On June 27, 2011, CM Punk changed professional wrestling.
He cut what's known as one of the greatest "work-shoots" in wrestling history. The infamous "pipe bomb" turned Punk into the sport's hottest character and established him as a legitimate icon among wrestling fans and, more importantly, earned respect among the people in the dressing room.
That night, CM Punk and the real life Phil Brooks got "over." It's a night when he channeled Bernie Sanders, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Emma Watson, calling for justice, equality and respect.
But five years later, what does the shoot promo mean now? Watch it to remember when CM Punk and Phil Brooks met...
Some promos are timeless. The American Dream Dusty Rhodes' Hard Times interview, Paul Heyman's 21-1 promo the night after Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin's iconic Austin 3:16 promo after beating Jake "The Snake" Roberts, all mark pivotal times in wrestling history.
Punk's 5:15 promo moved the wrestling world because it worked both within the scripted world of professional wrestling and in the unscripted world outside of it. It wasn't "fake" when you watched it. It created one of those "Oh, man, this guy's gonna get in trouble" moments.
The prevailing theory on Punk's promo is that he was given the OK beforehand to say what he wanted in the interview because his character was someone who was disgruntled. The WWE, however, did not know exactly what he was going to say and did not see a "script" beforehand. They also did not know that his comments would resonate with the fans in the way that they did.
The shoot promo created instant buzz and for a few months the WWE was dabbling again into The Attitude Era. But looking back five years later, Punk's promo is still powerful and groundbreaking, not as a wrestling storyline, but as prophetic commentary on the sport and his eventual future in the UFC. Punk spoke the truth that night. Punk's observations, predictions and opinions have come true, with kind of clarity and accuracy no one else could have known. Let's relive Punk's "Pipe Bomb" piece-by-piece.
Cena is laid out in the middle of the ring, while is sitting down at the top of the ramp below the Titan Tron.
In the promo, he buries John Cena for being an undeserved centerpiece of the WWE, and nothing has changed.
John Cena, while you lay there, hopefully as uncomfortable as you possibly can be, I want you to listen to me. I want you to digest this, because before I leave in three weeks with your WWE Championship, I have a lot of things I wanna get off my chest.I don’t hate you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back. I hate… this idea… that you’re the best… because you’re not. I’m the best. I’m the best in the world. There’s one thing you’re better at than I am, and that’s kissing Vince McMahon’s ass. You’re as good at kissing Vince’s ass as Hulk Hogan was. I don’t know if you’re as good as Dwayne… he’s a pretty good ass-kisser… always was and still is. Oops… I’m breaking the fourth wall.
At the time, Punk was threatening to leave the WWE because his contract was up and he was unhappy with his push. His contract was up the day after the Money in the Bank PPV where he was set to wrestle Cena for the title.
In the beginning of his promo he is griping about how Cena is the focal point of the company even though he's not as good of a wrestler as Punk is. Remember, greatness in wrestling is not measured in wins and losses, by the athleticism one displays in the ring, ability to sell the opponent's moves, and overall workrate. If the match looks real, you are regarded as a good wrestler. If a 5-year-old can see that you just threw a fake right hand, you got issues. It's why despite Roman Reigns' two-year-long push, the fans love Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose more.
Cena in 2011 and 2015 is the center of the WWE Universe. Why? Cena sells the most merchandise. Punk then and now, was the goth guy in the corner that weirded people out, but when you started talking to him, you were like, "Damn, he's really smart." You'd talk to him at school when no one was around, but never actually want your cool friends to know you enjoyed his company.
Punk goes on in his promo:
I am the best WRESTLER in the world. I’ve been the best ever since day one when I walked into this company, and I’ve been vilified and hated since that day because Paul Heyman saw something in me that nobody else wanted to admit. That’s right, I’m a Paul Heyman guy. You know who else was a Paul Heyman guy? Brock Lesnar… and he split, just like I’m splittin’ but the biggest difference between me and Brock is that I’m going to leave with the WWE Championship.
All of that is true and it foreshadowed his UFC existence. Just like Punk is doubted in the UFC, he was doubted in the WWE. He was too small. Too tattooed and therefore not corporate friendly. Too arrogant. Too confident. He was an "Indy Darling" who couldn't hang with the big boys in the WWE.
Paul Heyman, one of Brock Lesnar's real-life best friends, went to bat for Punk. He saw his potential and fought for Punk to get a run with the ECW title and other high profile spots. Even in 2011, Punk started to portray himself as "a real athlete," distancing himself from the WWE. Punk didn't actually leave until 2014, but in 2011 he sees himself as on the same level as Brock Lesnar.
Punk next shows that he is never lacking confidence, exuding some of that machismo that would take him to the UFC:
I’ve grabbed so many of Vincent K. McMahon’s imaginary brass rings that it’s finally dawned on me that they’re just that. They’re completely imaginary. The only thing that’s real is me, and the fact that day in and day out, for almost six years, I’ve proved to everybody in the world that I am the best on this microphone, in that ring, and even on commentary. Nobody can touch me.
You can replace the name Vincent K. McMahon here with Dana White and you are probably getting a preview of what's to come should Punk have any success in the UFC.
Punk actually believes he is the best in the world at what he does and if for some reason he fails, it's not his fault. In the WWE, despite working every night of the week and willing to lose to guys not as skilled as him, Punk was never pushed to the top spot. Yes, he held the championship, but Cena was always the main guy.
And yet, no matter how many times I prove it, I’m not on your lovely little collectors’ cups, I’m not on the cover of the program, I’m barely promoted, I don’t get to be in movies, I’m not on any crappy show on the USA Network, I’m not on the poster of WrestleMania, I’m not on the signature that’s produced at the start of the show. I’m not on Conan O’Brian, I’m not on Jimmy Fallon, but the fact of the matter is I should be, and trust me, this isn’t sour grapes, but the fact that Dwayne (The Rock) is in the main event of WrestleMania next year and I’m not makes me sick!
Yes, Dwayne. It all comes back to Dwayne Johnson, of course, being booked into the main event against John Cena A YEAR PRIOR. Everyone knew the WrestleMania main event. So no matter who was champion, who was hot, who wasn't, you knew Cena and The Rock would be in the main event of the next WrestleMania.
The Rock, because he sells a ton of merchandise and is a great ambassador for the WWE, pretty much gets to do what he wants in the WWE. He's like the WWE's version of Conor McGregor. Punk is Nate Diaz. Punk is a worker. The Rock is showman.
So, of course, what happened nearly two years later when CM Punk was enjoying a run of 424 days as WWE champion? He dropped the title at The Royal Rumble? Yep, to The Rock, in one of three matches he had the entire year. That's why Dwayne made CM Punk sick.
By now in the promo the fans were wildly cheering Punk, but to remain in his heel character, he brilliantly attacked the fans, blaming them for playing the game. It's sort of how those Bernie Sanders supporters blame Hillary Clinton's supporters, saying that Clinton's policies are not progressive enough. Here, Punk is Bernie Sanders, telling the WWE Universe that they say they want change, but they really don't because they are still voting for Hillary Clinton, or in this case, cheering John Cena.
Oh hey, let me get something straight, those of you who are cheering me right now… you are just as big a part of me leaving as anyone else, because you’re the ones sipping out of those collector cups right now, you’re the ones that buy those programs that my face isn’t on the cover of, and then at 5:00 in the morning at the airport, you try to shove it in my face thinking you can get an autograph and sell it on eBay because you’re too lazy to get a real job.
Damn, CM Punk. He's calling out those Millennials, those kings and queens of social media environmental activism, yet sipping lattes at Starbucks and chugging bottle water daily.
Next, Punk hits the G spot for every pro wrestling fan: He talks about other, competing wrestling promotions on WWE television. You know it's real when a wrestler tries to get another wrestling company over on WWE television. Nothing drives Vince McMahon more insane. He even calls out his friend, Colt Cabana, whom the WWE rejected, a few years prior. Now Punk is talking to his friends on air. This also foreshadows what probably is the inevitable outcome in the UFC, where he undoubtedly will probably leave and end up Bellator one day. Punk is fiercely loyal to those he trusts, but if he feels betrayed, not even a Dan Henderson right hand will help you.
I’m leaving with the WWE championship on July 17 and hell, who knows, maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe I’ll go back to Ring of Honor. Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doing? The reason I’m leaving is because after I’m gone you’re still going to pour money into this company — I’m just a spoke on the wheel — the wheel’s gonna keep turning. And I understand that.
Wow, CM Punk, as arrogant as everyone says he is, he certainly knows his place in the corporate world. Punk here is foreshadowing that he is not afraid of giving everything all up for happiness, for simpleness, for peace of mind. Punk is not a corporate man. Also, he didn't mention UFC specifically, but clearly it is implied and on his mind, even in 2011.
Then Punk commits pro wresting seppuku; he insults Vince McMahon.
McMahon, not unlike Dana White, is widely regarded as a genius -- and a jerk. They sort of go hand-in-hand when you are running a billion-dollar company. In this promo on live television, Punk says what everyone is thinking; that McMahon is out of touch and that the people around him are more interested in paychecks and future Hall of Fame inductions, than occasionally telling him "NO!"
Vince McMahon’s gonna make money despite himself. He’s a millionaire who should be a billionaire. You know why he’s not a billionaire? It’s because he surrounds himself with glad-handing nonsensical douchebag yes-men like John Laurinaitis, who’s gonna tell him everything he wants to hear. And I’d like to think that maybe this company will be better off after Vince McMahon is dead, but the fact is it’s gonna get taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family.
Five years later, this statement sounds like it could have been today. How do we know? Guess who appeared in the worst segment of a recent Monday Night Raw? John Laurinaitis, demanding that he either be Smackdown general manager or Raw general manager once the brands split.
Laurinaitis' "Big Johnny" character is right there with the Gobbedly Gooker as enticing or engaging of the WWE audience. Why is he there? He's McMahon's associate, and one of his right hand men behind the scenes. He's a trusted McMahon loyalist. And he never belongs on TV.
The promo ends with Punk starting to go into more detail about McMahon, before the microphone gets cut off.
Let me tell you a personal story about Vince McMahon. You know we do this whole bully campaign… (microphone cut off).
Punk said all of this while wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt. It was great symbolism, a throwback to a guy who was anti-corporate and the man who once no-showed an episode of Monday Night Raw because he was told he needed to lose to Brock Lesnar. Pro wrestlers, by the way, don't usually wear the t-shirts of other pro wrestlers on WWE television.
Punk in two months is reportedly about to enter the UFC and fight Mickey Gall at UFC 203. Even in 2011, we could see through his promo that he was headed in this direction. He wanted more respect. He wanted more opportunities. He wanted to be treated like a legitimate entertainer and athlete. For political reasons he couldn't get that in the WWE. Win or lose, he's got it in the UFC. And he laid it all out in his promo.
And here are some other classic, game-changing, WWE promos.