For many wrestling fans, CM Punk entered their radar thanks to his 2011 feud with John Cena, during which he cut an infamously kayfabe-breaking promo, beat Cena for the title, and then departed the company in 2014 amid backstage drama. Now that Punk’s once again in the wrestling world, having signed to All Elite Wrestling, the pre-2011 CM Punk seems even more like a distant memory.
Let’s take a look at his early years in WWE, where he was a star in the promotion’s revival of ECW. Because the new ECW was considered a failure by many fans, Punk’s time with the brand is actually a little under-the-radar.
Debuted In The Hammerstein Ballroom
Following a 2005-2006 run in WWE’s developmental promotion of Ohio Valley Wrestling, CM Punk started appearing on ECW in July of 2006, cutting promos about his straight-edge lifestyle and how his addiction is competition. He finally made his in-ring debut in August, beating ECW original Justin Credible in a short match. It’s actually an exhilarating match, because it happened in the classic ECW stomping grounds of the Hammerstein Ballroom, in front of a crowd who all knew who CM Punk was.
Feud With Mike Knox
Also debuting in the early episodes of ECW was future Divas Champion Kelly Kelly, who worked an “exhibitionist” gimmick in ECW doing stripteases for the crowds that would ultimately be interrupted by jealous boyfriend Mike Knox. Knox would force Kelly to be his valet so he could keep an eye on her, feuding with anyone who noticed her, with CM Punk being one of his earliest enemies. Kelly’s interest in Punk led to a couple of challenges from Knox, but Punk beat him several times in this forgettable storyline.
Competing At December To Dismember
ECW’s sole exclusive pay-per-view after premiering was December To Dismember, which has gone down in history as WWE’s worst PPV ever both in terms of buyrates and fan reception. The nadir of the night for many fans was the Extreme Elimination Chamber main event, where Big Show defended his ECW Championship against CM Punk, Rob Van Dam, Hardcore Holly, Bobby Lashley, and Test.
Behind the scenes, Paul Heyman was pushing for Punk to win the match, but Vince Mcmahon insisted on Bobby Lashley. As a result, Punk would be the first guy eliminated in the match — by RVD, of all people — which fans in the arena did not appreciate.
His Finisher Was The Anaconda Vise
CM Punk is known for his finisher, Go To Sleep, where he drops a guy from the fireman’s carry position so that he knees the guy in the face in a move made famous by Pro Wrestling NOAH star KENTA. However, when he first debuted for ECW, he relied on a submission finisher called the Anaconda Vise, which was made famous by New Japan Pro-Wrestling star Hiroyoshi Tenzan. It wouldn’t be long, however, before he would ditch the Vise in favor of the GTS as his finisher, reportedly because WWE wanted him to use a more impactful move.
Briefly Joined The New Breed
The early days of WWE’s ECW saw the formation of The New Breed, a heel group of young ECW talent including Elijah Burke, Kevin Thorn, Marcus Cor Von, and Matt Striker. Approved in kayfabe by Vince McMahon, The New Breed found opposition in the ECW Originals, which included Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, and Sabu. Both groups tried to get CM Punk to join them, and Punk eventually sided with The New Breed, seemingly turning heel. However, this venture would be short-lived as weeks later Punk would turn on Burke and ditch the group.
Was Supposed To Wrestle Chris Benoit
Lashley’s huge ECW push ended abruptly when he was drafted to Raw, forcing him to vacate the ECW Championship. A tournament was held to crown a new champ, with the finals happening at 2007’s Vengeance: Night of Champions. The finals came down to CM Punk vs. Chris Benoit, but the infamous Benoit murder-suicide tragedy happened that day, unbeknownst to WWE. In Benoit’s place was Johnny Nitro (a.k.a. John Morrison), who beat Punk to gain the title.
Title Feud With John Morrison
Johnny Nitro’s ECW Championship win resulted in a revamp of Nitro to a Jim Morrison-esque rockstar heel named John Morrison, forcing CM Punk to chase the belt. He would start by beating rival Elijah Burke in a 2/3 falls match to become the #1 Contender to Morrison.
Victory would continue to elude Punk at several PPVs until he got a Last Chance match against Morrison on ECW’s weekly show. The match would happen on the 9/4/2007 episode, and it proved to be a great, underrated bout for both men, with CM Punk finally holding up the belt.
Dropped The Belt To Chavo
CM Punk’s title reign would last 143 days and five title defenses, with the beginning of the end happening in January 2008 as he entered a feud with Chavo Guerrero. After three weeks of matches ending in DQ or countout, they finally had a decisive bout on the 1/22/2008 show, with Chavo winning the ECW Championship from CM Punk thanks to a well-placed spear from Edge. Punk went over to SmackDown to feud with Edge a little but would continue to remain on ECW in the following months.
His Departure From ECW
CM Punk found his ticket out of ECW in March of 2008 when he beat Big Daddy V to qualify for the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 24 later that month. Punk actually ended up winning the briefcase, doing triple duty on Raw, SmackDown, and ECW until June 2008, where he finally cashed in on Edge and won the World Heavyweight Title, getting revenge for his interference earlier that year. From there, Punk would stick around exclusively on Raw.
ECW was pretty loosey-goosey when it came to wrestlers from other brands appearing on the show, so CM Punk occasionally made one-off appearances in the years that followed. He made a notable comeback, however, in January of 2010 for a special battle royal called ECW Homecoming, which would determine a #1 Contender for Christian’s ECW Championship and was open to former ECW roster members. Punk would defeat Mark Henry to qualify for the rumble, but Ezekiel Jackson would ultimately get the win.
WWE’s take on ECW was better than most people remember and some of these champions are exactly why it worked out so well.
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10 Things Fans Forget About CM Punk’s Time In ECW