There is no question that CM Punk's 400-plus-day WWE Championship reign has been impressive and helpful to the prestige of the title itself, but losing to The Rock at the Royal Rumble would be the best way to set Punk up for success down the road.
Punk has held off tough challengers such as Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Ryback and others while in possession of the title, but The Rock represents his toughest obstacle from a storyline perspective. The Rock is a WWE legend, he's in great shape and he's coming off a win over Cena at WrestleMania 28.
Beating The Rock at the Royal Rumble would certainly be a big deal for Punk, but there would be no shame in losing to him either. Simply stepping into the ring with The Great One is going to significantly raise Punk's stock as a top star, and dropping the title to him after a historic run would be an honor more than a disappointment.
Should Punk lose the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble?
A lot of fans are anti-Rock due to the fact that he's a part-time wrestler who is being handed a title shot, but I prefer to view the situation much more optimistically. The Rock has helped the WWE have its two most lucrative WrestleManias ever over the past two years in terms of pay-per-view buys, so he is obviously a major draw and he deserves top billing because of that alone.
Also, if the WWE is aiming to build up alternatives to Cena then guys like Punk need to be elevated to his level. There is no quicker way to do that than to have Punk and Rock do battle with the WWE Championship hanging in the balance. Win or lose, the true victor is going to be Punk due to the number of different directions that things can be taken in.
Many are expecting Rock vs. Cena II at WrestleMania with the WWE Championship on the line, but I just don't see that coming to fruition. Their match was billed as "once in a lifetime" and while I realize that taglines don't necessarily mean anything in professional wrestling, I truly believe that the WWE wants their one singles match to remain sacred.
What I can see happening, though, is a triple-threat match involving Rock, Cena and Punk. In fact, it would be extremely easy to make it happen. Rock simply has to beat Punk at the Royal Rumble with Cena winning the Rumble match itself. Punk would then be guaranteed a rematch with The Rock at some point in the future.
Punk could either use his rematch at Elimination Chamber if there are plans for Rock to wrestle at that particular PPV, or he could wait until WrestleMania to utilize it. If he gets a rematch against The Rock at Elimination Chamber, then Punk would regain the belt and The Rock would then invoke his rematch clause at WrestleMania. Also, Cena would choose to use his title shot earned through a Rumble win on the WWE title at WrestleMania as well.
Punk vs. Rock at the Royal Rumble is going to be a big deal, but Punk vs. Rock vs. Cena at WrestleMania would be even more incredible. Both Rock and Cena are already established as legends, and Punk is aspiring to get to that level. Defending his title against two of the best ever is the quickest way to achieve it.
In this scenario, The Rock would be disqualified from winning. He already beat Cena last year and I anticipate him holding the WWE Championship for about a month from Royal Rumble to Elimination Chamber, so he has no business coming out on top. I love The Rock, but another WrestleMania victory isn't needed, especially since he'll be getting paid either way.
That means things would boil down to Cena and Punk. I can understand the temptation to possibly have Cena win since he has suffered consecutive WrestleMania losses and is the face of the company, but the WWE ought to look at this as an opportunity to make a star rather than further one who was made long ago.
Some might argue that Punk is already established as an elite superstar because of his title reign, but he still hasn't had his WrestleMania moment. Punk won Money in the Bank on the grandest stage of them all twice and beat Chris Jericho last year, but he has yet to headline professional wrestling's biggest event.
Cena, on the other hand, has main-evented WrestleMania on several occasions and holds victories over the likes of Big Show, JBL, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Edge and Batista. Another win isn't going to help him and a loss certainly won't hurt him. Punk's WrestleMania record, by comparison, is barren and in need of bolstering.
It would be ideal for Punk to hold the title through WrestleMania and to retain it there, but that doesn't seem possible. In order to make the triple threat happen, he'll either have to lose it at Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber. Since the Rumble is the bigger event, it makes sense for him to drop it there before regaining it ahead of 'Mania.
Punk fans would probably rather not see his title run interrupted, but in the interest of helping him reach the next level at WrestleMania, it needs to be done.