At next month's Royal Rumble pay-per-view, look for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to walk out of Phoenix, Arizona as the new WWE champion. Heck, in the erratically booked WWE, this may be one of the few things you can be sure of.
There are a few reasons why a Johnson title victory—his first since 2002—looks inevitable. Indeed, it may have been inevitable since the star first announced that he was getting a shot at the WWE Championship back in July at Raw 1000.
First of all, readers probably don't need to be reminded that Johnson is an undisputed A-list movie star. Thanks to roles in blockbuster movies like The Game Plan, Journey 2: Mysterious Island and Fast Five, the charismatic star has emerged as one of one Hollywood's top leading men (Forbes even noted in a recent report that he was one of the industry's most bankable actors, via the Detroit Free Press).
As his career goes from strength to strength, his name is now bandied about in the same breath as iconic actors like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. No one sees him as a wrestler guy trying to make it in movies (a tag John Cena still looks to be stuck with whenever he tries his hand at acting), he is now a bona fide, respected name in entertainment business.
Quite simply, he has ascended to a level of fame that no one in wrestling has before. Even Hulk Hogan, incredibly popular during his '80s heyday, was never earning millions of dollars a film.
With this in mind, Vince McMahon and company would be mind-bogglingly stupid not to take full advantage of his mega-fame and put the title on the actor at the pay-per-view. At a time when the ratings are woefully stagnant, WWE could use all the press attention they can get to muster up interest in the product—something a Johnson title victory would deliver them in droves.
It would be one of the best PR moves the company ever made, a fact that McMahon must be aware of.
It's also worth considering that it is, quite frankly, time for CM Punk's title reign to come to an end.
(Of course, Punk will likely have a showdown with challenger Ryback for the title before Rock returns, but various factors—notably the fact that both Rock and Ryback are faces thus making any potential match dynamic they could have awkward—mean Punk will almost certainly emerge from that program with his title).
Despite high expectations, Punk has not emerged as the top draw his fans hoped he could be. For whatever reason, he simply doesn't appeal to many outside the hardcore base. This has become increasingly clear in recent times, as WWE's flagship show does some of its lowest ratings numbers ever (via PWTorch).
Of course, some would defend Punk and point to the new three-hour format as the culprit. While the extra hour is undoubtedly a factor, Punk's run on top clearly isn't taking off with people. In fact, the company has heavily hyped his 400-plus-day reign, only to be met largely with indifference. For example, the Raw built specifically around his 365-day title celebration did a dismal rating (via PWTorch).
He's an inconsistent PPV draw, too. While this year's Hell in a Cell did a better-than-usual number (likely due to newcomer Ryback hitting it off with fans in a massive way prior to his shot at the event), the buyrate for next month's Survivor Series show—featuring Punk defending his title against John Cena and Ryback in a triple threat—was down considerably (PPV numbers via PWTorch, PWInsider and the company's corporate site).
While some may be into the idea of Punk retaining the championship—likely through interference from Paul Heyman or The Shield—and going on to WrestleMania with the belt, at this point it can't be justified from a business or ratings standpoint. It's time for a switch.
Of course, that's not to suggest there is no downside to Rock being WWE champion whatsoever. His ultra-busy movie schedule, for one thing, will almost certainly affect how often he can be at TV tapings throughout the spring (if he indeed does win next month, common sense dictates he'll drop it at WrestleMania).
F4Wonline (via WrestlingInc) has noted in the past that this is a concern for company officials, with them currently devising ways to work out around and looking into just how many TV and pay-per-view dates they can get Johnson to commit to. The title not being defended at house shows for a three-month period is also reportedly an issue.
The question is: Can WWE really have a champion who's only around on a part-time basis?
Ultimately, the answer looks to be yes. While the situation is less than ideal, having The Rock on a part-time basis is, of course, still heaps better than no Rock at all. That's how big a star he truly is.
No doubt McMahon will decide the same and make the call to switch the belt to him at the pay-per-view. For both business and the on-screen product, it simply makes sense.