CM Punk made his WWE (technically ECW, but work with me here) debut on August 1st, 2006 in the Hammerstein Ballroom competing against ECW Original Justin Credible. The reaction for Punk was astonishing, as the ballroom greeted Punk with cheers, chants, and all sorts of fanfare that a debuting wrestler never gets. This fanfare was the result of a couple factors. First off, WWE had done a tremendous job of building Punk’s character on television. For months now, Punk had cut promos around the 30 second mark telling people that he was a master of many fighting styles such as Jiu-Jitsu, Muy-Thai, etc. as well as informing the fans of his straight-edge lifestyle. While he didn’t preach this in his promos, he most certainly let us know that competition was his addiction.
The second reason was of course CM Punk’s tremendous history on the independent circuit most notably in IWA: Mid-South and of course Ring of Honor. CM Punk became known in the early 2000’s in IWA for his mic work, his matches with Chris Hero, his partnership with Colt Cabana, and for being somewhat of an unpleasant person both in regards to how the fans perceived him, and how the “boys in the back” perceived him. Regardless, you couldn’t argue his talent which is why he was picked up by Ring of Honor in October of 2002. He started off a face in a friendly rivalry with Colt Cabana, which while entertaining didn’t put a spotlight on him like you would expect. Then Raven stepped in and it became a whole new ball game. Punk began spewing his straight-edge lifestyle as if it were the gospel. Raven played the perfect foe to Punk with his sordid un-clean lifestyle being made very aware to the “smart” fans who attend(ed) Ring of Honor shows. Mostly competing in hardcore type matches, CM Punk moved on from the feud in the upper-echelon of Ring of Honor. He cemented his name there when he gave Christopher Daniels, a guy who main evented the first Ring of Honor show, the Pepsi Plunge from off the top rope through a table. Daniels wouldn’t be seen in Ring of Honor for a year and a half after that.
Punk’s success picked up with a small feud with AJ Styles in regards to the new ROH Pure Championship. Although Punk ultimately lost, he tasted gold for the first time soon after when he and Colt Cabana won the Ring of Honor tag team titles on ROH’s debut show in Chicago Ridge, IL. Punk began opening the eyes of the wrestling world soon after for two reasons: 1) His feud with wrestling legend Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and 3) His three astonishing ROH World Title matches against Samoa Joe. Because of this, it wasn’t too long until the WWE finally came knockin’. In Summer of 2005, rumores began swirling that WWE and TNA had offered contracts to three of Ring of Honor’s top dogs: CM Punk, Samoa Joe, and Bryan Danielson. Joe took the contract with TNA which meant he’d still be able to compete for Ring of Honor. Danielson chose neither, and spent the summer off to take a break and reengage in scholastic activities. Punk obviously chose the WWE, which is why no one expected that CM Punk would win the Ring of Honor title before he left. But he did. On June 18th, 2005 CM Punk defeated then Ring of Honor World champion Austin Aries to become the fifth champion in the company’s history. And thus began the best angle Ring of Honor has run.
Although it is only seven shows long, “The Summer of Punk” is widely regarded as one of, if not the best period in the company’s history. Punk changed his attitude becoming a WWE lackey. Punk went as far as to sign his WWE contract as it sat on top of his Ring of Honor title. What would happen? Would Punk take the belt with him to WWE? If not, who would beat him? ROH threw many different challengers his way, including one Christopher Daniels who returned at this time to exact a measure of revenge on the man who took him out of Ring of Honor back in January of 2004. It surprised fans that James Gibson, who also had been recently rumored to have signed with WWE, defeated him in a Four Corners Elimination match on August 11th, 2005. On August 12th, CM Punk had his final ROH match against Colt Cabana. It was 2 out of 3 falls, and Colt was able to score the upset. Although Punk cried and all the wrestlers and fans celebrated with showers of Pepsi, they all knew Punk was off to greener pastures.
Punk came in and really didn’t do too much of note for about his first year. He teamed with DX and the Hardys at the Survivor Series which took place in Ring of Honor’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA. He wrestled in Money in the Bank, and finally won his first WWE title when he defeated John Morrison for the ECW Championship on an episode of ECW on Sci-Fi in September of 2007. Punk would hold the belt for a few months eventually losing to Chavo Guerrero the week before the Royal Rumble in Charlottesville, VA (a show I was in attendance for). Punk won the World Heavyweight Championship in summer of 2008, then won the World Tag Team Title and Intercontinental Titles soon after. Still, with all these accomplishments, CM Punk didn’t really arrive to the WWE until July 31, 2009.
That night, Jeff Hardy, who had just defeated CM Punk to recapture the World Heavyweight Championship the previous Sunday, put the title on the line against John Morrison in an incredible match. CM Punk came out, and patted John Morrison on the back as he headed down the aisle. He grabs the microphone, says very few words, and then bashes Jeff right in the head. For weeks now, Punk had been teasing his heel turn, by beginning to spout his straight-edge rhetoric in the WWE, most notably a promo at Night of Champions in Philadelphia, PA right before he lost the World Heavyweight Championship. But tonight was the night. Punk tossed Jeff to the floor and wasted no time following up. After a vicious attack on Jeff, it was clear that CM Punk had arrived.
The next week, Punk opened up Smackdown! with a promo explaining his actions and once again talking about his ideology. Jeff came out for their title match, which escalated quickly and was screeched to a halt. Later that night the match took place with Matt Hardy as the Special Enforcer. Matt cost Punk the match, and once again Punk struck Jeff tossing him into the steel steps. But the best heel stuff Punk does, is the little things. For example, the pat on Morrison’s back before he came down to attack Jeff the week before was such a great, slimey heel tactic. I also loved how Punk made the EMT’s go the long way around the ring to get to Jeff, causing Jeff to lay in pain even longer. Punk’s reaction to Teddy Long signing him to a TLC match for Summerslam was perfect, and the fans are gobbling up every piece of it.
Even though Punk has been a former World Tag Team Champion, Intercontinental Champion, ECW Champion, and two time World Heavyweight Champion, he has just now arrived in the WWE. The CM Punk that the Hammerstein fans were clamoring for back on August 1, 2006 has finally made his presence known in the WWE. Even though Punk has his fingerprints all over the WWE’s history for the past three years, his impact now will be far more substantial. We all know what Punk is capable of with the character he is portraying now, and I think he’ll be the top heel in the company for years to come. With Edge out of the picture, and Jericho embroiled in his tag team with The Big Show, Punk now stands as the top heel on Smackdown! and rightfully deserves the World Heavyweight Championship to give his push more value. I say Punk defeats the fans hero Jeff Hardy at Summerslam and we see 2009 close as the true Summer of Punk.