Time to get Punked

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June 27, 2007

The boos that bounced off the rafters of the Toyota Center in Houston only magnified the pounding in CM Punk's head. Wincing, he held his aching neck and slapped the mat as he watched Johnny Nitro smile and hold his newly-won ECW World Title aloft. At first, the arena was stunned silent when Nitro pinned Punk's shoulders to the mat at Vengeance: Night of Champions. But then the realization sank in: Johnny Nitro was the new kingpin of ECW. And our fans voiced their fury.

Two nights later on ECW on Sci Fi, Punk stared down Nitro again, only this time his eyes were bulging. The Straightedge Superstar had just defeated longtime rival Elijah Burke in a 2-Out-of-3 Falls Match to officially become the No. 1 contender to Nitro's title. He pointed at the A-lister and the ECW World Title, and motioned to his own tattooed waist, clearly sending a message: Your title will soon be mine.

Punk believes it is his time to shine and fulfill his destiny -- to become ECW World Champion.

"It is time for me to be the man in ECW," the Chicago native told WWE.com. "I have been the uncrowned champion for quite some time, but I haven't been able to get it done for the big one. I've had wars with Elijah Burke and come out on top. I have been in wars with several other guys and come out on top. But when it has come to clutch time -- like in the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded, a full count, winning runs on base and it's either I strike out or I hit a grand slam -- I have come up short. I have to win this one, and I have to win it for our fans."

Punk's failure in his two title opportunities obviously weighs on his mind. He received his first chance at the ECW World Title at December to Dismember along with five other warriors in the Extreme Elimination Chamber -- and his most loyal followers were shocked when he was the first man eliminated. The popular ECW Superstar's next opportunity came at Vengeance.

Many experts thought that Vengeance would be Punk's night. They thought he would confirm what so many observers believed -- that he was sports-entertainment's next great Superstar. They never believed that he would fall to Nitro, another great young star, but a warrior who was brand new to the Land of the Extreme.

The Straightedge Superstar knows that he must come through the next time he meets Nitro in the ring -- or he may not see another title match for a long time. And critics may discount him as sports-entertainment's next great burnout.

Still, Punk remains confident in himself.

"One thing you can't deny about me is my consistency," Punk said. "Whenever I get knocked down, I always get back up. That's the true measure of a man."

Meanwhile, new ECW World Champion Nitro obviously measures men by their appearances. Sporting his trademark fur, sunglasses and brushing off his six-pack abs, he practically guaranteed that he will defeat Punk again.

"CM Punk? Just look at him and look at me. Obviously, I take training a little bit more seriously than he does," Nitro said. "I mean look at the guy. He obviously doesn't keep track of his carbohydrate intake."

Unlike Nitro, Punk won't take anything away from his rival. But Punk believes he will take the ECW World Title away from Nitro because he brings more guts to their war -- and we're not talking about the kind of guts the A-lister is preoccupied with.

"I won't discredit Johnny Nitro at all. He's just a different kind of cat, but he's a hell of an athlete," Punk said. "I do believe he is worthy of the ECW World Title, but I believe I am the better man. Nitro's image and style can't stand up to what I believe in -- and that's integrity. … I think we're still just beginning to feel each other out. This could turn out to be a very interesting chess game."

The A-list champion vs. the Straightedge Superstar. Let the games begin.

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