It's set in stone. The main event of the 2013 Royal Rumble will feature The Rock wrestling CM Punk for the WWE Championship. While this match isn't garnering the hype that Rock and John Cena generated for WrestleMania, in many ways it might be even more impactful for WWE.
Rock/Cena was a one-off. WWE even put out a DVD called Once in a Lifetime chronicling that showdown. Rock/Punk will have a lasting effect on WWE going forward, and needs to be booked accordingly.
No matter how nostalgic it would be, WWE has to resist the urge to put the belt back on Rock, even for a relatively short run. CM Punk needs to come out of the Royal Rumble as WWE Champion; it's that simple. WWE cannot book the Rock to beat CM Punk.
One of the main reasons that Punk has to go over is that the current WWE Champion needs a big win.
Since taking the title at Survivor Series 2011, Punk has retained the belt against a laundry list of challengers. He's met, and dispatched, Ryback, Cena, Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Chris Jericho, Kane, Daniel Bryan and The Big Show.
The matches with Bryan were epic, and the wins over Jericho were good at the time, but none of those wins would get Punk over like a victory over The People's Champion. Beating a mega-star like Rock would cement Punk as the top dog in the WWE, and legitimize his boasts of being "Best in the World."
A loss for Punk damages the credibility of the WWE title, If Rock can come back after seven years and beat Cena, then go away for a few months and come back to take the title off of Punk, what does it say about the legitimacy of the WWE title?
Almost any time a "part time" star faces off with a current wrestler, it's in WWE's best interest to have the active grappler win the match. What does it say about the current WWE Champion if he can't beat a guy who was off filming a movie three weeks ago?
Though having Rock as champion would provide a short-term ratings boost, WWE can get more out of him by having Punk retain the title. WWE could book a run-in during the Royal Rumble showdown. If, say, John Cena or Ryback, came to the ring and interfered in the match, costing Rock the title, it could lead to a feud that would carry all the way through WrestleMania.
Facing off with the Rock would solidify a heel turn for Cena, or help establish Ryback as a credible main eventer. Both would have logical reasons to interfere in the match. Cena lost to Rock at WrestleMania. He could be out for revenge.
Ryback might just decide that he doesn't like waiting in line behind Rock for a shot and Punk and the WWE Championship belt. If Rock is willing to work, WWE should use him to forward story lines that will have long-term benefits. This works better if Rock loses, and Punk retains the belt.
If the main reason for having Rock go over at Royal Rumble is to set up another Rock/Cena match for WrestleMania, there's no reason that it has to be for the WWE title. Rock and Cena can feud over just about anything, they don't need the belt to lend significance to the match.
If Punk still holds the gold, he can then have a high-impact match at WrestleMania on the same card with Rock and Cena. This gives WWE two main events rather than one.
There's no reason for Punk to be involved in the WrestleMania main event if the belt isn't involved. Rock and Cena don't need it. Their showdown would be just as big simply because it's a return match.
If WWE wants to sell more pay-per-views, it might not even be a good idea to have Rock meet Cena again. Rock/Cena did 1.21 million buys last year...but a return match isn't as compelling. It's a grudge match that Rock already won.
If Punk retains the title at RR, WWE can capitalize in two ways. They can have the main event at Elimination Chamber be a No. 1 contenders match, with Rock emerging victorious. Rock trying to revenge himself on Punk to garner the WWE championship would likely draw more buys than a rematch between Rock and Cena with nothing but pride at stake.
Another reason that WWE needs Punk to go over is that I don't think Rock would promote the WWE Championship in between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Can you see Dwayne Johnson carrying the WWE Championship belt on Jimmy Kimmel or Letterman? He would be willing to talk about his upcoming match, but I doubt that he'd appear on "real" television holding WWE gold.
Punk needs to go over at Royal Rumble because the WWE champion needs to be represented on TV every week. If Rock wins at the Rumble, will he show up at Raw every week? Doubtful.
There are roughly nine weeks between the Royal Rumble on Jan. 27 and WrestleMania on April 7. Is WWE willing to have nine or 10 weeks of television where its championship belt isn't featured or promoted?
If they put the belt on Rock at Royal Rumble, it's unlikely that the title would be defended at Elimination Chamber on Feb. 17. That's an entire PPV where the belt wouldn't be featured or defended. If Punk beats Rock at Royal Rumble, the champion and the championship hardware will be focal points until WrestleMania.
If Rock wins the title from Punk at Royal Rumble, Punk's build will have been wasted. WWE spent a year building Punk's championship reign. It sounds good to say that he's had the longest WWE title reign in the last 25 years. Is it worth it to sacrifice all of that buildup to hand the championship to a guy who will drop the belt and disappear again in a month or two?
There are logical reasons to have Punk beat Rock at Royal Rumble. If Rock wins the belt from Punk in January, it makes the February PPV, Elimination Chamber, seem like an afterthought. No way WWE is going to let Rock drop the belt before WrestleMania.
Speaking of WrestleMania, if Rock holds the title going into the event, it's a spoiler. There is very little chance that he would carry the belt after April, so it would only make sense that he lose at WrestleMania. Does it make good business sense for WWE to go into its biggest event of the year with their main event perceived as a foregone conclusion?
CM Punk needs to beat The Rock at Royal Rumble for all of those reasons, and one more. In six months, Punk will still be in WWE. Rock will be in Hollywood. It's as simple as that.