One year. One year ago this Monday, CM Punk, the man dubbed the “voice of the voiceless,” defeated Alberto Del Rio and became the WWE champion.
What a ride.
Punk had arguably never been bigger than he was on that night, or in his career. Riding the wave of support and controversy following his promo on Raw, Punk had become a true top guy, a main-eventer who had finally reached the spot that so many fans felt he had deserved for so long.
He was not only popular, he was the biggest baby face in the company. He was not just hot, he was red hot. And night after night he consistently turned in one great match after another, much to the delight of pro wrestling fans who finally had what they always wanted: a hard working, technically gifted, WWE champion.
It's amazing how much can change in a year.
Now, CM Punk is the top heel in WWE, the most hated man in the company. He will stoop to any level to get heat, do anything it takes for that priceless reaction of contempt and disgust—emotions that he thrives on as a character and as a talent. His work in the ring is often without equal and he is still a hard-working champion.
But now he is wearing the black hat.
The truth is: Until his change of personality, Punk had been accused of becoming stale, his smile-and-wave act growing tired and routine for many fans who thought that his character was too mainstream, no longer cutting edge.
However, now that he has publicly mocked Jerry Lawler’s heart attack on live TV, CM Punk is anything but stale and a thousand miles south from predictable. He has rolled with the punches, absorbed all the praise and criticism, and has emerged a better worker because of it.
And I believe that he will also emerge victorious at Survivor Series and reach the one-year mark as WWE champion.
It seems such an easy prediction, one that is likely inevitable at this point. So much has been made out of Punk’s title run, even more so after he turned heel. Every week on Raw he gives us the running total of days, and every week he does it with that smug grin on his face.
It will not be an easy task for Punk to retain, as standing across the ring from him are Ryback, the man who very nearly beat him at Hell in a Cell; and John Cena, the face of WWE.
For Ryback, this match is a second chance at the championship that rogue referee Brad Maddox ruined for him at the last pay-per-view. Big Hungry wants to eat, and his target is the man with the gold.
It’s that simple.
But we all know the deal with Ryback. This is Vince McMahon’s kind of Superstar—a big, muscled up superhero who can be marketed and pushed to the moon. Ryback is the kind of worker that WWE loves to feature and one that likely has a bright future in the industry. Again, he’s what they want.
But CM Punk and John Cena are not the only two men standing between Ryback and the WWE championship. More on that in a minute.
John Cena is the No. 1 Superstar in WWE, the guy who the company has revolved around for so long now that to imagine him not in that position is fairly impossible for most fans. As the top guy, Cena can pin anyone at any time and he is itching to get his hands on the title that many fans believe he owns, regardless of whether or not he’s wearing it.
But for Cena, his character is ultimately very distracted, his time spent defending himself and denying rumors of an inappropriate relationship between himself and former Raw general manager A.J. Lee. He seems to be fairly far removed from the title picture and perhaps was just thrown in to help sell the Survivor Series event.
It’s a big match. It should be a good one, and in any other circumstance, I may be of the opinion that Punk’s time as champion is done.
But not this time. Not when he’s so close to hitting 365 days at the top. It’s too big of an achievement, not only for him as a talent, but for his character. CM Punk will be standing in the ring on Monday night with that all-too-familiar grin on his face as Paul Heyman lifts the belt up for the whole world to see.
And then the Rock shows up on the Titantron, blowing the roof off the building.
Yeah, that’s the “other” guy I mentioned earlier.
Time for the ride to get a lot more interesting.