While CM Punk was slogging through the ranks of Ohio Valley Wrestling, The Rock was in sunny Miami, munching craft services on the set of Reno 911.
While CM Punk was beating Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXIV, The Rock was lending his voice to handsome animated astronaut Charles Baker in something called Planet 51.
And while CM Punk spent every waking moment working to keep his loyal fans entertained, the Rock was finding new ways to keep former fans ashamed.
And this guy honestly thinks he deserves his belt back?
Two all-time titans of professional wrestling will battle this upcoming Sunday during the WWE Royal Rumble. More than a decade removed from winning his last WWE Championship, The Rock brashly declared that he would fight the current champion at this event, calling his shot over the summer on Raw's 1,000th broadcast.
The champion now, as it was then, and as it was more than 400 days ago—the longest title reign in 25 years—is CM Punk...the Second City Saint.
And so here we stand, at the crossroads of WWE past, present and future. And with less than a week remaining before the Rumble, speculation seems to suggest that The Rock will come out victorious.
Which makes sense. CM Punk has become a marketing tool in his own right, but compared to his opponent, he's a veritable nobody. The Rock is a bona fide movie star (depending on how you define both "bona fide" and "movie star") whose custody of the belt would generate huge exposure for the sport.
But allowing him to beat CM Punk—while perhaps fiscally pragmatic for the league—would be a middle finger to the face of true WWE fans.
Punk is the one putting his body on the line for us every week, and Punk is the one currently dedicating his life to the sport. He's not immune to the pseudo-celebrity status wrestlers enjoy, but that exposure hasn't dissuaded him from participation. This is his primary, secondary and tertiary endeavor—he doesn't have any movie deals to fall back on.
The Rock had his time in the ring, and now he has his time on the silver screen. Now a decade removed from the sport, why does he deserve to add another belt in his waning years? Especially when the man he'd be taking it from is one of the greatest champions ever?
I don't think CM Punk will retain his belt forever, nor do I think he deserves to. But if and when I see him lose it, I'll want to feel chills watching a new champion put it on. I'll want his seizure of the throne to happen because it makes sense within the narrative of WWE—not because it would help a few fat cats make more money.
When I was a kid, I loved the Rock as much as the next guy. In some indelible part of my memory, that reverence will always exist.
But right now, in 2013, I can smell what the Rock is cooking...and personally, I can't stand to bear the stench.