Much has been made of CM Punk's nearly 10-month WWE Championship reign. Most have pointed out that, while it has been a lengthy one, it has constantly been in the shadow of World Wrestling Entertainment's resident "golden boy," John Cena. Others have pointed out that Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Chris Jericho, while all great, are nowhere near the quality of opponent that great champions of the past have been challenged by.
Sunday, CM Punk has the chance to quiet all his doubters as he defends the WWE title against the aforementioned Cena.
These two men have done battle before with great results, winning the prestigious "Match of the Year" award in 2011 for their emotional Money in the Bank title bout. Prior to that match, Punk was riding a wave of fan interest as he was fresh off the shoot promo that would change the course of his career. It was the match that solidified his spot as one of the top stars in the industry.
As Night of Champions approaches over a year later, he faces a situation where he has to prove that his title reign is legit. No longer can he be relied upon to steal the show in the third match from the top. Now, there are lofty expectations not just from fans but from management as he faces the top star in the industry in a match that will either make or break what is, at best, an underwhelming card.
John Cena excels in these situations. He has made a career out of performing up to the pressurized situation. Punk, to his credit, rarely disappoints. Sunday night, he will have to exceed expectations, reach back into his bag of tricks and pull out another career-defining performance, just as he did a year ago in his hometown of Chicago.
A "very good" match will not be good enough. To have another "really good" match in a long line of them during his current title reign will not bring the validation CM Punk's title reign is in need of. Just as he had to prove himself against Cena in 2011, he must do it again one year later.
His fans believe he can. Management behind the scenes believe he can. And, most importantly, Punk believes he can.
Now, he just has to do it.