(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Over The Limit 2012
This is another match that came as a request from one of our many readers here at TJRWrestling. And honestly I’m not surprised because on paper it sounds like a bona fide dream match. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan wrestling one-on-one without gimmicks, shenanigans, or theatrics? Sounds like a great time.
But was the match as great in practice as it was on paper? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at CM Punk’s WWE Title defense against Daniel Bryan from WWE Over The Limit 2012.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Bryan won a Beat the Clock challenge to earn a shot at Punk’s WWE title. Punk was in the midst of his historic 434-day run at the top and had already retained his title against many top stars. His victories in WWE title matches were as follows:
- Survivor Series 2011: beats Alberto Del Rio to win the title;
- RAW, November 28th: retains against Del Rio in a rematch
- TLC 2011: retains against Del Rio and The Miz in a triple threat match
- RAW, January 2nd, 2012: Dolph Ziggler beats Punk via count-out but Punk retains the title
- Royal Rumble 2012: retains against Ziggler and finally scores a win over Ziggler after several weeks of losing dubiously-booked matches courtesy of Jon Laurinaitis
- Elimination Chamber 2012: Retains against The Miz, Chris Jericho, Kofi Kingston, Ziggler and R-Truth in an Elimination Chamber match
- WrestleMania XXVIII: retains against Chris Jericho
- RAWs, April 2nd, 9th, and 16th: retains against Mark Henry via count-out, DQ, and then clean pinfall, respectively
- Extreme Rules 2012: retains against Jericho in a Chicago Street Fight
Needless to say, it looked like Punk was unstoppable as champion. But could he continue that positive momentum against quite possibly the only wrestler in the Western Hemisphere that could actually lay claim to Punk’s moniker as best wrestler in the world? And if so, could Bryan do the impossible and take Punk’s title from him as further proof of his superiority? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on May 20th, 2012. It was rated ****1/2 by both the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and TJR’s John Canton. Will I come to the same conclusion? Read on to find out.
This is for Punk’s WWE Championship. The crowd is split between both wrestlers. Punk tries some early kicks but Bryan blocks them and hits one of his own. The crowd chants for Punk as he and Bryan tussle for control against the ropes. Bryan headlocks Punk and then tackles him to the mat. Punk hits back with a hiptoss and Bryan answers with an uppercut. Punk lands a kick this time and elbows Bryan into a corner. He wraps Bryan’s leg through the ropes and kicks it as the crowd cheers both wrestlers’ names. They do some headscissor takedowns and Punk kicks Bryan’s weakened leg. Punk works that leg as Michael Cole randomly gives different weights for each wrestler than what Justin Roberts announced mere minutes earlier. Way to stay consistent guys.
Punk DDT’s Bryan’s leg but Bryan fires back with another uppercut and then some kicks with the same leg Punk just weakened. Come on, Bryan, you’re smarter than that. Punk reverses a corner whip but Bryan flips over. He slows down ever so slightly and charges but Punk catches him on his shoulders. Bryan escapes a GTS but Punk kicks his leg. A knee to Bryan’s head gets Punk a one-count. Punk locks in an Indian deathlock and kicks one of Bryan’s legs to apply extra pressure. Bryan escapes by hitting forearms to Punk’s head followed by another uppercut. Bryan shoots Punk off the ropes and goes for a standing dropkick but Punk holds onto the ropes, causing Bryan to hit nothing. Punk locks Bryan in a Romero special but then switches to a Super Dragon-style curb stomp for a two-count. Punk follows with a knee crusher by the ropes and then dumps Bryan to the floor. He goes for a dive to the floor but Bryan ducks to avoid it and drives Punk ribs-first into the barricade. Bryan slingshot suplexes Punk onto the barricade and uses that time to recover.
Bryan tosses Punk into the ring and hits a missile dropkick that both hurts Punk and weakens his own leg. Punk kicks out at two so Bryan uses his good right leg to land more kicks as he holds onto the ropes since he can’t use only his bad left leg to hold himself up. Bryan locks in a seated abdominal stretch but when Punk tries escaping with knees Bryan drops a knee of his own across Punk’s head for a one-count. Bryan hobbles over but Punk single legs him and tries a Figure-4 leglock. Bryan blocks that first attempt and answers a second attempt with an inside cradle for a two-count. Bryan kicks Punk’s bad ribs and then lands a kneelift and a soccerball kick to Punk’s spine for yet another two-count. Bryan follows with a surfboard/Romero special and then switches to a camel clutch-style stretch and then a dragon sleeper. Punk hits back with elbows for a one-count but Bryan retaliates with two running knees to Punk’s back. Punk dodges a third knee and lands a Perfect-plex for a two-count. The two wrestlers trade strikes back-and-forth until Bryan lands an underhook suplex and then lands a top-rope diving head-butt for a two-count of his own. Bryan applies a rear chinlock but Punk elbows out and then both guys hit simultaneous crossbody blocks.
After some downtime, Punk fires back with his own 5 moves of doom/superstar comeback: elbows, heel kick, clothesline, and armtrap swinging neckbreaker. He goes to finish the sequence with a corner kneelift but Bryan kicks him first. Bryan charges but runs into a swinging powerslam for a two-count. the fans chant for both guys back and forth as Bryan escapes a suplex. Bryan lands another kick with his bad leg and then he gets dumped to the floor off a charge. Punk follows with a suicide dive through the ropes and tosses him right back into the ring. Punk attempts a springboard clothesline but Bryan dropkicks him in midair. One, two, Punk kicks out.
Bryan lands some Kawada-style chest kicks but Punk traps his leg after he tries one kick too many. Punk hits a dragon screw leg whip and then locks in a Figure-4 leglock. Both wrestlers trade punches and slaps while still locked together. Bryan gets a ropebreak but Punk waits until the ref’s count of four to release the hold and then steals Bryan’s ‘I have till five’ gimmick. Punk goes for another knee crusher. Bryan counters with a sunset flip for a two-count. Punk drop toeholds Bryan and lands an Oklahoma roll pin for another two-count. Punk tries repeating that last spot but Bryan blocks it, fails an Oklahoma roll of his own, and connects with a kick to the side of Punk’s head. Bryan heaves Punk over onto his back and covers. One, two, Punk kicks out at 2.5.
A “this is awesome” chant breaks out as Bryan pulls one kneepad down. He hits kneelifts with the exposed/damaged leg and goes for a superplex but Punk throws him onto the top rope. Bryan ends up crotched atop the rope and in position for Punk to land a springboard clothesline. Punk covers but Bryan kicks out again. The two wrestlers have a head-butt/elbow battle until Punk gains control with muay thay kicks. Punk ducks a spinkick and lifts Bryan up for the GTS. Bryan counters with a crucifix pin. One, two, Punk kicks out. Punk tries a schoolboy pin out of nowhere but only gets two. Bryan tries countering into the Yes Lock/crossface but Punk wisely avoids it and counters into a slingshot. Bryan skins the cat but turns around and eats a kick to the head. Punk covers but Bryan gets his foot on the ropes. Punk traps that free leg on another cover. Bryan kicks out with force this time. Punk channels Randy Savage and hits a top-rope diving elbow drop. But he hurts his own ribs in the process. He eventually crawls over for a cover but Bryan kicks out yet again.
Punk lifts Bryan up but Bryan lands a kneelift to those bad ribs once again. Glad to see him using the good right knee this time. Bryan gains a surge of momentum and lands several knees and then prepares for a running corner dropkick. He charges…but Punk sidesteps. Punk takes advantage with a running corner kneelift. He goes for the bulldog to finish the combo but Bryan counters. He wrestles Punk to the mat and applies the Yes Lock. Punk suffers in agony locked in the hold for about 25-30 seconds. Bryan torques the hold but Punk uses that motion to his advantage. As Bryan stretches backwards Punk pushes Bryan over into a pinning position. The referee counts one…two…and three! Punk pins Bryan. But the moment the ref turns around to call for the bell Punk taps! Punk taps out! Literally in that tiny window of time between the three-count and the first ring of the bell Punk taps out.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion after 23:58: CM Punk
Some matches improve over time. Others lose their luster. And others still stay in the exact same spot. This match is an example of that third category. It was great when it happened, but after ten years it hasn’t improved nor has it worsened. It’s just…there.
From a technical standpoint, the match was fantastic. Punk and Bryan put on the antithesis of what one could call the ‘WWE main-event-style match’. This was far more technical and psychologically-sound than most over-the-top and theatrics-based gimmicks WWE was known for at the time. That more realistic and common sense-based style helped this match stand out much more and made it come across as more of a ‘combat sport’. Both Punk and Bryan wrestled and counter-wrestled very well and had great strategies that they followed until the very end. Punk attacked Bryan’s leg which both slowed him down and weakened his offense. Bryan sold tremendously and did many subtle things that made Punk’s attacks convincing and effective. He slowed down on a charge to the ropes. He took a few extra seconds to cover off a diving dropkick. He was sluggish around the ring and yelled out in pain on what seemed like the lightest of kicks. By the end, Bryan had almost nothing in the way of offensive tricks and had to really pull teeth to get anything in on Punk.
And yet, Bryan’s own strategy of targeting Punk’s ribs worked just as well. He made Punk look particularly vulnerable and Punk sold at times like he was having trouble breathing. He tortured Punk with punishing kicks and submission holds. And while Punk didn’t do that much overt selling (i.e. struggling to lift Bryan up, wincing in pain, coughing, etc.), he showed how hurt he was through his own slowness and how hard it was for him to link together more than one or two consecutive moves.
All of that great back-and-forth work from both wrestlers concluded in one of the best finishes I’ve seen from WWE in a very long time. It wasn’t a case of simultaneous pinfall/tap-out but a case of the tap-out coming less than a second after the first. Bryan had the match won but lost due to a sudden change in position from Punk and not from any decisive measure from Punk. It was a clean victory, sure, but it was one that saw Punk barely survive. He was all but done and had the situation been slightly different – one of Bryan’s shoulders being up, the referee counting from a different angle, etc. – then Bryan would’ve been declared the winner.
Of course, there was no way we’d get to see the best of what Punk and Bryan had to offer. Even though they gave us a tremendous sampler platter of what they could do, the fact is that both of them were wrestling while shackled. And I’m not just saying that because both of them moved very slowly throughout the match (there was a marked lack of general speed from both guys, especially Bryan who was known to run and switch between moves much faster than how he did here). The other reason is that both Punk and Bryan had restrictions placed upon them by their environment. Simply put, there was no way WWE would allow both guys to really showcase what they were capable of. There was no sign of Bryan’s collar elbow flurry, Punk’s Pepsi Twist, any high-angle suplexes from either guy, or even any genuine tension. Even though both guys were babyfaces competing in a purely ‘professional’ contest, the match would’ve benefitted by even the slightest addition of heat or personal edge. Something as simple as a stiff slap at the beginning or some shoving to indicate tensions flaring would’ve given this match a nice hint of emotion. Sure the crowd was definitely loud enough and they reacted to all the big spots. And yet those reactions, too, could’ve been bigger, louder, and more intense if these wrestlers were able to go a bit further in terms of intensity, emotion, and sense of escalation.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Although this might come across as parroting other opinions, the fact is that such a rating is perfect for this match. It has too many positive attributes to warrant a downgrade but still falls short in other areas to deserve any sort of elevation.
And yet, even though it still falls short of reaching that higher level of greatness, this is still a great match. It might not be as radically different or special anymore considering what came in its aftermath, but it still has enough going for it to warrant a revisit.
Plus, if Punk and Bryan cross paths in AEW and they’re booked to compete against each other, at least we’ll know what the bare minimum will be for them. But hopefully if/when such a match takes place, they’ll surpass what they did here and then some.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.