The Rock's once-in-a-lifetime match with John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII and the year-long build that went with it was supposed to dwarf anything that came before it or after it, but the next three weeks, culminating in The Rock vs. CM Punk at the Royal Rumble, will overshadow it.
Although most have figured for quite some time that Punk would be defending the WWE Championship against The Rock at the Royal Rumble, the build didn't start until Monday's episode of Raw as Punk retained his title against Ryback in a TLC match and cemented his status as The Rock's opponent.
Rather than planning things out a year in advance, the Punk vs. Rock match will receive a normal amount of build that any other pay-per-view match would normally get, and that will prove to be a good thing. A one-year build can be great if executed properly, but it simply wasn't possible for the WWE to keep things fresh between Rock and Cena when Rock had other commitments.
For the next three weeks, however, The Rock will appearing regularly on WWE programming and all of his attention and energy will be focused on his match with Punk. That was rarely the case with The Rock and Cena until about a month before WrestleMania, so the current buildup is already right on par with what we saw last year.
The biggest difference, though, is the contrast between The Rock and Punk's characters. The Rock and Cena were different in that Rocky was beloved by the older crowd while the younger fans liked Cena, but their characters aren't necessarily that different. Rock and Punk, on the other hand, are polar opposites and that is going to make for a fun few weeks.
Even though the promo wars between The Rock and Cena were entertaining, the WWE seemed intent on either having The Rock dominate or Cena dominate while making the other guy look like a fool. There weren't many times where both men came away looking like equals, but that is precisely what happened with the first promo of the Punk vs. Rock feud.
Punk was initially given a platform to speak his mind and he utilized it by painting himself as a loner who doesn't care about the fans. The Rock then interrupted and stressed the importance of the fans while throwing in some of his signature humor as well. The Rock proved to be multidimensional, however, as he let his serious side come to light too.
It's natural for wrestling fans to debate, but all of the talk since Monday's episode of Raw has been about how Punk owned Rock on the mic or vice versa. The fact of the matter is that both men had different goals when it came to their promos and they both executed them to perfection. The Rock is among the best talkers the business has ever seen and Punk is the best currently, and they both proved their worth on Monday.
The face vs. heel dynamic is also a lot better than what we saw with The Rock vs. Cena. Fans were largely confused about whom to cheer for and it made for a messy situation. When it comes to The Rock vs. Punk, though, most fans are going to cheer for The Rock while the Internet, indy fan demographic will continue to support Punk.
On top of that, the match itself should be a lot better. I don't want to take any credit away from Cena because he has proven to be a much better in-ring worker than he is given credit for, but there is no comparison between him and Punk. Cena adheres to a basic formula, but Punk can pretty much do it all in the ring and it's much more likely that he and The Rock will bring the house down from a wrestling perspective than it was when The Rock faced Cena.
There is no question that Cena is a bigger star than Punk in terms of being the face of the company, moving merchandise and connecting with the general audience, but Punk is simply a better fit for The Rock. The Rock played the face role in his feud with Cena, but he had to border on heel at times too since Cena is the eternal face. The Rock won't have to worry about anything like that when it comes to facing Punk, though.
Their roles are very clear and they are laid out in black and white for everyone to see. There won't be any confusion in this feud. The Rock is the good guy who is fighting for the people, while Punk is the bad guy who is trying to spite the people. It's as simple as it gets, but it works and it's going to continue to get a reaction out of the fans.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Cena vs. Rock feud and the match they had even though I do believe that things could have been handled a little better. Nevertheless, I'm already far more excited for The Rock vs. Punk after one night of build. If all of their encounters are as good as their first, then this has the potential to be one of the best feuds of the past decade.