After undergoing emergency knee surgery last week, CM Punk will not defend the WWE Championship at Sunday’s WWE TLC pay-per-view.
This will mark the first time that the company’s most prestigious title will not be defended on a PPV since February 2007 at No Way Out.
While not being able to have the reigning WWE Champion compete on the final PPV of 2012 is unfortunate for the WWE, it may actually be a blessing in disguise.
With Punk vs. Ryback for the WWE Championship off the table, the stage is now set for another match to take the main-event slot and steal the spotlight in the process.
One possible option is the World Heavyweight Championship match between Big and Sheamus, which figures to be the blowoff match to their feud. Show and Sheamus have put on a solid rivalry over the last couple of months, and with two strong pay-per-view bouts, this might not be a bad choice for the show closer.
Unfortunately for Show and Sheamus, their title match is probably only the third-most anticipated match on the card.
It was announced last week that, due to Punk being unable to compete, Ryback and Team Hell No would face The Shield in a 3-on-3 TLC match, which for the first time ever will end only by submission or pinfall.
It’s clear that the WWE wants to build up all three members of The Shield (Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose) as stars of the future, so putting them in a PPV main event for their first match is a great way to make them seem like a big deal.
The chances are very good that this match could go on last because it involves Ryback, who has main evented the last two WWE PPVs and is being groomed as the WWE's next top babyface. Of course, it also features two of the company’s most popular stars in Kane and Daniel Bryan.
In fact, the one that should go on last is Dolph Ziggler putting his Money in the Bank briefcase on the line against John Cena.
Yes, this would mean that Cena would main event yet another pay-per-view, which is something that plenty of WWE fans will complain about. But perhaps more importantly, it means that Ziggler will finally get the main-event spotlight that he deserves.
Although The Shield and Ryback are undoubtedly going to have major roles in the WWE’s future plans, Ziggler is mere millimeters away from being firmly established as one of the top five stars in the company and needs just one major moment to make that happen.
As great as it would be to see WWE TLC close with The Shield standing victorious or even with Ryback winning a PPV main event for the first time, there are drawbacks to both of those scenarios.
Close TLC with a Shield loss, and they instantly look like losers. Close it with a Ryback loss, and he loses his third straight PPV main event.
Putting this match on the undercard won’t change the effect that its outcome has on future storylines, but it could perhaps minimize the damage that losing a huge PPV main event would do to either Ryback or The Shield.
By giving the main event slot to Ziggler vs. Cena, however, the WWE also gives itself an opportunity to make Ziggler a bona fide star.
Which match should close the WWE TLC pay-per-view?
Although Ziggler has picked up a couple of big wins recently (like his victory at Survivor Series), he also lost cleanly to Cena on Raw in both singles and tag team action. Now more than ever, he needs a big W to position himself as a top star for whenever he decides to cash in that Money in the Bank briefcase.
The WWE has already missed out on some opportunities to finally elevate Ziggler to the level that his skill set merits. It can’t afford to do that again.
With Punk missing WWE TLC because of an unfortunate injury, the WWE must turn a negative into a positive by filling in Punk’s absence with Ziggler’s greatness.
Ziggler has won big matches, he’s earned the Money in the Bank briefcase and he’s developed into one of the best talents in the WWE. But none of that will matter if he isn’t booked like a top star going forward.
With one top star (Punk) missing, it should be Ziggler that rises to the occasion and does what he does best: Steal the show.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!