For a guy who spent so much time fighting to break glass ceilings, and as someone who then took a seven-year break from wrestling, CM Punk has racked up a lot of hardware in his career. From ROH, to every WWE brand of its day, to AEW, in a career spanning three decades, Punk has had plenty of amazing title wins. Today we’re going to rank, from worst to best, the title victories that helped build the case that Punk might truly be the "Best in the World."
First, a couple of quick caveats. A line has to be drawn somewhere, so we’re limiting this list to titles Punk won in ROH, WWE, or AEW. Punk added even more belts everywhere from indies like IWA Mid-South, to WWE’s past developmental promotion, Ohio Valley Wrestling. We’re also not counting the weird title "unification" match Punk had with John Cena at SummerSlam 2011, which WWE considers not a separate title win for Punk, but simply a continuation of his previous one. Trust us, even with these exclusions, we have plenty to work with.
13. Vs. The Briscoe Brothers for the ROH Tag Team Championships – May 15, 2004
CM Punk’s second tag title win in ROH was more part of a unique one-night gimmick than anything truly special. On a show billed as Round Robin Challenge III, three teams, The Prophecy of Dan Maff and BJ Whitmer, The Second City Saints of Colt Cabana and CM Punk, and the Briscoe Brothers, Jay and Mark, wrestled each other in a one night, three-match round robin tournament. It was booking that made sense, playing off a then-running feud between the Prophecy and the Saints, and recent history between the Briscoes and Saints.
The twist was that the Saints came into the tournament as ROH Tag Champs, and the titles would be on the line in their opening match against Maff and Whitmer. The Saints proceeded to drop the belts in that match, only for the Prophecy to turn around and lose them to the Briscoes during the same show. This set up the main event of the night, a Briscoes vs. Saints match in which the Saints regained the tag titles. The one night Round Robin finished with each team winning one match and losing another. So in other words, everything ended where it started.
12. Vs. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. for the WWE World Tag Team Championships – October 27, 2008
Speaking of tag titles, Punk’s first and only reign as a tag champ in WWE was a short-lived affair. In the fall of ’08, teaming with Kofi Kingston, Punk was able to put an end to Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr’s second run as champions. Taking place on an episode of "Raw," the match was fun enough and made for a nice moment, but was really a side chapter in the formation of the Legacy stable, with Punk getting some proxy revenge on Randy Orton for a previous attack and taking out his prospective henchmen.
Kofi and Punk would hold the titles for just 47 days, losing them not on PPV or even TV, but on a house show in Hamilton, Canada. The team that defeated them? John Morrison and the Miz, a duo that would go on to have a much longer reign and be far more remembered as a team. Overall, this reign amounts to a fun but minor footnote in Punk’s career.
11. Vs. Jeff Hardy for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – June 7, 2009
The first person to win two Money in the Bank ladder matches, on this night Punk became the second person to also ever successfully cash in the briefcase twice. Here, at WWE’s first-ever Extreme Rules PPV, Punk reclaimed the title when he used the anytime title shot to his advantage, challenging Jeff Hardy after he had just won a hard-fought ladder match against Edge.
It was an enjoyable and surprising twist, one that would be paid off in subsequent weeks as Punk would turn heel and start a full-fledged feud with Hardy. At the same time, it did not have the magic of Punk’s first cash-in, as sequels are rarely as good as the first and this did not have the distinction of being Punk’s first WWE World title win. Likewise, Punk essentially stealing the title from a beloved babyface who had just delivered in a very tough main event did not feel like the triumphant victory that many others on this list would end up being.
10. Vs. The Briscoe Brothers for the ROH Tag Team Championships – April 24, 2004
This match is superior to the rematch that comes earlier on this list, both in terms of the quality of the action and its historical significance. This was the night of Punk’s first title win in ROH, teaming with Second City Saints partner Colt Cabana. Spring of 2004 was an important time for ROH in general, with the promotion’s future in jeopardy as it tried to plot a course following a scandal surrounding its former owner, Rob Feinstein. This show, titled Reborn: Stage Two, was just the third ROH ran after that controversy became public.
Here, in front of a hometown town crowd, in the main event of the first Chicago event in ROH’s history, Punk delivered the kind of feel-good moment the promotion so desperately needed. Punk was usually a heel at this point but in this building, on this night, he could do no wrong. The match is also notable for one of the most impressive single moves of Punk’s career, as he was able to counter a Briscoes Doomsday Device by power slamming one of the brothers as they flew towards him, all while sitting on top of the other brother’s shoulders.
9. Vs. William Regal for the WWE Intercontinental Championship – January 19, 2009
When it comes to title victories, one particularly cool honor is when you join the ranks of WWE’s Triple Crown club. Requiring a wrestler to win not just a WWE world title, but also a tag belt and a secondary belt like the United States or Intercontinental title, being a Triple Crown wrestler means you’re rubbing elbows with some all-time greats. On a "Raw" in early ’09, Punk acquired the final piece he needed to be a Triple Crown man when he defeated William Regal for the Intercontinental Championship.
Although the match was just a hair under ten minutes, that was still time enough for these two to deliver something really great. The finish, with Regal continually hitting Punk in the head as he was held on his shoulders for the Go 2 Sleep, only for Punk to still hit it for the win, was a dramatic way to end the bout. In the span of just half a year, Punk had gone from not having won a single part of WWE’s Triple Crown to having held all three, completing one of the fastest journeys to that special club that the promotion had ever seen.
8. Vs. John Morrison for the ECW World Championship – September 1, 2007
Punk’s first big title win in WWE came for a brand that no longer even exists. A year before this match Punk became a fixture on TV when he debuted for WWE’s relaunched ECW. He’d spend the rest of 2006 and most of 2007 introducing himself to a worldwide audience and building a name. A title opportunity presented itself in June of ’07 when Punk was booked against John Morrison for the then vacant ECW Title. Punk would come up short there, as well as in two subsequent PPV rematches.
This match then was billed as Punk’s last chance. On national television, in a match he could not afford to lose, Punk became a champion for the first time as a member of WWE’s main roster. He and Morrison had developed good chemistry through their numerous meetings and the result here was one of the best matches in Punk’s WWE career up to that point. CM Punk had been considered a "Paul Heyman guy" and here he was, now joining the list of champions of the promotion Heyman was most known for. It would be the first of many moments of glory for Punk in WWE.
7. Vs. Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Championship – November 20, 2011
The follow-up to Punk’s huge Money in the Bank 2011 title win was messy. He briefly disappeared, only to quickly return once John Cena had been given the WWE Championship that Punk never lost. That all got settled with a match between the two at that year’s SummerSlam … and then Alberto Del Rio stepped in. Cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase against a battered Punk, Del Rio left that night holding the gold. Punk had spent the previous months kicking off one of the most memorable parts of his career, but an extended title reign eluded him.
That changed on this night. Here, at the 2011 Survivor Series, Punk regained the title and kicked off a title reign that would last an incredible 434 days. This was not the show’s main event, nor its main selling point — those distinctions belonged to John Cena and the Rock teaming together in a match that would help build their two WrestleMania encounters. Nonetheless, for Punk, this night wasn’t about creating just one moment, but starting a series of them. Oh, and did we mention this match happened at the legendary Madison Square Garden and Punk brought out Howard Finkle to be his personal ring announcer?
6. Vs. Jeff Hardy for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – August 23, 2009
While CM Punk would never achieve his dream of headlining WrestleMania, he would get to main event WWE’s second biggest event of the year, SummerSlam. More than that, he’d get to win it. Another chapter in the feud between Punk and Jeff Hardy, SummerSlam 2009 was headlined by the two wrestling for Hardy’s World Heavyweight Championship in a TLC match. It was a gimmick Hardy was closely associated with, but it is worth noting that one of the earliest matches that put Punk on the wrestling map was a TLC bout against Chris Hero for the IWA-MS promotion.
This SummerSlam match delivered what you’d want in terms of thrills, including Punk taking a Jeff Hardy Swanton Bomb from the top of the ladder. Punk would notch his third World Heavyweight title win in this match, but his feud with Hardy was not over. That would come days later on the next episode of "SmackDown," where he successfully defended his new title against Jeff in a loser leaves WWE cage match. The SummerSlam match was not even the end of Punk’s night, as the show ended not with Punk celebrating but with him being choke slammed by the man who would be his next feud: The Undertaker.
5. Vs. Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship – September 4, 2022
If you just ignore what happened in the hours after this match, it’s one of Punk’s greatest triumphs. Returning mere months after a fluke injury destroyed his foot to the point that it needed to be surgically rebuilt, Punk got back into in-ring action on an episode of Dynamite two weeks prior to this. A match to unify Punk’s AEW World title with Jon Moxley’s interim belt ended in shocking fashion, with Punk losing in a short squash after selling in storyline that he had tweaked his foot during the match.
The rematch was set for All Out, the same PPV that one year earlier was the site of Punk’s return to in-ring competition. Minutes into the match, Punk suffered another legitimate injury, tearing his tricep while doing a tope. Punk gutted through, working an excellent full-length match, bleeding buckets, and regaining the title in yet another huge hometown title win in a career filled with them. But within an hour, no one was talking about any of that. No, instead the wrestling world was focusing on the legit anger Punk threw all over the place at the post-show press conference. Hours after that we’d learn about a backstage melee that resulted in the suspensions of Punk and many others. Of all of Punk’s title wins, this was the most bittersweet.
4. Vs. Adam Page for the AEW World Championship – May 29, 2022
Months after returning to wrestling, in a comeback many thought they’d never see, Punk carved out another piece of wrestling history for himself by becoming AEW champion. Punk’s AEW run had been handled with patience, seeing him work his way up the ladder over a period of months instead of being shoved into the world title picture on day one. Here, in the main event of the 2022 Double or Nothing pay-per-view, fans’ patience was rewarded in a major way, with Punk adding his name to AEW’s record books in an exciting match.
While in hindsight people will look back at the Punk and Hangman program and focus on the backstage strife, at the time of this match, it hadn’t yet completely exploded in public for all the world to see. Instead, fans were far more interested in what was going to come out as champ and how the two would mesh as performers than any behind the scenes soap opera. Punk would be injured just days later, but the fact that fans didn’t get the title reign they wanted to see doesn’t change the fact that we were lucky enough to get the title win they needed to see.
3. Vs. Edge for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – June 30, 2008
On one of the most memorable "Raw" episodes of its day, CM Punk cashed in a Money in the Bank briefcase for the first time and was successful, winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Granted, he had a lot of help, opportunistically cashing in after Batista had beaten down then-champion Edge, winning in just seconds after hitting a Go 2 Sleep. No matter the method, it was a passing of the baton, a star from the previous generation putting over an emerging one from the current day, the first Money in the Bank winner being defeated by the most recent.
For years, fans of Punk had wondered if he would ever get this far. He had faced a long hard road to the top, with many of the tastemakers in wrestling criticizing his look, his size, his brashness, his in-ring style. But here, for the world to see, Punk finally had gained possession of the top title of the world’s biggest promotion. Although Punk would lose it a little over two months later, vacating it in an angle due to a beatdown by The Legacy, this win, all on its own, elevated Punk to a level many thought he would never reach.
2. Vs. Austin Aries for the ROH World Championship – June 18, 2005
ROH was in so many ways Punk’s home promotion. In fact, when he debuted in AEW, his very first promo talked about how when he left ROH, he felt he was leaving wrestling. On this night in 2005, Punk finally became the champ in the promotion he had helped build. The rumors that he was about to sign with WWE were rampant and everyone assumed they were true. Punk took advantage of this, winning the title working as a complete babyface, with the emotional crowd behind him every step of the way. But then came that post-match promo.
In a moment that has become perhaps more famous than the match himself, Punk celebrated the win but then proceeded to tell the crowd a story — one about a snake that couldn’t be trusted, about how he had fooled all the fans he hated into loving him. Punk left with the title with fans wondering what Punk’s future was and just what was happening. This resulted in the famous "Summer of Punk," a months-long final ROH run where Punk as a heel fended off challengers, threatening to take the belt to WWE, before finally losing it to James Gibson. This win, more than any, shows Punk’s ability to play fans’ heartstrings like a fiddle.
1. Vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship – July 17, 2011
Punk had won titles before Money in the Bank 2011, even WWE World titles, but this night felt different. It was the payoff to the "Pipebomb" promo. After weeks of wondering what Punk’s future in WWE was going to be, we finally got our answer. In front of his hometown crowd, Punk didn’t just claim the top title in WWE, he did it by beating its biggest star, on a show that was built all around him. It truly felt like Punk had grabbed one of Vince McMahon’s imaginary brass rings that he had talked about weeks earlier.
All of that would’ve been special enough, but the match itself ranks as one of the very best of Punk’s career. A fantastic contest that would be remembered as great even without the historical significance. It was the first WWE match Dave Meltzer awarded five stars since 1997. That match? Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker, Hell in a Cell. That is elite company to be in but much like that other legendary match, the 2011 Money in the Bank title change has stood the test of time. It was the night CM Punk shouted to the world that he wasn’t just a star, but one of the absolute biggest names of his generation.