WWE: The Top 8 Challengers to CM Punk's WWE Title After WrestleMania
With CM Punk emerging from his title defense against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania victorious, the straight-edge superstar has been the WWE Champion for over 130 days and is arguably the biggest man in the WWE right now.
2012 is shaping up to be a huge year for Punk with his lengthy (for the current era) title reign and arch-nemesis John Laurinaitis now in control of both WWE brands.
There are quite a few wrestlers who are worthy of getting a crack at the self-proclaimed "Best Wrestler in the World" and Laurinaitis seems likely to start throwing them Punk's way as early as tonight's episode of Monday Night Raw.
Though it's been rumored that Punk may face either The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin by next year's WrestleMania, it hasn't been made clear which, if any, WWE legends will return to compete with him.
It also seems likely that Jericho may not pose a serious challenge to Punk again and if that's the case, then the field is wide open for anyone to compete for Punk's title.
After losing the WWE Championship last May, The Miz has largely been in a career tailspin with his loss of heat and storylines that have largely gone nowhere.
But things may be turning around for "The Awesome One," after his pin at WrestleMania sealed John Laurinaitis's promotion as the general manager of both Raw and SmackDown.
The new general manager will be looking to strip Punk of his title as quickly as possible and a grateful Laurinaitis will likely reward Miz's efforts with a shot at the WWE Championship.
There are benefits to a Miz title run.
After his intense feud with Chris Jericho, Punk may need to be booked in a lighter feud to allow him to rest up for more serious storylines later in the year.
Each man is strong on the mic and they've cut great promos before, but The Miz's slight change in momentum and presumed desperation to remain relevant should give him better motivation to keep up with Punk this time.
If the WWE feels confident in Miz's in-ring abilities, they will give him an opportunity to square off against Punk soon.
When CM Punk met Dolph Ziggler in a champion vs. champion match on the Raw following last November's Survivor Series, their pay-per-view quality match was the talk of the IWC and led many to believe that Ziggler would be entering into a feud with Punk.
Although Ziggler faced Punk for the WWE title at Royal Rumble, he took a backseat to Punk's feud with John Laurinaitis and has sat on the sidelines without a solid storyline since, while Punk moved on to Chris Jericho.
Now that Jericho appears to be leaving, this would be the perfect opportunity to give Ziggler the run for the WWE Championship he has earned for himself.
Laurinaitis is now in control of WWE television and Ziggler has been a loyal supporter from the beginning. That alliance, couple with his impressive wrestling abilities, should help Ziggler become one of the first competitors thrown at Punk over the next few months.
Although CM Punk and Christian have traded barbs over the years, it was during Punk's guest appearance on SmackDown last October that fans began to consider how a feud between the two would go down.
Both Punk and Christian are terrific enhancement wrestlers when called upon, as well as being two of the best stickmen in the company. A feud between them for the WWE title would showcase both of those talents.
It should be noted that in his years in the business, Christian has held many WWE titles including some that have been since retired, but he has never held the WWE Championship or become involved in a serious feud with it on the line.
A run for the biggest title in professional wrestling would be a great way to cap off a career for a great performer who is often booked poorly or overlooked.
Although Captain Charisma has been out of action since November and his injury may have forced him to miss out on an oppertunity to compete at WrestleMania this year, the longtime favorite is due to make a full-time return to competition in the coming weeks.
With John Laurinaitis in charge of both WWE brands, it seems likely that he'll book Christian against Punk in the near future.
As John Laurinaitis's right-hand man, David Otunga has seen his profile rise since he lost the tag team title to Air Boom last summer. With his trademark coffee cup in hand, Otunga makes consistent television time and has been booked into matches with more frequency.
Otunga may not be a top star worthy of the WWE title at this point, but there are plenty of storyline-based reasons for Otunga to be competing on that level with Laurinaitis in charge of Raw and SmackDown. And a (likely unsuccessful) title run could test whether or not Otunga can be primed for a feud on that level in the future.
While it hasn't been addressed since Punk turned face, Otunga was working as a henchman to a then-heel Punk as recently as last June. The pair have a past and it could be an opportunity for Punk and the WWE to explore his face turn with more depth.
Although he seems to be primed for a United States title run against Santino at the moment, I wouldn't count Otunga out of getting a few matches with Punk by the summer.
Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk didn't exactly share the most exciting rivalry last year when Punk was chasing Del Rio for the WWE Championsihp, but the two share history and Del Rio is still the last man to hold the WWE title before Punk.
Del Rio has been out injured for the last three months and despite making an appearance at Elimination Chamber, he has yet to return to action.
When he does return, it's said that Del Rio will receive a big push once again and it seems likely that Del Rio will either contend for the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship against Sheamus.
However, once he regains his footing in the WWE, I wouldn't bet against Del Rio making a run for Punk at some point this year.
All of the debate around Daniel Bryan's eighteen-second match and subsequent loss of the world heavyweight title at WrestleMania seems to be centered around whether or not this was the WWE's attempt at burying Bryan before the new year.
Whatever the WWE's intentions, it's clear that Bryan has never been more over with the crowd than he is now and if they were smart, they would begin to rebuild Bryan has a smarter, more aggressive competitor.
Punk and Bryan both have similar wrestling styles and their matches over the past few months on Raw and SmackDown have been among the best technical wrestling the WWE has produced in recent years, although they have not be allowed a clean match without distractions or outside interference.
While it will take some time to turn Bryan into a personality worthy of a run at Punk's title, it seems inevitable that these two Ring of Honor alumni will clash sometime this year.
Randy Orton is one of the biggest superstars in the WWE, although lately his A-list status has become questionable thanks to shaky booking and injuries, both for him and his competitors.
One way for Orton to regain his mojo to give him a title run and his matches with Punk will be entertaining at the very least.
Punk and Orton started 2011 in the middle of a feud and they faced each other at last year's WrestleMania.
Since then, Punk has become a face, but there is enough bad blood between them and shades of grey in both of their personalities to justify a face vs. tweener feud that would pay off with the strong matches.
It takes a few story shifts and a solid Orton push to get there, but it's a possibility that Orton will be given an opportunity to face Punk later in the year.
After his defeat at WrestleMania, it's likely that there are big changes in store for John Cena.
Though he may not be turning heel as many WWE fans would love to see, Cena's loss will eventually drive him to be even more competitive than he's been in recent months. Certainly no longer having to promote his big WrestleMatch will free him up for other things.
Cena and Punk performed what was arguably the best match in professional wrestling at last year's Money in the Bank event where Punk won the WWE title for the first time.
As it was last summer, neither man needs to turn heel in order to put on an exciting high-stakes match and the WWE can build to another Punk vs. Cena main event on the premise of both men wanting to prove who is the top man in the WWE.
A feud between Punk and Cena would certainly hold a lot more relevance to the current state of the WWE than Rock and Cena did.