CM Punk is quickly closing in on an entire year as WWE Champion, but he obviously isn't going to hold the title forever. The biggest concern amongst his fans is whether or not he'll remain the top guy, alongside John Cena, after he drops it. I firmly believe he will as long as the WWE puts him over the right way.
As long as Cena is in the WWE, Punk is never going to be the sole face of the company. That doesn't mean that he can't be a legendary performer, though. The Attitude Era had enough room for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock on top, so there is no doubt that this era has enough room for Cena and Punk.
Although this long title run is definitely a start for Punk in terms of making him an iconic superstar, it simply isn't enough. Prior to Night of Champions, he hadn't headlined a pay-per-view in months, so obviously there is a divide between what the WWE brass thinks of Punk and what the fans think of him.
What must Punk do to establish himself as a permanent fixture atop WWE?
That is why putting Punk up against Cena is the right move, even if some of Punk's fans are getting tired of it. In order to reach the pinnacle, Punk has to beat the best guy on the biggest stage. That means taking out Cena at WrestleMania.
Punk can hold the title from now until WrestleMania, but if he loses to Cena there, then the WWE is taking a huge risk. Wins and losses obviously aren't everything in wrestling, but when you're talking about a guy like Punk, who hasn't been the top attraction throughout his title reign and doesn't have a defining singles win at WrestleMania, having him lose could lead to a major drop-off.
If Punk were still a face, then perhaps the win wouldn't be as important, but it's a lot tougher for a heel to remain on top than a face. Cena has been the toast of the company for a good seven years because he is constantly the top face who defeats a never-ending cycle of heels. Hulk Hogan did the same exact thing from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
Pure heels generally don't ascend to that level, but guys like Austin and The Rock did play the heel role at various points in their respective careers. Punk has been both a face and a heel as well, but his heel work is so superior that it wouldn't make sense to turn him again for the sake of establishing him as a company stalwart.
My hope is that we get a Triple Threat match between Punk, Cena and The Rock at WrestleMania. We've already seen Cena vs. Rock with the tagline of "once in a lifetime," so it would be cheap to do it again. Punk vs. The Rock would be a decent alternative, but Punk needs to beat the current best guy and not just the former best guy.
Cena ought to win the WWE Championship at TLC, Punk should win the Royal Rumble and then The Rock should win the WWE Championship from Cena at Royal Rumble due to interference from Punk. Then it would be fairly easy to set up a triple threat since all three men would have a legitimate claim to be in that match.
Punk winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXIX against the two guys who headlined the previous WrestleMania would be a huge statement from the WWE brass that Punk is someone who is there to stay on top. If Punk picks up that win, then I believe you'll see him perennially in the catbird set, just like Cena.
If Punk is deprived of the big win that he needs, though, it wouldn't surprise me to see him fall back to the upper midcard for a period of time. He won the World Heavyweight Championship twice, and that wasn't enough to keep him relevant. His current push is obviously much bigger, but I wouldn't say that he has established himself at a Cena, Rock or Austin-type level yet.
Mick Foley said on Monday that he believes Punk needs one more moment of greatness, and he was right. It won't and it shouldn't come at Hell in a Cell, though. The only event that can make a legend is WrestleMania, so hopefully Punk is put in a position to cement himself on the grandest stage of them all.