He calls himself the “Best in the World” and a strong argument can be made in his defense. For the third year in a row C.M. Punk has continued to establish himself as one of the most consistently great and reliable main eventers in WWE.
Punk began 2013 in the midst of an historic run as WWE Champion, and was en route to participating in a dream match against Rock at the Royal Rumble. Similar to the Rock vs. John Cena encounter from the previous year, Punk vs. Rock was a match most fans thought they’d never see. It was a clash pitting the most charismatic star of the past against the most respected wrestler of the present generation.
Though Rock emerged victorious, Punk had nothing to be ashamed of. His championship reign clocked in at a whopping 434 consecutive days, making him the longest reigning WWE Champion of the last 25 years. His reign brought a level of credibility back to the championship that was sorely lacking.
By the time WrestleMania 29 rolled around it was heavily speculated that Rock vs. Cena would again headline with Punk vs. Undertaker as one of key undercard matches.
The February 25 edition of Monday Night Raw featured Punk vs. Cena in a #1 contenders match for a shot against Rock. While there was little question of what the outcome would be, few expected the two to turn in a match-of-the-year caliber performance. Cena pinned Punk in 26:31 of an absolute classic.
As fate would have it, a shot of irony was injected into the Punk-Undertaker rivalry when Paul Bearer, Undertaker’s longtime manager, suddenly passed away. While WWE is often criticized for exploiting the deaths of past talent, this was a rare opportunity where it could’ve played into their advantage. The storyline revolved around Punk stealing Undertaker’s urn (the same one often held by Bearer in the 90s). What should’ve been a relatively simple build was turned into a near creative fiasco, featuring such hokey moments as Punk dribbling the urn like a basketball and spreading the ashes onto his body on the go-home show. It was among the worst builds to a major WrestleMania match in recent memory
In spite of the lukewarm build, their match stole the show at WrestleMania 29. Undertaker extended his WrestleMania record to 21-0 while Punk etched his name into history by going toe to toe with the Deadman on the biggest stage possible.
Punk took a sabbatical for the next several weeks and did not return until the Payback PPV, where he defeated Chris Jericho in a stellar bout. Immediately after, the wheels were put into motion for another match fans thought they’d never see: Punk vs. Brock Lesnar.
Their program was triggered by the breakup of Punk and manager Paul Heyman. From late 2012-mid 2013, the Punk and Heyman pairing was a throwback to the Nick Bockwinkel/Bobby Heenan duo of the 1970s-80s
Punk’s hatred of Heyman was the main catalyst and whenever it seemed like he was close to getting his hands on him, Lesnar would always show up to thwart his plans. After a series of back and forth attacks (resulting in some excellent promos and angles), the two were set to meet at SummerSlam.
To say it was a great match would be an understatement. In an ultimate show of respect from the locker room, both guys were greeted to a standing ovation as they made their way through the curtain afterwards.
Despite Lesnar being one of the stiffest wrestlers in the business, Punk matched him blow for blow. While the latter Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena match that took place that same day was an incredible wrestling match, Punk vs. Lesnar resembled more of an all-out war. Many consider it to be the best or second best match Lesnar has been in since his return to WWE.
Punk’s only real lowlight of the year was his program with Ryback. The less I say about it the better.
As 2013 comes to a close, Punk continues to remain one of the most consistently popular and respected superstars in all of professional wrestling. A large part of that is because Punk is one of the few guys over the last decade in wrestling who literally came from the bottom and made it to the top on his own terms. A guy with his look and style was never supposed to make it as a main event star in WWE. Not only did he make it, but he’s maintained his spot and is clearly the #2 guy in the company next to Cena. Not a bad spot to be in at all.
Though he was largely out of the title picture for the majority of 2013, his matches against Rock, Undertaker, Cena, Jericho and Lesnar would have to rank right near the top on any list of the best WWE matches held this year. It’s a testament to his ability as a performer that he was able to produce such fantastic matches with five very different wrestlers.
Currently, Punk and Bryan are embroiled in a hot feud against the Wyatt Family. While some would consider it as a diversion until WrestleMania season, it has the potential to be one of the best things WWE has done all year. It certainly hasn’t disappointed yet.
I’m certain that Punk will have WWE gold around his waist in the near future, not that it matters. Punk has crossed over into that rare breed of wrestler who doesn’t really need the championship to remain relevant. After all, he already made history during his last reign. Anything else would just be icing on the cake.