As Raw went off the air, WWE Champion CM Punk stood grimacing in pain after taking a Rock Bottom from the returning Rock, last seen on WWE television at Raw 1000. That night, CM Punk delivered a GTS to the People's Champion and "turned his back" on the fans.
Unlike The Rock, Punk did not end this night on his back, and more than ever, he looks prepared for what will be one of the biggest WWE Championship matches in Royal Rumble history.
Last night's Raw was built around the inevitable confrontation between Rock and Punk, a fitting clash of names when put to paper. John Cena and Dolph Ziggler opened the night with an incredible match that lasted nearly half an hour, yet Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler spent a big part of the encounter reminding us that The Rock would be with us "a little bit later on," which is broadcast-speak for "at the end of the night."
Incredibly and ironically, the WWE Championship TLC match between CM Punk and Ryback seemed like an afterthought by the time it reached its conclusion. It was a fantastic bout, but it seemed to only serve its purpose of chewing up time on the clock as 11:00 p.m. Eastern approached.
The Shield continued their stalking of Ryback while Punk moved on to his main foe in three weeks. It would be time for The Rock to come out soon, but then we learned that Punk was going to give us an address of his own.
John Cena and The Rock had a year to prepare for their match at WrestleMania XXVIII. It's up to you if the encounter lived up to the hype, but as soon as it became clear that Punk was going to be facing The Rock as WWE Champion, the game was due to change.
For months at the beginning of 2012, Cena and Rock traded verbal jabs, each getting more and more personal. They treated each other as the mega stars that they are.
Rather than go after The Rock's lack of commitment to the WWE, Punk went on another tirade against the corporate environment of WWE as well as the slobbering masses that eat up everything they are handed by the company.
Punk vs. Rock is not "Once in a Lifetime." It is a clash of generations, but not a case of young lion vs. old lion. Punk is an entirely different animal, someone who never once showed any aspirations for Hollywood, mainstream approval or even public affection.
While Cena fought for the same people whose champion The Rock claims to be, Punk's distinct advantage over The Rock is that he has entirely eschewed the public in favor of rewriting the record books.
No matter who wins at the Royal Rumble, Punk is now the longest-reigning WWE Champion in the days of weekly live television separated by house shows.
Punk's success "in spite of you" was speaking to multiple audiences. He was addressing the people in the crowd, of course, but he was also addressing everyone with a keyboard, monitor and Internet connection.
No matter how many lists and slideshows are written about how his championship reign is too long, how it's getting old or why it needs to end, Punk has kept that WWE Championship.
When he looked The Rock dead in the eye and said he would kick his ass no matter how often The Rock showed up in WWE, CM Punk looked as sure of anyone that he was going to be WWE Champion well past the Royal Rumble.
Punk was completely unfazed by The Rock's comparisons to Carvel characters and even laughed at the fans for joyously chanting along with their hero.
The Rock is in for the fight of his life in 19 days and Punk has been ready for him since July. The Rock's shirt has "Just Bring It" displayed once again, but it's Punk who has been extending that invitation for a while.
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