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By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Austin Aries © vs CM Punk
ROH World Heavyweight Title Match
CM Punk had been a fixture of some of the biggest ROH angles since the company’s inception in in 2002. With many a good match on his resume and a rabid fan base, it wasn’t surprising when WWE came knocking in 2005. Signing a contract with the company, Punk would look to see out his independent signings before heading to OVW. Punk’s ‘last’ match for ROH was scheduled against the ROH World Champion, Austin Aries, which seemed to be as much about celebrating Punk’s ROH tenure than a match that screamed ‘title change’.
Or so it seemed.
The commentary team, as the two men began the contest with grappling and reversals, talked about how difficult it would be to cover the match in the knowledge that this was effectively the end for Punk in ROH. The fans also rallied behind Punk from the opening bell, using the match as an opportunity to give him one last send off to celebrate what Punk’s feuds like those with Samoa Joe and Raven most notably, had meant to the ROH fanbase.
Punk outthought Aries in the early exchanges, using a dropkick to the unsuspecting champion who had attempted to headstand out of a headscissors, whilst also using a side headlock to maintain control of his opponent. As the start continued at a methodical pace, the commentators touted the idea that the match could go to the time limit and also mentioned the protocol for a title change that evening: an instant vacation of the belt by Punk. As if sensing the conversation turning to a draw or a new champion, Punk raised the pace, dropping Aries with a headlock bulldog and a fisherman suplex, the latter getting the first nearfall. A lot of Punk’s offense looked to target Aries’ neck, an area of the body that a series of competitive title defenses had seen rendered vulnerable. A suicide dive to the outside also showcased Punk’s willingness to put it all on the line for victory.
The first real move in anger from Aries completely turned the tide in his favour as he dumped Punk on the apron with a Death Valley driver. Several Irish whips into the barricade followed, though he would go to the well one too many times and get sent into the guard rail himself. This proved to be a false dawn for Punk though, as Aries used a handful of tights to pull Punk into the barrier once more. Punk’s neck and back became the area of focus, Aries aiming to soften him up for his brainbuster finisher.
A shinbreaker into a back suplex planted Punk hard on the back of the head before multiple throws – shoulder first – into the corner destroyed the pads covering the turnbuckle. The fans were getting riled up by Aries’ arrogant demeanour and the atmosphere was becoming more raucous move by move. The boos continued to ring out anytime Aries was on offense, almost like a pantomime villain threatening to ruin Punk’s final match. Punk channelled this into his comeback, hitting a big forearm smash, whipping Aries into the exposed steel and hitting a back drop, with even some Hoganisms in his gestures.
Aries was not finished yet. Avoidance of the Pepsi Twist allowed the champ to hit a lariat, but neither man could finish the other off. A vicious piledriver by Aries wasn’t enough for the three, nor was a shining wizard from Punk. Amazingly, Punk would even kick out of a top rope brainbuster, as well as his own Pepsi Plunge, the second at a one count! Aries would hit the 450 splash, only for Punk to turn it into the Anaconda Vice, forcing the champion to get to the ropes to break the hold. Another shining wizard allowed Punk to finally apply the Pepsi Plunge and the crowd chanted along with the resulting three count that saw Punk achieve his goal and become the new ROH World Heavyweight Champion.
That was by no means the end.
Grabbing a microphone, Punk might have been expected to say his goodbyes to those who had supported him throughout his three years with the company. Whilst it began that way, with Punk talking about the importance of the belt, he then told the fans that they had fallen for everything he sold them. Calling those in attendance stupid and puppets, Punk finished by saying that he was taking the belt with him and there was no-one that could stop him. Christopher Daniels would rise to that challenge and run Punk out of the ring, but shots had been fired.
The title reign was only fifty five days long, but it existed under a cloud of uncertainty as Punk threatened to leave time and again. This would be the first ‘Summer of Punk’, an angle that would be resurrected many years later in the WWE. Punk, in one fell swoop, had rammed the fan’s support back down their throats and lit a fire under the Ring of Honor promotion.