After yet another championship title defense, CM Punk is still the WWE Champion. He has been so, uninterrupted, for the entire calendar year of 2012, beginning this reign last November at Survivor Series.
Care to know how big of a deal this all is historically? When Punk makes it to next week's RAW on Aug. 27, his reign will reach 281 days, which officially puts his current reign as the 10th-longest in the history of the WWE Championship, which turns 50 years old next April.
Punk has beaten everyone put in front of him and has taken down just about everyone that there is to defeat. As Punk, the longest current champion in WWE by roughly four months over any other champion, puts yet another notch on his belt, the question asked is who is next? Who will Punk be facing in just a few weeks at the appropriately-named pay-per-view, Night of Champions?
Here is a list of the top nine opponents for CM Punk's coveted WWE Championship at the current time. Some are former WWE Champions themselves, but all share a common goal. All of these men are not WWE Champion and would love nothing more than to become it.
It's pretty obvious that John Cena gets the next crack at CM Punk's WWE title. It was Cena who helped Punk defeat Big Show at SummerSlam as it took both men to make the giant tap out.
The match was restarted, Cena hit an Attitude Adjustment on Big Show and Punk swooped in for the winning fall. Punk got the win, but it was Cena who did the dirty work.
This is nothing new in triple threats, so the common logic is that the man not involved in the fall is still owed a title match. Cena gets to come home to Boston for Night of Champions to take on Punk. What will happen then, when it is essentially Money in the Bank 2011, only with the roles reversed?
Big Show may have lost, but he still looked very strong at SummerSlam. He was in the triple threat match, so he is still in the top two of contenders, even with a loss. Until someone earns the right to be above Big Show, that is where the destructive giant will stay. Big Show was able to show off a lot of great power and really keep up with the match.
A lot of perception was that Big Show was simply there to take the pinfall or submission. He was; in fact, he took both in the same match. Even still, Big Show justified his spot there with a great match.
It's anyone's guess as to what Big Show does from here, but the contenders behind him will still have to deal with The World's Largest Athlete and those fists that he refers to as WMDs.
Once upon a time, it was all about Daniel Bryan against CM Punk. The problem that we ultimately ran into with those two was that there was never a clear winner and a clear loser. Punk wouldn't drop the title, but Bryan wouldn't exactly lose in your standard definition. Controversial endings aside, Bryan is still among the best opponents of Punk.
We are still owed a clear finish in a match between these two men. Bryan also won at SummerSlam, picking up a great victory over Kane. Bryan needed the win in the worst way and is still able to justify being this high on the list of contenders.
Give Bryan a legitimate loss without any shenanigans and he would have been lower. Not truly proving that Bryan can lose straight up with Punk is only helping Bryan's stock at this point.
The question going into SummerSlam for Chris Jericho was whether he could still win "the big one." Well, Jericho was in a match with rising star Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam, the second-biggest night of the year in WWE. Jericho came out victorious, which helps to make up for the rest of his 2012. Jericho began that year trying to defeat Punk, but couldn't do so, even at WrestleMania.
Jericho may still know how to win when it comes to a pay-per-view match, but that doesn't mean he is still championship material.
Jericho is back on the rise and it will be anyone's guess as to what Jericho's immediate future holds, especially with a new album just coming out for Jericho's band, Fozzy. Will the rock star roll out of the ring? If he doesn't, he's still among the top contenders today.
The current Intercontinental Champion was also a WWE Champion once upon a time. It has been more than half a year since The Miz had a pay-per-view match for the world title, but things always seem to work out in the end for The Awesome One.
The former world champ was down in the dumps with his matches. He returned after shooting a movie and became Intercontinental Champion in a matter of weeks.
A fantastic match with Rey Mysterio at SummerSlam helps to justify this selection. The Miz is simply too good to not at least consider for this spot. He's not going to pull an Ultimate Warrior and try for the one title while holding the other, but the title does justify this position.
If there was an Elimination Chamber match tomorrow, wouldn't The Miz being involved make sense?
Kane has tried and failed to become WWE Champion a few times this year. Still, he has pushed Punk to the brink on a few occasions. Kane was WWE Champion for only one day all the way back in June 1998. Since then, Kane has been destructive and held other championships.
It would be nice for the career of Kane to cap off his career with a bit of redemption and a little bit of a longer reign with the WWE Championship.
Kane fell to Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam and he may continue to fall to other opponents as the months wear on. This doesn't mean that Punk cannot take a chokeslam from Kane and be driven straight to hell.
Judging by Kane's reaction backstage after losing to Bryan at SummerSlam, we could be in store for an even more demonic Kane.
He may be the holder of a future World Heavyweight Championship reign, but the first man this year to try and take down Punk on pay-per-view was none other than Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler can have a great match pretty much at will. He always seems to be that go-to guy off the bench if contenders are slim pickings for a rough patch.
Ziggler deserves a lot more than being an emergency contender. His game has really been getting better and seeing him as WWE Champion one day is not looking very ridiculous anymore. What about having the Show-Off pull a Jericho and be the unexpected one to unify the two world titles?
He could win the WWE Championship from Punk and follow up by cashing in Money in the Bank to take the World Heavyweight Championship, too.
Sure, it's a very far-fetched idea, but Ziggler has the talent for it. Anyone can hold one world title, but holding two at the same time is just showing off.
Try as you might, shaking Rey Mysterio free of the WWE Championship just isn't going to happen.
Since May 2011, the only people to hold the WWE Championship that were not named John Cena or CM Punk were Alberto Del Rio and Mysterio, when he held it and lost it all in one night back in July 2011. It was the first time Mysterio owned the WWE Championship, but not his first go-around with a world title.
It's hard to really see Mysterio as an underdog when he has won so much in his career. Mysterio isn't really in a position to win any more titles between his age, his health and his two Wellness Policy strikes.
That doesn't make Mysterio any less than a contender. Even without a chance of becoming champion again, you better believe that it would be Mysterio over a guy like Kofi Kingston any day.
Have we all forgotten about The Rock? He's a former world champion and will always be The People's Champion, but The Rock has one thing that none of the other contenders have: a guaranteed title shot.
The Rock faces whoever the WWE Champion is at the time for the title at Royal Rumble in January. At this time, that man would be CM Punk and there is little to make anyone feel like it won't be Punk.
It was Punk who took The Rock down at RAW's 1,000th episode. It is Punk who still sees a problem with The Rock having a desire to be a world champion again. Signs seem to be pointing to Punk as the man who takes on The Rock in five months.
Will this reign still be going by Punk is the real question. The Rock would be higher up on this list if he appeared regularly and didn't just wrestle on pay-per-views. His existing title shot is the only reason he really belongs on this list as opposed to any rising star or legend that keeps hanging around.