Starting with the first murmurs on Monday afternoon that WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan was injured, speculation began on what would happen as a result. The latest news points to a one-to-two month absence due to his pending neck surgery, with no plans to remove the titles from the injured superstar. Meanwhile, though, WWE has announced plans to address the title situation on next Monday's Raw in London.
As has been covered elsewhere already on the site, this puts WWE in a pickle. For a change, it's actually not their fault that they're in this bind, either. But it doesn't change the fact that it is a problem. Unfortunately for company executives, fans who are sick of reading his name on their dirt screens and probably even the man himself, the best solution to that problem is CM Punk.
Before I really get into fulfilling my own prophesy, let's look at why he's so necessary right now:
Main Event Players
The current crop of wrestlers who either have the pedigree to carry the company's titles, or who are being groomed to do so, are locked up in stories with one another.
Evolution has three guys who have held major gold in WWE, including the man who just unified the belts and held them for much of 2013 in Randy Orton. Another, Batista, is rumored to be halfway out the door, for at least a couple of months, to deal with his burgeoning film career. Triple H likewise has a lot of other responsibilities in management that would understandably keep him away from a full schedule that champions are usually asked to work.
And, they're already tied up in a big angle with The Shield. That group contains three men that the company clearly hopes will all have main event runs in the future. While there's a fairly common wrestling trope whereby they could turn one of them and immediately have that guy crowned as a "corporate champ", they have been very protective of bringing Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins along in a manner designed to maximize their future value. They do not want to risk hotshot-ing the group or any one member by rushing a break-up like they did ten years ago when Orton broke from Evolution.
Another likely suspect is John Cena. But he's dueling with another future marquee name in Bray Wyatt, and both parties connection to The Authority storyline that has dominated the title scene for the past year is tangential at best.
That so many of the company's biggest names are busy working to create the next generation of Superstars is not a bad thing - it's evidence that the company is learning from past mistakes. But it doesn't help them over the next couple of months.
The other logical choice would be Brock Lesnar. But Vince McMahon has already backed his Brinks' truck up to the former UFC Heavyweight champ's Minnesota ranch, and based on what we know of him, there's little to indicate that anything would move The Beast away from his wife and kids for more than the dates already agreed to in his existing deal.
WWE's hesitancy to just strip Bryan of the belts immediately leads one to believe that they had plans for his title reign. Not many of us have been thrilled with his first program as champ coming against THE DEMON KANE, but from the start it's felt like little more than a placeholder...the thing that got us to Lesnar's return for SummerSlam and a fresh challenge looming in the form of a new Money in the Bank briefcase holder.
Splitting The Authority to keep Stephanie McMahon involved with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship scene, rather than having her move to The Shield feud with her husband, is another sign that Bryan's run is not something they had planned to casually disregard if going got tough.
These are good things, having a plan in place for the new top babyface and using made guys like Cena and the Evolution crew to establish new main eventers. But what do you do when that top babyface can't go right now?
BEST IN THE WORLD
What WWE lost when CM Punk decided to go on sabbatical was an established, ready made third top face. Just as Bryan could be moved almost seamlessly into Punk's role in the WrestleMania 30 story, the company finds itself in need of that guy again just a few months later. Only this time, that guy isn't there. But he's not far away.
I know that this is pie-in-the-sky fantasy booking. And, yes, the impetus behind the post is because including Phil Brooks' wrestling name in a headline is best for business. But it doesn't change the fact that they could use him now more than at any point since he left after Royal Rumble - because his presence would allow them to keep a super-compelling story at the top of the card without disrupting any of the other important work they're doing in the current Evolution/Shield and Cena/Wyatt stories.
Let's assume that next Monday we get an announcement that the titles will be taken from Daniel Bryan due to his inability to defend them. Maybe they announce a tournament on the spot, or just tease a future announcement for when they return to the States in order to add to suspense (and buy time).
Maybe it happens in Tennessee for the next Raw, or maybe you schedule the tournament start/Kane's coronation ceremony for Payback in Chicago. Just when whatever the vehicle for putting the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship straps on someone other than Daniel Bryan is about to happen, we hear this.
The Straight-Edged Savior returns to what will undoubtedly be a thunderous ovation. Once the crowd settles (probably within five minutes in Knoxville; they'll have to allow at least fifteen in Second City), Punk talks about having taken some time off - hell, even thought about hanging them up for good - because he knew it was Daniel Bryan's time. And despite everything they threw at his bearded buddy, Bryan overcame it and claimed his spot at the top. But now, The Authority is going to far. And The Voice of the Voiceless couldn't sit home and watch them get away with it.
Have him enter himself in the tournament to protect the belts, or pledge to disrupt every match and ceremony The Authority plans to give them to a successor. It could lead anywhere from his exit again after Bryan returns to an epic heel turn when he claims the titles for himself to set-up another round of matches between he and his fellow Ring of Honor alumnus.
That would be the only shred of hope they'd have to convince The Second City Saint to come back - giving him some options on both the length and direction of his return to WWE. I still doubt he'd take it, but someone in Stamford should right now have the job of getting him on the phone so Vince or Hunter can pitch it to him.
The other options aren't pretty. Cutting The Shield or The Wyatts' current angles short either by moving Cena, Orton or Haitch over to the titles or rushing one of the relatively recent call-ups to the top job in the industry? Kane? Sheamus? Those choices either harm the future, turn off casual and wary fans, or both.
In the absence of a 1C babyface on the roster, CM Punk's return would allow them to let Ambrose, Reigns, Rollins and Wyatt, not to mention Cesaro and guys like Bad News Barrett or Rusev, reach their peak as their abilities and the crowd's reaction rather than circumstances dictate. It would allow them to leave whatever long-term booking they've done for the title picture to stay relatively unchanged.
And it would let all of his many passionate fans see their Straight-Edge Savior for one more run, and perhaps say goodbye in a more traditional manner.
Now, if only we could CM Punk to agree. While we're talking out of orifices other than our mouth, tell him that after he successfully preserves Daniel Bryan's claim to the belts, John Cena, fresh off of losing his feud to Bray Wyatt, will come out to congratulate Punk - only to cheap shot him and turn heel.
Offer him the main event of WrestleMania 31: CM Punk versus heel John Cena.
If that doesn't bring him back, nothing will.