CM Punk surprised nearly every wrestling fan this week by appearing on All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and announcing his return to in-ring competition after eight years away.
Punk famously left WWE in 2014 after allegedly being forced to work sick, and not having enough time to recover mentally or physically from injuries — and his exit was dealt with so nastily that many thought he’d never return to the world of pro wrestling.
The tide began to turn in 2019 when CM Punk appeared on Fox’s WWE Backstage, but after months worth of rumours, the unthinkable has happened: CM Punk has finally, actually returned to wrestling.
To celebrate his monumental return at AEW Rampage, let’s take a look at some of CM Punk’s most iconic and enduring moments from his history in WWE.
This article has been updated and retimed in light of CM Punk’s recent AEW debut. It’s time to welcome back The Best in the World.
The Sermon on the Mount
When CM Punk entered the 2010 Royal Rumble at number three, people didn’t expect much of the newly crowned leader of the Straight Edge Society. But then he eliminated Dolph Ziggler and Evan Bourne in short succession, and began a ten-minute-long promo that soon became known as the “sermon on the mount”.
While Punk was later tossed out by Triple H (a sign of things to come), his speech and performance remains unforgettable.
CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy
CM Punk and Jeff Hardy were two sides of the same coin when they clashed in 2009.
Punk, the self-proclaimed ‘drug-free’ superstar went up against Hardy, who had issues with substance abuse that were frequently made public. The heavy-handed storyline included some fantastic matches, including a stellar bout at Summerslam 2009 and this fantastic promo where Punk openly mocked Hardy and his fans.
CM Punk becomes a two-time Money in the Bank winner
Becoming a Money in the Bank winner is a rare opportunity for WWE superstars, and winning it allows them a championship match of their choosing.
For CM Punk, this chance came around twice, as he claimed the 2008 and 2009 Money in the Bank matches at WrestleMania, and both times, cashed in to become the WWE World Heavyweight Championship — against Edge and Jeff Hardy, respectively. This achievement put his face on the map of the championship scene.
John Cena vs. CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011
This match is still an absolute classic, and one of WWE’s all-time bests because of the build leading up to it, and the story it told.
Punk, the underdog, was facing off against Cena, the face of WWE, in a battle of corporatism and rule-shirking. With Punk’s contract ending, this was Cena’s last chance to capture the gold before Punk left the company with the title in tow.
The match ended with one of the greatest WWE moments when Punk nabbed the title, ran for the hills, and blew WWE CEO Vince McMahon a kiss on the way out through the crowd. In the years since this match, that kiss has only gotten more meaningful.
The formation of the Straight Edge Society
When Punk first began preaching about going drug free and adopting a straight edge lifestyle, he was a madman, not a prophet. But then he was joined by Luke Gallows and Serena, forming a stable called the Straight Edge Society, who brought their straight edge message to the masses with weekly sermons and messages of salvation.
The formation of this group is what elevated CM Punk in WWE, and helped show off his natural charisma and shit-talking.
CM Punk vs. Mysterio
At Over the Limit 2010, CM Punk challenged veteran Rey Mysterio to a hair vs. Straight Edge Society pledge match, meaning that if Mysterio lost, he’d have to join Punk’s evangelical club.
If Mysterio won, he’d get to shave CM Punk’s Jesus-style hair. While this was a loss for Punk, the image of him screaming, wide-eyed into the camera while his hair was forcibly shaved is a lasting one.
It also marked Punk’s transition into his new, anti-establishment, anti-WWE character.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
CM Punk and Chris Jericho were two of WWE’s most prolific and talented talkers, making their feud one of the more exciting and believable feuds of WWE in 2021.
Both men sold their hatred for each other so well, and with multiple twists and turns worked into the main story, this feud and eventual match was a fantastic time, and one of the highlights of CM Punk’s wrestling career.
“This is Phil Brooks talking to Paul Levesque.”
In the lead up to Night of Champions 2011, CM Punk faced off with longtime rival Triple H, surrounding by rumours of a real-life hatred between the two.
This helped to fuel a heated promo in the lead-up to the event, where CM Punk declared that he was looking forward to their match because he was going to kick Triple H’s ass.
Then he delivered the killer line, “This is not CM Punk talking to Triple H, this is Phil Brooks talking to Paul Levesque,” referring to both their real life names — a statement which shot this feud into the stratosphere.
CM Punk vs. The Undertaker (2013)
CM Punk was one of the last wrestlers to get a great match out of the Undertaker because the phenom’s wrestling health began to fade soon after.
Like many of CM Punk’s greatest moments, this too was fuelled by an incredible and shocking lead-up as Undertaker’s first manager, Paul Bearer, had passed away only weeks before they fought.
While some might call it tasteless, this fact was used relentlessly throughout the feud, with Punk even spilling Bearer’s ‘ashes’ on the Undertaker during an intense promo. The actual match lived up to expectations, and was just as hot as the words leading up to it.
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (2013)
It’s rare that WWE wrestlers get a good match out of Brock Lesnar. That’s not because Lesnar is a bad wrestler, but because his more recent matches have been 5-minute long ‘squashes’ where he barely gets to show off his moves.
Lesnar is a powerhouse and a great wrestler, and he had what was arguably his best match ever against CM Punk in 2013.
Beyond being a great spectacle, the match at SummerSlam 2013 also told a great, well-balanced story of the underdog fighting against unbelievable odds. Watching this match, even newcomers will believe in wrestling’s magic.
What list of CM Punk’s greatest moments would be complete without mentioning the infamous Pipebomb?
On a seemingly ordinary episode of WWE Raw in June 2011, CM Punk sat on the Raw entrance ramp and delivered one of the greatest promos in wrestling history.
He spoke of the inner workings of WWE, his frustration with his position in the company, and even went so far as to mention Vince McMahon’s bullying indiscretions before his mic was cut off for dramatic effect.
This was great stuff, and an absolutely iconic moment in CM Punk’s history that major impact on WWE.
CM Punk’s Return At AEW Rampage
After eight years away, CM Punk finally made his wrestling return at AEW Rampage on August 21. It was a great moment for fans, and it was a great moment for wrestling!
And yes, it was an important step in both Punk’s history and WWE’s.
While we still don’t know how involved CM Punk will be in AEW, this move made waves in the wrestling industry and even brought a lot of relapsed fans back into the fold.
Once again, it’s a great time to be a wrestling fan — and CM Punk’s return is just the start of what should be one of wrestling’s biggest modern storylines.