CM Punk: Top Five of All-Time?

With Punk gone off into retirement, it's time to evaluate the body of work and legacy that he left behind. One man makes the case that he belongs amongst the best of the best.

With CM Punk off and gone into retirement, its time to start looking at the legacy he has left behind.  Reflecting upon the body of work that Punk has left behind, I have come to the conclusion that Punk should be regarded amongst the all-time greats of professional wrestling.

Before you grab your pitchforks and start screaming "RECENCY BIAS ARGGGGHHHHH" while ranting about how your favorite childhood wrestler is better, just hear me out as I make my case on four fronts:

  • In-ring output
  • Output on the microphone
  • Storytelling output
  • Impact on the use of independent workers
When talking about the greatest in ring performers in wrestling's modern history- how far down your ranking would it take to get to CM Punk?  The consensus always seems to be that while Punk is a damn good wrestler, he doesn't crack the top tier of workers.

However, if I asked you to list the the best matches of wrestling's modern history- how many times would Punk's name appear on that list, especially compared to those you would put ahead of him as a better worker?  For all of the criticism that can be lobbied at Punk on the technical aspect of his ring work, but it is far outweighed by his keen grasp of match psychology.

However when it comes down to brass tacks- CM Punk simply produced great matches.

By my count CM Punk has sixteen match of the year candidates and three matches of the year (in bold) to his name:
  • vs. Chris Hero, IWA-MS House of Hardcore 2nd Anniversary Show
  • vs. Chris Hero- IWA-MS When Hero Met Punk
  • vs. Austin Aries- IWA-MS Tom Petty Invitational 2004 Night One
  • vs. Samoa Joe, Ring of Honor (ROH) World Title Classic
  • vs. Samoa Joe, ROH Joe vs Punk II
  • vs. Samoa Joe, ROH All-Star Extravaganza II
  • vs. Jimmy Rave, ROH Manhattan Mayhem
  • vs. Austin Aries, ROH Death Before Dishonor III
  • vs. James Gibson vs Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels, ROH Redemption
  • vs. Bryan Danielson, FIP Bring the Pain
  • vs. Jeff Hardy, TLC 2009
  • vs. John Cena, Money in the Bank 2011
  • vs. Daniel Bryan, Over the Limit 2012
  • vs. John Cena, Night of Champions 2012
  • vs. John Cena, Raw 25 Feb 2013
  • vs. Undertaker, Wrestlemania 29
  • w/ Daniel Bryan, Rhodes Bros, and the Usos vs the Shield and the Wyatt Family, RA
  • vs. Chris Jericho, Payback 2013
  • vs. Brock Lesnar, SummerSlam 2013
That's an impressive resume of match and doesn't include the litany of great matches that just missed the cut off to be a MOTYC candidates such as his match with Roderick Strong at ROH Escape from New York, his ROH tag team work,  the Jeff Hardy cage match on Smackdown, or pulling off a miracle by getting a four star match out of modern day Rock.  I could go on and on and on.  It wasn't just about the big showdowns however.  CM Punk never had a cruise control, so on a consistent basis Punk was delivering the best of the show.
This belt in the hands of any other man is just a belt, but in my hands it becomes power. Just like this microphone in the hands of any of the boys in the back is just a microphone, but in the hands of a dangerous man like myself it becomes a pipe-bomb.
-CM Punk, ROH Death Before Dishonor III

Truer words were never spoken inside a wrestling ring.  CM Punk is on the very short list for greatest mic worker of all time. Stop it.  I see you reaching for your pitchforks and torches again, but it's true.  When Punk takes a hold of the microphone, he draws in the audience (and on occasion giving them a big ole back hand) like very few ever could.

The litany of Punk's promos in the Cageside Seats Greatest Promo Tournament is a demonstration of this.  As much as some people wanted to blame it all on a recency bias (as opposed to addressing the actual merits of Punk's promos, which I hope will get done in the comments here), Punk was just that damn good.  It's not a stretch to say that that Punk taking hold of the mic was a highlight of many a night during his career.

One of the things that elevates Punk as arguably the best of all time on the mic, is the variety of ways in which he could attack a promo.  As great as Ric Flair (one of the popular contenders for greatest mic workers of all time) was on the stick, the diversity in the style and substance of his promos is left wanting.  Punk delivered all-time great promos across a spectrum of style and substance, much less the diversity he brought brought on a weekly basis.

These things all contributed to Punk's ability as a first rate storyteller.  Punk brought the art of professional wrestling to its peak as a form of storytelling and entertainment in a lot of situations that simply weren't conducive to it.  For all of the good that there is in Ring of Honor, storytelling is a significant weakness of the promotion.  It was during his years there that he brought to bear such phenomenal work as his feud with Raven and the original Summer of Punk.

Even in his time in WWE, he brought great stories (such as the Straight Edge Society) while working with men who came up short in the storytelling department, despite their greatness in other aspects.  While working with men such as Jeff HardyRey Mysterio, and John Cena- Punk told memorable and phenomenal stories with all of them.  How many truly interesting and great stories have involved those men?

From signing his WWE contract on the ROH World Championship to pouring the ashes from Paul Bearer's urn on himself, Punk crafted moments that escalated his feuds and embedded themselves into the history of professional wrestling.

The final aspect I will bring up (briefly since this is getting wordy) is CM Punk's role as a game changer to the make up of the WWE roster.  Punk was the first of the modern independent scene to succeed in the WWE.  He paved the path for the likes of so many of our favorite wrestlers in the WWE today.  The trials, tribulations, and success of CM Punk in the WWE is a contributing factor in the success of such talent as Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, and Seth Rollins.  Punk's career was a watershed in professional wrestling as it shifted the landscape of the manner in which the world's largest promotion acquired the bulk of its greatest acts.

Elite history of matches? Check.

Arguably the greatest mic worker of all time? Check.

Top of the line storyteller? Check.

Significant impact on the shape of the industry? Check.

All of these factors add up to CM Punk being one of the five greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
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