The Best vs. The Best, Round Three
Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk
The question of the night is clear - will the Second City Saint be in his hometown to face Y2J at Payback?
The Road to Payback
The original undisputed champion returned to WWE last January after a series of apocalyptic promos. After weeks of silence and almost capturing a title shot in the Royal Rumble, Chris Jericho decided he didn't like then WWE champion CM Punk declaring himself the Best in the World.
Y2J had long been partial to his version of Wolverine's Best There is at What He Does motto. And while it may have seemed a petty or silly basis for a feud - hey, this is pro wrestling we're talking about. Unfortunately, while their two contests were technically sound, the program never caught fire the way fans and the men themselves clearly hoped it would.
Jericho would drift off to pursue his many other ventures, while Punk would turn heel and finish his record breaking run as holder of the most prestigious belt in the game with nine months of peerless performances. Even a marketing-dictated loss to the Rock couldn't really slow him down, and his work with the Undertaker leading up to and at WrestleMania 29 continued to back his claims of greatness.
But the loss on the Grandest Stage of Them All and the burden of the expectations he had created left the straight-edge superstar with an empty tank. Following 'Mania, Punk left without an explanation - for the fans or his manager Paul Heyman.
The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Roll, despite a setback of his own at WM 29, has been on a roll since his latest return at Royal Rumble 2013. And he wasn't crazy about Punk or Heyman still referring to the Chicago native as the Best in the World while he was resting at home. So on an episode of The Highlight Reel with Paul as his guest, Jericho challenged Punk to a match at Payback. While Heyman accepted and a contract has been signed, no one has heard from Punk.
Will he return on Sunday in front of a rabid audience of fellow Blackhawks' fans? If so, what will he do? And what will happen in this latest chapter of his ongoing feud with Jericho?
What's at stake?
As we said, their 2012 series was widely panned as disappointing at best. While many fans were hoping that Jericho's return heralded a series like his previous all-time great program with Shawn Michaels, what we got was an abbreviated story focused on Punk's family history of addiction that never generated the anticipated heat.
Perhaps it was due to the former champ's equally derided babyface run? Punk never seemed totally comfortable while cast in the role of John Cena-esque good guy; his phenomenal work post-Raw 1000 heel turn proved that. Could a switch in their alignments be the key to finally giving fans a taste of what they were hoping for last year?
Is it even possible for Punk to receive a heel reaction, especially in his native environs? Not just his hometown, but also the scene of perhaps the definitive moment of his WWE career - his victory over Cena (and, by proxy, Vince McMahon) at Money in the Bank 2011. Chicago will be rabid for their returning hero.
The only way he could possibly get a negative reaction might be to not wrestle. But can even a well-booked B-show PPV recover from such a blow to one of its main events?
One way or another, this will surely be a hot topic leading up to, during and after Payback. Cageside Seats will have you covered with all the news as it happens, and is also home to the smartest commenters in the business. Swap theories and ideas with your fellow Cagesiders as we all keep our fingers crossed for a big return in Chicago tonight!