Punk might have stayed, but he had better not have cost us Steamboat! We’d lost enough.

At the same time, Generation Next, a new stable was causing waves. They decided that they were going to take everyone above them on the roster’s spot, including the Second City Saints- Stable of CM Punk. This feud simmered along nicely until Generation Next attacked Ricky Steamboat. Punk, although he had his issues with “the Dragon,” could not tolerate this. He saved Steamboat. Punk finally turned face officially but not before the first time Punk met Joe.

Samoa Joe, the unbeatable monster champion, had run through everyone. Eventually CM Punk earned a title shot. Everyone who went head to head with the behemoth fell, so Punk didn’t. He was a heel and smaller than Joe. Let Joe chase him and tire himself out. Punk was small and fit, he could avoid impact moves and wear Joe out.

The match was the first Ring of Honor bout to go 60 minutes and was heralded as an instant classic. The rematch was inevitable, and when it finally came, Punk was a face.

Joe vs. Punk II was a clinic on psychology and storytelling. It was the first American match in almost a decade to get 5 stars from Meltzer. Everything that they did in the first was played off of, but not payed off. Not yet. They went the full 60 again.

Joe vs. Punk III, the culmination of the trilogy, was a no time limit match, set up by Foley who decided these were two of the best he had ever seen and had to be involved. Got that? Mick Foley thought Joe and Punk were two of the best. So the feud culminated, but Joe got the win.

Joe was so exhausted from this epic set of matches, played out over months, that his next title defense was a defeat; a defeat that came at the hands of Austin Aries, the man who lead Generation Next. Aries finally took the top spot, but Punk still wanted his shot. He had beaten Aries before.

Before AJ Styles left Ring of Honor for TNA, a man stole his move and his spot as well. Jimmy Rave of the Embassy named the Styles Clash the Rave Clash and claimed he chased AJ out of Ring of Honor. He and the Embassy were messing with the Second City Saints. Before Punk went back after the title, he had something to take care of.

Much like Punk attacked Raven earlier, now Rave came after Punk. The feud built and Rave, through nefarious means, continually came out ahead. That lasted until Punk got him in the cage and claimed his revenge. Punk had no fought and beat a man AJ Styles could not, gave Samoa Joe his best matches, and rekindled the revolutionary fire of ECW with Raven. Now he was going for the belt.

As usual, fate threw us a curveball. WWE made CM Punk an offer he couldn’t refuse, but before he went to WWE he was winning that belt that had so long eluded him.

When Punk finally got to Aries, it was on what was to be Punk’s final show, but it was for the belt. The crowd cheered every single little move Punk made and heartily booed everything Aries did. After a battle where Aries threw everything at Punk, Punk emerged victorious.

Our guy had won the belt! One of us before he left to take them by storm! I won’t spoil what followed, but the Summer of Punk only helped the underground legend grow, before he finally lost the belt.

And we arrive at Punk’s final show, Punk: The Final Chapter, where he would face long time friend and rival Colt Cabana in a two out of three falls match.

We’re in a packed Chicago Ring of Honor show. The fans are emotional. Punk is the hometown hero. Tears are flowing freely. You see, the man who carried Ring of Honor, who saved Ring of Honor, and who made them care, CM Punk was leaving for the WWE. He spurned TNA, TNA a national promotion, for Ring of Honor in its darkest hour. His music hit. The distinctive sound of fans beating the guard rails in time to his song began before the first beat of his song.

“Love your hate
Your faith lost.
You are now
One of us!”

But he didn’t emerge as the song continued. Where was Punk? Surely he wasn’t missing his goodbye.

Punk emerged from the curtain, tears flowing freely. He embraced his fans. I can’t watch it to this day without getting chills. Sometimes, even now, I get choked up. The way ECW mattered to us then, Ring of Honor matters now. Punk brought us to the show and now he was leaving. The match wasn’t a classic, but it was fun. And the goodbye was really special. Punk, in tears, on his knees, as the streamers engulfed him is an image engraved upon my mind.

Here’s the song he left us with:

“Goodbye to me and you.
Goodbye to that life we knew.
One last long embrace,
Let go and walk on through

I’m leaving everything behind for a peace that I can’t find.
The ghosts that roam this house,
Like winter air right through my soul.
And it feels like dying.
It just feels like time to go

Goodbye to me and you.
Goodbye to that life we knew.
One last long embrace,
Let go and walk on through.”

-Night Train- by The Bouncing Souls

Since this night Punk has come back for one more match when a snowstorm and TNA hurt Ring of Honor again. When I talked to the Ring of Honor head booker, the only out of ROH talent he admits to wishing would return is CM Punk. Punk returns to see shows even now when he can. He was at the December 23 show at the Manhattan Center cheering his ass off all night. Still.

It has been said by better men than I that true art hits something within the human condition which we can all feel and understand because we are all humans and share the same truths in many ways. CM Punk gave us true art. You’d better believe that still matters and we still care what happens to him. He gave us amazing performances. He took our attention and made us care. Is it the most important thing in the world? No, but it Matters. And Punk, you’re still one of us.

From here, Punk signed with the WWE and was sent to their developmental territory to learn to work the WWE style. In OVW, under the sure hand of Paul Heyman, the company had its best period, with Punk, Brent Albright, Ken Kennedy, Ken Doane and Aaron Stevens. Punk’s time in OVW culminated with him winning the OVW Heavyweight Championship. From here Punk was finally given the call as the key young star of the WWE’s new ECW brand.

In ECW Punk immediately became one of the company’s most over stars, getting a pop comparable to DX at Survivor Series and scoring many victories. His moveset has become more and more like Pro Wrestling NOAH star KENTA’s, but that differentiation between himself and the rest of the roster has helped him stay over even when his initial push stalled out. Add in the personality he has displayed in his feud with the New Breed and his title feud with Nitro, Punk looks to cap his tenure in WWE the way he has practically everywhere else he’s wrestled, with championship gold.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.