In eleven months when we look back at the year that was 2013, Rock’s WWE Championship win over CM Punk may stand out as the most important story in all of wrestling. Rock defeated Punk at the Royal Rumble on last Sunday to capture his eighth title. When Rock returned in 2011, I never thought he’d be champion again.
As with anything involving wrestling, there are differing camps of opinion regarding his win and what it means for the direction of the company heading into WrestleMania.
Rock’s win was likely the most important championship victory of the last several years. The match itself came across as an historic occasion. I will never forget the eruption of the crowd when the referee counted to three. In many ways it was similar to his win over John Cena at last year’s WrestleMania in Miami.
With him as champion, the WWE will be treated with a level of prestige and mainstream recognition that has eluded the company for years. Never before in history has a major star in Hollywood ever held the most important title in wrestling. The plan is for Rock to promote himself as WWE Champion in all media appearances over the next couple of months.
On the flipside, some believe the way Rock won hurt Punk. One of the main arguments is that he pinned Punk following the people’s elbow instead of his signature rock bottom. I think it was a miniscule point because the match was excellent either way. There will be rematch at next month’s Elimination Chamber PPV where Rock could win with his preferred finishing maneuver.
There is no question that the championship means more on today than it has in a long time. Aside from Rock’s stardom, the biggest reason is because of Punk’s legendary reign. He held the championship for 434 consecutive days, making him the longest reigning champion since 1987. He did that while having great matches against an assortment of talent. His matches against Cena, Chris Jericho, and Daniel Bryan were among the best of 2012 and he’s already had two of the best matches of this year against Ryback and Rock. Punk brought a level of credibility to the championship that made it more than just a storyline prop and he should be commended for that.
Any fan that seriously follows the business should’ve expected Punk’s reign to end at the Rumble. While Rock could’ve won at Elimination Chamber, it wouldn’t have made good business sense. The Rumble is the second biggest show of the year and if I were Vince McMahon I’d want Rock to be champion for as long as possible heading into WrestleMania. This brings me to the most heated point of discussion—was Punk’s title reign little more than a means to an end to get a Rock vs. Cena rematch?
Yes it was. There is no other way around it. However, the scenario isn’t that simplistic.
I originally had reservations on that direction as you can read in my previous post. I’m more open to it now because it’s clearly the biggest money match possible. With Brock Lesnar programmed against HHH, Rock vs. Cena is the only other main event that could fit the bill. While last year’s match was great, there is a chance that this year’s encounter will greatly surpass it.
For one, it’s in the hottest venue possible at MetLife Stadium. The NY/NJ market has always been a WWE hotspot and the crowd for this WrestleMania should be like very few we’ve seen. The atmosphere alone should ensure it goes down as a match for the ages. On top of that, they should have a technically better match than last year. While their clash was memorable, there were notable points where Rock got exhausted. It stemmed from him not working a match of that caliber in nearly eight years. His match against Punk was tremendous and there were no points throughout where he lost his steam athletically. I have little doubt that the quality of the match will be superb.
I expect the championship to be a huge draw of the match. If they had fought over it last year, there is a good chance it would’ve come across as secondary. The big story of their rematch, aside from Cena going for revenge, should revolve around the importance of the title to both guys. We have Punk to thank for that.
I don’t think Punk has been hurt in the slightest. He is a legit main eventer and is guaranteed to be in one of the major matches at WrestleMania. Just working with Rock has elevated his status to the casual wrestling fan. Those casual fans are vital to the success of the company.
Is it accurate to label Rock as a transitional champion?
If you look at it from a traditional perspective then the answer is yes, but traditional is not a word commonly associated with him.