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Reflections on CM Punk’s 434 Day Reign...

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AJ Styles is almost halfway to holding the WWE Title for the magic number of 434 days. But was CM Punk’s long title reign in 2012 really all that magical?

CM Punk

AJ Styles has been WWE Champion for quite a while now. He was the man to dethrone Jinder Mahal and has been carrying the Smackdown brand as its champion babyface ever since. Despite only being with the company for a little more than two years, Styles has been WWE Champion (over two reigns) for almost half that time. His first reign stretched to 140 days and his current run with the richest prize has eclipsed the 200-day mark.

He is a little over two weeks away from passing both Seth Rollins’ 220 day reign and Brock Lesnar’s 224 day reign. If he beats Shinsuke Nakamura at Money in the Bank he will cross the threshold and have (the purely arbitrary milestone of) the longest WWE Title reign since CM Punk between 2011-2013.

Of course, Styles has a long way to go to beat Punks 434 day reign, but there’s a lot less he needs to do to improve on the quality of it.

Punk’s reign was mostly disappointing, after all.

CM Punk won the championship from Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series 2011. Remember that show? Howard Finkle did the ring introduction for the match that took place in the greatest venue you could ever want a WWE Title change to happen at: Madison Square Garden.

It was also an undercard match.

Granted, John Cena teaming up with The Rock was a big deal, even if the match was a throw-away tag against a pair of paper tiger goobers. It’s understandable why it would main-event the show. Punk won the title all the same and began a reign that would not end until the 2013 Royal Rumble, when he dropped the belt to The Rock.

In between those two dates spanned 434 consecutive days of championship-reigning, wherein the Straight Edge Superstar feuded with the likes of Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Ryback and his eventual conqueror, The Rock.

And yet, despite the list of names on that resume—names which included legends, top draws and up-and-coming superstars—Punk almost never main-evented a single PPV. In fact, for the entirety of his once-in-a-generation reign, he only main-evented two PPVs in matches that didn’t feature John Cena or The Rock (the two men who would main-event WrestleMania 29 soon after that reign ended).

As mentioned, his big win at Survivor Series was trumped by Cena teaming with The Rock. The next month he main-evented in a triple threat match on a show that Cena missed entirely. He curtain-jerked the February PPV, was runner-up at WrestleMania, had the number-two feud at Extreme Rules and his feud with Daniel Bryan played second fiddle to Cena vs John Laurinaitis/Big Show at Over the Limit and No Way Out. His Money in the Bank title match (a year after he finally broke into the main event scene) was in the middle of the card.

After that, realizing he would never outshine John Cena as top babyface, Punk attacked the Rock at RAW1000 and spent the rest of his reign as the top heel in the company. He still missed main-eventing SummerSlam but got his chance to carry Night of Champions (against John Cena, in a match that ended in a draw). He main-evented Hell in a Cell against Ryback (the other non-Cena main-event, and once again a show that Cena was not on at all). He worked with Cena and Ryback at the top of Survivor Series, missed TLC due to injury and then dropped the belt to Rock at the Royal Rumble.

434 days as champion is remarkable. Yet only a handful of those days featured him as the top attraction. CM Punk rose to main-event status (despite rarely actually main-eventing) at a time when WWE was in desperate need for new blood. At the same time, Punk would not be allowed to rise to the very top because that spot was predestined for Cena vs Rock. It was a frustrating year for both he and his very loyal fans. Despite that, Punk carried the belt every day of the calendar year, and did so with a heel turn in the middle; a feat that—to my knowledge—no one has replicated (Savage turned heel very late in his title run, whereas Punk split his almost down the middle between face and heel). It’s just a shame that almost the entirety of it was lost in the haze of the slow set-up for a rematch between Rock and Cena.

Speaking of, The Rock won the title after The Shield (who came to the main-roster as Punk’s hired-mercenaries) cheated to help him retain, only for Vince McMahon to restart the match. Ordinarily that’d be a great way to end a heel’s title run and give the conquering hero a memorable victory. Unfortunately, the victory was hollow due to the fact that CM Punk had barely been treated as a top champion while holding the belt. His storylines were usually secondary to some other story being played out, whether it was John Cena’s latest feud, whatever Brock Lesnar was doing with Triple H, or sometimes both (moving his programs to third place).

The occasion when Rock beat Punk should have been earth-shattering. All of the elements were there: Rock was in his second real program after defeating Cena, CM Punk (flanked by Paul Heyman) was doing Hall of Fame-worthy work as the smarmy heel willing to do anything to keep his belt, and the WWE Title was on the line in the babyface’s home town. The title match was occurring on arguably the number-two PPV in the company, main-eventing over the Royal Rumble match itself. Again, all of the pieces were there, but when the moment came, it felt hollow. You can trace the reason why back to the way his reign was treated throughout 2012.

AJ Styles is almost halfway through a 434 day reign. Like Punk, he won his second title in November and has largely played second fiddle with it. He very likely will not get a run that lasts until the Royal Rumble next year, but hopefully, before his run is finished he gets a chance to top the bill and show everyone how special he is, has been, and can be with the WWE Championship around his waist.