Inducted by Cult Icon
I first saw CM Punk on an episode of WWE’s bastardization of ECW back in 2006. I had known about Punk prior to that but had never seen him wrestle. It didn’t matter; as a seventeen year old loser who felt different than everyone else around him I found it easy to identify with Punk. Supposedly he listened to the same music I did. The tattoo on his left shoulder was the logo for Pepsi, my favorite soft drink (and the company my late grandfather had worked for). Fuck we even shared the same favorite baseball team; if it was anyone else I’d have thought I was a borderline stalker. What really got me about Punk though was the fact that he lived this lifestyle called straight edge. For as long as I could remember I never wanted to drink, smoke or do drugs; maybe it was the way wine seemed to gross me out just by looking at it, maybe it was how uncool it all sounded as I listened to the kids in high school describe partying, maybe it was something completely different. I just wanted no part of it, but expected that someday I’d have a drink because “it’s what society expects.” And then I learned of this punk rock wrestler, a combination of my two favorite things, who didn’t drink or smoke or do any of those things and, as dumb as it sounds, it occurred to my teenage self that maybe it was okay to not do what everyone expects.
The straight edge thing was what made me a fan of Punk. What kept me was a performer that I still believe to be one of the greatest wrestlers to ever walk this mortal coil, right alongside the likes (for me at least) of Kenta Kobashi, Negro Casas and Manami Toyota. The funny thing is that Punk was an all time great for incredibly different reasons than three of the four. Anyone who has followed the career of Casas, Kobashi and Toyota knows that they weren’t only super athletic freaks but they were innovators; I’ve lost count of how many moves Kobashi created, the amount of times my jaw has dropped watching Toyota do things young Rey Mysterio wouldn’t have dreamed of in his wildest fever dreams and the seamless way Casas bottled lucha, technical wrestling and Ric Flair esq larger than life charisma into a nearly 50 year career of excellence. Aside from the larger than life charisma Punk has very little in common with those three; I don’t recall him innovating any moves and, as famously described in WWE’s outstanding documentary detailing Punk’s career, he had no real athleticism to speak of. In many ways it’s almost improbable that he wound up as special as them.
And yet he did just that. Now many will tell you he did because of his promos, his character work and his authenticity. Those people aren’t wrong; no matter what role Punk was slid into he could pull it off, he could talk the talk and he could make you believe he believed everything he was saying 100%, a feat that these days can only be pulled off by the likes of Jon Moxley or Punk’s true successor, David Starr. But the truth is the reason Punk became so great was sheer, unstoppable will. I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out but in many ways Punk is wrestling’s Pete Rose. Like Punk, Rose was an ultra charismatic individual whose personality drew as many foes as it did friends. Also like Punk, Rose’s athleticism could at best be described as average on his best day. Yet through sheer force of will, desire and the stubbornness to never take another way for the answer, Rose became the man known for turning doubles into triples, singles into doubles, groundouts into singles, the greatest hitter anyone had ever seen. For better or worse, Rose would, in his own words, “walk through hell in a gasoline suit just to play baseball”, and watching Punk in his prime you got the feeling he’d do the same, only with wrestling. In an age where we have guys like Ricochet talking about how “they’ve already won” right before Brock Lesnar squashes them back to Jobbersville in a minute and a half, CM Punk became one of the few determined to will themselves to legendary status, no matter what roadblocks, no matter who told them no. Above all else, that’s what made him great. It also led to the destruction of his relationship with wrestling, much like Rose’s obsessive will led to the destruction of his reputation.
Of course with Rose his fall was 100% via his own doing. Certainly Punk isn’t blameless in all the events that led us to now (where both WWE and AEW seem to be caught in an endless game of “no, I’m the one who doesn’t want to use Punk the most!”), nor is it no secret that he can be a bit of a dick, as a guy who trained with him once told me in the line of a Dropkick Murphys concert. And yet I can’t help but laugh, thinking about how Brodie Lee quoted Punk the other day in his Talk is Jericho interview in saying “the WWE could be so much better.” The fact is even the highest of highs Punk achieved didn’t truly fulfill their potential.
Punk was the perfect guy to be the head figure in an ECW reboot, only for Vince to decide (with everyone else pleading otherwise) that soon to be departing Bobby Lashley was the answer. The Straight Edge Society was a unique, utterly captivating stable that maybe got a few months of main event time before the group imploded. The first several weeks of the 2011 Summer of Punk are perhaps the best creative work WWE has done in the last two decades; the last several weeks saw Kevin Nash and Johnny Ace get involved before Triple H beat Punk in a Night of Champions match, a decision that I have yet to hear a good explanation for. And for all the talk of Punk’s 434 day title reign, few seem to recall that he spent most of it in undercard matches while John Cena wrestled the Big Show and Johnny Ace in main events (seriously; WHAT THE FUCK?!), followed by WWE turning him heel just so they could get to a Rock-Cena II match that, while making a ton of money on that day, hasn’t really helped business long term. Despite all those against him in the back, despite all his limitations, Punk willed himself to be great…and somehow it still feels like there was food left on the table.
I suppose it’s a testament to Punk’s greatness that he’s still, in my mind, one of the greatest wrestlers ever despite the fact that we never truly got to see what life would’ve been like if Vince McMahon had tried out his best Sean Connery impression and gone “you’re the man now dog!” For better or worse he did it his way, and in the process created moments none of us will ever forget; the “pipebomb”, the “THIS! IS! STRAIGHT EDGE!” promo he cut on Raven back in Ring of Honor, the Samoa Joe matches, MITB 2011, the remaining Cena matches, the Brock match, the Taker match. On a personal level he showed me that it was okay to be different and okay to go your own way, even if you’re the only one. And in the process he opened doors for many male and female wrestlers who may have never gotten a fair shake before he came along. Maybe Punk wasn’t the guy we wanted him to be and maybe he wasn’t used the way he could’ve been. But it wouldn’t have been CM Punk if he just played along nicely.
At the end of that wonderful Punk documentary, Paul Heyman has a line that might just be one of the best things he’s ever uttered (and that’s saying something). “I think he wants his legacy to be that he was the best in the world,” Heyman says of Punk, “That’s his dream, that’s his focus, that’s all he wants to be. And he will give everything and anything to achieve that…except his soul and his dignity.” There are many things you can say about CM Punk. But at the end of the day he became a Hall of Famer, a legend, and one of the greatest wrestlers we’ve ever seen, doing it his way, his soul and dignity still intact.
- 2-time WWE Champion, 6th longest reign in WWE History
- 3-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion
- 1-time ECW Heavyweight Champion
- 1-time ROH World Champion
- 2-time ROH Tag Team Champion
- #1 in PWI’s Top 500 List, in 2012
- 2011 PWI Wrestler of the Year
- 2011 Wrestling Observer Match of the Year: vs. John Cena @ Money In The Bank 2011
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes CM Punk into the Hall of Fame class of 2020.
Related Links: The Main Event Vol. 106 – Is A CM Punk In-Ring Return Worthwhile?
MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – CM Punk Signs with FOX to Do WWE Backstage – What about AEW?
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Voting for the 2020 LOP/WH Hall of Fame Induction Class Now Open!