It’s over. Last night, at the 2013 Royal Rumble, the longest WWE Championship reign in the past 25 years came to an end, as CM Punk stared at the ceiling for the returning ‘Great One’, The Rock, in a controversial yet unsurprising climax to the first pay-per-view of the year.
On a night that surprised few, ‘The People’s Champ’ claimed his first WWE Title in more than a decade in front of a capacity crowd in Phoenix, Arizona – whilst his long-time rival, John Cena, won the 30-man battle royal to secure his spot in the main event at WrestleMania XXIX.
After months of speculation, it is now all but official: at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on April 7th 2013, the match that was billed only ten months ago as a ‘Once In A Lifetime’ encounter will take place once again – only this time, the WWE Championship is very likely to be on the line.
Few can question the WWE’s decision to place its premier title on the returning Hollywood A-lister, or to book a rematch of the main event of the highest-grossing WrestleMania in the show’s storied history. From a business standpoint it’s a sound – if rather predictable – move, but one that is bound to reap financial dividends and please the vast majority of the company’s PG-friendly ‘WWE Universe’.
But as The Rock and Cena look set to take centre stage for the third year running, where does that leave CM Punk, the man that provided much-needed stability and consistently compelling performances for over fourteen long months as the WWE Champion?
Although Punk’s historic reign as WWE Champion didn’t start off in the most promising of fashions (his win over Alberto Del Rio for the title at the 2011 Survivor Series ironically played second fiddle to the exploits of – you guessed it – The Rock and Cena), throughout the first six months of his run as a then-babyface champion, Punk successfully defended the gold in strong outings against the likes of Chris Jericho, Kane and Daniel Bryanamongst others. But it wasn’t until the climax of RAW 1000, in which the champion turned heel on The Rock and set up their Royal Rumble encounter, that the master of the ‘pipebomb’ began to firmly command attention once again as the WWE’s reviled figurehead.
As has been widely reported, from July 2012 to January 2013, a rejuvenated Punk, masterfully paired with Paul Heyman, made the WWE Championship once again mean something, as with each passing day he smashed records left by the likes of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage en route to becoming the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era.
And despite months of rumours of a Rock-Cena rematch with the gold on the line, many hoped that Punk would still receive the opportunity to headline 2013′s WrestleMania - one of the few outstanding accomplishments missing from the ‘Straight Edge Superstars’ illustrious WWE CV. But following last night’s loss, what role could Punk now play at the biggest show of the year?
A Triple Threat Showdown?
There is a chance – an outside chance – that WWE will look to shake up the Rock-Cena rematch by adding in Punk as the third man in the encounter.
Whilst the money is clearly on a one-on-one clash between the company’s biggest names, adding Punk into the mix could significantly increase the in-ring action offered in the main event; something that was lacking somewhat in that first encounter in Miami.
Stranger things have happened.
As Punk’s allegiance with The Shield looks set to continue, one very likely match-up could see the former WWE Champion teaming up with Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins against a team of babyfaces – likely led by Ryback. Possible teammates could include Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Kane, all of whom have felt the wrath of the trio and have unfinished business left to settle.
Such an encounter would serve to hide Ryback’s shortcomings on such a big stage, and would provide an opportunity for redemption after months of beat-downs – but it would also be a sizable step-down for Punk after so many standout main event performances.
A Stone Cold Stand-off
One dream match that has been discussed by fans worldwide for years now is the possibility of Punk going one-on-one with a returning Stone Cold Steve Austin. This bout, which looked set to potentially become a reality after comments made in a worked-shoot interview with Jim Ross late last year to promote WWE ’13 fuelled internet speculation, would unquestionably have a significant impact on the buy-rate by attracting back yet more fans of the beloved Attitude Era - but will it come to fruition? Time will tell.
The Streak vs The Best In The World
The fourth and final option for Punk at WrestleMania is perhaps the most sought-after spot on the card – facingThe Undertaker with the legendary Streak on the line.
Whilst a 500+ day WWE Title reign vs The Streak would have been even more tantalising, Punk is one of the few members on the current roster (aside from Cena, Brock Lesnar and The Rock) who could follow on from epic showdowns with Shawn Michaels and Triple H and pose a legitimate threat to The Deadman’s legacy.
Punk and The Undertaker already have proven their in-ring chemistry through their clashes in late 2009 – so could we see the ‘Best In The World’ look to take perhaps the greatest prize of them all in April?
Four tantalising options – one big show. Just how CM Punk will slot into WrestleMania XXIX is currently anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for certain: if he doesn’t get the chance to shine on the grandest stage of them all, another ‘pipebomb’ will be on the way.