The world of pro wrestling is highly unpredictable. No one knows what will be Ucey tomorrow or who the next world champion will be. There’s only one certainty in this industry: CM Punk will do or say something controversial that gets everyone talking. Part of this is due to the fact that Punk isn’t shy about airing his thoughts or grievances on a matter, regardless of who gets offended in the process. While it undoubtedly raises a little hell backstage and shakes up the status quo, it makes for riveting viewing for the rest of the wrestling observers. Think about it this way: Whenever the Straight Edge Superstar goes off, he single-handedly creates a wealth of content for wrestling journalists to generate for weeks on end.
It’s remarkable how Punk has had one of the most decorated careers in wrestling, yet he may be remembered more for the controversies he has been embroiled in than the championship gold he has captured. Whether he’s dropping pipebombs, gripebombs, or using his fists to do the talking, there’s no denying The Voice of the Voiceless is always dialed up to 11. So, grab a Pepsi and let’s take a walk on the wild side to revisit some of CM Punk’s most controversial moments in wrestling.
The fight with Teddy Hart
When it comes to controversial figures in wrestling, Teddy Hart might give CM Punk a run for his money. Hart hasn’t had the same level of success as some of his celebrated family members or even Punk, but he manages to creep into the headlines for everything else that happens behind the scenes. As it turns out, Punk and Hart developed some major heat with each other during their time in Ring of Honor (via Wrestling Observer). According to Hart, Punk took issue with Hart’s off-script actions during a match and decided to become vocal about it in the locker room. The two exchanged barbs through the media before it all came to a head during their time in TNA.
Depending on who is to be believed, there are different versions of how their fight started. However, what is a fact is that Punk and Hart got into it in a parking lot, and there was a physical altercation. Wrestling agent Bill Behrens told The Hannibal TV that Hart had the best of Punk throughout the fight before ECW legend Sabu stepped in to stop it from escalating further. "Sabu ran in and … got, you know, Teddy to focus on him," he said. "He broke for Sabu, so Sabu did the save for Punk on that particular one." Hart claimed that Punk owes him for helping to get him over.
The birth of the Straight Edge Savior
CM Punk debuted on WWE’s ECW brand in 2006. From there, he was presented largely as a babyface. While he wasn’t telling the crowd to take their vitamins or to say their prayers, his message of being anti-alcohol and drug-free is considered virtuous. Yet, it does also hold the potential to come across as self-righteous and as if he is better than others since he doesn’t have these vices. Punk and WWE leaned into this aspect of his character during his fabled feud with Jeff Hardy in 2009. At the time, Hardy was one of the most popular performers, and he and Punk engaged in a program where they exchanged the World Heavyweight Championship.
However, there was a notable change in Punk’s behavior on television at the time. He started pushing the straight-edge lifestyle more aggressively in his promos, even touching upon some of Hardy’s documented personal struggles. After losing a steel cage match to Punk, where the stipulation was that Hardy would need to leave WWE if he lost, The Charismatic Enigma actually departed the company to take time off and heal his injuries, as per a post by Matt Hardy on the WWE Universe blog. However, Punk didn’t let it stop there, as he continued to lay into Hardy’s problems in subsequent promos, which reportedly created some real-life animosity between him and the Hardy brothers (via Pro Wrestling Stories). This angle proved to be the catalyst for the Straight Edge Society gimmick where Punk presented himself as a megalomaniac messiah-like figure.
By 2011, CM Punk was an established star in WWE. He had several title reigns under his belt and featured in more than a few main event programs. That being said, he wasn’t the guy in the company. He wasn’t viewed in the same light as someone like Triple H, The Undertaker, or John Cena, as the Second City Saint seemed relegated to second place at best. On the June 13 episode of "Raw," that all changed when Punk cost John Cena a tables match against R-Truth, then sat cross-legged on stage, and delivered one of the most hard-hitting and stinging promos in pro wrestling history.
Tearing through the curtain of kayfabe with a sharp tongue, Punk addressed his real-life issues with WWE. He proceeded to call Vince McMahon and his family out of touch with the wrestling business, while questioning some of the decisions to promote certain talent, and not others. Punk proclaimed himself as one of the best in the business, but believed he was being held back by WWE because he didn’t fit their model of what a superstar should be. Since his contract was legitimately expiring a few weeks after this promo, this was something of a worked shoot, blending truth and fiction. More importantly, it got the wrestling community talking about it, as Punk spat out the cold-hard truths that others had been thinking and saying behind the scenes for years.
Leaving WWE as champion
After the shocking Pipebomb promo, WWE and CM Punk played a will-he-or-won’t-he game with the audience, teasing the possibility he may win the WWE Championship from John Cena at Money in the Bank, and leave the company with the title. Both parties did a good job of keeping the viewers on tenterhooks, since no one had any idea of how the storyline would unfold. Of course, there would be no way WWE would put the title on a superstar who was on his way out of the door, so they must have all agreed to a new deal beforehand, right? Well, that’s not as clear cut as most people imagine, according to Punk.
As per the "Best in the World" documentary (via ESPN), Punk’s contract had actually expired two days before the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, and he had agreed to a two-day extension simply to get to the show. Yet, nothing had been agreed upon for his new deal, as WWE and Punk went back and forth over the finer details. In fact, Punk signed the deal while the show was taking place, and only then was the finish for the match decided. "Vince said, ‘You have me over a barrel here,’" Punk recalled. "I wasn’t in this for silly demands. It wasn’t even about the money. It was simply, 100% about the respect and being placed on the card where I deserve to be."
The part-time problems
One thing that’s evident about CM Punk is how seriously he takes the pro wrestling industry. He holds an old-school mentality and it’s clear to see his frustration boil over when he doesn’t believe others take it as seriously as he does. During his stint in WWE, he worked his belief that part-time talent shouldn’t be the focus of WrestleMania into an angle with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
However, there was an element of truth to this storyline. Appearing at a red carpet event in 2011 (via GiveMeSport), Punk stated the following about The Great One: "For him to come back and try and claim that WrestleMania was successful because of him, or that he’s the most electrifying you know whatever he is, it grinds on my nerves, you know. And I can only hope that in 10 years, when I’m old and out of touch, there are going to be some young punk kids pointing at me saying ‘you’re old and out of touch.’"
Appearing on "The Art of Wrestling" podcast, Punk broached the topic of having to step aside for part-time talent several times. Essentially, the crux of the matter is he felt these individuals picked up the wins and the bigger paychecks, then disappeared the next day. For Punk, this was disrespectful to the people who were there on a full-time basis, as they were passed on for the major opportunities and never given a chance to become the next generation of major superstars.
Pouring Paul Bearer’s ashes over The Undertaker
CM Punk and The Undertaker were no strangers to each other in WWE. The two had fought over the title years earlier, but WrestleMania 29 felt different. At this point in time, The Deadman’s Streak had become something of mythical proportions, while Punk was fresh off one of the longest reigns as WWE Champion. In the eyes of many fans, there was the belief that Punk and his manager, Paul Heyman, could be the ones to pull a fast one over The Undertaker and terminate The Streak.
Though just over a month before the event, The Deadman’s legendary manager, Paul Bearer, passed away. This played into the storyline as The Undertaker tried to pay tribute to his fallen friend, while Punk used it as fuel for the fire and to generate heat from the audience. Not only did he and Heyman mock Bearer and ‘Taker through vignettes and promos, but Punk also poured the ashes of Bearer over The Deadman. Eventually, the two clashed at Mania, with The Undertaker coming out on top in the end. However, the decision to use Bearer’s real-life passing in the angle was one that didn’t sit too well with many viewers who felt it was done in poor taste, even if the participants involved had discussed it beforehand.
Walking out of WWE
The 2014 Royal Rumble was a strange one for CM Punk. He entered at number one, then was eliminated after 49 minutes by Kane. It seemed like a peculiar program for Punk to enter into, especially considering how long he had lasted in the match and his recent history as champion. More importantly, it didn’t put him any closer to headlining WrestleMania, which was one of his remaining goals in WWE. The next night before "Raw," Punk spoke to Vince McMahon and Triple H, announcing that he was hurt, unhappy with the direction of his character, and heading home.
WWE never addressed his absence from events or television, and Punk stayed silent for months afterward as well. It was only when he appeared on "The Art of Wrestling" podcast that he revealed his side of the story. Punk discussed a myriad of issues, explaining how he told McMahon and Triple H he didn’t want to be there, and detailing all of his frustrations. Months later, WWE served him with termination papers on his wedding day. The two parties entered into discussions about a settlement, with the details remaining confidential to date. However, Punk did reveal he received everything he wanted in the end.
The Art of Wrestling podcast
With CM Punk seemingly gone from WWE, fans were curious as to what had happened. For quite a while, there were only rumors swirling around about what had led to him not being on television anymore. Eventually, Punk received the opportunity to tell his side of the story on his then-friend Colt Cabana’s "The Art of Wrestling" podcast. The Straight Edge Superstar made two appearances and the contents of their discussion made waves around the internet wrestling community.
If 2011’s promo was the Pipebomb, this was the nuclear bomb. Punk didn’t hold back as he addressed everything from backstage politics to the medical treatment he received in WWE. He got into specific details about monetary issues he had with the company, as well as some of the broken promises that were made to him. Many fans expected there to be genuine tension and animosity between Punk and WWE, but no one could have anticipated some of the shocking claims made on the podcast.
After The Voice of the Voiceless nuked WWE on Colt Cabana’s "The Art of Wrestling" podcast, there were more than a few people unhappy about what he had said — namely former WWE doctor, Chris Amann, who proceeded to sue Punk and Cabana for their comments about him on the podcast (via Sports Illustrated). Once the law took its course and it went to trial, Punk and Cabana won the civil lawsuit.
However, there was yet another legal issue to follow as Cabana first sued The Straight Edge Superstar, and then CM Punk countersued Colt Cabana. This was all concerning who would cover the costs of the Amann lawsuit, with both parties claiming different agreements and the subsequent course of events. The lawsuits were settled between the lawyers; however, Punk and Cabana’s relationship was never the same again. The two longtime friends who had come up together in the Chicago wrestling scene were no longer on speaking terms. That being said, no one could have predicted how the tension between them almost led to a civil war in a wrestling promotion that hadn’t been born yet.
Going off on Adam Page on live television
CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling in August 2021, after seven years away, had a fairy tale feel to it. He was back, with a smile on his face, and a hunger to make up for lost time. His first few months in AEW were praised by critics and fans alike, as he feuded with the likes of Eddie Kingston and MJF in memorable programs. Then came the time for him to challenge "Hangman" Adam Page for the AEW World Championship at Double or Nothing 2022. On paper, everything looked fantastic, and the scene was set for Punk to claim the championship gold from Page. However, in the build-up to their match, Page cut a promo on Punk, which seemed peculiar to many viewers, as he claimed he needed to protect AEW from Punk.
No one really gave much thought to it afterward, and Punk defeated Page for the title before having to step away for a few months due to an injury. When Punk returned, he appeared on "AEW Dynamite" and called Page to the ring. Page wasn’t scheduled to show up on the segment, so he didn’t, with Punk referring to his absence as "coward s***." A few weeks later, fans finally found out the truth about both of these promos at the infamous All Out post-show media scrum. CM Punk claimed Adam Page had gone into business for himself and this is why he had served him a receipt on "Dynamite."
The All Out scrum
After recovering from surgery, it was time for CM Punk and Jon Moxley to determine who was the true champion and face of AEW. While AEW Interim World Champion Jon Moxley picked up the squash win on an August edition of "Dynamite," less than two weeks later the two went toe-to-toe at All Out 2022 for the AEW World Championship. This time around, Punk came out on top in front of his hometown crowd in Chicago. It should have been a moment of pure joy and full-circle serendipity after Punk had famously claimed the WWE Championship in the same city at Money in the Bank 2011.
Yet, Punk had a lot to get off his chest at the All Out post-show media scrum. The bloodied and muffin-famished superstar proceeded to verbally eviscerate the likes of Adam Page, the AEW EVPs, Colt Cabana, and anyone who had spread a rumor that he had been responsible for Cabana’s AEW contract not being renewed. Sitting next to him was AEW owner Tony Khan, who looked like the living embodiment of the This is Fine meme. The Straight Edge Superstar’s comments rattled many cages, acting as a precursor for what happened next, as well as bringing Punk next-level heat following the media scrum. Also, let’s give wrestling fans credit where it’s due since they are the most hilarious people on Earth. Not too long after the All Out scrum aired, fans dubbed Punk’s latest rant as the Gripebomb, which is an apt and pretty funny description of it.
The All Out brawl
CM Punk’s fiery comments at the All Out press scrum wouldn’t be the end of his night. While the details remain unclear and no one has revealed exactly what happened, there was an altercation between Punk and the AEW EVPs, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega — and no, it wasn’t over Mindy’s Bakery’s muffins.
Stories have varied on what happened at All Out, and it’s likely the tale has grown an extra tail or two as it passes from one person to another. According to The Elite’s version of events, Punk is alleged to have punched Matt Jackson, while his friend and former trainer, Ace Steel, hit Nick Jackson with a chair and bit Omega. There were also claims that Punk’s dog, Larry, was injured in the fracas.
What did happen, though, is that Punk, Omega, and the Bucks were all stripped of their titles and removed from AEW television for several months. An investigation was conducted into the incident, but AEW and Tony Khan have remained tight-lipped about the outcome.