Even though the writing has been on the wall since the match was made, it still seems surreal to think of WWE right now without CM Punk as champion. That is the case after the Straight-Edge Superstar dropped the belt to The Rock at the Royal Rumble.
Punk just put together one of the longest title reigns most of us will ever see, holding the championship for more than 400 days after winning it from Alberto Del Rio at the 2011 Survivor Series.
Now that Punk's reign is over, it does set up a number of possibilities for where he will go heading into the Elimination Chamber next month and, more importantly, WrestleMania on April 7.
What to do with Punk at Elimination Chamber?
WWE is in a very precarious position with this pay-per-view. On the one hand, having Rock as champion is the right call. WWE needs to set up the WrestleMania main event as soon as possible. Everyone knew Rock would be heading into that show as champion.
However, what does that do to the Raw Elimination Chamber match? Will there even be a Raw Chamber match? WWE only ran one Hell In a Cell match at that pay-per-view in October, which was a break from the usual two or three they used to run.
It is possible WWE only does one Chamber match, especially since it is hard to envision Rock wanting to do a match as physically demanding as this one.
If there is no Raw Chamber match, that leaves a lot of slots for six superstars open. It is entirely possible that Rock will be wrestling and defending the title on the show, which would make Punk the logical challenger.
The fact that there are only three weeks in between the Rumble and Elimination Chamber makes that the simplest title match to sell, since the quest for redemption and desire to headline WrestleMania is still there for Punk.
It doesn't make sense to throw Rock into a six-man gimmick match when there is no time to build any kind of rivalry. By keeping things small and letting Punk get his rematch, WWE will have a much easier time selling the event.
Punk's role at WrestleMania XXIX
Here is where things get dicey for Punk, at least to me. According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via WrestlingInc.com), Punk is the leading candidate to wrestle The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
Who should CM Punk fight at WrestleMania?
As great as that feud could be, it paints Punk into a corner that he might not be able to escape from.
Think about it: The audience already knows that Punk plays a distant second to John Cena, because on shows where Punk was champion and Cena wrestled, Cena was always in the main event.
Then Rock comes back and beats Punk in his first match in nearly a year to win the title. Assuming they wrestle at Elimination Chamber, Punk will have lost to Rock twice. Then he would go into WrestleMania knowing that he won't beat The Streak.
We are talking about a lot of losses to top stars for Punk. It's great to highlight him in these matches, but you back him into a corner if he doesn't win any of them.
Punk's star will be exactly where it was before he was wrestling these big names, which is not the point of having him in all these high-profile feuds. Hopefully he can help keep the streak of great Undertaker WrestleMania matches alive at five.