CM Punk's 434 day reign as WWE Champion ended at the Royal Rumble at the hands of The Rock last night. The match seemed to be in hand for The Rock until the lights in the arena went out and The Great One was attacked.
Signs pointed to The Shield, who had been banned from interfering. Punk was able to pin The Rock and retain the title, but Mr. McMahon came out and threatened to strip Punk of the title. Instead, the match was restarted and The Rock defeated Punk, ending the historic reign.
Punk's reign made for the sixth-longest in the 50-year history of the WWE Championship. While it may seem unfortunate for such a messy situation to be the untimely end to Punk's legendary reign, it falls in line with many of the other long title reigns in WWE history.
Bruno Sammartino kept a strong hold on the title (well, figuratively at least) for a record 2,803 days during his first reign as champion from 1963-1971. The loss to Ivan Koloff was shocking, but not controversial. It was Sammartino's second run with the title, from December 1973 to April 1977, that ended abruptly. Sammartino had previously suffered a broken neck among many other injuries and wished to end his reign. After 1,237 days, Sammartino finally fell to "Superstar" Billy Graham, who put both feet on the ropes while pinning Sammartino.
Bob Backlund, who enters the WWE Hall of Fame this year, had some issues with his historic WWE Championship reign. The first reign Backlund ever had began on February 20, 1978. Backlund pinned "Superstar" Billy Graham despite Graham's foot being on the ropes. According to WWE's official records, Backlund was champion for 2,135 days. During that reign, Backlund lost to Antonio Inoki during a house show in Japan in November 1979. Inoki would vacate the title six days later after a rematch with Backlund ended in a no-contest.
Backlund would regain the title and go controversy-free until October 1981. Backlund faced Greg Valentine in a match and defeated the challenger. However, a dazed referee accidentally raised the hand of Valentine. Backlund continued to defend the title in other venues.
It all came to an end for Backlund on December 26, 1983, when The Iron Sheik became the new champion. Backlund was locked in the legendary Camel Clutch and wouldn't submit, but Arnold Skaaland, Backlund's manager at the time, threw in the towel because did not want his client to suffer more harm. Despite never submitting, Backlund's title reign was over. Backlund would be involved in another controversial title change, when someone in Bret Hart's corner threw in the towel for The Hitman, awarding the title to Backlund at Survivor Series 1994.
Four weeks after The Iron Sheik became champion, he lost the title to a rising star named Hulk Hogan. The believed birth of Hulkamania came on January 23, 1984. Hogan would become the face of WWE and hold the championship for 1,474 days.
That title reign would end at the hands of Andre the Giant and some controversy. It became revealed that referee Dave Hebner had a look-alike, his twin brother Earl. Earl had been hired by "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase to replace his brother in the middle of the match. Earl would count to three despite Hogan clearly putting his shoulder up at the count of one. Between the crazy ending and Andre the Giant trying to hand the title to DiBiase, the title was held up and awarded to the winner of a tournament at WrestleMania IV.
Even John Cena knows how it feels to lose a world championship unexpectedly. Cena would have his longest reign in 2006, which would end in October 2007 after 380 days. It would be an injury that occurred to Cena that would ultimately end the reign, but the controversial title changes that took place at No Mercy 2007 just five days later brought a bit of a black eye to what was the longest reign, prior to Punk's since the 1980s.
It's only fitting that Punk's title was lost in a strange fashion. It's pretty rare for a long title reign to end with such a clean finish. After all that time at the top, a long-standing champion almost never gets to have a difficult way for them to finally be defeated. Not only did Punk nearly get stripped of the title, but the match last night was restarted because of the request of the challenger, The Rock.
The Rock then defeated Punk on The People's Elbow. It isn't clever or basic, but it's just what happens often. CM Punk should take pride in knowing that the end of his reign has been treated like the rest of the all-time greats. It sure seems like a sign of respect for Punk.