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Changing The Culture – The CM Punk Story

James Klonowski looks at the career of ‘The Voice of The Voiceless’, CM Punk.

“Just when they think they know the answers, I change the culture.”

This is what CM Punk said into the camera on his first appearance on a WWE produced show since infamously walking out on the company the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble event. 

Punk’s unannounced return on WWE Backstage sent shockwaves throughout the wrestling world. 

Ever since washing his hands of WWE following a very public and successful court case, Punk vowed never to even talk about wrestling again let alone return to work for Vince McMahon. But time heals all wounds, it would seem.

His short stint in UFC was highly disappointing and anticlimactic, and there was rampant support for him to join upstart promotion AEW, but that obviously fell by the wayside once Fox Network threw a bag of cash at his doorstep to return. Now, CM Punk will feature as an analyst on the weekly TV show, discussing all things WWE, but the question remains how long it will be before we see the original Best In The World lace up those boots and step into the squared circle? 

At the Royal Rumble event in 2014, Punk competed for almost an hour with a suspected staph infection. He was also clearly angry and frustrated with the way his character was being portrayed and not being the main event of WrestleMania once again. In a heated meeting with Vince McMahon and Triple H, just minutes before Monday Night Raw was to go live on air, Punk quit the company. He would get his official release papers on his wedding day months later.

No one is ever going to accuse McMahon of being classy.

Since then, Punk did a podcast with a longtime friend of his which resulted in him suing WWE’s head doctor, and cutting scathing promos on Vince, Triple H and Ryback to name just a few. He told the world that he was done with professional wrestling, and nothing would ever change his mind. Fast forward to 2019, and it seems money, and perhaps a burning desire to compete and go out on his own terms, has brought him back to the WWE family. 

The rumours of Punk re-signing with WWE in some form have been in the pipeline for quite some time, but it was still surreal to hear Cult Of Personality blast out on a WWE show after so many years. 

In recent months, Punk has been much kinder to wrestling and WWE in particular. He appeared at Starrcast, where he revealed he would be open to doing business with Vince and Triple H again. I’m sure the ink was already dry on the Fox contract there and then. All wrestlers love to play the audience. Now, the Chicago native is back where he belongs just in time for Survivor Series which just so happens to be emanating from his hometown. But let’s not get carried away. 

CM Punk burst onto the mainstream stage in 2006 as part of the failed WWE ECW show, which did in fairness allow some of today’s top talent to grow and prosper, much like NXT does now. Despite his incredible popularity and skill in the ring, Punk only had one person of power on his side, and that was Paul Heyman.

Triple H and Vince were only too happy to send him packing, suggesting he was too small and didn’t know how to work. Punk forced them to change their minds by refusing to buckle under the pressure and kept performing to high standards. It worked, as Punk was brought up to Monday Night Raw in 2008 where he won the first of two Money In The Bank contracts and a World Heavyweight Championship reign. Unfortunately, he was portrayed as an underdog who didn’t belong in the ring with the likes of Batista, Kane and JBL (seriously???). 

Punk would fare much better over on the blue brand as their World Champion, playing a condescending heel who preached how to live a good life. His rivalry with Jeff Hardy is an underrated gem. Sadly for Punk, his momentum was stopped dead in its tracks when Undertaker took offence to him refusing to wear suits to represent WWE in public.

When Punk referenced Cena not doing so, Undertaker took this as a sign of ultimate disrespect and began to systematically remove him from the main event scene. Once Punk was done with The Deadman, he was losing on PPV pre-shows to R Truth. Moral of the story – don’t piss off The Phenom.

The next year wasn’t much better for Punk as he formed the Straight Edge Society, which while promising, soon became whipping boys for all the top level talent and The Big Show. In 2011, fortunes turned as Punk quickly became the top heel in the business with his excellent promos, new look and badass attitude. His match with Randy Orton at WrestleMania was stellar, but he was seething at The Miz taking what he believed to be his rightful spot in the main event. Punk’s contract with WWE was fast running out, and in a unique move, the writers decided to create a compelling story out of it.

Following a victory over Rey Mysterio the night after Capital Punishment, Punk announced to the world that his contract was expiring the night of Money In The Bank and he was planning to go out in a blaze of glory as WWE Champion.

The Pipe Bomb has been spoken about ad nauseam, so I won’t go into details. What I will say is it catapulted Punk to super-stardom and changed the way WWE booked its main event guys ever since.

The entire angle and match with John Cena at MITB was nothing short of epic – easily in the top 10 of anyone’s list of greatest matches. Punk winning the title, then fleeing through the Chicago crowd with Vince McMahon’s most prized possession was sensational and arguably the best thing WWE have done since the Attitude Era. They still haven’t topped it. Sadly, it didn’t last.

The Summer Of Punk should’ve been the crowning moment in his career, but the unfortunate ego of Triple H and Kevin Nash, of all people, got involved to put a dent in Punk’s rise to the top. The whole rivalry was a convoluted mess that achieved nothing but reducing Punk to an upper card level guy who couldn’t get the job done against the elite.

His popularity was never quite the same after his run in with The Kliq, which may have been their plan all along. If Vince had organically stayed on course with Punk, he may have had this generation’s answer to Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

His rivalries with Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan, while all good, never lived up to expectations and always played second fiddle to whatever John Cena was doing, even if that was wrestling John Laurantitis. His heel turn and pairing with Paul Heyman couldn’t come soon enough, and it breathed new life into the stale CM Punk character.

His battles with John Cena and Ryback were entertaining, as was his pairing with a debuting Shield. His historic 400 plus day reign as WWE Champion came to a screeching halt at the hands of The Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble in what was a lacklustre affair. Their return effort a month later at Elimination Chamber was much better. WrestleMania 29 should’ve seen Rock defend the gold against Cena and Punk in a Triple Threat Match, thus saving us a rematch of the “Once In A Lifetime” showdown as well as giving Punk his deserved spot in the main event on the biggest show of the year. 

Punk didn’t get his wish, but he did steal the show with The Undertaker, who was much more willing to make Punk a star this time around. The Streak didn’t die on that night, but you could argue Punk’s desire to remain with WWE did. Minus a mini classic with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam several months later, the rest of Punk’s time with the company was nondescript. He was just biding his time. When he discovered he would not be in the WrestleMania 30 main event, but instead wrestling Triple H, Punk wanted out and got his wish. 

CM Punk has already had a Hall Of Fame calibre career, but if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to say we haven’t seen anything yet.

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You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3Thanks for reading!

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