Due to the advance booking of The Rock's championship match for the 2013 Royal Rumble pay-per-view and CM Punk's near year-long reign with the industry's most prestigious prize, fans and pundits alike have speculated the likeliness of seeing The Rock ending the run of "The Best In The World" atop of the WWE.
In the minds of some, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that The Rock will return to the ring in January to face Punk, capturing the WWE Championship in the process. However, despite the apparent inevitability of this matchup, it would seem that some other options Creative have at their disposal are being overlooked.
Fundamentally, there are two assumptions that a number of fans are making with regard to the WWE title picture:
- CM Punk shall walk into the Royal Rumble as WWE Champion (See the poll pictured from the linked article).
- The Rock will defeat CM Punk at the Royal Rumble to become WWE Champion.
Although popular opinion indicates that CM Punk will be the man to defend against The Rock come January, the significance of the main event change to the upcoming Survivor Series PPV should not be overlooked.
While few appear to believe that Ryback will capture his first championship on Nov. 18, there remains a fair chance of John Cena leaving the top-four event with the strap. In terms of booking, it would indeed seem to make sense, as it would create a natural (and hopefully final) rematch with Punk at TLC, meaning that Punk wouldn't have to defend the title in what could essentially be a dead rubber at the December PPV. Moreover, it must be questioned why McMahon and Creative decided to have the title defended out of the blue.
Of course, the primary reason is suspected to be buyrates, but it must not be overlooked that John Cena has been interjected into this feud despite a match with Ziggler appearing to be in the works, arguably suggesting that he could well win the belt on the anniversary event of Punk's reign. Should the aforementioned event play out, it would be more than likely for Cena to hold the belt going into the Royal Rumble to face The Rock in a WrestleMania rematch.
This is in no way the most likely outcome, but it is certainly in the cards, and could come into play if Creative have one of their infamous ratings panics, such as the well-documented decision to have Cena take the title from Alberto Del Rio at Night of Champions last year, holding the belt for just 14 days.
However, if Punk does actually manage to hold onto the title until The Royal Rumble, who is to say that he has to lose to "The Great One"?
Taking the first assumption as fact, CM Punk will walk into the US Airways Center on Jan. 27 as champion and, believe it or not, could well walk out as champion.
The Rock is a part-time wrestler, and most members of the IWC seem to appreciate the problems that arise with having such a performer hold the industry's greatest prize. Who's to say that WWE brass plan on making The People's Champ the WWE Champ at any point during his next tenure in wrestling?
Who will Leave The Royal Rumble with the WWE Championship?
Furthermore, imagine what a victory over The Rock would do for Punk's title reign, and the former's hunger to recapture the gold. Perhaps it would be better for the road to WrestleMania to not have Dwayne waltz in and reclaim the title in his first match in nine months.
Of course, the most likely scenario appears to be that the two aforementioned assumptions will hold true. Ultimately, however, WWE and their Creative department will not just simply have one path to follow at this stage. While ideas will be in place, we all know how quickly the landscape of professional wrestling can slide. At this stage we could realistically see The Rock face Punk, Cena or even Ryback at the Rumble.
Don't count your chickens too soon. After all, as Jerry Lawler likes to remind us incessantly on SmackDown vs. Raw 2010, "Anything can happen in the WWE."