A couple of years ago, before CM Punk skyrocketed up the WWE pecking order to a place beside but ten degrees back from John Cena, he was the new head man for the Nexus, grasping the spotlight on Raw and clearly showing (again) why the WWE should further invest in his talents.
Doctor's Orders: The Time is Nearly Upon Us - The Rock vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship
By The Doc
Dec 22, 2012 - 10:05:59 AM
He once said to his minions that they should have “faith.”
Fast forward to a few months ago, when The Rock came back to grace the wrestling world with his considerable presence on the 1,000th episode of Raw and recall the doubt from the fans when the WWE basically set-up six months in advance the main-event for the 2013 Royal Rumble by having then-and-still current WWE Champion, Punk, close the most significant night of television since moving Raw back to the USA Network with a jaw-breaking Go To Sleep to the Great One, who had earlier in the night been granted a title shot at the annual January extravaganza. The doubts were about Punk remaining champion for another half year.
Yet, I had “faith.”
I had faith because I believe that once a superstar reaches a certain status in the company, they will consistently do right by him. Punk has earned his stripes in the last eighteen months; Rock has certainly earned his during the course of his career. What is right by those two is to give them the most significant match possible - a title match that would feature the long-reigning Punk meeting his most significant challenge to date - on the biggest stage possible not-named Wrestlemania. It’s that time, folks. Whether you had faith that Punk would remain the titleholder for these last five months or not, he is still the reigning, defending champion and will face the Great One in just a few more weeks in a highly anticipated match. It’s not quite the National Championship equivalent that was Rock vs. Cena, but it’s the SEC Championship.
Actually, it’s a bit more than that. The beautiful thing about professional wrestling being able to manipulate outcomes – assuming the injury bug is avoided and the stars align – is that promoters can come up with matches that are the sports entertainment equivalent to 2003-2005 Southern Cal taking on 2009-2012 Alabama in college football, the 1992-1996 Dallas Cowboys against the 2003-2005 New England Patriots in the NFL, or current era Barcelona taking on 1999 Manchester United. The WWE may make a lot of boneheaded decisions, but when it comes to the big stuff, they’re usually making the right calls. As we get closer to late January, there’s no question that a near 400-day reigning WWE Champion taking on one of the top five superstars of all-time is one of the most intriguing main-events in a long time.
While the Brahma Bull’s last match and the recent matches involving Brock Lesnar against Cena and Triple H had a lot greater personal, historical build-up, seemingly giving those bouts an edge over next month’s title match, it would be a mistake not to notice that, despite there being only recent direct interaction from current champion and latest challenger, this will be a match about differing ideals from one era to the next. Therefore, it’s as big a match as any in recent memory, if taken into proper context.
The Rock was destined for the Hall of Fame the first time that he stepped foot in a WWE ring. You can give him all the credit in the world for maximizing the chance that he was given, but you could tell from Survivor Series ’96 onward that he would rarely lack opportunities if he just took care of his end. CM Punk came up on the C-brand ECW reboot with all the skills in the world, held back by a below average look and without a big chance in sight for his first two years. Even with two Money in the Bank cash-ins to his name, he could cut the best promos, have outstanding matches, and get over like few others - yet still he struggled to work his way up the WWE ladder; every time he would reach for the brass ring, they’d yank it up just a little bit higher.
More so than the Punk vs. Cena matches in 2011 and 2012, respectively, Punk vs. Rock is about the guy that isn’t supposed to be at the top taking on the guy that is. Cena was not brought into the WWE with the announcers talking him up as the future of the business; to his credit, he got opportunities first because he earned them and then because of who he was. The Rock is the ultimate definition of the establishment, having been an amateur athlete for a high profile, national title winning college football program, a third generation wrestler with the business in his blood, and the combination of physical stature and personality to match. Not one person watching Rocky Maivia’s debut 16 years ago can honestly tell me that they didn’t know, based solely on his presentation, that he was going to be a headliner. CM Punk is the ultimate definition of the anti-establishment. There is nothing about CM Punk that looks like a top guy; that criticism has and will always remain fair. He’s not what they look for and he’s not what I’d be looking for, either. BUT, he’s an amazingly talented guy who has a connection with people. If you ever had to describe Punk to a newer fan, as I will with my Mania cohorts next year in NY/NJ, have you thought of how you’d do it? My description is that he’s got Bret and Owen Hart’s performance abilities mixed with Mick Foley’s personality and unremarkable physical appearance, plus Taker’s tattoos; and there’s something magnetizing about Punk that draws you in.
This match carries with it some of the undertones that did Rock vs. Austin a decade ago. Austin and Punk have many similarities when you compare their expectations coming into the WWE. Each were hired as “helluva hand” types that could get it done in the ring, but were not expected to be much more than fodder for the Rock and Cena types that were good looking, sharply dressed, and fit for the big screen. Yet, it was Austin that became the star that drew more money in a concentrated time period than anyone ever has, in part, because he was going against the grain, opposing the promoter and the guys cut from the Rock mold that the promoter preferred to push. The Royal Rumble is going to be the biggest test of CM Punk’s PPV drawing ability. So, isn’t it interesting that Rock will be thrust back into the all-too-familiar position of being “the formula” against a guy that is ever so anti-formulaic?
The Rumble event is a consistent box office power house; the only other PPV besides Wrestlemania that hasn’t taken a hit during the recession. There are a certain number of people that are likely to order no matter what – recent numbers suggest somewhere in the ballpark of 450,000. Say that number increases to 600,000 or even jumps over 500,000; that would be huge for CM Punk’s career. “But Doc, wouldn’t all that credit just be given to Rock?” I don’t think so. Since coming back to the WWE two years ago, Rock has answered every remaining question about his own drawing power, but his financial success for the WWE has clearly hindered on booking and opponent. When the story is there opposite the right wrestler, the fiscal figures have been through the roof (for Manias 27 and 28, respectively). For Survivor Series ’11, with terrible booking and weak opponents, nobody cared and the numbers didn’t much change.
If the Royal Rumble draws a significantly higher buyrate than we’ve seen in recent years, then shared credit should go to both participants in the WWE Championship match. I suspect that, if the television interactions between Punk and Rock are compelling, then the Royal Rumble is going to eclipse 500,000 buys. If you’re a CM Punk fan, then I encourage you to save some Christmas money, stay at home instead of going to the bar, resist your urge to illegally stream the PPV, and actually spend the dough on the Rumble for his sake. You can’t complain about new stars not getting pushed and then economically the ones that they do when it matters most.
Now, whether it is 440,000 or 600,000, what we do know is that the average WWE PPV pulls in maybe 200,000 buys, so there are going to be a lot of unique viewers for the Royal Rumble. It’s going to give the WWE a good opportunity to stamp CM Punk with a victory leading to whatever historically relevant match will be on his horizon for Wrestlemania NY/NJ. I know that the general consensus is that Punk is going to lose the title, but I fail to see a relevant reason. “Because John Cena lost to Rock” or “Because Rock vs. Cena needs to be the WWE Championship” are moot points the logic of which I completely disagree. Cena lost to Rock because it was a battle of eras in Rock’s hometown and Rock drew several hundred thousand extra buyers that didn’t tune in to see him lose. It didn’t hurt Cena – the Golden Boy became the Golden Boy by beating everyone that he ever faced (a laundry list of current and future Hall of Famers). He could lose every major match for the next year and he’d still be a draw. If Cena does get another crack at Rock, it needs the WWE title involved in 2013 as much as it did in 2012 (i.e. it doesn’t need it at all). Adding the title would be a nice “organic” way to get them to face each other again, but the most effective way, in my opinion, would be for Cena to (finally turn heel and) cost Rock the match with Punk.
Punk vs. Rock presents a situation where the new era star needs to win; not because I want him to or because the IWC would love it, but because he is on the brink of becoming a legitimate, stand alone draw without the help of an all-time great across the ring from him. It’s not a coincidence that Cena got to where he’s at now by being put over by Triple H and Shawn Michaels at consecutive Wrestlemanias, nor was it that Triple H and Kurt Angle got to where they did because Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley put the over. The WWE surely realizes that Punk with a victory over Rock to his name looks twice as legitimate for the rest of his main-event career. If they want him to be a draw against Steve Austin or Undertaker, he needs to beat someone that’s on their level. Few are – Rock is. So, in my opinion, those of you that so vehemently believe that Rock has been “promised” the title are going to get swerved. CM Punk is going to win and he’s going to go on to end his title storyline where it matters most: the main-event at Wrestlemania. I have faith.
There’s bound to be ground swell of support for Punk from the wrestling underground in the coming weeks. I think this match is going to be ridiculously compelling. Phoenix has had some good crowds over the years and I’m intrigued to see and hear how they react when the bout is reaching its climax and they have to choose who to root for. Rock isn’t facing the wrestling world’s most loved and hated man – he’s facing the “Best in the World.” It should be a fantastic match and an early MOTY candidate.
It’s going to be a helluva test for Rock. Punk is going to challenge him to step up in a different manner than he had to against Cena at Wrestlemania. I think Rock will be up to it. In fact, I would surmise that he craves the opportunity to get into the ring with the champ. History does not reflect kindly on the Brahma Bull, notably because of how he left the industry and did not speak of it for years; wrestling fans notoriously have short memories for most superstars, but that unwritten rule doesn’t apply to The Rock, apparently. He gave the world the pleasure of seeing the new definition of the dream match, but many fans scoffed at it, never bought into it, and didn’t give it its due. Make no mistake about his desire to be the best, though. There is not an opponent or style that he has not figured out en route to generally-thought-to-be excellent matches. He has grappled with the likes of Angle, Jericho, and Benoit, brawled with Austin, Foley, and Triple H, gone reaction-for-reaction with Hogan, and told a brilliant story with Cena. He once specifically asked the WWE to bring back the Macho Man and Sting, just for the challenge of adding another great match to his resume with another all-time great. Punk is the best all-around talent in the WWE today and (arguably) an all-time great already, so as long as Rock shows up ready to go, he should be adding another classic to his list.
As we move away from 2012 and start focusing on 2013, our first big match comes at the first big PPV…and it’s a doozy. Numerous stories will be at play in addition to the on-screen feud. Who will win? That seems to be the one where I most differ from the general thought process. Will someone interfere? I’ve made my prediction on that in my Wrestlemania Season Preview – Brock Lesnar will and will set-up a Mania match with Rock. Will it be a Match of the Year contender? I think that it will be. What could it do for Punk’s career? That one might be most up for debate. Let’s open the discussions...
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What about CM Punk vs. The Rock for the WWE Championship most intrigues you?
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