CM Punk and controversy go hand-in-hand.
It seems wherever he goes and whatever he does, controversy follows. Take his recent outburst at the All Out Media Scrum in which he lambasted Adam Hangman Page and the promotion’s EVPs – Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in a profanity-laced tirade.
Punk’s comments and the resulting aftermath have been the talk of the wrestling world, which resulted in his suspension from the company and the AEW World Championship being vacated.
It is hard to argue that anyone who calls themselves the Best In The World has an ego of measurable size and Punk has never been shy of denying it. He is known for being outspoken, stubborn, and unafraid to let his feelings be known. It is traits such as these that have made the star such a polarizing figure.
The way he carries himself and his demeanour is abrasive to some to most but as a purveyor of counter-culture, he garnered a cult-like status. In an industry built on good looks and superhero-esque physiques Punk instantly stood out, because he was nothing like that.
Punk is only a shade over six-feet tall and covered in tattoos and piercings. Earlier in his career in particular, he looked more like a Grunge or Punk Rock band member than a wrestler, which saw sections of fans gravitate to his anti-establishment attitude and persona.
But long-time fans of CM Punk are well aware that his latest controversy is nothing new and something that he actively sought throughout his career.
The Summer of Punk – Part 1.
Creating controversy has always been part of Punk’s MO and he did just that in Ring of Honor in 2005.
On June 18, 2005, at Death Before Dishonor III Punk defeated Austin Aries to become the ROH World Champion. It was an amazing moment and not just because he finally won the title, but it was Punk’s last match in the promotion before leaving for the evil giant that was WWE. It was a shocking decision and one that led to a hugely, albeit worked, angle drenched in controversy.
Throughout his ROH tenure, the World Title eluded him despite his best efforts. His epic rivalry with Samoa Joe resulted in two 60-minute draws before Joe put him away in their third and final match. So as his ROH exit loomed Punk received a final crack at the World Championship.
The crowd were in full support of their departing hero and went wild as his hands were raised in victory. However, cheers would turn to jeers as Punk turned on the crowd cutting a scathing promo informing them that not only was he leaving the company, but he was taking the title with him thus rendering it, and therefore ROH itself, null and void.
Since its inception in 2002 Ring of Honor had established itself as anti-authority, and almost a wrestling counter-culture. It was the very antithesis of sports entertainment and everything that WWE claimed to be. By 2005 the ROH World Championship was established as one of the most prestigious titles in professional wrestling and having it anywhere near WWE was sacrilege.
The crowd seethed as he stated the promotion he built would be nothing without him and no one was going to do anything about it.
“The greatest thing the Devil ever did was make you people believe he didn’t exist. I am the Devil himself! And you stupid, mindless people fell for it!…and I’m not mad at you. I just feel sorry for you.”
Punk then took his statement even further when at the next show he entered the ring donned in a suit and drowned in “F*ck You Punk” chants from the fans. The heat magnified tenfold as he committed another sign of disrespect. He produced his WWE contract and signed it on top of the ROH title.
James Gibson (aka Jamie Noble) and a returning Christopher Daniels stormed the ring to get their hands on Punk, who instead exited the arena with title in hand and into a fleeing car. As the days ticked down to his departure from ROH for WWE, everyone in the company tried to get the title off the deserter.
Jay Lethal, Gibson, Roderick Strong, and the Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels all tried and failed to dethrone Punk. It seemed as though the ROH title was WWE-bound. However, Ring of Honor’s saviour came in the form of James Gibson, who eventually ended Punk’s brilliantly controversial title run.
The Straight Edge Saviour.
Upon arriving in WWE Punk was quick to establish his own brand of righteousness. This was never more the case than in his feud with Jeff Hardy for the World Heavyweight Championship.
It all began when Punk cashed in on Hardy after he won the title from Edge in a Ladder Match at Extreme Rules. In the resulting feud, Punk unleashed his holier-than-thou Straight Edge Saviour character in full fury.
Punk savagely targeted Hardy’s past drug and alcohol abuse problems, ridiculing, chastising and berating him every chance he got. He constantly preached at Hardy flaunting his straight-edge way of life and rubbing every suspension and failed drug test in his face.
The blurring of real life into storyline proved gripping and effective and of course controversial. According to both Matt and Jeff Hardy, Punk went off script on several promos during and after the feud causing animosity between the three.
Punk continued with his messiah complex and formed the Straight Edge Society recruiting members, Luke Gallows, Serena Deeb and Joey Mercury to his cause. They shaved their heads in devotion to living a clean life, no drugs, no alcohol, and no smoking.
Their mission was to purify the world (WWE) of weak-minded, addicts and junkies. Punk would produce sermons mid-match extolling the virtues of the straight edge life and belittling his weak-minded fellow wrestlers and the fans in attendance.
It was a brilliant display heel work as he rode the wave of heat and controversy expertly. The faction had religious and cult-like overtones and is an underrated run of his career.
The Pipe Bomb & The Summer of Punk – Part 2.
CM Punk’s arrival in WWE changed the promotion forever. His attitude, look and style made him an instant stand out as differed so drastically from the rest of the roster.
His presence helped usher in a new era for the company and broke the mould of what a WWE Superstar could be. He accomplished a litany of achievements and became a multi-time champion. But it was one Monday night in the summer of 2011 that lives in infamy.
Sat cross-legged on top of the entrance ramp CM Punk produced one of the all-time promos in wrestling history. Punk, calmly and confidently delivered an impassioned speech that not only blurred the lines between real life and storyline but tore down the ‘fourth wall.’
Although it was all part of the show it really felt as though Punk had hijacked the microphone and was genuinely venting his feelings in shocking fashion. Punk shot and shot hard as he appeared to take on the voice of WWE’s increasingly disgruntled fanbase.
He was sick and tired of being held back and took aim at pretty much every big name in the company including John Cena, The Rock, John Laurinaitis, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and Vince McMahon as he unleashed his frustrations live on air.
Punk’s contract was coming to end and he refused to re-sign with the company. He proudly predicted his future telling Vince McMahon he would beat Cena for the title at Money in the Bank and similar to his promo in ROH 6-years earlier, he threatened to take the WWE Championship with him.
“I’m leaving with the WWE Championship on July 17th. And hell, who knows, maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe…I’ll go back to Ring of Honor.”
After six spell-binding minutes, the mic was cut off but the damage was done. What followed was something the likes of which WWE had never done before or since.
Punk defeated Cena for the WWE Championship on his final night as a WWE Superstar in front of the hometown fans and the Chairman, who had tried in vain to stop the moment from happening.
McMahon looked on helplessly as jubilant CM Punk blew him a kiss before heading out of the promotion through the crowd with title in hand.
Suffering from a broken body and a broken ego Punk packed up his bag and left the arena never to return. On January 27 2014, CM Punk famously walked out of WWE after he told Vince McMahon and Triple H he was “going home”.
According to Punk, there was no one reason for the controversial decision but a build-up of several events that finally led him to breaking point. Be it Triple H halting the Summer of Punk in 2011, The Rock beating for him the title before WrestleMania 29 or his long list of mounting injuries, there was a lot that contributed to the walkout.
Despite being placed in prominent spots, such as the “pipe-bomb” promo, the Summer of Punk and holding for WWE Championship for a then record-breaking 400+ day reign, Punk was never really deemed as the company’s top star. That status was cemented for the likes of John Cena, The Rock, The Undertaker and Triple H (all of which beat Punk in high-profile matches).
“I was sick and hurt, and sick and tired, and burnt out, and I walked. And, I can do that because I’m an independent contractor”.
Things got very ugly almost immediately as WWE began removing him from promotional materials and video packages. They then suspended him, later sending him his termination papers in the mail, which arrived on his wedding day. Something which went down about as well as you might expect.
“I was fired, on my wedding day. Very calculated and very deliberate. As much as I kind of chuckled at it and didn’t let it affect my day, I was like ‘once again, you pushed too fucking far; you pushed the wrong guy.”
The Art of Wrestling Podcast
10 months after quitting WWE Punk appeared on his then-best friend’s podcast, Colt Cabana’s the Art of Wrestling, for a controversial tell-all interview.
The interview was as explosive as everyone listening wanted it to be and is one of the most famous and most listened-to-shoot interviews of all time. Punk pulled zero punches as he laid into everything and everyone that had irked him during his time in the company.
Ryback was just one member of the roster who felt the full force of Punk’s fire. Punk blamed him for injuring him on several occasions during their 2013 feud, and it could be argued that former World Champion’s comments have followed Ryback ever since.
“I’m already beat up and I have to wrestle ‘Steroid Guy’ and he’s very… I call it like I see it. He’s very hurty. Sometimes deliberate. There was one time he kicked me in the stomach as hard as he could and he broke my ribs, right at the tail end. And I never got an apology for that. He was something else. A real piece of work, that guy.”
Another Superstar who was hurt by Punk’s words was Roman Reigns. Punk claimed he was repeatedly told, “ya gotta make Roman look really, really strong” by WWE officials backstage. These comments fuelled fan perception that Reigns was undeserving of his 2015 main event push.
But it was the comments about WWE’s Dr Amann that arguably did the most long-term damage. Lawsuits were filed and Punk accused Dr Amann of negligence by ignoring his multiple injuries causing him to contract a life-threatening staph infection.
Despite winning the lawsuit it did irreparable damage to Punk and Cabana’s friendship. They fell out over the legal fees the lawsuit produced and remain at odds to this day.
All Out Press Conference
At Double or Nothing, CM Punk defeated Adam Hangman Page for AEW World Championship. In the lead up the match Page apparently went off script during a promo and referenced Punk’s broken relationship with Colt Cabana.
When Punk returned to AEW television after a 3-month hiatus due to injury, he returned the favour. In an unscripted promo Punk called Page out knowing full well, he wasn’t there to respond before calling him a coward.
Punk’s return set up a huge World Title Unification match on the August 24th episode of Dynamite against Jon Moxley, which the Chicago native promptly lost. A return bout was quickly arranged for All Out which saw Punk regain the title in his hometown by pinning Moxley. However, it was what happened after the show that left everybody talking.
In an unprovoked tirade, despite being sat just feet from AEW President Tony Khan, Punk unleashed a volley of verbal offence against the media, AEW EVPs, Hangman Adam Page and just about everyone who he felt had wronged him in recent months. Especially taking issue with reports and comments regarding the situation around himself and his former friend Colt Cabana.
“Now, it’s 2022. I haven’t been friends with this guy since at least 2014, late 2013. The fact that I have to sit up here because we have irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs and couldn’t f*cking manage a Target and they spread lies and bullsh*t and put into the media that I got somebody fired when I have f*ck all to do with him, want nothing to do with him, do not care where he works, where he doesn’t work, where he eats, where he sleeps. And the fact that I have to get up here and do this in 2022 is f*cking embarrassing. And if y’all are at fault, f*ck you. If you’re not, I apologize.”
After Punk left the press conference a brawl ensued involving the World Champion, his long-time friend Ace Steel, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. It has been reported that Punk was throwing punches, while Steel allegedly threw a chair before biting Kenny Omega.
The fallout from the chaos resulted in a mass of suspensions, Punk stripped of the World Champion and his AEW future hanging in the balance.