One would become the “Best in the World” and the other the “Samoan Submission Machine,” but before all of their nicknames and accolades, they were simply CM Punk and Samoa Joe. In 2004 they had a trilogy of matches that would make them legends and help make Ring of Honor one of the best independent wrestling promotions in the world.
Samoa Joe was in the midst of a dominating run as the world champ of ROH that spanned most of 2003 and showed no signs of stopping in 2004. He had turned away such challengers as Christopher Daniels, Jay & Mark Briscoe, Homicide, AJ Styles, and many others.
To be honest, Ring of Honor seemed to be running out of challengers for Joe. This is where CM Punk comes in. He and Joe had a non-title match on August 16th where both men were in pretty rough shape. The match ended with Joe beating Punk. Punk had yet to have a world title shot in his time in ROH and in Dayton, OH on June 12th, 2004, at World Title Classic, that would change. Punk and Joe had a match that ended in a 60 minute draw.
Both men went their separate ways after not being able to beat each other and would lock up again in Chicago Ridge, IL on October 6th that year at Punk vs Joe II. Punk was going into this match with an edge since it was in his backyard of Chicago. The crowd was electric for this match ,and they once again went an hour ending in a draw. Joe still wasn’t able to put Punk away, and Punk still wasn’t able to put away Joe.
A few weeks later at Weekend of Thunder Night Two, on November 6th, Punk demanded another shot at Joe’s title by staging a sit-in right before intermission. Joe eventually appeared and acquiesced to Punk’s request for another title shot. The match would take place at All-Star Extravaganza II in Elizabeth, NJ on December 4th. This time there would be no time limit and there would be a winner.
All screenshots below are from the ROH DVD Samoa Joe Vs CM Punk: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition.
Both men locked up in front of a crowd where they were both cheered for with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat looking on at ringside. The match opened with both men trading shots before Punk went to the strategy that helped him in the previous encounters: locking Joe in a headlock multiple times.
In between headlocks, Punk worked on Joe’s head and neck with multiple strikes. Joe gained the upper hand for a moment, but then Punk went back to attacking Joe’s head or neck. Eventually the two would trade strikes and insults as both men were frustrated with not being able to beat the other. Then a kick from Joe sent Punk to the floor and he came up bleeding. In their other two matches there was no blood, and this fueled Joe in to trying to end the match by ripping and tearing at the wound on Punk’s head.
Any time Punk would start to get some offense in or create some distance from Joe, Joe would go back to working over the cut. Punk ended up outside of the ring again, and Joe kicked him into the barricade a few times before Punk was able to counter. It wasn’t long before Joe’s aggressiveness stopped Punk’s offense by once again going after the cut. Whenever Punk would regain control of the match, he would hit a flurry of offense to try to put Joe away.
Punk was working with a sense of urgency because of all of the blood he was losing. His sense of urgency was equally matched by Joe’s desperation. Joe was doing everything to put Punk away and continually coming up short. He even resorted to putting his feet on the ropes for leverage while he had Punk in a pinning predicament.
Punk was able to roll out of the way of Joe trying to hit a splash from the top rope shortly after Joe’s cheating attempt. When they got to their feet, Punk went for a roll-up on Joe, and when Joe kicked out he caught Punk in a choke.
Punk was able to work out of it momentarily, but Joe hit a pair of suplexes on Punk and locked it back in. The referee had no choice but to call for the bell as Punk wasn’t responding. After Punk woke up, Joe put him over by saying the title only meant anything because of people like him challenging for it.
Twenty-two days later, Samoa Joe lost the title to Austin Aries in an incredible match. CM Punk would find himself in a feud with Jimmy Rave before finally obtaining the ROH world title and kicking off the original “Summer of Punk” before departing for WWE. Samoa Joe would eventually be forced to leave Ring of Honor since he was splitting his time between there and TNA Wrestling. Behind the scenes drama would lead to the talent that was splitting their time between the two companies to choose one or the other. Joe was in TNA until 2015 before finally leaving and making his way to WWE.
Much to the shame of this fan, and many others, Punk and Joe would never face each other in a one-on-one match again. Even if they did, would they have been able to live up to the hype of their trilogy of amazing matches?
I would like to think they would have. Both men have a great understanding of what makes a match great. It’s not just the moves — it’s also the storytelling involved. It’s callbacks to previous encounters and finding ways to make each match new. Both men’s lights have shone brightly for WWE, but it just happened at different times. A shame, but we’ll always have their ROH feud.