CM Punk (c) vs The Rock
This is it. The Brahma Bull goes against the Best in the World with the biggest prize in the business at stake. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson competes in his first championship match in over a decade against CM Punk, the longest reigning champion of the last twenty-five years, at Royal Rumble 2013 tomorrow night (Sun., Jan. 27).
The Road to the Royal Rumble
On April 2, 2012, fresh off his main event victory over John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVIII, The Rock took the ring on Raw and vowed to once again claim the WWE Championship, a title he has not held since 2002. Then in July, The Great One returned for the 1,000th episode of Raw to announce he would face whoever held the belt at the next Royal Rumble pay-per-view (PPV).
Punk, at that point more than six months into his latest run as WWE champ, took offense to the returning film star's proclamations and attacked the People's Champ to close out Raw 1000. That night proved to be too much for the Straight Edge Superstar, who felt both he and the WWE Championship were consistently disrespected by the company, and its chosen luminaries, such as Johnson and Cena.
As the days and months added up in Punk's record-breaking tenure as champ, his turn to the villainous continued. Eventually allying himself with Paul Heyman, and alternately antagonizing fans or treating them with apathy, he overcame challenges from Big Show, Cena, Ryback and knee surgery to retain the belt.
These victories were not without controversy. The Punk-Heyman alliance has received assistance from replacement referee/wannabe wrestler Brad Maddox and The Shield of Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins; in each instance allowing the Second City Saint to retain.
The regularity of this interference, including a vicious attack on The Rock during last Monday's Raw, has prompted Vince McMahon to issue a stipulation stating that any interference from The Shield in Sunday's match would result in the title being vacated. The champ, in turn, called out Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins on SmackDown to declare that he did not request, or need, their assistance. The group seemingly agreed.
But what of Maddox, who appeared to strike a deal of some sort with Heyman last week, or the latter's former client Brock Lesnar, rumored to be returning soon, and someone with a history of ending Rocky's championship dreams?
For his part, Johnson has been working a full television schedule since his return to the promotion earlier this month. His promotional skills are in prime form, as challenger and champion have spit fire at one another with Rock speaking for the people and Punk for himself. But the proprietor of the smackdown hotel has seen a minimum of physical contact during this latest return, and has only been in the ring twice in ten years. Will that be enough to prepare him for someone who has found a way to beat all comers for 434 days heading into tomorrow's PPV?
This will be the first sanctioned bout between the two men, and is one of the ways that this match-up feels both old school and fresh at the same time. In an era where the amount of WWE programming requires combatants to work together extensively in the build to big events, Punk and Rock have largely been kept apart. That's just one of the little wrinkles that will give tomorrow's contest a "big fight" feel.
What's at Stake?
The WWE Championship, although there are equally large ramifications from this bout in kayfabe and the real world. Punk has stated this is "one of the biggest moments of his career", and conventional wisdom says a win here cements him as an all-time great. The Rock is already a lock for the Hall of Fame, but almost all of his achievements occurred in the Attitude Era; his standing in the eyes of the current audience will be based on both his performance in, and the outcome of, this match.
Royal Rumble is also where the road to WrestleMania begins. Both of these men's roles in that larger story are rumored to already be set. But there is time for the script to be tweaked or re-written, and there's enough potential in, and excitement generated by, the work we've seen thus far to justify almost any direction the WWE may want to go.
Who isn't excited for this? Will the remarkable reign of Punk continue, or can the most electrifying man in entertainment add another trophy to his shelf? Cageside Seats has you covered for the result, the fallout and every twist and turn along the way!