As the Ring of Honor faithful poured into the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, New Jersey, for Death Before Dishonor III, certainly they understood that a brand new chapter in the company’s brief yet unparalleled history would soon unfold before them. What they couldn’t even begin to understand, however, was the black, ominous cloud that would linger over their little company that could for the next three months.
On that night the Faithful came for Punk. After years of paying his dues to a business notorious for claiming a man’s very livelihood, CM Punk got the call that most aspiring pro wrestlers only dream of. Vince McMahon–or at least, a few of Vince McMahon’s “douchebag, glad-handing yesmen”–wanted Punk, and Punk, eager to move on and add to his already impressive legacy, answered the call.
Even though the Ring of Honor faithful realized that Punk would be leaving them, they harbored no resentment toward him. Instead they flocked to the Mennen Sports Arena to emphatically cheer him to victory one last time, for one final show of appreciation for the man who put such effort into building Ring of Honor’s storied past brick by brick, night by night. As main event time arrived that night, fans were sad to see Punk go, but happy to give him a hero’s send-off, as he was set to begin his journey to the Land of the Giants.
And so it was. CM Punk, one of Ring of Honor’s most prominent architects, went to war one final time with Austin Aries, another ROH pioneer in his own right, for the Ring of Honor World championship, a championship that Punk had never won during his time in the company. All match long the fans willed Punk to one final victory to cement his ROH history, and after a bruising, hard-hitting battle with A-Double, to borrow a cliche from one Vincent K. McMahon, a boyhood dream came true. Punk beat Aries in the center of the ring, and the fans rejoiced with him. They thanked him; they said they would miss him; some even wished him luck in the future.
In elation the fans asked Punk to do what he does best: Deliver a victory speech, and Punk obliged them. But this victory speech was far from a final show of thanks and respect; rather this speech served as the catalyst for arguably the most controversial period in Ring of Honor’s history.
The acid-tongued Second City Saint went where he thrived, behind a microphone, and he turned what should have been a heartfelt farewell address into a kind of sick catharsis of venomous hatred. Ring of Honor’s most beloved son made his intentions perfectly clear on that night: Now that he held the most prized possession in Ring of Honor, the once adored architect planned on single-handedly dismantling the very structure he had helped to create.
Thus marks the beginning of the Summer of Punk. Ring of Honor’s DVD chronicles that fateful summer in 2005, from Punk’s initial battle with Austin Aries, to that infamous WWE contract signing, to a few appearances by a certain hardcore legend to force Punk to fight like a champion, to that final four-way that ended it all, and to that last night where Punk faced his long-time ally Colt Cabana in a historic 2 out of three falls match.
The DVD is packed to the proverbial brim with matches, promos, post-match altercations, and so much more, all working in tandem to tell an excellent story of betrayal and revenge. I couldn’t possibly do all of the excellent wrestling matches on this two-disc set justice, but what I intend to do is convey the emotionally charged story that is woven into this series of outstanding pro wrestling clinics with the likes of Jay Lethal, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and James Gibson.
As touched upon earlier, the first match on this DVD highlights what should have been Punk’s swan song in Ring of Honor, pitting him once more in a world championship contest against the unanimously contemptible Austin Aries. As is the norm for almost every Ring of Honor main event, and for every match on this two-disc set for that matter, both men fulfilled their duty to the ROH audience to leave a lasting impression. But perhaps the most lasting impression of this first match came from the spectators themselves. The crowd sat, and at times stood, firmly rooted against the champion Aries, and in favor of their departing Straight Edge Superstar. The crowd hated any and all offense the defending champion could muster; instead they desperately clamored, rallied for one final hurrah for Punk. Every nearfall felt like a death sentence; every time Punk narrowly escaped the jaws of defeat saw an explosion of renewed vigor from those in attendance that night.
And then Punk did it. After years of show-stealing, award-winning matches, Punk finally captured the Ring of Honor world championship after a 33-minute battle of the best. And after Punk celebrated with his people and took in the admiration and veneration with which they regarded him on that night, the Second City Serpent–to use Punk’s own parable–reared its ugly head and clamped down on those who nurtured it for so long. The ROH championship was officially being held hostage, and Punk promised to poison the company by taking its most prestigious prize to the WWE, the be all end all object of any ROH fan’s derision. Perhaps the most obvious swipe at the Ring of Honor fans comes in the form of Punk signing his WWE contract on the Ring of Honor world title, arguably one of the most infamous instances in the latter company’s history.
The rest of the DVD chronicles some of Ring of Honor’s most highly-regarded performers trying to literally wrestle the title away from Punk before he can be whisked away to Vince-land. Punk’s solid resolution to not defend his championship is soon assuaged by the intervention of the grizzled hardcore legend Mick Foley, which results in some compelling verbal confrontations. Even then Punk had an uncanny knack for matching wits with some of the best in the business, an ability that has assisted him in skyrocketting to the level of stardom at which he finds himself today. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Summer of Punk story is told perfectly, with just the right amount of arc and twists and turns to leave a new fan who wasn’t there to experience it when it happened in suspense as to what happens next. Before running off with the belt, Punk looks to avenge some blemishes on his win-loss record, and his first target is the young Jay Lethal. It’s remarkable how with just one match, Punk has completely gone from being the hero to being perhaps the greatest villain in pro wrestling, at least in the past decade. Despite the downward spiral in Punk’s fanfare, Punk and lethal put on yet another clinic at Sign of Dishonor, with the fans calling for Lethal to unseat the vindictive Chicago native. But, though Lethal tried and the fans willed him to victory, he falls short, and Punk lives to terrorize ROH for another show.
The DVD continues at generally this same clip, culminating in the penultimate four-way elimination match between Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, James Gibson, and Punk himself at Redemption in Dayton, Ohio. Finally James Gibson, a WWE star in his own right, is able to knock Punk off his pedestal and restore Ring of Honor’s credibility, but not before once again putting on a phenomenal show of athleticism and charisma along with three other ROH standouts.
But the real ending of this story comes a day later at Punk: The Final Chapter in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, where Punk does battle with his long-time friend Colt Cabana for a final time in a two out of three falls match. And though Cabana gets the better of the match, winning it two falls to one, the night is entirely Punk’s. For the final time in Chicago, the Ring of Honor faithful got to say good-bye to one of the most influential stars to have ever gone through the company. The fans expressed their gratitude, their respect, and their appreciation for everything Punk had accomplished in one final shower of tears and streamers.
And so the DVD concludes, leaving fans old and new alike to regard that passionate farewell in silence, to draw parallels between that final summer in Ring of Honor and this past summer in WWE. It has been over six years since that fateful summer concluded in Chicago, and Punk has once again ascended the ladder to stardom, this time to an international zenith.
This collection of Punk matches is perfect for any devout Punk fan, as well as a great introduction to old-school Punk for any new ROH fans. The only thing missing from this DVD is comments from those who worked with Punk at the time, such at Lethal, Joe, Daniels, and Gibson. Of course, getting most of those names on a Ring of Honor DVD today would present quite the struggle, but the addition of such commentary could have provided a valuable perspective that perhaps fans would not have otherwise.
But in the end, the matches themselves are done very well, the production quality is what you would expect from 2005 Ring of Honor, and Punk’s promos are indicative of the talker he would become years later, despite not being able to hear them as well as one would hope. But in determining whether or not to drop $20 on this two-disc offering, I proffer forth an emphatic, “Yes!”