Not since the glory days of Shawn Michaels or Hulk Hogan has there been a wrestler as controversial as CM Punk. Oft-proclaimed as the undisputed “Best in the World,” Punk has spent the majority of his career cultivating a reputation for his austere wrestling ability and captivating character work, garnering a loyal cult following of fans since his career took off in the mid-2000s.
As impressive as Punk’s work in the ring, the Second City Savior has also become known for his infamous backstage issues with fellow wrestling personalities, butting heads against everyone from Vince McMahon and Triple H in WWE to Tony Khan and The Elite in AEW. Despite these abundant professional setbacks, Punk remains one of the most celebrated talents of his generation, influencing dozens of wrestlers who followed in his footsteps (including Seth Rollins, Rhea Ripley, and MJF).
From his breakout matches in ROH to his repeated clashes against John Cena in WWE, here are some of the greatest matches to feature CM Punk in action, ranked from best to worst.
CM Punk vs. John Cena (Money in the Bank 2011)
When looking at the whole of WWE’s PG Era, only one match stands the test of time as the definitive best bout of its era: CM Punk versus John Cena at 2011’s Money in the Bank. Often hailed as one of the greatest pro wrestling bouts in the company’s history, Punk and Cena pulled out all the stops when it came to their fateful encounter here.
Maintaining some excellent chemistry, the two transitioned from conventional technical wrestling to outright brawling to a flurry of high-diving attacks from the top rope. A match that proved each man’s versatility and adaptability in the ring, it also served as the most important bout in Punk’s career, winning audiences over with his momentous victory over Cena and securing his first WWE Championship.
CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe (ROH Joe vs. Punk II)
In the summer of 2004, CM Punk and Samoa Joe reigned as the defining faces of the burgeoning wrestling promotion Ring of Honor, taking part in a trilogy of matches now considered classics in the annals of indie wrestling. After their inconclusive bout at World Title Classic, Punk and Joe again faced off for the ROH World Championship, battling to an exhausting 60-minute draw at ROH Joe vs. Punk II. More than a simple world title match, Punk and Joe’s 2004 rivalry established ROH as a legitimate alternative to mainstream companies like WWE, existing on par with other notable non-WWE feuds like Flair and Steamboat or Okada and Omega.
CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe (ROH All-Star Extravaganza II)
After two indecisive matches that reached a time-limit draw, Joe and Punk met one final time in the main event of ROH All-Star Extravaganza II. Displaying a far more serious and determined attitude than he had in their previous engagements, Punk gained the advantage over the Samoan Submission Machine throughout the early portion of the match. As the match drew on, however, Joe bounced back, leveling Punk with a mixture of chops, kicks, and other high-impact moves. Wearing the Straight Edge Superstar down with his unforgiving ground-and-pound style, Joe eventually secured a hard-fought victory over his longtime rival, ending ROH’s Punk-Joe feud in dramatic, grand fashion.
CM Punk vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXIX)
While Punk has long expressed disappointment at never headlining WrestleMania, the Best in the World leaves behind an impressive array of five-star matches in his WrestleMania performance history, including his lauded match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXIX. Attempting to make history as the first man to defeat the Deadman at the grandest stage of them all, Punk utilized numerous psychological tactics to get inside The Undertaker’s head prior to the bout, such as mocking the then-recent death of ‘Taker’s legendary manager, Paul Bearer. Despite his disarming mind games, however, the Straight Edge Superstar fell victim to The Undertaker at this 2013 showdown, with the Phenom adding one more tally to his iconic undefeated streak.
CM Punk vs. John Cena (Raw)
Upon losing his WWE title to The Rock at Royal Rumble 2013, CM Punk briefly reignited his 2011-era feud against John Cena, each man vying for an opportunity to face The Rock at WrestleMania XXIX. The final encounter between Cena and Punk, this 2013 match lives on as another exciting chapter in Cena and Punk’s celebrated rivalry. Harking back to their earlier encounter at 2011’s Money in the Bank, the match utilized many differing styles, from mat-based technical wrestling to more unorthodox maneuvers from both men. Redeeming his previous loss to Punk at Money in the Bank, Cena managed to finally put one over on his foremost PG Era foe.
CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (Over the Limit 2012)
Having won the WWE Championship in late 2011, CM Punk embarked on a lengthy crusade to protect his title against all challengers for the next year. In addition to standout foes like Chris Jericho and Kane, Punk’s most formidable rival came in the form of Daniel Bryan. An acute technical wrestler in his own right, Bryan made for an ideal rival to the Second City Savior, both men utilizing the same mat-based, MMA-style offense throughout their careers. The greatest match in their 2012 summertime feud, Punk and Bryan enjoyed a bout on par with Michaels and Hart or Savage and Steamboat, punctuated by a nonstop barrage of kicks, suplexes, and taut submission holds.
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam 2013)
Breaking from his manager Paul Heyman in mid-2013, Punk embarked on an intense feud against Heyman’s most famous client, Brock Lesnar. In typical Lesnar fashion, the Beast Incarnate dominated the majority of the match through his raw strength, tossing Punk around with an unending series of suplexes. As imposing as Lesnar’s offense proved, Punk held his own against the Conqueror, fighting back with a wave of high-flying attacks and devastating kicks. Evening the odds with several chair shots against Lesnar, only the repeated intervention of Paul Heyman allowed Lesnar to score the pinfall victory over his former colleague.
CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe (ROH World Title Classic)
Meeting for the first time at ROH World Title Classic, Punk and Samoa Joe fought to a draining 60-minute draw, paving the way to their eventual rematches at ROH Joe vs. Punk II and ROH All-Star Extravaganza II in the months ahead. When looking at their original match-up here, though, one tends to notice the unparalleled chemistry each man had in the ring together. Opening the bout with some tactical, technical wrestling, Joe and Punk then transitioned into more physical brawling. A bout as impressive as their later rematches, Punk and Joe’s initial clash helped set the standard for ROH moving forward.
CM Punk vs. Austin Aries (ROH Death Before Dishonor III)
Signing with WWE in mid-2005, Punk concluded his contract with ROH with his praised “Summer of Punk” storyline. Kicking off this climactic era in Punk’s ROH career, the Straight Edge Superstar challenged ROH World Champion Austin Aries at ROH Death Before Dishonor III. With their similar movesets and offensive styles, CM Punk and Aries made for pitch-perfect competitors against one another, culminating in a match filled with numerous creative maneuvers and well-timed reversals. Winning the ROH World title in a surprise finish from Aries, Punk then showed audiences his true colors, mocking the very title he’d just secured.
CM Punk vs. MJF (AEW Revolution 2022)
CM Punk had numerous great matches during his short-lived tenure in AEW, including exceptional bouts against Adam Page, Jon Moxley, Ricky Starks, and Eddie Kingston. As phenomenal as these respective matches were, Punk’s single greatest opponent in AEW is his stylistic successor, MJF. A star as incendiary in his promos and as talented in the ring as Punk, MJF proved a recurring thorn in Punk’s side throughout late 2021 and early 2022.
As their feud grew more heated, Punk soon challenged MJF to a Dog Collar match at Revolution 2022. Loaded with intense violence, Punk and MJF wore each other down with their back-and-forth offense and brutal implementation of their chain collars, with Punk scoring a hard-earned victory over his noteworthy AEW rival.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (Payback 2013)
Rebounding from his loss at WrestleMania XXIX, Punk took a two-month break from WWE television, returning to answer Chris Jericho’s challenge at Payback 2013. As superb as Jericho and Punk’s 2012 rivalry had been, this 2013 rematch surpassed the quality of their earlier bouts, with Punk bearing little signs of ring rust from his temporary hiatus. Like Punk’s match against Daniel Bryan, Punk and Jericho implemented a classical wrestling format to their match here, delivering a bout on par with Steamboat and Flair or Punk and Cena.
CM Punk vs. “Hangman” Adam Page (AEW Double or Nothing 2022)
Despite their apparent personal issues, CM Punk and then-reigning AEW World Champion “Hangman” Adam Page conducted an otherwise remarkable bout in the main event of Double or Nothing 2022. Building off a storyline that blurred the lines between kayfabe and reality, Page brought out a far more raw offense, brutalizing Punk with rolling elbows, thunderous chops, and devastating clotheslines. With Punk struggling to obtain any momentum, Page’s onslaught continued throughout most of the match, only for a momentary slip-up on Page’s part to cost him his one chance at victory.
CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy (SummerSlam 2009)
After a decent but unremarkable start in WWE, CM Punk came into his own by 2009, turning heel and cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on his former ally, Jeff Hardy. With thinly-veiled allusions to Hardy’s problematic history with substance abuse, Punk became a self-aggrandizing heel as the new World Heavyweight Champion, proclaiming himself superior to Hardy based on his dedicated straight-edge lifestyle.
Meeting Hardy in several matches throughout mid 2009, the two eventually squared off in an exciting Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match in the main event of SummerSlam. Winning back his World title from Hardy in a nail-biting finish, Punk solidified his face as the future star of WWE with his victory here.
CM Punk vs. Jon Moxley (AEW All Out 2022)
While All Out 2022 will forever be known for the infamous backstage fight between Punk and The Elite, it’s worth remembering CM Punk’s epic bout against Jon Moxley for the World Heavyweight Championship in the pay-per-view main event. Playing to Moxley’s hyper-violent strengths as a performer, the match brought a new level of brawling to Moxley and Punk’s rivalry. Despite wrestling with an apparent injury, Punk still managed to hold his own against Moxley’s offense, winning his second AEW World Championship in the process.
CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston (AEW Full Gear 2021)
Like his feuds against Adam Page and Jeff Hardy, CM Punk’s rivalry against Eddie Kingston skewered the lines between scripted television and reality. With both men admitting to some deep-seated ill feelings towards each other dating back to the 2000s, AEW set the stage for a long-awaited match between the two at Full Gear 2021.
Like most of Punk’s AEW matches, the resulting bout demonstrated the physical intensity of both men, unfolding like a cross between a NJPW strong style match and an ECW-style brawl. The first and only match in this short-lived rivalry, it’s one of the most underrated additions to Punk’s AEW career.