Since capturing the WWE Championship from Alberto Del Rio at last month's Survivor Series event, CM Punk has regained prestige back into the belt that was so heavily damaged over the course of 2011. As of late, Punk has seemed to be an unstoppable force on Monday nights, overcoming the odds on numerous occasions.
With strong title defenses over the likes of The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, and Dolph Ziggler, Punk has been determined to bring forth change in the WWE as well the golden prize itself. It's been a while since the prestigious title has been relavant, and 2012 looks to be the year where the WWE Championship is finally battled over fresh competitors and matches.
However, with WrestleMania 28 quickly approaching, who will prove themselves worthy of a WWE Championship match against the Straightedge Superstar?
Also, keep in mind that the entire list is composed of Raw Superstars as that's where the belt lies. Nonetheless, who will be the one to eventually dethrone Punk as the golden champ atop the WWE?
Upon his debut in the WWE, Alberto Del Rio has made it no secret that it is his destiny to one day become WWE Champion.
After achieving that this past summer, it seems as if there's nothing left for Alberto Del Rio to accomplish after doing it all in the year 2011.
Subsequently, he would go on to drop the WWE Championship that he captured in early October for the second time to CM Punk at Survivor Series in a shocking upset. Thereafter, Del Rio came up short in both of his rematches for the belt on Raw and the TLC pay-per-view.
At the conclusion of the year, it was announced that the Mexican aristocrat suffered a groin injury that would keep him sidelined from action temporarily. However, it's been reported that Del Rio is scheduled to have yet another run for the belt when he eventually does return.
Nonetheless, his recent lack of victories and extremely disappointing loss of momentum have put him in the back of the line for a short at CM Punk's WWE Championship.
This past August, Rey Mysterio was unfortunately sidelined indefinitely in order to take time off for the surgeries required for his nagging knee injury. He hasn't stepped foot in a WWE ring since, leaving the timetable for his eventual return questionable as to whether he'll be back in time for WrestleMania 28 at all.
His Raw tenure thus far has been forgettable for the most part, consistently coming up short in matches against the likes of Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk and John Cena. Mysterio's first major highlight since last April was his shocking (yet brief) WWE Championship reign, foreshadowing a major push for the Master of the 619 on Monday nights.
With Sin Cara currently out with an injury as well, the chances of Rey Mysterio relaunching back into the hunt for the golden prize are likely. Renewing his rivalry with current champ CM Punk could call for some excellent matches, not to mention a well-built background given their storied past.
Let's face it; these two couldn't have a bad match if they tried.
Following his loss of the World Heavyweight Championship two years ago, Jack Swagger has seemed to slowly been derailed back to an irrelevant status. Despite his recent partnership with manager Vickie Guerrero, Swagger has managed to accumulate more and more losses as time progresses.
However, these past few weeks have been the best weeks in a good while for Swagger, clashing with high profile Superstars such as WWE Champion CM Punk and United States Champion Zack Ryder.
Just this past Monday night, Swagger had an impressive showing against Punk in what certainly won match of the night, regardless of the awkward finish.
Prior to this past week, I don't believe a singles match between the former ECW Champions had ever occurred. After witnessing what these two can accomplish inside the ring, a rivalry between them could elevate the All-American American back to the main event scene where he belongs.
Last July, Triple H made his shocking return as the new COO of the WWE, replacing Vince McMahon as the on-air authority figure.
Since then, the Game's television time has been reduced less and less each week, now without as much power as he once held due to the new interim General Manager of Raw, John Laurinaitis.
Additionally, he's competed in three matches since WrestleMania 27, with two of them being victories against the likes of Kevin Nash at TLC and, ironically enough, CM Punk at Night of Champions.
Triple H's feud with Punk culminated at the September pay-per-view event, but quickly died down in order to set his sights on Awesome Truth and Nash.
To say the least, their No Disqualification bout at the event was extremely overbooked with a handful of interference, subsequently not meeting my high expectations for a spectacular contest.
A rematch on the grandest stage of them all is not out of the question, as adding the gold to the mix could make for some intriguing television.
In 2011, John Cena competed in 11 of the 13 pay-per-view main events, most of those matches being over the WWE Championship.
Capturing the title a total of three times over the course of the year, his reigns grew more stale each time he wore the strap around his waist.
With that being said, all three of those reigns were obviously nothing special, furthering the point that Cena's time in the title hunt had been rumored. After failing to recapture the title in late October, Cena looked to settle scores with Awesome Truth as well as Kane in recent weeks.
It's been reported that the Cenation leader won't be anywhere near the belt for the foreseeable future, so hopefully this proves to officials that the title picture is just fine without him for the time being.
Nonetheless, an eventual rubber match with CM Punk at some point over the prestigious championship has the potential to be just as spectacular as the previous two classics.
After distancing himself from R-Truth the night following Survivor Series, The Miz was determined to break out on his own as a dominant force on Monday nights.
The subsequent episode of Raw saw the Awesome One end the WWE career of John Morrison, further presenting his new-found aggressive layer to his character in order for everyone to begin to take him much more seriously.
Moreover, he was also able to earn a shot at the WWE Championship at the TLC event, but came up short in the bout.
If Miz is able to outlast Truth in the ongoing feud between them, there is a strong chance that the former reality star can recapture the WWE Championship in the foreseeable future.
A rivalry between himself and CM Punk would not only be golden on the mic, but provide solid matches in the squared circle as well.
Expect these two to cross paths in the very near future.
When R-Truth earned his first shot at the WWE Championship last April, I was concerned that his title match at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view would result in a huge disappointment.
Little did I know that no more than a week later, Truth would receive one of the biggest character makeovers in a long time.
With his new psychotic character, Truth became the most intriguing on all of the Raw roster through 2011.
Although he would subsequently turn babyface due to an ambush from The Miz, that doesn't take away from the fact that he's still a serious contender for the WWE Championship.
Kane has become a force to be reckoned with upon his shocking return to Monday Night Raw a few weeks back. With the returning of his signature mask and hateful attitude, nothing seems to be stopping the Big Red Monster anytime soon.
Although his sights are currently set on John Cena, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kane enter this year's Royal Rumble match and emerge victorious in order to earn himself at CM Punk's WWE Championship at WrestleMania 28.
After all, he's competed in the bout a record-setting 13 times over the course of his WWE career, it goes without question that he has certainly earned it.
Given the recent hot streak Kane has embarked on, targeting WWE Champion CM Punk could be a fresh feud heading into the Show of Shows.
Since being removed from the World Championship picture last February, Dolph Ziggler never really seemed to recover upon his move to the Raw mid-card.
After finally dropping the United States Championship to Zack Ryder at last month's TLC event, many saw his loss as a blessing in disguise in order to be given his well-deserved shot at the WWE Championship.
Subsequently, Dolph Ziggler was able to defeat WWE Champion CM Punk in non-title matches for two weeks in a row, further proving the fact he is indeed the best heel in the company today.
With a another title shot looming at the Royal Rumble in a few weeks, one can only imagine that this is the beginning of a very bright year for the bleached-blonde Superstar.
Although I don't expect Ziggler to capture the strap while on the road to WrestleMania 28, I highly anticipate another strong match from these two that has the potential to once again steal the show.
Then again, the former Spirit Squad member did indeed hold the World Heavyweight Championship for an extremely brief period of time last year, shortly before the Show of Shows, so anything's possible at this point.
As the likeliest candidate for a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 28, Chris Jericho should not be taken lightly as we quickly approach the annual Royal Rumble match.
Recent reports have signaled that Jericho is now a popular choice to emerge from the 30-man battle royal match victorious, thus earning himself a title match against CM Punk on the grandest stage of them all.
Although Jericho has yet to accomplish anything since his controversial return last week, his cryptic vignettes persuade viewers that's he's returned to take back what is rightfully his. His interactions with Punk over Twitter this past summer gave me hope that the seeds were slowly being planted for this epic rivalry, and now we're finally seeing it coming to fruition.
An eventual confrontation between these two icons has been highly anticipated by members of the IWC for months now, not to mention the classic match these tremendous competitors look to provide come WrestleMania 28.
Will Chris Jericho's questionable antics over the past few weeks aid him in his quest to regain the WWE Championship? Or will another possible worthy challenger on this list step up as the next contender in coming weeks?
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and make sure to drop a comment with the answers to these questions and more as well as any additional thoughts you may have regarding the WWE Championship. As always, your criticism and overall feedback is greatly appreciated.
Visit my website at Next Era Wrestling as well as my WrestleRant and Spoilers podcasts for more of my thoughts and writings, along with WWE/TNA news, rumors, reviews and more. Follow me on Twitter @SAVE_US_GSM.