The best in the world.
That's what is at stake when WWE Champion CM Punk puts his title on the line against Chris Jericho this Sunday (April 1) at WrestleMania 28 in Miami.
Punk has been claiming the moniker since last summer, when he challenged John Cena for the title at Money in the Bank. He won the match and infamously blew a kiss to Vince McMahon as he absconded out of the venue with the belt in tow.
Since then, he's run afoul of Kevin Nash, Alberto Del Rio and Triple H, championed the old school WWF ice cream bars and lost and regained the title he has spent his entire career searching for.
Jericho, on the other hand, has been dancing with the stars and playing rock star since he was last seen inside a WWE ring. When he returned, amidst much fanfare and spooky dooky videos, he promised to bring upon the end of the world. Many felt this meant winning the 2012 Royal Rumble and challenging Punk for his title at WrestleMania 28.
But it was Sheamus who would emerge the victor in the annual battle royal and Jericho was forced to enter the Elimination Chamber in hopes of becoming WWE Champion. When a devastating kick from Punk knocked Jericho out of the match, he entered a battle royal on Raw to decide who would challenge "The Straight Edge Messiah" at WrestleMania. Why Jericho would lose one battle royale only to win a second to earn the title shot is baffling but none the less, here we are.
So who walks out of Miami as WWE Champion?
I'm calling it for "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah."
After Jericho became the number one contender, it seemed their program would be based upon who was the better wrestler. Punk put his opponent on blast by claiming Jericho has never been -- despite all the titles he's won -- "the" guy.
Jericho has never held the company on his back the way Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels or Steve Austin have. Those are the names of legends in the sport while Jericho's isn't. Punk held his championship in Jericho's face and gloated. He belittled him, he made the former Undisputed Champion feel small.
At that point, for Jericho, the kid gloves were off.
If he couldn't talk down to Punk in terms of professional accomplishments, he would do so in personal terms. He appeared on the TitanTron nearly three weeks ago and laid out the ugly truth behind Punk's straight edge philosophy. The champion only abstained from drugs and alcohol because his own father couldn't stay away from the bottle.
Jericho told his WrestleMania opponent he would drive Punk to drinking, claiming the same weakness in his father's blood carried over to his own. He promised to defeat him at the "The Granddaddy of Them All" and rob Punk of everything he held dear.
It was raw. It was uncomfortable. It was exactly what the feud needed.
The next week, Jericho appeared on the TitanTron again and promised to never bring up Punk's father during their feud. Instead, the challenger put Punk's sister on blast for being a junkie and being one who would "do anything" for another hit, another fix. While Punk admitted his father had his issues with the sauce and was continuously working against it, he downright denied the accusations Jericho was making against his sister.
This Monday, Jericho appeared on the TitanTron for the third consecutive week and was seemingly ready to sling some mud toward Punk's mother. While she was spared the humiliation, Jericho did reveal Punk's birth preceded his parents' marriage which made the WWE Champion -- by definition -- a bastard.
Punk responded by brutalizing Christian and knocking the Superstar out of the 12-man tag team match. He was angry. He was pissed.
And that means he loses on Sunday.
A win for Punk absolutely crushes everything Jericho has done to break his opponent down. If Punk retains his title at WrestleMania 28, there's just about nothing the challenger can come back with on April 2.
Simply put, Jericho needs to win so the storyline can continue. A win for Jericho means he can wallow in his self-professed superiority until Extreme Rules where Punk can finally put him in his place. The fact that the post-WrestleMania pay-per-view (PPV) will be in Punk's hometown of Chicago only serves to strengthen this theory.
Jericho will go over on Sunday. He will spend nearly a month holding the victory over Punk's head. The fan favorite will regain his title in his hometown on April 29.
Bank on it.