One of the most important figures in WWE has to be argued to be CM Punk. The former independent wrestler turned WWE superstar paved the way for the likes of Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens to make the move from Ring of Honor to the WWE.
He was never meant to succeed in WWE but due to his incredible work ethic and wrestling talent managed to overcome adversity and become a world champion in his own right and a main event talent in wrestling.
His first world championship was the ECW Championship – at the time, the WWE reboot had only just begun and the title was considered a world title – and was followed by a further three world titles in the form of the World Heavyweight Championship. Two of these came in the form of Money in the Bank cash ins, as he was the only man to win the ladder match for the briefcase two years on the bounce.
While some of those reigns were incredibly memorable and featured some of CM Punk’s best matches – his ladder match with Jeff Hardy at Summerslam 2009 being particularly great – this article is look at CM Punk’s WWE Championship reigns. As the top prize in the company and stretching back nearly 70 years, it is the most prestigious prize in wrestling and is the one we shall be looking at in regards to the Best in the World.
1st WWE Championship Reign – July 17, 2011 to August 14, 2011
CM Punk’s maiden stint as the WWE Champion was certainly the least impressive of the two – but certainly was one of the most significant title wins in the recent history of the WWE.
He had one foot out of the door on the run up to Money in the Bank 2011. The event was in his hometown of Chicago, and the former ECW Champion had all intentions of walking out of WWE, and going to New Japan or Ring of Honor.
The match against John Cena for the title at Money in the Bank was going to be his final one with the company. His contract was the day after and although WWE were keen to keep him, he was burnt out and wanted nothing to do with the company. However, they gave him a chance to air all his grievances on Monday Night Raw, in a now legendary promo known as “The Pipe Bomb”
With that legendary speech on everything wrong with the WWE, Punk had become the most popular man in the company. Fans could not wait to see him wrestle his final match in Chicago, with the hometown crowd ravenous to see him defeat John Cena, as impossible as it main seem.
Against all odds, he did it. CM Punk won the WWE Championship from John Cena on his last day of the company, much to the chagrin of Vince McMahon. After his win he took his WWE Championship, leapt over the barricade and blew him a kiss goodbye, before escaping the arena and heading to his home in Chicago.
He would return to WWE a week later, just after John Cena had beaten Rey Mysterio to become new WWE Champion. There were now two champions – both claiming to be legitimate – and a unification match was needed to decide to crown the one true champion and would take place at Summerslam 2011.
CM Punk would defeat John Cena at Summerslam 2011 in the main event and be crowned the one true champion. However, the celebrations would be short lived and his reign would end with a single defence (if you can all it that) when Alberto Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win his first WWE Championship, becoming the first Mexican-born world champion in company history.
This reign of CM Punk’s had huge potential – if he had gone and defended the title in ROH or NJPW as he suggested in his pipe bomb promo – but instead he was brought back too soon and lost the title at the first hurdle. Luckily, a second title reign would redeem him and cement his legacy as one of the greatest WWE Championship reigns of all time.
2nd WWE Championship Reign – November 20, 2011 to January 27, 2011
The final of his two WWE Championship reigns is also one of the most legendary of all time. Starting with his victory at Survivor Series 2011 where he took the WWE Championship back from the man who stole it from him via Money in the Bank cash in – Alberto Del Rio -, his reign continued onwards and onwards, much longer than anyone ever could have expected it to.
Considering that CM Punk was never seen as “the guy” by Vince McMahon, it’s astonishing that he trusted him to be a main eventer in the first place. However, the fact that he was entrusted in to having the longest reigning world title run since Hulk Hogan shows the immense talent that the Best in the World possessed.
His reign lasted from Survivor Series 2011 all the way to the 2013 Royal Rumble. He defended the title between a face-heel turn, multiple challengers and even a change in WWE ownership – in storyline, Triple H took over from the ousted Mr McMahon, a scenario which would rear its ugly head in 2022 and force McMahon into retirement.
CM Punk’s WWE Championship reign featured a number of challengers all vying to end his legendary reign. He managed to fend off the best the WWE had to offer and his collection of title defences can be stacked up against any other champion in the companies history. A full list of everyone he defended his WWE title against can be seen below;
- Alberto Del Rio
- The Miz
- Dolph Ziggler
- Chris Jericho
- Kofi Kingston
- Mark Henry
- Daniel Bryan
- John Cena
- Big Show
His defences against John Cena and Ryback also brought about the debut of one of WWE’s most legendary factions. The trio of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose (now known as Jon Moxley in AEW) debuted at Survivor Series 2012, helping Punk to defeat John Cena and Ryback in a triple threat match to keep his hands on his title and increase his record breaking reigns length.
By the end of the incredible reign, 12 men had tried and failed to take CM Punk’s title. That job would fall to one man in one of the biggest WWE matches of all time, as The Rock returned after a year out to wrestle CM Punk at the 2013 Royal Rumble event.
Main eventing the event after John Cena won the titular rumble match, The Rock ended CM Punk’s WWE Championship reign, despite interference from the Shield, to win his 8th World Championship title. This ended Punk’s run as champ at a staggering 434 days, which at the time was the longest title reign the company had seen since the days of Hulk Hogan as the face of the company. However, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns have since surpassed that record.
This was not just one of CM Punk’s best WWE Championship reigns – it was one of the best reigns full stop. The only downside was, despite his incredible matches, Punk always felt second fiddle to John Cena and was never truly given the respect he deserved. This contributed to him leaving WWE in 2014 under a huge cloud, likely never to return to the company.
What do you think is CM Punk’s best WWE Championship reign? Let us know in the comments or click below to read about CM Punk going to Ring of Honor.