The Rock’s return to Monday’s Raw signaled the first stop on the road to the Royal Rumble pay-per-view and a WWE Championship showdown with CM Punk. Unlike the insult-laden promos that paved the way to his WrestleMania 28 bout with John Cena that focused more on Twitter trends and snappy new catchphrases, "The Great One" brought a distinct intensity to his first encounter with the self-proclaimed "Best in the World."
Were there the trademark jokes and attempts to get new phrases trending on social media? Absolutely. But when the time came to drop the silliness and focus on selling the Royal Rumble title match, he and Punk delivered in a way that was seriously lacking from the buildup to Rock’s last major match.
A different approach to a championship bout the likes the company has not seen in quite some time can only help draw pay-per-view buys. Humor has its place in the professional wrestling business. As The Rock has proven in the past, comedic tendencies help performers get over with the most hardened of wrestling fans.
But there comes a time where comedy and humor should be set aside. The most successful bouts in WWE history were not built upon childish insults or penis jokes. They were built on the premise of a personal issue or one man’s quest to capture championship gold.
The rivalry between The Rock and CM Punk features a bit of both.
Punk is the champion desperate for the respect he feels he deserves but has not been afforded. For him, defeating The Rock is personal. A victory over a legendary competitor the likes of The Rock would provide him with all of the ammunition needed to support his claims as the best in the world.
For The Rock, the only goal he has left to accomplish is winning the WWE Championship. Sure, he has held that same title on a number of occasions, but after eight years away from the ring, followed by a victory over the top star in the industry, capturing gold would prove to himself and the world that he can still hang with the top stars in today’s WWE.
When there is as much to be gained (and lost) as there is on January 27 in Phoenix at the Royal Rumble when Punk defends the WWE Championship, there should be a measurable intensity between the two competitors. Jokes and personal attacks can help to fuel that intensity but should not, as was the case in the lead-up to the "Once in a Lifetime" match at WrestleMania, be simply laughed off from week-to-week.
The Rock and CM Punk got their program off to a tremendous start on Monday night and it will be imperative that they sustain their intensity and keep fans interested in the weeks to come. The Royal Rumble pay-per-view is typically one that sells itself based on the main event Battle Royal. Now, with a major title bout added to the equation, expectations in the front office will be heightened. To meet those expectations, both the performers as well as the creative team will have to prevent the feud from becoming tired over the course of the next 19 days.
With two highly talented performers involved, and a company that tends to deliver its highest quality programming on the road to WrestleMania, that should not be a problem.