John Cena and CM Punk: A Feud In (and Out) of the Ring

Memorable pro wrestling feuds tend to incorporate elements of reality. Such was the case with John Cena and CM Punk in the WWE. From 2009 to 2013, their chemistry was undeniable, and feelings portrayed on air were often not far from how they felt in private!

John Cena and CM Punk do battle at WWE Money In The Bank 2011.
John Cena and CM Punk battle at WWE Money In The Bank 2011. [Photo:]

John Cena and CM Punk Collide

John Cena and CM Punk hold quite the wrestling resumes.

Cena had legendary rivalries with The Rock and Edge and classic matches with Shawn Michaels, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Umaga, and innumerable others.

Punk had all-time classics with Samoa Joe, Chris Hero, Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy, and many more.

As opponents, John Cena and CM Punk had electric chemistry that left behind an indelible impression.

Their encounters are fondly remembered, from the Money in the Bank masterpiece in 2011 to their Monday Night Raw match in 2013 to determine who would go on to face The Rock at WrestleMania 29.

Punk and Cena are legends for a reason, and their names are forever intertwined.

They first mixed when John Cena had his big flashy gangster entrance at WrestleMania 22, and CM Punk rode on the side of one of the cars, wielding a TommyGun.

This was beautifully played years later when brought up during their actual feud.

Before that would happen, there was a November 23, 2009, match on Monday Night Raw. The first-ever meeting of John Cena and CM Punk in a wrestling ring. They didn’t quite find their footing during this one.

John Cena and CM Punk face off for the first time on Monday Night Raw, on November 23rd, 2009.
John Cena and CM Punk face off for the first time on Monday Night Raw on November 23rd, 2009. [Photo: WWE Network]
It would take a few more tries.

Finally, the magic came when CM Punk challenged John Cena for the WWE Championship at the 2011 edition of Money in the Bank. Again, the story was simple but incredibly effective.

CM Punk’s contract was up at midnight. If he won the match, he was leaving the company with the top prize, something Mr. McMahon wouldn’t let happen. The Chairman even tried to screw Punk out of the win, but Cena wouldn’t have his victory any way but straight up.

It was the first five-star match in WWE since Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker met in a Hell in a Cell at WWF Badd Blood in 1997.

Both men marked the ninth anniversary of their feud, with CM Punk first tweeting, “I did a thing nine years ago. I couldn’t have done it without John Cena. That crowd, that atmosphere is something I’ll never forget. Thank you all.”

John Cena would then respond, “I bet on myself that night, the usual amount. Not a smart wager choosing the guy who can’t wrestle over the best in the world, but I’d like to think we all won that night. Thank you for allowing me to be part of something so many were entertained by.”

CM Punk spoke about what it was like to be the first guy to challenge John Cena’s match routine during an interview on Starrcast III.

He noted,  “Why do you let him do [the ‘You Can’t See Me‘ motion] to you without f***ing kicking him in the head? I broke down the John Cena comeback logically.”

Punk continued, “[Cena] was just kind of like, ‘This is great. Nobody’s ever done this before!'”

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Undeniable Chemistry

In general, you could tell the two enjoyed working with each other. The chemistry was off the charts when they met in Chicago for their classic Money in the Bank clash in 2011.

CM Punk expressed his feelings on mixing it up with Cena in the same Starrcast III interview.

“I always liked working with John because, again, it was easy.

“I think John was in a position where he was almost kind of glad somebody else came in and forcibly took the reins.

“I think John was stoked that he didn’t have to be that guy directing traffic. And he let me do whatever the f*** I wanted. So, I think he was relieved. But, I also think that’s how we worked together really well.”

There was an easy flow for the two competitors. They were both experienced and able to lead a match if needed. Their chemistry wouldn’t die down from there at all.

The Match CM Punk is Most Proud Of

Many fans will point to their Money in the Bank match as a classic, however, according to CM Punk, his favorite meeting with John Cena took place on Monday Night Raw on February 23rd, 2013. Punk would call this match the one he’s most proud of in his career on WWE Backstage.

“I remember wrestling John Cena in [Dallas for Raw in 2013], and it was kind of thrown together last minute. I was told that it was going to be for a shot at The Rock at WrestleMania.”

He continued, “Michael Jordan had the ‘flu game,’ I had the flu match. I was deathly ill for this. And I remember just laying on the floor feeling like I ran a marathon.”

Punk had just seen his 434-day reign as WWE Champion end when he lost to The Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble. Cena would win the Rumble match earlier that night, leaving him on the sidelines.

I was just like, ‘Man, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore,'” admitted CM Punk on WWE Backstage.

“John was like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I just said, ‘I want to give you a piledriver, John.’

“That was it, that’s all we had. We went out there and I think the crowd certainly helped us because I was so sick that that I just– it was really hard to care, and they made me care.

“I went out there and I felt their energy and we gave to them something that I think stands the test of time.”

Punk expressed that the match felt like his WrestleMania.

They famously used a banned pile driver in the match, which is still discussed today.

View highlights of John Cena vs. CM Punk from Monday Night Raw on February 25th, 2013, below:

YouTube video

When asked in September 2020 if he received any heat for hitting the move on John Cena when he went backstage, his response was simple: “I mean, people were mad, but if you really think about it, they’re big babies.”

It was a shocking moment that put an already great match over the top. It’s a shame they couldn’t let CM Punk into the WrestleMania 29 main event from there. Missed opportunities are at play within CM Punk’s WWE story.

CM Punk’s path after winning the title at Money in the Bank 2011 is not exactly celebrated.

First, he defeated John Cena at SummerSlam 2011, only to be ambushed by Kevin Nash.

Then Alberto Del Rio cashed in on Punk to become WWE Champion, leaving the Summer of Punk II to become the Triple H and Kevin Nash show.

Finally, Punk won the gold back at Survivor Series 2011 and had a 434-day-long reign.

On the flip side, John Cena was protected and given everything possible to keep him ready to main event with The Rock. CM Punk’s WWE Championship reign constantly played second fiddle to Cena’s story.

John Cena versus John Laurinaitis was the main event of Over the Limit 2012, rather than CM Punk against Daniel Bryan.

Why CM Punk “Hated” John Cena (According to a Former WWE Writer)

There could be some clues to CM Punk’s feelings on John Cena in his famous “Pipebomb” promo from 2011.

Punk noted, “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.”

This wasn’t far from how CM Punk felt in reality.

During his podcast, former WWE writer and actor Freddie Prinze Jr. brought up the following about CM Punk in WWE:

"[CM Punk] wasn’t loved at WWE. Not all of it was his fault, but I do remember this. Punk hated John Cena. Not hated him, but hated what he represented, and that’s what the company was behind.”

Prinze Jr. continued, “I remember one time [Triple H] saying, ‘As different as they are, the reason he hates John so much is because he knows if he were in that same spot, he would act the exact same way.’

“This is over a decade ago, and to hear the rumblings of AEW basically saying he’s acting the way John Cena did back then is just like, I mean, d*** near everything I disagreed with Hunter on, he was right. He just knows, man."

What’s clear is that the two of them created magic together. Their matches will be remembered for years to come.

The atmosphere alone during Money in the Bank 2011 will stick with everyone in attendance. Same for everyone who watched at home.

John Cena against CM Punk will live in the hearts of fans forever.

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Joseph Finnegan is a longtime contributor here at Pro Wrestling Stories. He is a published author and produced screenwriter who has earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He is currently working on a fiction anthology series titled, "Random Tales." You can keep up with the development of that series at the Twitter link below. Joseph's contact info can be found on his portfolio website linked above.